Click here for my Best of 2011 slideshow. 125,000 pictures cut down to my favorite sports pictures of the year. Enjoy!
The Moto GP Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix and the Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals are both three-day events that I would normally cover from start to finish. But due to scheduling conflicts with the California Rodeo Salinas and the Bank of the West Classic, I was only able to shoot one day of each race. Shooting one day is infinitely better than shooting no days, but it does severely limit the scope of pictures you can get. So I combined the two shoots into one post for you motorsport fans.
Laguna Seca is a great place to watch or shoot a race, and the big, flashy bikes of Moto GP make it even better. It had been years since I was there, and I was surprised to find that fans are allowed to bring in pretty much any photo gear they have. The fences were lined with guys shooting big lenses, which I am all for. What I am not for is dudes yelling at me because I’m on the track side of the fence and “in their way.” Only at Laguna.
In Moto GP, there is a rider named Casey Stoner, and a team sponsored by rolling paper company Rizla. And in perhaps the greatest injustice of all time, STONER DOES NOT RIDE FOR RIZLA. This is an outrage, can’t they arrange a trade?
Team Jordan rider Ben Bostrom who competes in the AMA American Superbike division received a wild card and made his first appearance in Moto GP at age 37:
I’ve shot NHRA at Infineon a few times now, and it occurred to me that shooting it once per year gives me just enough time to forget exactly how intense it is. Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycles are what I would call “normal loud.” If you’ve been to NASCAR or Indy Car, you know that it’s loud enough that you can’t hear anything else, but it’s manageable. The nitro classes, Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster, are something else entirely. First, foam earplugs aren’t even close to enough protection, full-on construction-type headphones are all that prevents ruptured eardrums. When the cars pass you, the pressure is enough to knock you back, and the heat, nitro fumes, and acrid smoke gets in your nose and waters your eyes. It’s touch to keep shooting, but it’s a really impressive display of horsepower.
The combination of the fumes and the setting sun made it look like drag racing on Mars:
Of course all of this horsepower leads to speed, in fact, a neck breaking amount of it.
The drivers waiting their turn have an intensity not often seen:
After each session, workers burn off the excess rubber from the track with torches, and then scrape up the burning gloop with shovels:
Security was so clueless that they actually tried to stop Tony Schumacher aka The Sarge from watching from the retaining wall. Lucky for them, he laughed it off:
And of course the inevitable breaks in the action when someone blows an engine and oil sprays all over the track:
I wasn’t planning to go up to Infineon for the Toyota Save Mart 350, but then Dale Jr called and gave me a job wrenching on his garage crew, so I had to go:
Obviously I’m joking about the crew job, but it was odd to see my last name on a uniform like that and I really was supposed to have the weekend off. But through a scheduling snafu I found myself shooting, not wrenching.
I went up for practice on Friday to get some headshots, singles, and other pictures that would be impossible to get on race day:
Traffic at Infineon on NASCAR raceday is absurd, so getting there about 3 hours early is necessary. There’s not much to shoot, so I shot the tech inspections and he Patriot Jet Team performance:
I started above turn 2 to get some overall shots, and then walked from turn to turn until I made my way back to the pits:
On a narrow track with lots of turns like Infineon, stock cars will trade paint. In the words of the immortal Harry Hogge in Days of Thunder:
No, no, he didn’t slam you, he didn’t bump you, he didn’t nudge you… he *rubbed* you. And rubbin, son, is racin’.
All of this rubbin’ leads to trips to the garage during the race, something that costs laps in the race:
In-race repairs are not the precise kind of work that goes into designing the cars in the first place. Usually the crew is banging sheet metal with a mallet, or duct taping parts of the body together. Once you take a car into the garage, the object is just to be running when the race finishes, not to win style points, hence Brian Vickers’ Red Bull Toyota sporting tape and massive fender damage:
Despite the presence of road course specialists and NASCAR regulars with lots of experience on road courses, Kurt Busch dominated the race, leading 76 of the 110 laps for an impressive and surprising victory:
The winner’s circle after a NASCAR race is quite a scene. Busch, who is sponsored by Shell, carried the checkered flag with a Sunoco logo on it. He then drank a Coke, the traditional goblet of red wine (the race is in wine country) before spraying champagne all over himself and his crew. Then he and his crew posed for pictures wearing at least 5 sets of hats of his major sponsors. There was also a confetti blaster and squabbling photographers jockeying for position.
I’ll be back at Infineon next month for NHRA drag racing, one of my favorite things to shoot.
Last year’s AMA West Coast Moto Jam was the first time I shot motorcycles on a road course, but once was all it took to get me hooked. Infineon Raceway is a great place to shoot any kind of race, but its turns and hills are really perfect for shooting bikes. It’s important to have a plan before shooting at Infineon because all the things that make it a great track make it a physical and mental battle to shoot races.
Turns 2-4 are 160 feet higher than the start-finish line, and a lap is more than 2 miles on the track, longer if you’re walking around the outside. And unlike the other races at Infineon, three additional tracks are set up, a flat dirt track outside of turn 8, a hilly motocross course above turn 7, and a supermoto track at the go-kart center.
After looking at my pictures from last year and deciding what I needed to add, (inside turns, multiple bikes entering turns, and some dirt track racing) I drove up to Sonoma for the mandatory safety meeting and qualifying in each of the three classes: American SuperBike, Daytona SportBike, and and Pro SuperSport. I don’t know enough about the ins-and-outs of motorcycle racing to comment on the action, so here are the pictures:
Josh Hayes won Saturday’s SuperBike race and took second on Sunday:
Tommy Hayden surprised Hayes to take the win on Sunday:
Jason DiSalvo took both Daytona SportBike races:
Likewise, Benny Solis won both SuperSport races:
Danny Eslick finished third in Daytona SportBike on Saturday and second on Sunday:
Jake Holden took second in Daytona SportBike on Saturday, but crashed out on Sunday.
PJ Jacobsen finished fourth in both Daytona SportBike races.
Ben Bostrom rides for Michael Jordan’s team, and it’ still weird to see the Jumpman logo on something other than basketball gear. His mechanics even wear Jordan shoes in the garage.
Elena Myers shocked everyone last year with a SuperSport win at Infineon when she was just 16. Her win made her the first woman ever to win an AMA race, and also the youngest rider to win. This year, she couldn’t overcome a broken wrist she suffered last month, and pulled out after Friday’s practice.
There were still a handful of women racing after Myers withdrew, including Shelina Moreda and Jennifer Lauritzen.
In the WTF department, Oscar Covarrubias’s shout out to snipers on his race leathers:
Between races, I hiked out to the dirt tracks. The flat track would have been a lot cooler if it was muddier, but still interesting, especially from the hill above:
They were running vintage motocross in the hills above Infineon, and I experimented with making landscape pictures that just happened to have riders in them:
So it was a pretty successful weekend overall, and I’ll use it to refine my strategy for shooting Indy Cars in August and AMA next year. I’m skipping NASCAR at Infineon, so I’ll be back up for NHRA drag racing in July.
“I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride…” – Bon Jovi
So this weekend I switch from actual horses of rodeos to steel horses of the AMA West Coast Moto Jam at Infineon Raceway. This event is aptly named because I’m not sure you could jam any more motorcycle action into three days. Since last year’s Moto Jam was the first and only time I’ve shot road bikes, I went back and looked at every picture I made last year to see what worked and what didn’t, and what I should be trying this year. Since I was already in the archive, I figured I’d put up some pictures from last year so I can compare them to what I get this year when I put that post up next week.