Sunday, September 28, 2008

On Holy Ground...

This year I've had the opportunity to visit several new (to me!) race tracks and shoot. One of the trips i had been most looking forward to was Road America.

Road America, and the village of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, are chock-full of motorsport history. I remember reading The Last Open Road a book by Burt Levy chronicling the origins of road racing in the US as told by a young racing wrench, Buddy Palumbo. Buddie's adventures took him to places like Watkins Glen, Giants Despair, and Bridgehampton, but his first visit to a quiet, sleepy little resort town named Elkhart Lake really captured my imagination.

Back in 1950, the Chicago region of the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) joined forces with the Village of Elkhart Lake to hold it's first annual road race. That original track ran through the Wisconsin countryside, back through town, and back out to the countryside again. A full lap of the original course was about 3.3 miles. In 1951 and '52, a different course was used, 6.5 miles in length. To my knowledge, the original course still exists, and you can drive it, though it isn't clearly marked for obvious reasons. If it were: I'd be posting video right now!

After the tragic death of a 12 year old in an accident at the Watkins Glen road races in New York, road racing on public roads was all but banned. The sport survived for a few years on airport run ways, but it really blossomed again when permanent road courses were built.

© 2008 ClarkPhoto

One of these permanent tracks was Road America, just outside of Elkhart Lake. Built in 1955 on 525 acres of Wisconsin farmland by Cliff Tufte, Road America's original 4-mile, 14 turn configuration has never been altered. They have hosted some of the greatest racing series, cars, and drivers of the last 50 years. Names like Phil Hill, Briggs Cunningham, Augie Pabst, Andretti, Unser, Paul Newman and Rahal have raced the course and walked the streets of Elkhart Lake. The list could go on forever.

© 2008 ClarkPhoto

The track itself is epic. Huge elevation changes, sweeping fast corners, and the infamous "kink" make for an incredible viewing experience. The facility itself is massive, needing a car, or at the very least, a golf cart to get around. Photographically speaking, it affords many opportunities for great shots. What an incredible place. I can't wait to go back!

© 2008 ClarkPhoto

© 2008 ClarkPhoto

- Chris

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mid-Ohio Spectators Photography Guide....

I suspect alot of you are fellow photography buffs, and with the Mid-Ohio season opener fast approaching, I thought I would post up a quick and dirty little "photography guide" for the race fans who won't have the access that some of our Pro's do. This is by no means a definitive list, just a few locations from someone who has spent a few weekends at Mid-Ohio. I am sure I will miss a few spots, and probably am not aware of others, so by all means if you know of some good shots not listed: Post'em Up!

Without further adieu':

First the map:

Mid-Ohio Map

We'll start with Turn 1 and work our way around to Turn 8. A few examples:
© 2008 Clark|Photo

T1: You can get to the inside of T1 at the base of the drive over bridge leading to the infield. This is a good spot because there is no catch fencing. You have to be on your game here as this is the fastest corner on the course, AND they are coming at you kind of blind from under the bridge. You also can get them at their slowest here as the pit exit is inside of T1. One problem with this location: Sometimes for the big events, ALMS for example, the track uses this area for private hospitality. You can't get in. There is however another area right next to the T1 area which allows some nice side pans. there are also some small grandstands in this section you can shoot from for an elevated shot.

We will skip T2 and T3 as there are blocked by catch fencing and the Pro series don't run the chicane anyway.

T4: This is the Keyhole. This section is wrapped entirely in catch fencing but there are a few Pro photo holes you can reach through from behind the fence if you have long enough glass. Beware though, when the headlining series are on track, these holes WILL be clogged with working pro's. Your best bet for shots from here is during the support series, and even then they will more than likely be occupied.

The straight stretch from 5-6-7 is all fencing.

T7: Another spot with no catch fencing. This is a good spot because Mid-Ohio starts their races on the back stretch, so on the opening lap this is effectively "Turn 1". This is the turn where Marco Andretti ended up on his lid during the 2007 IRL race.

T8: Turn 8 is also wrapped in fencing. you can however shoot a nice "going away" shot from T7 as shown in my example above.

