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Races, Faces and Places – Durkalicious 2009 Part I

Marc Ewing

Marc Ewing

About this same time each year I go through all my images from the past year.  Below you will find a collection of my favorite racing shots from the past year.  Some were planned, others were big mistake that worked out well ala Bob Ross and his Happy Accidents.  Each shot will have a small description of how I did it and perhaps other nonsensical information that is somehow related.  Enjoy.  Over the year I shot around 100,000 photos, drove 20,000 miles and drank untold beers after the races.

We start out journey at the 2008 SCORE Baja 1000.  This turned into my longest day of the last year and my career as a photographer.  I started at 0530 by shooting the bikes in the wash in Ensenada, traveled to Ojos Negros, Borrego and finally back to the finish line.  In total I spent 28 hours on course and generally loved every minute of the misery.

This shot was done in Ojos Negros (race Mile 38).  It was not the traditional jump where the locals gather but actually on the other side of highway 3.  I have always liked big air shots shot with the crowd shown very close in the background.

Dlae Ebberts jumps at Ojos at the 2008 Baja 1000.

Dale Ebberts jumps at Ojos at the 2008 Baja 1000.

Nikon D700, 70-300mm, ISO320, f9, 1/500th.

Not long after I witnessed a typical Baja scene.  A spectator lacking high brain function decided to drive backwards on course towards a blind jump on an active race course.  Amazing they narrowly missed being hit by a 5000 pound racecar at speed.

Rob Bruce narrowly misses hitting a dumbass spectator.

Rob Bruce narrowly misses hitting a dumbass spectator.

Nikon D300, 17-55mm, ISO320, f5, 1/1000th.

Many hours later, while in Borrego (Race Mile 405)  the stragglers in the bike classes were being chased down by the Trophy Trucks who had started more than 3 hours later.  For a bike guy, being caught by a Trophy Truck is a truly terrifying moment, if I were in his shoes I would have wet myself.   I was never able to ID the driver of the truck or the bike rider but its one of my favorite racing moments.

A bike is chased down by a Trophy Truck.

A bike is chased down by a Trophy Truck.

The final Baja 1000 moment comes from the finish line after officially closing.  The 5SC sidecar team consisted of mentally questionable men.  Who else would want to ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle with sidecar across 634 miles of rough desert terrain for over 31 hours.   This shot speaks to me personally a lot about what racing baja is all about.  Personal strength, perseverance, never say die and more.  The simple look of relief on the riders face, knowing he is finally done and not caring that his monkey is dumping a can of Dos Equis on his head in congratulations.

A hack and his Monkey celebrate at the finish after more than 31 hours of racing.

Joe Hauler (pourer) and Scott Whitney (pouree) celebrate at the finish after more than 31 hours of racing.

Nikon D700, 24-85mm, ISO200, f5.6, 1/640th.

Our journey next takes us to Nevada for the BITD Fabtech Henderson Desert Classic.  First is another bike vs truck oh shit moment.  The race was run in 3 separate parts.  Bikes and quads started early in the morning, followed by limited buggies and trucks and finally the unlimiteds.  Often there were a few slower racers on their final lap as the next group started.  In this photo, just a couple miles from the finish bike racer Cody Gremel tries to signal Stock Full racer Josh Hall that he has been seen and will pull over.  Had the shot been of just the bike or just the truck it would be boring but together it becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Josh Hall runs down Cody Gremel.

Josh Hall runs down Cody Gremel.

Nikon D300, 70-200mm, ISO200, f8, 1/500th.

Later in the day I moved down to the southern part of the course and found a nice cilty turn as the sun went low in the sky for a nice golden light.  Here Class 1500 Unlimited driver John Harrah powers through the silt.  I had recently picked up my D700 just before this race and I bought a cheap 24-85mm kit type lens for it since at the time I could not afford the 24-70mm/2.8 pro lens for $1700.  This was the cheaper lens’s first and last race.  By the end of the day the zoom ring was near totally locked up, being jammed with dirt.  Its a great sharp lens but now, after an expensive repair it does not see duty in the dirt.

