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My first NASCAR experience

There’s a first time for everything. And July 2018 brought me my first opportunity to cover a NASCAR race.

Now I’ve covered auto racing before. I shot a few races at the Rockford Speedway. I shot even more races at the Byron Dragway.

A crowd watches as a driver warms his tires Sunday, May 6, 2012, during the Spring Nationals at the Byron Dragway. ©2012

Jason Schubert wheelies down the track in his 1978 Cutlass on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, during the World Power Wheelstanding Championship at the Byron Dragway. ©2015

Dean Leifheit of Illinois races his 1962 Chevy Nova down the track Saturday, July 15, 2017, during the eighth annual Meltdown Drags at the Byron Dragway. ©2017

Heck. I’ve even shot go-kart racing.

Jobe Cerny of Highland Park grabs the back of his head after flipping out of his cart Sunday, July 1, 2012, during the Durand Fourth of July festival on the Town Square.

But it wasn’t until moving to Florida that I was in a market where I would get to over NASCAR. My paper really only covers two big race weekends. The Daytona 500 is the obvious one. One of my coworkers shot that. I was given the Coke Zero 400 –  a night race in July.

I really know nothing about racing. I’m fortunate to have several coworkers who could fill me in on the details. I was accompanied by my coworker, Bill Mitchell. Bill has been covering races at Daytona since the Flinstones were racing. He knows everything there is to know.

Bill set me up with a racing headset and a scanner to monitor the race broadcast. The headset also protected my ears from the roar of those monstrous engines.

We drove out to Daytona early in the week to pick up our credentials. That was when I got my first glimpse of the track. It’s hard to describe the scale of that facility.

When we went back on Friday to cover the Xfinity series Firecracker 250, that was the first time I set foot on the property. It was good to get a feel for the place before the main event. It gave me a chance to try out different shooting positions. Not to mention to get a feel for how long it would take to get from one side of the track to the other.

I couldn’t step down in the pit road area without takin a selfie. ©2018

Bill then took me to the other side to see the shooting positions from the stands. There are many, many escalators. And many photographers with the same idea!

Photographers, including Bill Mitchell, center, make their way up the escalators. ©2018

The view from up top is pretty spectacular. So naturally I took another selfie!

Another selfie from up in the stands. ©2018

Bill and I decided that I’d start in the stands and he’d start on pit road. Then we’d swap midway through.

Kyle Larson, 42, and Ryan Blaney, 22, lead the pack as they race into turn one Friday, July 6, 2018, during the 17th annual Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

Drivers pull in for a pit stop Friday, July 6, 2018, during the 17th annual Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

Drivers take the green flag at the start Friday, July 6, 2018, during the 17th annual Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

I had plenty of laps to work on panning shots. They’re pretty hard to nail with super telephoto lenses and subjects that are moving around 200mph.

Kyle Larson, 42, leads the pack on the back stretch Friday, July 6, 2018, during the 17th annual Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

I was shooting with a 200-400 lens which has a good bit of reach. But even still, I was wishing I had more lens. There were several crashes that were totally out of my view or out of the reach of my lens.

When Bill and I switched positions, I shot a lot more with shorter glass like a 70-200 or 24-70.

Ryan Blaney, 22, leads the pack as they exit the tri-oval Friday, July 6, 2018, during the 17th annual Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

Fuel spills out of a canister during Vinnie Miller’s pit stop Friday, July 6, 2018, during the 17th annual Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

Kyle Larson, 42, leads the pack as they drivers enter final lap Friday, July 6, 2018, during the 17th annual Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

I even had a crash happen right in front of me. The watched the whole incident through my viewfinder.

Drivers including Ryan Reed, 16, collide and spin out as they pass the start line Friday, July 6, 2018, during the 17th annual Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

I also liked looking for the odd frames away from the racing. For whatever reason, I found this frame to be humorous.

An official stands at the end of pit road before the start of the race Friday, July 6, 2018, during the 17th annual Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

After a mad scramble to edit and transmit a few frames for print, we headed back home.

The next day, we returned to cover the Coke Zero 400. We had a different plan of attack this time. My pass didn’t let me be in the pit area this race. I was going to stay up top while Bill split his efforts from up top and down below. I also had to move some images midway through the race to make sure we weren’t pushing deadline.

Of course we got there early enough to walk around a little bit more.

The bank of the track is pretty remarkable, even at the start/finish line. It is much more substantial in the corners. ©2018

My starting perch was above turn four. I took a few panoramas before the race began.

It was a beautiful view as the cars were rolling and the sun was setting.

Drivers move through the tri-oval Saturday, July 7, 2018, during the 60th annual Coca Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

I had no idea that the driver signs on pit road were illuminated.

Drivers pull in to pit road after the first stage Saturday, July 7, 2018, during the 60th annual Coca Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

Chase Elliot, 9, leads the pack out of the fourth turn Saturday, July 7, 2018, during the 60th annual Coca Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

Chase Elliot, 9, leads the pack into the third turn Saturday, July 7, 2018, during the 60th annual Coca Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

Erik Jones, 20, looks to take the lead from Martin Truex Jr., 78, as they come out of turn two Saturday, July 7, 2018, during the 60th annual Coca Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

I missed a few major wrecks while I was filing images early. However as the race winded down, drivers got very aggressive and it was like bumper cars out on the track.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 17, spins out after shredding a tire Saturday, July 7, 2018, during the 60th annual Coca Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

Joey Gase, 00, Michael McDowell, 34, and Aric Almirola, 10, collide against the outside wall on turn three Saturday, July 7, 2018, during the 60th annual Coca Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

Cars spin out and crash as they approach the end of the 161st lap Saturday, July 7, 2018, during the 60th annual Coca Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. ©2018

As the race ended, I rushed back to the media room to work up some more images. By the time I met back up with Bill, the place was a ghost town and I was exhausted.

This is what I look like after covering two days of racing. ©2018

Not bad for my first time shooting NASCAR. Maybe next year I’ll be back for the 500.

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