Off Road racing, Dirt Flying, Trucks Flying, Im Flying!

ea01d_3747

As a sports photographer most of my time is spent covering the major pro sports such as MLB, NFL and NASCAR. While that gives me a good variety of events to cover it still gets redundant always shooting the same top level sports. One thing I do to take a break from those sports is to look for cool and interesting events to cover when I have time. Off road trucks flying through the air over dirt jumps definitely would qualify as something different from the norm. Buckle up and hang on!

As well as being something different to shoot, smaller level racing events like this typically are much more laid back than a pro sporting event, plus the access is usually much better. If you wanna try something different or unique you don’t have to request it weeks in advance to some PR director. You can usually just show up and do it. That was gonna be one of my goals as I ended up in Lake Elsinore, California to cover the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series (LOORRS). It was a three day event on a man made course in 100 degree weather. Fun!

When I showed up on Friday all I wanted to do was check out the course and see if I could find a good place to shoot some action. And when I say action I mean crashing vehicles.

With off road racing its not a matter of if they’re gonna crash, its simply when and where.

I found a spot on a large berm on the perimeter of the course so I headed up there. It was near the largest jump of the track which was good. It also gave me a view of the entire track so if where I was wasn’t the best place for action I would surely see where I should be shooting.

Below, a pair of trucks air it out over the jump in front of me.

ea06b_4305

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/2000th

I had two cameras on me while shooting there. One body had a 600mm lens on it which I would use to shoot about 90% of the course. On my shoulder I had a body with a 80-200mm lens which would be used in the small portion of the track directly in front of me where the other lens would simply be way too close up.

In the below photo you can see me in action with the 600mm with the 80-200mm on my shoulder.

ea580924265_u6huh-o-11

Photo by Richard Quattrocchi

One thing I noticed right away that got my attention was as the trucks were landing the big jump some were landing nose first into the dirt. While these trucks are built to land at all sorts of crazy angles it still looked to me that some of the racers were very close to landing at such an angle that they were very close to nosing in, which would most certainly result in a nice front flip. (Nice for photographers, not so much for the racers!)

ea06b_4402

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

Seriously no less than 15 minutes after getting on track and shooting all hell broke loose as unlimited lite driver Leroy Loerwald nosed in way to steep and suffered a spectacular end over end crash.

ea06z_2600

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

The sequence was shot with my 80-200mm lens in my right hand as I held the 600mm lensed body in my left. Even with the 200mm lens I was completely full frame. Had I been using the 600mm I would have only been able to fit the door of the truck in my shot.

ea06z_2604

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/1250th

ea06z_2607

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/500th

ea06z_2612

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/500th

ea06z_2616

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/640th

To make matters worse for the driver, after coming to a stop on his wheels facing backwards other trucks continued to fly over the big jump and barely miss him. While the corner worker was quick to frantically wave the yellow flag, he was at the bottom of the landing so none of the drivers could see him waving the yellow flag till they were already in the air. Obviously steering and brakes don’t work in the air so it was only a matter of time until there was going to be a collision. The unlucky driver to provide it would be Kyle LeDuc as he plowed head on while still in the air into Loerwald as the flagman looked on. Luckily both drivers emerged safely from the wreckage.

ea06z_2648

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/1250th

Below you can see the entire sequence of the aerobatic accident. A gymnast in the Olympics would have been proud of that form!

eatruckflip

With a good crash shot already in the books for me it was time to change my focus from getting crashes to exploring the track looking for some different shooting positions to try out.

One cool thing I liked with shooting these trucks were when they went through the hairpin turns they would slide sideways and when they would get back on the gas they would spray rocks, dirt and mud behind them. By getting right behind them in a turn you could get fun shots with all the stuff flying up behind them. (You will find out later in this blog not to get too close to that area though)

ea06b_4388

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

While I was shooting in a different direction during a practice session one of the racers flipped his truck over in the turn, below is what I was able to get of the tail end of the crash.

ea06b_4540

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/2000th

While not as entertaining as the trucks the buggy classes did provide some excitement during one of their practice sessions as one of the racers landed the big jump sideways and slid off course as a pair of flagmen ran for their lives. They both got safely out of the way. Right after that practice session ended a concrete barrier was brought out to that spot to provide the flagmen safer working conditions.

ea06z_2742

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th

The race track was set up in a valley between a few mountain ranges so it was easy to get some nice mountain backgrounds. You could tell you were in Southern California by the pollution haze shrouding the mountains.

ea06z_2869

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th

ea06z_2901

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th

I eventually set up on the inside of one of the hairpin turns to see get some different angles of the trucks.

