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I’ll make it rain on ‘em… I’ll lay a game to ‘em. NASCAR from Watkins Glen

Thursday, August 6th Mark Rebilas and I flew out to Philadelphia then drove to upstate New York to cover the NASCAR Heluva Good! at the Glen.  This race is one of only two road courses NASCAR runs each year so I was excited to see some right turns and ringers.

Track Map

I had been to the Sears Point race a few times but this was my first trip to Watkins Glen International also known as The Glen.  Friday morning we set out for the track but got there late, missing the start of the first practice session.  Just before practice is a good time to grab driver shots so I was a bit disappointed.  Luckily the session was stopped several times and for some reason the drivers came back to the garage more than normal so I was able to grab some decent shots.

Robby Gordon prepares for Friday Practice.

Robby Gordon prepares for Friday Practice.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO800, F2.8, 1/125th.

I was planning to shoot part of the race from turn one so that was the first place I went.  The first turn on a road course is often a good place for carnage, especially when you have a field full of oval racers.  I spent the session trying some different angles and styles before heading back to the garage for some more head shots.

Boris Said takes turn one during practice.

Boris Said takes turn one during practice.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO200, F14, 1/200th.

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO1600, f3.5, 1/250th.

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO640, F3.5, 1/160th.

For qualifying I started at the top of the S turns on the inside of the track and worked my way around the track.  I used the qualifying session to get a feel for the track,  and scout out locations for later in the weekend.  I also used it to try some angles I don’t normally shoot.  One of my goals was to get shots that show this is a road course.  With only 2 of 36 races having right turns I wanted to feature the right hand turns and unique features of a road course.

Kyle Bush tops the S turns

Kyle Bush tops the S turns

Nikon D700,  400mm, ISO200, F9, 1/400th.

Jimmie Johnson races through the S turns.

Jimmie Johnson races through the S turns.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 1.4TC, ISO 200, F7.1, 1/1000th.

From there I moved down the back straight towards the inner loop or chicane.  I noticed the countdown signs leading into the corner.  These are pretty much unique to road courses so I spent a few minutes shooting cars heading into the corner with the signs visible.

David Stremme brakes for the chicane.

David Stremme brakes for the chicane.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 1.4TC, ISO200, F7.1, 1/1600th.

Jamie McMurray enters the chicane.

Jamie McMurray enters the chicane.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 1.4TC, ISO200, F5, 1/1600th.

The fans in this area are great and had me cracking up for a while.  There is the inside group and the outside group and the rivalry is intense.  The outside would chant “The inside sucks!” in unison shortly followed by “The outside swallows” continued throughout the day.  The groups even had signs to support their side.

Fans on the outside of the chicane.

Fans on the outside of the chicane.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 1.4TC, ISO200, f6.3, 1/1600th.

I started with away shots at the entry to the chicane and worked my way around to the exit and head on shots.  This is a cool section of the track with a fast right, left, left right combination.  On the first left the drivers apex on the curbing and that often lifts the inside tire.

Sam Hornish clips the dirt on the inside of the chicane.

Sam Hornish clips the dirt on the inside of the chicane.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 1.4TC, ISO200, f7.1, 1/1000th.

Tony Stewart lifts a tire in the chicane.

Tony Stewart lifts a tire in the chicane.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f5.6, 1/1000th.

Max Papis lifts a tire in the chicane.

Max Papis lifts a tire in the chicane.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f5, 1/1600th.

Next I went to turn nine, while there I noticed some nice clouds so I shot wide to bring them into the shot.

Boris Said races through turn nine.

Boris Said races through turn nine.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO200, f6.3, 1/1000th.

With the session over I planned to walk back to the media center to transmit some photos and get ready for the Rolex Grand Am race.  From the short straight between turns nine and ten there is no easy way to get back to the media center.  Like most tracks The Glen has access gates in the fence all over the track to get from the spectator area to the photo/marshall areas between the spectators and the track.  Unlike most tracks The Glen has no rhyme or reason to when these gates will be locked or unlocked on any given day.  Laguna Seca has it down, all the gates have a combination lock and the photographers are given the combo to get in and out and lock the gates behind them.  The Glen has all key locks and no staff around to open them.  This made my walk back to the media center much longer than it could have been and ate up most of the downtime between qualifying and the start of the Rolex race.  I had just enough time to download a couple of cards to my laptop before heading back to inside turn one.

