NHRA takes over Indianapolis for the Big Go

Indy Car has the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR has the Daytona 500, but when it comes to NHRA the grand daddy of them all is the U.S. Nationals. With all the different sports I shoot it has gotten harder and harder for me to be able to fit NHRA in my schedule but when the race fell on an open weekend in my schedule I just had to shoot this race. Strap in, here we go!

I still remember attending my first U.S. Nationals back in 1990 with my father, we only went to the race foe two days of qualifying but it was enough for me to see what a big deal the event is in the world of drag racing. Enough memory lane crap, lets get on to this race.

Normally I fly in to events the day before so I can get all settled in at hotel and get a good nights sleep before starting my shoot. This time I was unable to do so since I was in Phoenix Thursday night to shoot an NFL game. So after that late night of work I got less than five hours of sleep before my glorious 6 AM wakeup call to fly to Indy. After a long layover in Denver I landed in Indianapolis just as the one professional qualifying session of the day began.

Needless to say I hauled ass to the track but still got there in the middle of the nitro session so I could shoot at least a few pairs of cars.

Below, NHRA top fuel dragster driver Bruce Litton (right) races Rod Fuller aim right at me during qualifying for the U.S. Nationals at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 1000iso, f4.5, 1/1250th, Manual

Funny car driver Robert Hight waves to fans as he rides up the return road in his tow vehicle following his first qualifying run.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 1000iso, f4, 1/1600th, Manual

Everybody who knows me knows I specialize in crashes and explosions. Its what I grew up doing and capturing the wild and crazy moments in racing always makes for interesting images. Along those lines I figured with Indy being the biggest race of the season with the largest fields of cars that there would be action all over the place.

WRONG!

The below shot of top fuel dragster driver Terry Haddock was literally the biggest incident of the weekend. Thats gotta make the driver and NHRA officials happy I’m sure!

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 1600iso, f4, 1/1000th, Manual

Below, NHRA top fuel dragster driver Tony Schumacher (left) races alongside Doug Kalitta during qualifying for the U.S. Nationals at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 2500iso, f4, 1/1250th, Manual

That was it for the two hours of shooting I was able to get in for Friday, on to Saturday where the pros would have two qualifying sessions.

NHRA pro mod driver Roger Burgess hits the timing blocks, below, during Saturday qualifying at Indy.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5, 1/1600th, Manual

In the late afternoon during qualifying the heat waves on the track subsided enough that I was able to shoot with my long lens (600mm) and throw a 1.4 magnification convertor on the camera to give me a super long 850mm view of the action.

Below, NHRA pro stock driver Kevin Lawrence (left) and Justin Humphreys do their burnouts during qualifying.

Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f6.3, 1/1250th, Manual

One cool thing about the weekend was the return of one of the biggest legends in drag racing history, Bob Glidden. Fresh out of a seven year retirement he ran career best numbers nearly every pass. Below, Bob Glidden slows in the shutdown area with parachutes out.

Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f6.3, 1/1250th, Manual

The last afternoon light from the top end was great for photos of the cars racing down track throwing a rooster tail of heatwaves in their wake.

Below, top fuel dragster driver David Grubnic (left) races alongside Terry McMillen during qualifying.

Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 800iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

While I stayed in the same spot for the whole session the changing light enabled me to get multiple looks out of the spot.

NHRA top fuel dragster driver Cory McClenathan (left) races alongside Larry Dixon during qualifying, below.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 1600iso, f4, 1/1000th, Manual

By shooting with a slow shutter speed I was able to make a car coasting at 30 mph look like it was hauling ass.

Below, Jeff Arend coasts through the shutdown area after an early shut off during qualifying.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/13th, Aperture Priority

With the sun completely gone I could expose for the bright areas on the track and make the background completely black, excluding the lit up sign for the track (below). It made for a cool background.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 2500iso, f4, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

NHRA funny car driver Tim Wilkerson (below) slows through the shutdown area with parachutes out following a qualifying pass shot at a slow shutter speed.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/10th, Aperture Priority

One of my favorite shots of the weekend had to be the below photo of funny car driver Bob Tasca III. I underexposed the photo by several stops to produce a silhouette effect which makes for a bad ass frame.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 2500iso, f4, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

As the car of Jeff Arend was towed down the return road at 5 mph I slowed down the shutter speed to make a blurred background to give the appearance of him hauling ass down the return road, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/15th, Aperture Priority

That wraps up Saturday.