Below, famous tattoo artist, motorcross racer and on again off again husband of the singer Pink, Carey Hart was onhand racing in one of the classes.

ea06d_5614

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

Below, while shooting some wide angle shots in the turn I was up close and personal with the underside of a truck as unlimited 2 driver Rodrigo Ampudia came into the turn hard and put it on two wheels. He nearly flipped over but was able to bring it back down on all fours.

ea06d_5577

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f6.3, 1/800th

Ampudia spun out the truck on the landing and was almost t-boned by the other competitors but got lucky and was able to continue on.

ea06d_5589

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f6.3, 1/1250th

One of the main problems I was running into during the weekend was dealing with some of the crappy backgrounds of the facility. Lots of white tents, flags and scissor lifts made for crappy backgrounds that ruined the photos for me. One way to combat that was by slowing the shutter speed way down to blur out the backgrounds like in the below photo.

ea06d_5641

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f18, 1/60th

I liked the below photo because it had clean backgrounds plus I liked the truck flying in the air through the background as another truck kicked up dirt racing through the foreground.

ea06z_3064

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th

When I shoot NASCAR and Indy Car we are typically behind big concrete guardwalls with 12 foot tall catch fences on them. For this event they had small concrete barriers you usually see in construction zones on the freeways. I noticed the small holes in the barriers (below) and decided to try and shoot a shot through the hole to see if perhaps it would provide a cool effect.

ea06d_5690

I was happy with the result (below) as super lite driver Chuck Dempsey raced through the turn. Its not a shot that everyone can appreciate but its definitely unique compared to the standard truck sliding around a turn  or truck flying through the air shot that you usually see from these events

ea06d_5698

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f4.5, 1/400th

That wrapped up a fun first day of shooting. On to Saturday.

Late in the afternoon I was scheduled to go up in a helicopter to shoot some aerial photos above the track. While waiting the few hours till that was to take place I hung out down on the track and looked around for more interesting shots to take.

Below, for one of the races I shot head on at the end of the straightaway where the trucks would hit the big jump. On the first lap I shot a bit wide to get multiple trucks in the air with a nice mountain background. The only time of the race to really get a shot like that was the first lap because after that they would typically spread out and you would be unable to get multiple jumping trucks in the same shot.

ea06z_3240

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

Below, from the same position as the trucks went away I was able to get one of my favorite shots of the weekend as unlimited 2 drivers Rodrigo Ampudia (36) jumped alongside Jerry Whelchel (2) as Kevin Davis (85) races by in the foreground kicking up dirt. I love photos that have lots of stuff going on that keeps viewers looking at it for longer than the standard 1-2 seconds that we would spend on a boring photo or one that lacks much content.

ea06z_3273

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

The next two shots are of the same jump but with different lenses.

The first shot of unlimited 2 driver Rodrigo Ampudia (below) shows a nice and standard tight shot with my 400mm of a truck jumping. The crowd in the background helps the shot look better as well as making the event look crowded with tons of spectators (dont let it fool you, there werent many fans at all!)

ea06b_4880

Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/5000th

Now from that same spot I shot with an 80-200mm lens to get a wider view of the jump. While its the same angle as the above shot it has a completely different feel to it by including the mountains as well as the base of the jump. Lots of photographers I’ve met think you always need to fill the frame with your subject but by doing so you typically can be missing a cooler looking photo.

ea06z_3412

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/1600th

Late in the afternoon it was time for me to go up in the helicopter. When I told my friends I would be flying in an R-22 they all freaked out and were telling me things like how tiny it is and that its a deathtrap and that they would never fly in such a crappy helicopter. As I heard everyone telling me this I really thought they were joking and trying to get me scared.

Then I saw the actual helicopter.

“I’m gonna die.” That was honestly the first thing that went through my mind when we pulled up to the airport and I laid eyes on the thing.

I’m not really the get scared of flying type. I spent several hours back in my Navy days flying over the ocean alongside aircraft carriers doing crazy banked turns and breaking all sorts of flight rules in the name of fun but this micro helicopter had me scared shitless!

I had planned on bringing three cameras up with me for the shoot but the pilot told me I had to leave one due to weight issues.