Once again I disappointed as turn one was crash free for the early laps of the race.  This is a credit to the drivers however as they drove clean and got through the corner without incident.  As always happens shortly after leaving the area there was a decent wreck in turn one that I missed.  I walked through the pitlane and setup near the Telmex team to get some shots of their upcoming pit stop.

Memo Rojas pits during the Crown Royal 200.

Memo Rojas pits during the Crown Royal 200.

Nikon D300, 17-55mm, ISO640, f6.3, 1/400th.

While there I noticed Scott Pruett geared up for a driver change and shot a few frames of him.

Scott Pruett waits for a driver change.

Scott Pruett waits for a driver change.

Nikon D700, 70-200, ISO1600, F4, 1/400th.

As the Telmex car left the pit a car behind them also left the pit coming into frame and giving me a cool but lucky burnout shot down the pitlane.

Max Angelelli exits his pit stall.

Max Angelelli exits his pit stall.

Nikon D300, 17-55mm, ISO640, f4.5, 1/400th.

I then made the short walk under the front straight bridge to shoot inside turn 11 hoping for some final corner carnage.  I struck out again but I did get some shots of the car that crashed in turn one returning to the pits with heavy damage.

Andy Wallace pits after crashing in turn one.

Andy Wallace pits after crashing in turn one.

Saturday started with the final Cup practice.  I walked down through the pits and grabbed a couple of shots of the drivers waiting to go out on track.  I overexposed the outside of the car to get a good exposure on the driver, with a little crop around the edge to show the driver’s name it made a neat photo.

Joey Logana

Joey Logana

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO800, f5.6, 1/500th.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO800, f5, 1/500th.

I ran into gate problems again and had to take a very long detour to get to the outside of turn one.  The turn drops off as part of the elevation change at the track, combined with the long runoff area would cut off the bottom of the cars so I had to shoot early right at corner entry.  The spot did provide some nice head on photos as the cars came down the front straight.

Juan Pablo Montoya leads a pack of cars into turn one.

Juan Pablo Montoya leads a pack of cars into turn one.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, F9, 1/640th.

Jimmie Johnson enters turn one.

Jimmie Johnson enters turn one.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f9, 1/640th.

Juan Pablo Montoya disappears in turn one.

Juan Pablo Montoya disappears in turn one.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f10, 1/640th.

Shooting with long glass to get the straight and corner would be a problem if there was a crash however so I moved to the exit of turn 1 so I shoot into the runoff area in case someone yardsaled into the tire wall.

Elliot Sadler locks up a tire under braking for turn one.

Elliot Sadler locks up a tire under braking for turn one.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f9, 1/640th.

Robby Gordon apexes turn one.

Robby Gordon apexes turn one.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f7.1, 1/1000th.

I kept working my way around the outside of the track to shoot turn 2 and the S turns.

Max Papis leads Juan Pablo Montoya through the S turns.

Max Papis leads Juan Pablo Montoya through the S turns.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f7.1, 1/1000th.

PJ Jones enters turn two.

PJ Jones enters turn two.

Nikon D700 400mm, ISO200, f8, 1/1000th.

Then it was back to turn one for the start of the Nationwide race.  While the pace car was out prior to the start I tried to incorporate the tire wall into the shot but the runoff area gave it too much foreground.

Marcos Ambrose leads a pack of cars through turn one.

Marcos Ambrose leads a pack of cars through turn one.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO640, F10, 1/800th.

During the pre race pageantry I spotted a monster truck on the front straight and grabbed a few frames since its not everyday you see a monster truck on a road course.

A monster truck performs a 3 point turn on the front straight.

A monster truck performs a 3 point turn on the front straight.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f6.3, 1/1000th.

On the start I shot the cars barreling down to turn one.  Luckily it was overcast that day so I had a nice even light.

Nationwide racers enter turn one on lap one.

Nationwide racers enter turn one on lap one.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f7.14, 1/1000th.

Scott Speed locks up a tire under braking as he leads Marcos Ambrose.

Scott Speed locks up a tire under braking as he leads Marcos Ambrose.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f7.1, 1/1000th.

As in the previous practice session I worked my way over to the S turns.

Nationwide cars in the S turns.

Nationwide cars in the S turns.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO640, F8, 1/500th.

While shooting the S’s from the bottom I heard and felt a thud a few feet to my right.  I looked over and there was Paul Menard backwards against the outside railing in turn two.  He had crashed no less than thee feet away from me.

