NASCAR twists and turns through Wine Country

As most of you guys know I shoot several NASCAR races every year. 34 of the 36 races races take place on various oval tracks but two occur on road courses where the drivers have to make left and right turns. Thats where things get fun. On top of seeing top level drivers look like confused amateurs it also is great to shoot unique photos that you cant get at any other tracks.

After flying into San Francisco thursday afternoon I had some time to kill so I went with my friends Robert and Maria Butterfield and took in some sights as a tourist. Here are a few photos from the evening shot around the Golden Gate Bridge….

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f4, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f4, 1/500th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Manual

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/80th, Aperture Priority

What’s an evening being a tourist without a stupid photo of myself as I serenade my imaginary girlfriend with the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge in the background, below.

Photo by Maria Butterfield

Ok time for work.

After missing most of practice due to the weekend schedule being wrong on a website I get most of my info from I wasn’t left with too much time to get many good practice shots.

Below, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards lifts a tire as he takes a turn during practice for the SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f8, 1/400th, Manual

Heatwaves pour from the car of David Gilliland as he crests the hill in turn 3, below.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Below, Dale Earnhardt Jr was 46th fastest during practice yet he was somehow able to get the right side of the car off the ground as he putted around the track.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f4, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Delana…. uh I mean Kevin Harvick wears the firesuit in the family as he hangs out in the garage during practice, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

Below, a detailed view of the front end on the Toyota Camry of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano as all the cars sit lined up on pit road during qualifying for the SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f4.5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver A.J. Allmendinger (below) prepares to put on his helmet during qualifying.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

The car of four time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is pushed through the tech inspection line by crew members prior to making his qualifying lap, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f4.5, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Jeff Burton (below) stands alongside his car following his qualifying lap.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

Below, Tony Stewart sits in his car following his qualifying lap.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

After qualifying it was time to head back to the hotel near San Francisco. On the drive back I noticed some really nice light on downtown as fog rolled in in the background. I quickly pulled off the freeway and found a spot along the bay to shoot the moment, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

There was some nice light as waves crashed into the rocky shoreline I was standing on, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

Saturday began with cup practice at 9:30 am. The light was terrible where I wanted to shoot. See for yourself below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/8000th, Manual

Now by shooting in that same turn but from behind the turn I was able to eliminate the bad light and get nice clean rear angles of the cars cresting the hill such as the below frame of Travis Kvapil.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/4000th, Manual

Below, Jeff Gordon makes a hard right turn at the bottom of the hill in turn four.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 250iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Bobby Labonte gets some good air after hitting the inside curb in turn four, below.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

For the second practice I headed to the backside of the track to shoot car shots in the S shaped portion of the track.

Below, Scott Speed makes his way through the turns.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

One thing I am always looking for is backgrounds that work for certain cars such as the below frame that shows driver Mattias Ekstrom driving his Toyota with a large Toyota sign filling out the frame behind him.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/1000th, Manual

Ok on to race day.

Below, pit road is packed with fans prior to the race.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

For the start of the race I headed down to turn four to shoot the start with the field snaking down the hill and into the turn.

High above the track I spotted a few fans looking down on the track with binoculars, below.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f5, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

The light wasn’t all that great for the start shot but I really didnt have much time to change spots so I shot slightly dark to tone down the bright reflections off the cars.

Below, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson (48) races alongside Kasey Kahne (9) during the first lap of the SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f5, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

A second or two after the above shot I quickly changed cameras and shot the field making the hard right turn four, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

A couple laps into the race driver Robby Gordon (left) came into the turn way too hard and ended up plowing into the side of A.J. Allmendinger, below.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f4.5, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Juan Pablo Montoya (below) gets his car up in the air as he races through heavy traffic. I like the cars all over the frame surrounding him.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f4.5, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Below, Ryan Newman (39) gets some massive air in front of Kasey Kahne (9).