Since I hadn’t gotten many good photos in the first two days I finally decided that I would risk missing wild and crazy action in the first qualifying session on Sunday and shoot portraits in the staging lanes instead.

I am always deathly afraid that while in the staging lanes I will miss the most exciting crash on earth and will hate myself for the rest of my life (on top of getting an ass chewing from my editors) but its a risk I needed to take so I could get some cool photos that can make me some money down the road in editorial sales.

With my good buddy Justin Tooley helping me out we set off to do some softbox portraits of the drivers with a vagabond battery pack, an Alien Bee 1600watt strobe and a 3 foot softbox.

Pro stock motorcycle rider L.E. Tonglet, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

Pro stock motorcycle rider Shawn Gann.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

Pro stock motorcycle rider Steve Johnson.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

Pro stock motorcycle rider Angie Smith.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

Shooting the actual photos was quite easy, the hard part was running around the crowded staging lanes and doing my best to get photos with clean backgrounds that didnt ruin the photos.

The below photo of pro stock driver Allen Johnson is a good example of how a cool photo could be ruined by a cluttered background.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

After the photo Johnson put his firesuit on so I decided to redo the photo to try and get a cleaner shot.

The below photo is the result of me kneeling down on the ground and shooting up to clean up the background. I wish the guy wasn’t on the right edge of the shot but doing candid portraits in busy staging lanes with people everywhere makes perfection next to impossible.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th, Manual

10 time pro stock champion Bob Glidden prepares to climb into his car, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

Doing these portraits is something I would LOVE to do with NASCAR but anyone who has been around NASCAR drivers as well as NHRA racers I think you would agree with me that ego, access and attitude is far less of a problem with drag racers. (Thats why I would shoot NHRA over NASCAR anyday!)

Below, pro stock driver Greg Anderson stares downtrack , actually right into the softbox, as he waits his turn to race.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4, 1/250th, Manual

Pro stock couple Erica Enders and boyfriend Richie Stevens Jr pose for a photo as they wait their turn to qualify, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

The below two frames of pro stock racer Mike Edwards are two of my favorite portraits from the day, perfect backgrounds and nice light.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

Pro stock driver Greg Stanfield prepares to climb into his car, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

Here is a cool photo of me in action by photographer Gary Nastase (below) as I shoot John Force waiting to run. On top of it being a cool photo showing my setup it also shows how cluttered all the backgrounds were.

Photo by Gary Nastase

By getting low to the ground and shooting up I was somewhat able to make the backgrounds nicer for my shot of John Force, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

Funny car driver Justin Schriefer sits strapped into his car as he waits to run, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f4, 1/250th, Manual

Funny car driver Bob Tasca III (below) looks like an astronaut ready to head to the moon as he walks towards his car.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual

Tony Pedregon stares me down as he waits in his car to run, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f5, 1/250th, Manual

While shooting NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein in the staging lanes ESPN reporter Dave Rieff snuck into the background of my shot to photo bomb me, the below photo was the result. I love it!

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

Top fuel dragster driver Shawn Langdon leans against his tow vehicle as he waits his turn to run, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual

For shooting the dragster drivers it was easy to get cool photos of the drivers sitting in the cockpits. Below is a photo showing where Justin would stand and aim the strobe…..

…..and here are a few of the resulting images.

T.J. Zizzo

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

Antron Brown

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

Cory McClenathan

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

And another one of my favorite portraits was the below shot of top fuel dragster driver Larry Dixon, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

Justin and I pose for a photo back in the staging lanes during the session.

Photo by Gary Nastase

Most NHRA photographers will spend their entire weekend on the starting line shooting, not me,  I only shot on the starting line for two passes the entire weekend.