Paul Menard crashes in turn two.

Paul Menard crashes in turn two.

Nikon D300, 17-55mm, ISO200, f2.8, 1/800th.

Paul Menard after crashing in turn two.

Paul Menard after crashing in turn two.

Nikon D300, 17-55mm, ISO200, f4.5, 1/800th.

The Glen is an odd track in where they let you shoot.  Some safe locations are prohibited, like the inside of turn ten while other very dangerous locations are allowed, such as the outside of turn two.  Many of the permitted locations also lack a catch fence so there is only a three foot tall railing there to stop a car.  That said if I am allowed to shoot somewhere sketchy I usually will since I can get a unique shot.  In the three days I spent at the track I never saw anyone else shooting the outside of two.  Either I am ballsy or stupid but that is a common theme in my life.

Track photo locations

Next I went up the hill at the S turn and made some wide angle shots of the cars in turn two with the grandstands in the background.

Marcos Ambrose races through turn two.

Marcos Ambrose races through turn two.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO640, f6.3, 1/500th.

In turn four I made a few quick shots of the cars through the railing while under caution.

The pace car leads drivers through turn 4.

The pace car leads drivers through turn 4.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO640, f6.3, 1/500th.

Then it was over the east tunnel to the exit of turn four.  I found a small platform there that was free of TV cameras so I used that to get a bit of a down angle on the cars coming through turn four.

Marcos Ambrose races through turn four.

Marcos Ambrose races through turn four.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f2.8, 1/1250th.

On the final lap I was on the outside of the back straight just before the chicane when a fan jumped the fence and started running hysterically towards the track.  She ripped down a couple of Zippo banners like a monkey on crack.

A fan rips down a zippo banner during the Nationwide race.

A fan rips down a zippo banner during the Nationwide race.

Nikon D300, 17-55mm, ISO500, f3.2, 1/800th.

I made the long walk back to the media center again to transmit the days photos.

Day three began at the hotel with a wet parking lot.  The forecast called for rain but I was confident it would be dry at the track, boy was I wrong.  When I got to the track it had a rained a little but it was holding for the time being.  The race was scheduled for 2 PM and it was still dry when they went through all of the driver introductions, opening ceremonies and other pre race nonsense.  At 2 the drivers were not yet in the cars and there was an unexplained delay.  I was on the outside of turn one again and I could see some unfriendly black clouds to the northeast moving our way.  Sure enough a few minutes later we got some sprinkles followed by a full on downpour. While it was still pouring the jetdryers went out on track to blow off the standing water.

The cars sat in the pitlane and were quickly covered and I grabbed a few shots standing in the rain with the cars and the gray skies above.

Cars are covered as rain falls on the cup race.

Cars are covered as rain falls on the cup race.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f7.1, 1/1000th.

Fans leave the turn one stands as rain falls on the cup race.

Fans leave the turn one stands as rain falls on the cup race.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO400, F2.8, 1/800th.

I took a few shots of the jetdryer trucks as well.  I got a nice reflection from the headlights in the runoff area of turn 1.

A dryer truck blows standing water off the track during the cup race.

A dryer truck blows standing water off the track during the cup race.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f2.8, 1/1000th.

As they moved up the front straight the hot air and water made a cool blurring effect on the Sprint sign on the pedestrian bridge.

A dryer truck blows standing water off the track during the cup race.

A dryer truck blows standing water off the track during the cup race.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f2.8, 1/1000th.

I got under the leaky TV tower and transmitted a couple of photos while waiting to see what the weather would do.  The rain kept coming so I grabbed all my gear (about 50 pounds) and trudged off through the rain about a mile back to the media center.  At this point I was really not happy.  Tired, soaking wet, with a big load of wet camera gear.  My friend Mark Rebilas of course grabbed his camera to document my misery (I would have done the same to him of course).

Matt Kartozian shows his displeasure at being photographed after walking through the rain.  Photo by Mark Rebilas.

Matt Kartozian shows his displeasure at being photographed after walking through the rain. Photo by Mark Rebilas.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm

I dropped my load, grabbed the laptop and moved a few more photos, then packed my gear in anticipation of the race being called.  As soon as it was called we bailed to try and beat spectator traffic.  We had checked out of our hotel that morning so while driving we made a mad scramble to book a new place and book new flights home.  With that done we made our way to the bar at Applebees, it must be noted that there was no Chilis in Painted Post, NY.  While there we ran into some crew guys from one of the cup teams and ended up staying there way too late BSing with them.