In the below photo you can really see how small the cockpit of the R-22 is. It totally reminds me of those little machines at grocery stores where you pay 25 cents and you get one of those plastic bubbles with a toy inside.

ea575839616_sh8zz-o

Photo by Richard Quattrocchi

Right before takeoff my buddy Richard took a photo of me. As he was taking the photo I honestly envisioned this being the last photo taken of me before the fiery crash in a field nearby so I put on a fake smile and gave a thumbs up so I would look happy in the 16×20 photo they would print of this to have on a stand next to my closed casket during the eulogy.

ea575838708_lmv9b-l-1

Photo by Richard Quattrocchi

The initial plan was to spend about an hour and 15 minutes in the air over the track to shoot the final three races of the day. There was another helicopter that was to be flying at the same time as us shooting video for the Speed Channel. We spoke with that pilot and came up with a plan to be at different altitudes. Everythign was good to go, right?

Wrong!

Right before takeoff we were told by the owner of the facility that he didn’t want two helicopters flying around so we had to take turns. We would get the first 45 minutes and the other chopper would get the second 45 minutes.

Lovely.

Up we went in the air. The pilot and I had discussed my plan earlier and we were gonna fly around 300 feet above the track for me to shoot. Too bad air traffic control had other plans and made us stay above 500 feet.

Below is a wide view of the entire facility.

ea06z_3613

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/1600th

The 45 minute time frame certainly wasn’t optimal for what I wanted to do but it still was going to be fine, I figured with the schedule that I would be up in the air for two races.

That was until I realized they were 30 minutes behind schedule. For more than half the flight we got to watch as nothing was on the track other than water trucks and bulldozers as they prepped the track for the next race.

Ok that sucks but I was still optimistic since it only takes one good race to get some cool photos that would make this flight worthwhile.

That is true except the one race I ended up being in the air for only had six trucks racing! The cool shot I was envisioning was 20 trucks in a big pack on the first lap racing into a turn with dirt and mud flying all over and potential crashing.

Instead the below photos are what I ended up with.

Super lite driver John Harrah (13) leads Chad Leising (17) through the turn.

ea06b_5034

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

Super lite driver Joey Granatelli (20) leads the field

ea06b_5068

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/2500th

Super lite driver Chad Leising (17) leads David Reyes (77) and Brandon Bailey (72).

ea06b_5100

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th

Plenty of good seats still available!

ea06b_5106

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/6400th

Going into the shoot I was also envisioning some cool shots of trucks jumping with their shadows below them. The problem is when you are as high in the air as I was and there wasn’t many vehicles racing it made everything crappy looking such as the below photo of super lite driver John Harrah (13) going over a jump alongside Chad Leising (17).

ea06b_5123

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

Below, a racer goes through the hairpin turn as corner workers wave the caution flag.

ea06b_5163

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

Below, is a tighter view that shows the entire track.

ea06z_3667

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/1600th

Below, fans look on as super lite driver John Harrah (13) races down the front straightaway.

ea06b_5223

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

As we were flying I started to feel a bit sick. Initially I thought maybe I was just really hungry but then I realized I was air sick from spending too much time looking through the lens of my camera as we bounced around in the sky.

I was very close to puking as I put the camera down and took some deep breaths as I stared at the horizon. The 45 minutes was nearly up so we made our decent back to the airport.

If I wanted to I could have thrown up on my car (below) as we flew directly over it.

ea06b_5309

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

Once safely back on earth I grabbed my gear and got the hell out of there. In the below photo you can really see how small that helicopter really is!

ea575840535_qabau-o

Photo by Richard Quattrocchi

I made it back to the track just in time to shoot the unlimited lite race which I wanted to shoot from the helicopter due to the fact it had over 20 trucks racing in it which would have looked great from the air.

Oh well though.

I set up in the spot at the end of the backstretch where I could get the field of trucks, led by FMX star Brian Deegan, jumping head on towards me. I got low to the ground to have the out of focus berm in the foreground cover up all the in focus track below the racers which gives it a different effect from the standard track in focus look.

ea06z_3800

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

Deegan was all over the place in his truck so I focused on him waiting for him to crash. He never did but i still ended up getting lots of cool photos of him on the edge.

ea06z_3752

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

ea06z_3893

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

I liked the below shot because you have three trucks all at different levels in the shot making for a nice layering effect.

ea06z_3917

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f4, 1/1600th

I’m not really sure why you need three flagmen standing together displaying the caution flag but what do I know?

ea06b_5324

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

The below two photos are shot at the same jump but from about 10 yards apart. Its a good illustration on how moving even a short distance can really change the look of a shot.

