Photographing the Traveling Circus; A NASCAR Photographers Weekend
Have you ever dreamed of specializing in some form of photography that was difficult to obtain and thought how great it would be to get there? I spent years dreaming about becoming a NASCAR photographer. Once I got there, I found a world I never expected — and it is not all that glamorous once you get behind the curtain.
Starting very early on Thursday, photographers show up at the track and set up in the media center for what promises to be a long weekend. Once settled in, it is time to head out to the garage area and start looking for anything interesting that might be happening. You have to take all the gear you might need with you because you will not have time to run back for a lens when something big happens. Two cameras, multiple lenses, water bottles, batteries, media cards, and the list goes on.
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Photographers spend most of the day going back and forth between the garage area, the track, and the media center. In the middle of summer, the temperatures can be as high as ninety degrees or more, so wearing something loose and comfortable is important.
Once practice starts, the garage area turns into a mix of loud cars, pungent exhaust fumes, and speeding race cars heading onto and coming off the track. This is the time to get some images of cars coming and going, drivers getting in and out of the cars, and other action on the track. It becomes necessary to move rapidly from the garage to the track and back in order to catch everything.
After the first practice ends, it’s back to the media center to process images, transmit them, and rest for a few minutes before heading back out to the garage or track to start all over. There will also be press conferences throughout the day and qualifying sessions for one or all of the three series on Friday or Saturday. The day ends when the garage closes and all of the images from the day have been sent to the publication.
The next day starts the cycle all over again. If it is Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, there is going to be a full race as well. After all, that’s what this weekend is about. After the race ends, photographers rush to the winners circle, trying to get the best spot for a picture of the winner. Finally, it is back to the media center to transmit images to the publication and catch some last minute images before the garage closes. The day ends after what seems like an eternity from when it started.
The days are long and demanding, the conditions are dirty, hot, and noisy, and the competition is tough. I do not shoot NASCAR these days. After one season, I learned it was not a job that I could do over and over again. I am glad that I got the chance to fulfill my dream and experience the job, but there is a part of me that never wants to try that again.