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f4.5, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

In the same turn as the above images I went to the other side of it and shot from behind to incorporate the spectator filled hillside as driver Kasey Kahne (9) follows Tony Stewart (14) through the turn, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Below, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Sam Hornish Jr (77) leads Paul Menard over the top of turn three A.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

The first thing I noticed when I got the track on friday was the ferris wheel. I knew I would have to figure out a way to incorporate it into my shot. I ended up setting up with a wide lens and doing a slow shutter speed shot with the streaking car of Dale Earnhardt Jr flying through the foreground, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f9, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

Scott Speed gets some nice air in the below photo shot at the top of turn three A.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f4, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

While shooting all the cars as they hopped over the turn out of nowhere Denny Hamlin came by with his hood bent back over his windshield, below.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f4, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Paul Menard (below) heads down the hill towards turn four. The angle is great to show the nice scenery of wine country.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Below is a wide angle shot looking down the hill towards turn four with spectators filling the hillside on the left.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Using my 400mm I shot a long distance shot about a quarter mile away as cars made the right turn heading to the final turn, below.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f4, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

I slowed down the shutter speed and shot from the inside of turn three using blurred spectators as my background in the below shot of Kurt Busch.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f9, 1/200th, Manual

About 100 feet away from the above shot I found a good spot with a clean background for the below frame of Denny Hamlin racing his battered car.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/640th, Manual

The below shot of Jimmie Johnson is shot wide and shows you the two completely different backgrounds just a few feet apart.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

From the same spot if you turn to the right you can shoot a rear view of cars racing up through the turns, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f4, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

In preparation for the finish I had to hike down the side of the mountain to be near the finish line.

Below, Marcos Ambrose (47) races alongside Jimmie Johnson (48) on a restart. A few laps later Ambrose would make the bonehead move of the year when he turned off his car under caution to coast for a few seconds and save fuel backfired when his car wouldn’t restart for several seconds. The move cost him the race.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

So for the finish I lined up looking down the front straight with the flag stand to shoot the race winner (Jimmie Johnson) with the checkered flag waving, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

The reason I had chosen to come to this spot was because it makes for a clean burnout shot with nice light. Too bad Johnson popped a rear tire while celebrating elsewhere around the track so all I got was the below lame photo of him holding the checkered flag. Bleh.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/1000th, Manual

To make matters worse it ended up taking me too long to run to victory lane to shoot him climbing from the car. I was livid after missing that but once I found out he never faced the photographers during the celebration I quickly got over it. Besides I have probably shot Jimmie winning 20 or more races so I’m sure I can do without one burnout and celebration shot once.

Below I went wide to show his car in the foreground with the flat rear tire as he celebrated on the podium with his team.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5, 1/800th, Manual

I made sure to stick around to get the champagne celebration shot (since I had missed all the other celebrating).

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f4, 1/1000th, Manual

So normally this is the point where I wrap the blog up. However on this weekend all the fun happened on the drive back to the hotel when I was involved in a small three car accident. After the driver of a red truck changed lanes into the car beside him he slid up and hit the rear corner of my car causing the below damage.

The guy in the red truck who caused the accident stopped and got out of his truck to survey the damage. Then out of nowhere he jumps into his truck and peels out leaving the scene of the accident! Too bad for him I popped off a quick camera phone pic of his plate, below. (On right you can see someone from the other car involved yelling some choice words at the guy)

The image was given to the SF Police Dept so we shall see what happens!

This blog should totally end at this point but then a few minutes later back on the road to the hotel I pulled my own failure move. In downtown I missed my turn so at the next intersection I went to make a u-turn. I chacked the oncoming traffic lanes to see if I was clear and I was so I began the slow u-turn. Too bad I forgot to also look on the single lane in the middle of the road where the buses drive! So I see the bus coming right at me and have to floor it to get out of his path….I floored it right into a curb immediately popping my right front tire. Below is me replacing the blown tire with the spare. FML

Photo by Robert Butterfield

And finally we bring this blog to an end. Its always an adventure with me!

Here are a few web clips from the weekend:

One Response to “NASCAR twists and turns through Wine Country”

  1. Kim says:

    Hi Mark!

    Your photos are stunning! I was at Infineon, so I am able to appreciate them all the more. Your San Francisco shots are what I like to call “16 x 20 mat-and-framable”! LOL! I live near SF so I have seen a million or more shots of the City – yours are the best I’ve seen.

    Found your blog from “nscrwriter” on Twitter – I’ll have to thank her! : )

Leave a Reply