John Harrah races in Henderson.

John Harrah races in Henderson.

Nikon D700, 24-85mm, ISO1600, f4.5, 1/800th.

Next is the first official race of 2009, the SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge.  This race is hated by many racers but often loved by the corps of media goons.  It’s run on a short 6 mile course and racers do 8 laps each day.  The total milage is low but the nature of the course demands that the drivers run at 110% over what turns into a very rough course.  This leads to lots of actions, carnage and attrition.  The multilap format gives us a chance to get a lot of photos in a short amount of time.  The fact that the casino and bar is only a couple hundred yards from the course helps, and hurts the next morning when I have to be on course.

The race opens on Thursday with the Laughlin Leap.  Also known as the Laughlin Lawn Dart (credit to Matt Helton for the name).  Racers run up to speed and jump off what really amounts to a ramp with no lip, and the longest distance wins.  Watching from the stands its just OK but right next to the landing zone its loud, dirty and sometimes scary.  I love it.  The downside is that this is a very difficult event to shoot.  80+mph cars, 5-10 feet away, at night, with glaring sodium lights does not make an easy shoot.  I had started planning how to shoot it several months before the event.  When I showed up that afternoon I had some newly accquired Alien Bee monolights along with a generator and battery pack to run them.  What I did not have was the power cords.  Yes, I know its hard to imagine but I screw shit up sometimes.  I managed to scrounge one cord which put my months of planning in the trash.  I was still pleased with the results however.  In the shot below Rick Boyer takes the leap, the light got under the roofline and lit up his face.  His visor was up so we get a clean shot of the eyes, a rarity but the primary reason I like the shot.

Rick Boyer flies of the Laughlin Leap.

Rick Boyer flies of the Laughlin Leap.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO1600, f2.8, 1/250th, AB1600.

The next day during practice I was finally able to get a shot I had been trying for about 8 months.  I had wanted to use a remote on the backside of a jump to shoot a car from underneath as they flew over the camera.  For various reasons this shot failed over and over but this time it worked, thanks to a healthy dose of luck.  One of my previous attempts can be seen here where a truck landed on the camera, destroying it.  I setup at the Laughlin High School where there were several high speed jumps on a straight away.  They were pretty wide so I just laid the camera down in the middle and hoped for the best.

Side Note:  When doing these shots I am often asked how I did it.  Being a clown I usually tell the person that I paid a kid who was standing around $10 to lay down on the back of the jump and take the shot.  The reactions are pretty entertaining.  The reality is that I just dig a little shelf in the dirt for the camera and fire it with a Pocket Wizard remote.

Rick St. John jumps near the High School.

Rick St. John jumps near the High School.

Nikon D300, 10.5mmFE, ISO500, f2.8, 1/4000th.
Midway through the TT race on Sunday I was hit in the upper leg with a large rock the size of a football.  Luckily it missed my testicles by less than an inch, despite that it still hurt like hell.  Welcome to off road.  Later when going through my photos I could see the rock in frame coming at me.

Damon Jeffries throws a rock at me in Laughlin.

Damon Jeffries throws a rock at me in Laughlin.

Right after Laughlin comes the BITD Parker 425.  Parker is a great and very rough course.  The race started just as the sun was rising, the sun stayed out for the first lap but shortly after the skies turned angry and opened up.  While shooting in the pouring rain is miserable I like to do it at least once a year since I get a very unique look to the photos with the rain, mud and puddles.  My morning started with a couple of mistakes that turned into cool shots.  I’m not much of a morning person and brain takes awhile to actually start after getting up.  Because of this I still had my camera set to Shutter mode instead of manual.  This would be important since the drivers would have lights on which would cause the camera to stop down the aperture making a dark shot.  Andy McMillin was first off the line and had lights on as expected.  The resulting shot while technically a failure turned out great after a little tweaking in post.