Below, I got close to the jump and got down low to clean up the backgrounds. Also by getting low I have the truck set against a nice blue sky.

ea06z_4038

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f4, 1/5000th

By being further back from the jump as well as standing up you can see how a similar location provides a completely different (and crappy) background. The scissor lift in the background makes the truck look like a jack in the box on a spring.

ea06z_40612

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f4, 1/3200th

That wrapped up day two of racing action.

I had really planned on the aerial photos being the cool images of this trip but with the failure of that I decided that for the last day of racing to go all out and bury a few remote cameras on the track in hopes of coming up with something cool.

Where I was planning on putting these cameras I put the odds pretty high that they would end up getting destroyed so I pulled out some of my older gear that I didn’t care about so in the event it got ran over I wouldn’t cry.

Below, I place a plastic bag around my D200 with a 12-24mm lens on it. The bag was a very half ass attempt to semi protect the camera from dirt, mud and water.

ea577095138_ju6dq-o-1

Photo by Richard Quattrocchi

Below you can see how the camera was positioned at the edge of the track on the landing of the big jump.

ea06d_5722

To keep the track from becoming a giant dust cloud between races water trucks would drive on the track and spray everything down.

ea03a_6695

Below is how the lens looked after receiving a bath of water.

ea06d_5768

The place I had the camera positioned I figured would be a great place in the event one of the trucks nosed in and flipped over. That never ended up happening. The shot wasn’t a waste, however, because I got a pretty sweet looking luck shot of dirt flying right at the camera from a truck landing as Greg Adler flew through the shot. I’ll take dumb luck any day!

ea01d_3747

Nikon D200, 12-24mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/1250th

ea01d_3748

Nikon D200, 12-24mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/1250th

After the dirt hit the camera a few pieces stuck to the lens for the remainder of that race.

ea01d_3861

Nikon D200, 12-24mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/1250th

My other remote camera was placed on the inside of one of the hairpin turns. This camera was a D300 with a 10.5-17mm fisheye lens on it.

ea06z_4382

Below is one of my aerial photos from the previous day marked with the location of the remote so you have a better idea of where its at.

ea06b_5058

Initially you might think thats a semi safe place to put a remote but trust me it wasn’t. Through the course of the weekend I had seen several trucks spin out in that turn and then drive over that berm to get back on track in the right direction.

Below are a few photos showing the view the remote camera provided.

ea03a_6369

Nikon D300, 10.5-17mm, 400iso, f8, 1/1600th

ea03a_6168

Nikon D300, 10.5-17mm, 400iso, f8, 1/1600th

ea03a_6236

Nikon D300, 10.5-17mm, 400iso, f8, 1/1600th

In the first race with the camera there one of the racers spun out and as he turned around to get going the right direction he went over the berm and nearly ran over the camera.

In the below photos you can see the view of the remote camera.

ea03a_6214

Nikon D300, 10.5-17mm, 400iso, f8, 1/1600th

ea03a_6216

Nikon D300, 10.5-17mm, 400iso, f8, 1/1600th

While it doesn’t make for a cool photo or look very close to being hit, the view from my friend Richards handheld really shows you how close the camera really came to being destroyed.

ea577098078_slm9v-o

Photo by Richard Quattrocchi

Even though the remote cameras were my main focus of the day I still did some shooting with my handheld cameras. Below are a few I liked.

ea06z_4356

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5, 1/2500th

ea06z_4374

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5, 1/8000th

ea06z_4618

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5, 1/2500th

Earlier in this blog I mentioned about the flying dirt and mud coming at the photographers if they were too close. In the below photo you once again see how much stuff flies up behind these guys.

ea06z_4691

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5, 1/1250th

Now in the below photo it is hard to see but that group of photographers are ducking and turning away as a giant cloud of rocks and debris pelts them from a truck. The dust on the ground is from the thousands of pieces of rock and mud hitting the ground around them. I couldn’t help but laugh.

ea06z_5178

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/1250th

Towards the end of the afternoon I moved the remotes around a bit. The jump remote I placed closer to the jump to get them in the air more, as well as moving it to the other side of the track since the light was better there.