Here are two photos from my five minutes on the line.

Brandon Bernstein, below, does a burnout with a packed grandstand looking on.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

Below, Top fuel champion Tony Schumacher launches off the starting line in his “retro” US Army paintjob.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

Back at the end of the track in the late afternoon I noticed shadows of alcohol funny cars on the wall as they drove through the shutdown area so I spent a few minutes trying to produce a cool shot with the shadows. The below frame was as good as I could come up with. I still dig it though.

Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 1000iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

That wraps up a VERY productive Sunday, lets head to Monday for eliminations.

Prior to eliminations I went to the starting line to shoot driver introductions.

Below, funny car driver John Force is introduced to fans prior to the race.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Manual

Top fuel driver Larry Dixon acknowledges the cheering fans prior to the race, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Manual

Below, NHRA funny car driver Ashley Force Hood (right) slows down with her parachutes out after defeating Del Worsham in the first round during the U.S. Nationals at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Below, NHRA top fuel dragster driver Larry Dixon (right) after defeating Steve Torrence in the scond round during the U.S. Nationals at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/3200th, Manual

Top fuel dragster driver Cory McClenathan (near) after defeating teammate Tony Schumacher in the semi finals during the U.S. Nationals, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

After losing in the semi finals a disgusted Matt Hagan walked from his car….

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

….and laid his head against the wall to let the defeat set in.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

Lets go from sad to happy with the winners of the final rounds.

NHRA pro stock driver Greg Stanfield sticks out his tongue as he celebrates after winning the U.S. Nationals, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/400th, Manual

Ashley Force Hood holds the wally after winning the U.S. Nationals for the second straight year, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/500th, Manual

NHRA top fuel dragster driver Larry Dixon climbs from his car to celebrate after winning the U.S. Nationals, below.

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

Dixon receives a hug from his son at the top end of the track.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/500th, Manual

And then Dixon stole the celebration of Indy car driver Helio Castroneves by climbing the sand trap fence, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f8, 1/500th, Manual

After the top end celebration I headed up to the starting line to shoot some portraits in the winners circle with the softbox setup again.

Below, L.E. Tonglet poses with his wally trophy after winning pro stock motorcycle.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f9, 1/250th, Manual

Pro stock driver Greg Stanfield holds his wally up high in the air, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

Below, Larry Dixon is all smiles as he holds one of his several U.S. Nationals trophies.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

And finally here are a few portraits of funny car winner Ashley Force hood in the winners circle…..

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th, Manual

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

That wraps up a long but ultimately successful weekend at the “Big Go!”

If you already don’t be sure to follow me on Facebook.

Here are some web/magazine clips from the weekend:


11 Responses to “NHRA takes over Indianapolis for the Big Go”

  1. JIm Hughes says:

    Thank You for the great pictures

  2. justin says:

    man that’s a good looking assistant…

  3. Paul Grant says:

    Hey Mark, well worth the wait. Really like the dragster portraits, but fav’s (for what it’s worth) are the Tasca silhouette and the Shawn Langdon portrait, awesome composition. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Diane Kubicke says:

    Great shots, Mark. Like your forward-thinking creativity with the soft box. Was there any time that you had resistance from any of the drivers/teams with shooting with the light box? Thanks, too for listing your camera settings and providing feedback on the shots.

  5. Derek Tipton says:

    Man, stepping up the game! using an AB with power pack and soft box. I like.
    Now you have to start posting the strobe info with the camera info under images =D.

  6. steve johnson says:

    Just wanted to thank you for the support you give our sport. your style is so very cool. again thank you. you r a stud!!!

  7. David Kadlubowski says:

    Nice sportraits dude. You’re gonna sell the crap out of those!

  8. Scott says:

    I love it when you are at the NHRA events! Thanks for sharing – excellent work as always!

  9. Les Madaus says:

    Mark… I always look forward to the photos you send out… The info on camera setings are a great help to us non-professionals…

    Due you ever give seminars ? If so, where ? Thanks again…

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