Andy McMillin near the start of the Parker 425.

Andy McMillin near the start of the Parker 425.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO1600, f5, 1/800th.

Just after Andy passed BJ Baldwin came through on a tear.  I whipped the camera in a pan as he passed and inadvertently framed his truck heading to a nasty soft downhill section with the double down arrows.  Pure luck pays off from time to time.

BJ Baldwin at the Parker 425.

BJ Baldwin at the Parker 425.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, ISO3200, f2.8, 1/800th.

When I shot the guys above I was working my way down course to a hard 90 degree right turn with big soft whoops.  Most drivers made the corner, a few did not.  This Class 5000 racer blew the corner then right through the berm making a great action shot.

A racer blows through a berm in Parker.

A racer blows through a berm in Parker.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, ISO400, f3.5, 1/1000th.

This shot of a Protruck in the pouring rain was not fun to get but fun to look at it.  After shooting in the rain for awhile you cant even see cars through the viewfinder, you just kind of aim for the car shaped blob on the fogged up glass and hope for the best.

The rain fell in Parker instead of Spain.

The rain fell in Parker instead of Spain.

After a few days to edit photos and dry out it was time for the SNORE Battle at Primm aka BAP in Primm, Nevada.  This race would be historic with over 60 1450 trucks and 50 1600 cars preregistered.   The numbers fell a bit for race day but both classes still had a huge field.  I shot BAP in 2008 and loved the format and the race.  A good rough short course, multiple laps and a huge jump about 100 yards from the bar.  Sounds perfect.  2009 was a bit disappointing though, the fields were great but the course was lacking.  There was almost zero natural terrain, virtually everything was man made graded and shaped which I hate to see in the desert.  While shooting on the second day of the race at the Dyke Jump, I noticed the snowy mountains and setup my angle to I could get them in the background along with the many race fans that come out to watch.

Jonathan Libby flies off the dyke jump at BAP.

Jonathan Libby flies off the dyke jump at BAP.

Nikon D700, 70-300mm, ISO1600, f5.6, 1/1000th.

Five days later I was out of the cold and in the heat at Firebird Raceway for NHRA drag racing.  The first day of qualifying was the best as it went into the night giving some great fire effects from the engines.  Early on I shot from the suite tower roof for a cool down angle.  Here Morgan Lucas has his engine let go while racing Brandon Bernstein.  The flames reflecting off the track is what made this shot cool to me.

Morgan Lucas blows an engine while racing Brandon Bernstein

Morgan Lucas blows an engine while racing Brandon Bernstein

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO320, f9, 1/1000th.

As night fell I went down to the track for some head on flame shots. Larry Dixon leaves the line with 5000hp.  Standing next to a Top Fuel dragster as it passes a few feet away is a very physical experience.  The noise is unbelievable and your entire body shakes with vibrations.  On my first pass I thought I might poop my pants from the shakes, it was that cool.  Im not a huge drag racing fan but shooting these cars from time to time is a very cool thing to do.

Larry Dixon leaves the line at Firebird.

Larry Dixon leaves the line at Firebird.

Nikon D700 70-200mm, ISO640, f3.2, 1/160th.

Lastly is a Funny Car driven by Robert Hight while on a burnout before the race.  I shot it at a slow shutter to get a nice background blur and was pleased that even part of the car is blurred with just the middle sharp.  To me is really shows the speed and violence these cars are capable of.

Robert Hight does his burnout.

Robert Hight does his burnout.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, ISO200, f20, 1/160th.

My adventure next took from the dragstrip to huge whoops and insane fans of Zoo Road for the SCORE San Felipe 250.   Typically this is one of my favorite races but 2008 was a bit different.  I ended shooting on race day with my sixth broken nose and a fresh concussion and as a result it was not my best work.  There are a few shots I liked though.  The bikes start the race at 0600 just as the sun is coming up and there is some nice light to shoot in.  Here Scott Myers races past me on the dump road.  Its about 8 miles of large 4 foot whoops.  The whoops do have a nice rhythm and the better riders and drivers are able to keep thier speed up and stay on top of them.