Below, all the way on the left side of the frame from my handheld camera you can see the remote camera as Brian Deegan takes a jump.

ea06z_4828

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/1250th

Below is the view from the remote camera. Being low and close up provided a much cooler and cleaner image.

ea03a_6644

Nikon D300, 12-24mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/1250th

For my other remote camera in the hairpin turn I moved it to the outside of the turn. I chose that place because the light would be much better plus I figured it could potentially get me an up close and personal view of the trucks.

ea06z_4583

As you can see in the below two photos it was a different angle in a very high impact area that no person (without a suicide note) could ever take.

ea01d_4338

Nikon D200, 12-24mm, 500iso, f7.1, 1/1250th

ea01d_4347

Nikon D200, 12-24mm, 500iso, f7.1, 1/1250th

The bad thing about that spot was as the trucks made their turns only a few feet from the camera it was constantly getting hit with a barrage of dirt and debris.

ea01d_4495

Nikon D200, 12-24mm, 640iso, f8, 1/1250th

As the race went on the flying mud and dirt began to actually stick to the edge of the lens and slowly cover it up.

ea01d_4541

Nikon D200, 12-24mm, 640iso, f8, 1/1250th

Towards the end of the race one of the trucks came within a few feet of the camera.

ea01d_4589

Nikon D200, 12-24mm, 640iso, f8, 1/1250th

This time the debris was too much for the camera to handle as it got nailed from a point blank distance.

ea01d_4591

Nikon D200, 12-24mm, 640iso, f8, 1/1250th

The camera was knocked over and the below photo shows the angle it got for the rest of the race as it pointed straight up into the sky.

ea01d_4595

Nikon D200, 12-24mm, 640iso, f8, 1/1250th

When the race finished I went over to the camera to see the damage. Surprisingly other than being completely covered in mud, and having the pocket wizard receiver knocked off the hot shoe, the camera was in perfect working order

ea577087747_xefxx-o

Photo by Richard Quattrocchi

That wraps up a fun weekend of shooting something different and trying some new things. I highly recommend trying new angles in different sports!


15 Responses to “Off Road racing, Dirt Flying, Trucks Flying, Im Flying!”

  1. Jason Gynn says:

    Man you are the king of remote cam’s, your work is amazing and even though i cringe when i see what you put your kit through, the results more than make up for it. im sure it would be worth the sacrifice of a camera for that perfect shot.

    Jason.

  2. Alan Stewart says:

    Awesome shots as always …

    How long did it take to clean the gear?

  3. Great commentary on the helicopter ride; is there an award for sports photographers who moonlight as humor writers? :)

  4. Randy Gentry says:

    Mark those images are hilarious and they make me smile big. Looks like a good time. I just would not want to do that with anyone’s camera.

  5. Micah Anderson says:

    Great work out there. I know it was extremely hot and very tuff working conditions. It is god to see new talent at these races and I hope to see you come back for the next rounds. I here it might be a night race and I cannot wait to see what you can do in the dark.

  6. Pappawheely says:

    If that helicopter landed on my arm, I would swat it.

  7. Mark, you had some really amazing shots. Too bad you plan with a helicopter didn’t turn out as you wanted, the overview of the track looks really good thou! I loved photos from the remote camera, my favorite is the one you showed on the top of the post. And man! So many shots! :)

  8. Ted says:

    Mark,

    Great photos and putting your gear in harms way for the photo, that’s cool. I flew Bell Jet III’s for the TV station I worked for and yes, the Robby’s are small, very small so I feel your angst. The truck on a scissor lift was a very cool shot. Great work as always, thanks for sharing your talents.

  9. joshi daniel says:

    just an amazing shot!

  10. MoWy says:

    Really nice work Mark, love your remotes and your guts to set them in those spots hehe.

  11. Joe McHugh says:

    Great stuff as usual. You need to do one on Cleaning that Camera…………Great stuff, keep it up.

  12. [...] some awesome reading, and also shows that being a pro photographer isnt as glitzy as it may seem Off Road racing, Dirt Flying, Trucks Flying, Im Flying! at Mark J. Rebilas Blog To top it all off, its all about offroad racing…. __________________ [...]

  13. Mitch Gunn says:

    Great shots as always.

  14. Matt Detrich says:

    Dude….Put a freakin’ filter on your lens….You’re freaking me out! Nice stuff by the way!

    Matt

Leave a Reply