© 2008 Clark|Photo

T8 continued: While T8 is fenced, there are holes in it for the working pro's to shoot through. I have had moderate success shooting through two of them from behind the spectator fence. Using a 300mm, and some cropping in post got me the examples above. As with the holes in T4, expect these to be clogged during prime track activity. "hole 1" is at the top of the hill, while "hole 2" is slightly down hill, shooting up into 8. there is also a shot of the cars exiting Turn 7 heading into 8, pretty much a head-on shot, from the top of the spectator mound, shooting over the fence. You will need some long glass to make it though.

T9: The catch fencing is extended from 8 all the way down the hill to T9. The stretch from T9 to the Honda Bridge (T10A) is all open. You can get a nice view as the hit the apex of T9. Also alot of space for side pans on the stretch from T9-10A.

T10A: The kink right aftyer the Honda Bridge. Lot's to do here. The spectator fence runs all the way up to the base of the Honda bridge. You can shoot from there and almost get a clear head-on shot, well, it's more of a 3/4 shot, but it's still pretty good. This is a popular spot with photog's, so get there early and claim your little piece of fence. You can also turn around and get a shot of the cars cresting the hill after 10A, shown in my shot labeled "going away 2". Shooting from the 9-10a stretch and pointing back at the bridge gets you a nice going away shot with the bridge in the background, shown above as "turn 10A going away ."

T10-Outside: If you are feeling young and fit and fancy a hike, cross over the Honda bridge into the back campground, hang a right and hike up to the section between 10B and T11. This is again, a fenced section of track, and again, there are holes in the fence. You can get a nice shot of the cars coming down the hill and apexing 10B. Long Glass, plus some cropping in post. The shot in my example above was shot with a 300mm and uncropped, so you can get an idea of whether or not the hike is worth it.

Turn 11: From the outside= not much opportunity, all fencing and/or trees, with the exception of a "going away" shot as they exit 11. It's been awhile, but I think this may have been shot from the same photo hole as the 10B shot, just pointed the other direction. If it isn't the same hole, it is close, just walk a little further towards T11 until you find it. There is an example in the photo posted below. There is also a shot from the infield, on top of a spectator mound, shooting back towards 11 over the fence. The hill/ mound is just past the infield bathrooms, directly up the hill from the second walkover bridge. The example above, again 300mm un-cropped.

© 2008 Clark|Photo

The stretch of track from 11 to the entry to 14 is all catch fencing, and from the infield you can't really get close between 12 and 13. Outside the track there is a spectator mound between the second walk over bridge and T13, but I have never personally shot from there.

T13: There is a photo hole in the fence in the infield giving a great shot of T13 as they exit "Thunder Valley" with the bridge in the background. You can reach through it with a 300 and a little cropping. Beware though: this is one of my personal favorites, to a fault, so expect it to be clogged, if not by me then by some other shooter.

T14-T15: If the hole at T13 is occupied, just walk a little further up the hill to "The Carousel", T14. No catch fencing, you will be slightly elevated compared to the track, and the Honda Pavilion is in the background. A really good spot to shoot from. You can also shoot the T15 "going away" shot from up here, as the cars race down the pit straight.

Again, if you fancy a walk, head through the paddock, past the false grid, to the grandstand outside of the Carousel, T14. There are 4 sets of stands, the 2 in the middle sit a tad bit higher than the others, and if you climb to the top, you can shoot over the fence and catch the cars at the top of the "hill" before they enter T14. Right after T13 actually. the example above shot with 300mm and cropped.

T15 Outside: This is a shot in the dark. There is a set of grandstands, right next to the false grid, where you can shoot the cars as they enter and exit T15, and the pits. As with T1 though, Mid-Ohio sometimes makes this a private hospitality area.

False Grid: This is back by the outside of T15, the backside of the paddock. This si where soem fo the support series line up before heading out on track. A great place to get close up shots of cars with drivers "armed and ready"

The Paddock:
Sometimes you are required to buy an additional pass to get into the paddock, sometimes it is free. Depends on the series really. If you need to pay, it IS worth it. You get access to the garages, haulers, etc.. The garages at MO have the added benefit of having "lofts" where you can walk up the stairs and look down into the garages. There are three seperate sets of garages. The sets on either end have the walkways that overlook not only the interior of the garages, but also offer a view of pit lane. Good stuff.

And with that, we are back to T1. Again, this is not the definitive guide so do some of your own exploring and find your personal favorite spots. If there is anything I missed, certainly post it up.

I hope this can be of some use to some of you.

See you at the races!!