Scott Myers races towards Zoo Rd as the sun rises.

Scott Myers races towards Zoo Rd as the sun rises.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, ISO200, f2.8, 1/800th.

Later in the day I ended up in Hautamote Wash south of San Felipe.  I often have close calls with trucks or cars, especially in narrow chokepoints.  Here however I was almost hit by bike racer Mark Bradford on a 50 foot wide section of the wash.  To this day I’m not sure if he wanted to scare me or why his line took him to where his handlebar passed within a couple inches of my camera.

Mark BRadford races through Hautamote Wash.

Mark Bradford races through Hautamote Wash.

Two weeks later and I was back in the Las Vegas area for the SNORE Mint 400. The Mint is one of the largest and greatest races in the history of desert racing but it had been gone for close to 20 years.  If you ever saw the movie or read the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas you have heard about the Mint.  The race in the movie was the famed Mint 400.  Normally I love prerunning for a desert race.  Its a peaceful time for me to reflect and just do my own thing while scouting a course.  I am also normally jealous of the racers as I shoot them on raceday.  At the Mint neither of these things happened.

Fellow Media Goon Dirk Nasland was scheduled to go with me on the prerun but he had a few too many Shirley Temples the night before and did not wake up in time.  I took off on my own and ran the northern loop of the course without incident and it was pretty fun.  I then skipped down to the southern section that zigzagged all over the place and things changed.  Miles upon miles of annoying moguls.  Even in my limited truck whoops are not so bad, especially if there is some timing to them, moguls however are hell.  Instead of hitting both left and right tires at the same time they hit just one side.  As a result I spent a few hours getting thrown side to side around the inside of my truck, it sucked.  Given that information I was also happy to be on the sidelines for raceday.

After shooting the start line I went back to the southern section of the course to a nasty 180 that led into a dropoff with a big dip at the bottom.  I was counting on someone coming in hot on the first lap and stuffing the front end and I was rewarded after a short wait.  New Trophy Truck driver Marc Ewing came through at a good pace and promptly ejected his hood from the truck in a cloud of dirt.  It ranks pretty high on the awesome scale.

Marc Ewing hits a secret button ejecting his hood during the Mint 400.

Marc Ewing hits a secret button ejecting his hood during the Mint 400.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, ISO400, f14, 1/500th.

Towards the end of the day while working in a siltbed I could see planes on final approach to Nellis Air Force Base in North Las Vegas in the distance.  The course also took racers across a ridge below the approach path.  While shooting the silt I kept and eye on the ridge and sky and whipped the camera over to snap a few frames as Trophylite driver Gary Messner drove beneath a landing plane.  The snowcapped mountains, a military aircraft and desert racing are not often seen together and they combined to make a unique shot of desert racing.

Gary Messner drives under a plane preparing to land at Nellis AFB during the Mint 400.

Gary Messner drives under a plane preparing to land at Nellis AFB during the Mint 400.

Nikon D700, 70-300mm, ISO200, f6.3, 1/1000th.

Three days after the Mint and I was the Czech Republic for a little relaxation, some coverage of President Obama’s speech in Prague as well as some other shoots.  But since this is about racing I’ll skip those shots for now.  I returned home for 1 day and drove back to Primm, NV with a nasty case of jetlag for the BITD Terribles 250 at Primm.

The speed here was a bit risky for the driver.  A wide field of large whoops that funnels down to 1 skinny lane through a cattle guard.  Ballsy and it looks good on camera.

Andy McMillin flies through the whoops at the BITD Terribles Town 250.

Andy McMillin flies through the whoops at the BITD Terribles Town 250.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, ISO100, f6.3, 1/500th.

Out at Firebird Lake I was shooting the IHBA drag boats and one of the sideshows were Jet Sprinters.  The course was laid out with bouys as oppossed to the traditional land course.  Any boat that needs a rollbar for land is pretty awesome.