Bartender, another round!

Bartender, another round!

Olympus Tough 1030, 6.53mm, ISO500, F4.1, 1/40th.

All of this nonsense could have of course been avoided if NASCAR would rain in the rain.  Postponing the race only serves to screw the fans, drivers, crews, track workers and everyone else at the track.  Personally I think they should run ovals in the rain but that while that could be dangerous there is no valid excuse for not running a road course in the wet.  Just about every other major racing series does it, even motorcycles.  While it sucks to shoot in the rain the results are great, you get very unique photos and it brings a lot more strategy into the race which makes it more interesting for the fans.  All of the greatest races I have watched involved rain and drying track.  Watch the F1 2008 Monaco Grand Prix or the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix for examples of how awesome wet/dry races can be.

Monday morning I checked the forecast and it showed a 70% chance of rain, I really did not want to stay in NY another day and hoped the report would be wrong.  The race was scheduled to go off at noon and we got the track about 9 AM.  It turned out we were there before the majority of other photographers so I went out to the garage to grab some photos and hopefully beat out everyone else with some early coverage.

The garage area was still closed so I was able to get some shots of all the crews milling around waiting to get in.

Crews wait to enter the garage area.

Crews wait to enter the garage area.

Nikon D700, 16mm FE, ISO200, f4.5, 1/2500th.

Once open I got some atmosphere shots of the crews prepping for the race.  At this point all the cars were in the garage which was closed to the teams.  I saw a NASCAR official looking out the window at the crews.  He gave me some strange looks as I shot but I am used to that by now.

A NASCAR official looks out of the closed garage.

A NASCAR official looks out of the closed garage.

Nikon D300, 17-55mm, ISO200, f4.5, 1/500th.

I also noticed some puddles of standing water and used them to make some reflection shots with the closed garage.

Crews wait for the garage stalls to open.

Crews wait for the garage stalls to open.

Nikon D700, 16mm FE, ISO200, f4.5, 1/2000th.

Crews wait for the garage stalls to open.

Crews wait for the garage stalls to open.

Nikon D700, 16mm FE, ISO200, f4.5, 1/5000th.

I also quickly ducked into the garage to get a shot of all the cars with no crews.  I was in and out fast before I could get yelled at for being in there.

Cars are impounded in the garage after the rain delay.

Cars are impounded in the garage after the rain delay.

Nikon D700, 16mm FE, ISO200, f4.5, 1/100th.

Back to the media center to transmit then I spent a few minutes relaxing before the race start.  For what I hoped was the final time I walked out to the outside of turn one for the start.  With a noon start and clear skies the light simply sucked.  On the pace lap I stopped way down and shot a few frames then made a few more with larger apertures to get a feel for what was available.

The pace leads the field prior to the start.

The pace leads the field prior to the start.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f16, 1/1000th.

I decided on my settings and setup for the start.

Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch leads the field into turn one on lap one.

Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch leads the field into turn one on lap one.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, F16, 1/1000th.

Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch lead the field into turn one on lap one.

Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch lead the field into turn one on lap one.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f13, 1/1000th.

After the cars passed I quickly moved up track to shoot an away shot of the cars entering turn one.

Kurt Busch leads the field on lap two.

Kurt Busch leads the field on lap two.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO200, f6.3, 1/800th.

On the way back through turn one I made use of the glare on the cars and stopped way down to make an artsy shot.

Ryan Newman leads Kyle Busch and Juan Montoya through turn one.

Ryan Newman leads Kyle Busch and Juan Montoya through turn one.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO200, f22, 1/800th.

Then I moved to the exit of one and setup to catch a crash.  A few laps in, nothing had happened and I grabbed the laptop to transmit a few photos from the start.  Once done transmitting I went over the outside of turn two and shot the cars going up the S’s, exiting one and entering two.  I was able to get all four shots by moving 20 feet or so.

Drivers race through the S turns.

Drivers race through the S turns.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f14, 1/1000th.

Marcos Ambrose leads the field out of turn one.

Marcos Ambrose leads the field out of turn one.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f7.1, 1/1000th.

Carl Edwards leads a pack of cars through turn two.

Carl Edwards leads a pack of cars through turn two.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, F10, 1/1000th.