From IHBA Lakefest in Chandler, AZ

From IHBA Lakefest in Chandler, AZ

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO400, f6.3, 1/1250th.

In Springtime the then new LOORRS short course series made its debut in Arizona with a sellout crowd.  Shooting events at home is always a nice change.

John Harrah flips his PRo Lite in the mogul section.

John Harrah flips his Pro Lite in the mogul section.

Rob Naughton wins the Pro Lite race with an injured leg, note crutches on the side of the truck.

Rob Naughton wins the Pro Lite race with an injured leg, note crutches on the side of the truck.

Nikon D300, 24-70mm, ISO200, f8, 1/400th.

DRIVE was a new grassroots level series that started in Plaster City this season, and since I love shooting off road at night I made sure to be there for their inaugural night race.

Jason McNeil races through a canyon at the DRIVE Still of the Night 200.

Jason McNeil races through a canyon at the DRIVE Still of the Night 200.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, ISO1250, F3.5, 1/250th, 2 AB1600.

This was a failed idea that turned out cool.  I wanted to do a long exposure to get the stars and desert then pop a strobe to light up the car.  While it did not work, I did like the results and you can see the truck on the left side of the frame.

Steve Hererra hits 88mph and is transported back to 1985.

Steve Hererra hits 88mph and is transported back to 1985.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, ISO1250, f9, 30 seconds, AB1600.

At the Baja 500 I had big plans that turned to a nightmare.  Click here for the full story of my adventure. At tech I wanted a wide shot with the cars and people.  Here Sal Fish and Oscar Ramos leads the first cars down vendor row to open Tech and Contingency.  I put a camera on a monopod and simply held it up in the air with the camera on self timer.

Sal and Oscar open tech at the Baja 500

Sal and Oscar open tech at the Baja 500

Nikon D300, 10.5mmFE, ISO640, F8, 1/1000th.

Dale Lenk jumps at Ojos Negros.

Dale Lenk jumps at Ojos Negros.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f10, 1/500th.

Shooting from a small fishing boat is a huge pain in the ass, its worse when the boat captain is wasted.

Tim Herbst chases down Roger Norman at Erendira.

Tim Herbst chases down Roger Norman at Erendira.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 1.4 TC, ISO400, f13, 1/1000th.

Harley Letner races through Pebble Beach on his way to winning the 500.

Harley Letner races through Pebble Beach on his way to winning the 500.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 1.4TC, ISO400, f13, 1/1000th.

After the boat debacle I shot the same section from dryland.  I felt like Kevin Costner being chased by Smokers.

Spectators help a bike guy after crashing at sunset.

Spectators help a bike guy after crashing at sunset.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, ISO400, f13, 1/250th.

Just a few days after the 500 I was in Plaster City for the MDR Superstition night race.

A 5-1600 racer jumps in Plaster City

Dave Simpson and Dennis Webb jump in Plaster City.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO200, f4, 1/250th, AB1600.

Spectators watch the race at sunset.

Spectators watch the race at sunset.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO200, f16, 1/250th.

THis is one of my all time favorite shots.  If only the driver had bedsides on it would be even better.

Jerry Larimore jumps.

Jerry Larimore jumps.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, ISO250, f3.2, 1/250th, AB1600.

Continued in part II.

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There are 1 Comments to "Races, Faces and Places – Durkalicious 2009 Part I"

  • Hello Matt (Kartman),
    Great shots for the entire year. I noticed that you have almost all the names listed for all the cars that could be identified. The awesome shot of the 5-1600 at Plaster City is that of Dave Simpson / Dennis Webb. I know this for a fact as I am riding shotgun in the picture. We are currently leading the class in points as well as the overall points for the series. Could you please update the photo caption to reflect this information? We all admire your fantastic work, so stop by our pit for a few cold XX Dos Equis. Thank you and see you at the Dash!!

    Curtis Murdock
    #554 Co-Driver – MDR Superstition Series

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