From there I went back through turn one, up the front straight and to the exit of turn 11.  Depite being a Monday there was a good crowd at the track and I used them for a background in the shots from turn 11.

Marcos Ambrose races through turn 11.

Marcos Ambrose races through turn 11.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO250, f9, 1/800th.

I also made some shots using the tirewall and guardrail to frame the car.

Tony Stewart races through turn 11.

Tony Stewart races through turn 11.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO250, F9, 1/800th.

Lastly I made some tight shots for later stock photos in the right turn.

Tony Stewart leads Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle through turn 11.

Tony Stewart leads Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle through turn 11.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO250, f9, 1/800th.

Shortly after there was a huge multicar crash in turn 9 and officials red flagged the race to cleanup the considerable mess.  I used the downtime to download all my cards and sort a few shots.  In turn 11, I was just uptrack from the pit entrance so I was able to shoot all the wadded up cars as they came by on the wreckers heading to the garage.

Jeff Gordons car is towed to the pits.

Jeff Gordon's car is towed to the pits.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO250, f9, 1/800th.

Sam Hornishs car is towed to the pits.

Sam Hornish's car is towed to the pits.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO250, F9, 1/800th.

I moved around the corner to shoot the cars exiting turn 10 on the restart and entering turn 11.  This also gave me a good angle if there was a late race crash in turn 11.

The race is restarted after a red flag.

The race is restarted after a red flag.

N ikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, f10, 1/1000th.

Tony Stewart leads the field out of turn 10.

Tony Stewart leads the field out of turn 10.

Nikon D700, 400mm, ISO200, F10, 1/1000th.

Tony Stewart and Marcos Ambrose race through turn 11.

Tony Stewart and Marcos Ambrose race through turn 11.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, ISO100, F20, 1/100th.

Earlier in the race Dale Ernhardt Jr crashed in turn 10 and he came back on track 20+ laps down without his hood.  I don’t often see cup cars running while missing all of the front bodywork so I grabbed some shots.

Dale Earnhardt Jr gets back on track after crashing.

Dale Earnhardt Jr gets back on track after crashing.

Nikon D700, 70-200, ISO100, f6.3, 1/800th.

With ten laps to go I switched to my super wide lens to get the finishline shot but before leaving I got a few shots of the leaders driving through 11 with a background full of blue skies and puffy clouds.

Tony Stewart leads Marcos Ambrose through turn 11.

Tony Stewart leads Marcos Ambrose through turn 11.

Nikon D300, 10-20mm, ISO200, F8, 1/800th.

Tony Stewart leads Marcos Ambrose through turn 11.

Tony Stewart leads Marcos Ambrose through turn 11.

Nikon D300, 10-20mm, ISO200, F32, 1/80th.

I set up a few feet past the flag stand so I could get a shot of the winner taking the checkers.  Before the finish I made a few slow pan shots as the cars passed with engines at full song.

Marcos Ambrose races down the front straight.

Marcos Ambrose races down the front straight.

Nikon D700, 16mmFE, ISO100, F22, 1/100th.

I set up two cameras that I would fire at the same time .  My right hand had the D300 and my left the D700.  I fired the D700 with my left pinkie and the D300 normally.  The 700 had no strap and I was holding it awkwardly so I was a little scared of dropping it on the front straight by I managed to hold on to it.

Tony Stewart takes the checkers.

Tony Stewart takes the checkers.

Nikon D300, 10-20mm, ISO200, f5, 1/1000th.

Nikon D700, 16mmFE, ISO200, f11, 1/1000th.

I stayed in position to get a shot of the checkered flag being passed to the winner and again shot with both cameras.

Nikon D300, 10-20mm, ISO200, f7.1, 1/1000th.

As soon as the crossover gate was opened I crossed the track, got into the media center and transmitted a handful of shots of Tony Stewart taking the win.  From there I went back and pulled and captioned more shots of the frontrunners and other key drivers throughout the race.  We then packed up and jumped in the car for the long drive down to Philly, on the way I went through my photos again and transmitted shots of the less important drivers that day.  I finished the day in a dive hotel near the airport and a wizwit cheesesteak.

Despite the problems and misery of the weekend I had a good time and I was pleased with the results.  Below is some of the web coverage after the race.

Up next are two off road races. The MDR California 200 night race and the BITD Vegas to Reno “The Long Way”.

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