Monday, June 28, 2010

Indy Heat

"You want us to WHAT?" I ask the very serious looking security guy.

"You need to be wearing pants and closed shoes," he tells me.

I look around me. The temperature is well over 35 degrees (for my American friends, 35c is VFH..."Very Fricking Hot.")

There's hardly anyone not in sandals and shorts. And the forecast for tomorrow is even hotter.

"I mean it," he says, waggling his eyebrows to emphasize the fact that he is really serious.

"I got it," I say, using my #5 Charming Grin to no apparent effect whatsoever.

"Good. Because I mean it," he says again.

I look around. We are standing on black concrete. It seems to intensify the heat before throwing it back up in shimmering waves.

A race car screams out of the pits, leaving an acrid cloud of smoke in its wake. It seems like it only arrived a few seconds ago.

I see the crew stepping away from the vacuum left by the car.

I've watched these crews swarm over the cars, changing the tires, filling the gas tank...and doing a whole bunch of mysterious crap to the engine. They move in a perfectly orchestrated dance.

One of the crew members looks exhausted and way too hot.

Poor guy.

I see their fully insulated jumpsuits, and have just witnessed the frenzied activity that takes place when the car arrives…and suddenly pants and closed shoes don’t seem so bad at all.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I spent several fascinated hours in Pit Row during the Edmonton Indy.

For those who don’t know, Pit Row is were the drivers get into their cars, where they interact with their crews and where they come for pit stops during the race.

Most of the time, I stayed in the background, watching and photographing the people. But I was also trying to imprint on my mind what it felt like to be that close to these fast machines, intense drivers and utterly dedicated pit crews.

Pit Row smells not unpleasantly of exhaust, oil and sweat. There are two speeds of activity. There’s an affable sloth-like purposeful motion: guys moving equipment around, laughing and chatter. And there’s hyper-drive getthecarbackontothetrackNOW perfectly orchestrated frenzy when the vehicle tears into the pits.

There are always the fans: pressed up against the fence, as close as they can get. They stake out their favourite driver’s pits and wait. They will stand there for hours in the hot sun, hoping for a glimpse of their heroes, often calling their name.

And there are cameras: hundreds of them. The fans carry them, of course. So do the reporters and media photographers. There are video cameras operating on huge booms and carried by puffing steady looking men following reporters around.

There’s the constant sound of machinery and power tools, the clanking of metal on metal, the drone of the track announcer and the sound of the fans. But it’s all purposeful. It’s all very much “on purpose” – tasks carried out by crews that have done them a hundred times before and consider competency, speed and excellence as the sacred trinity of their jobs.

These are all people who spend their lives in a fishbowl and have grown used to it.

I saw Helio Castroneves arrive on a scooter. He chatted with some fans, posed for pictures, got interviewed and flashed his smile.

But then he went off by himself to watch his competitors.

He looked very much alone to me…and content to stay that way. He was motionless, watching the other drivers, seeing things I wouldn’t even notice.

I wonder what drivers think about…how they prepare for the race. I wonder if they consider that they might get killed or set on fire. I wonder if they refuse to even let these thoughts into their mind.

I wonder what Helio Castroneves was thinking about as he sat by himself under my fishbowl.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fearsome Danica...

"I heard a little boy asked her for an autograph and she just walked away and he started to cry," says one breathless volunteer.

"Yeah? Well I heard her whole pit crew is scared of making her mad," responds another.

They are talking about Indy's legendary beauty, Danica Patrick. She was racing yesterday.

She arrived on a scooter, looking neither right or left, ignoring the myriad of cameras clicking as she passed.

Patrick chatted with her crew and laughed often and I saw no sign that people were afraid of her. She seemed like a race car driver concentrating on her job.

I shot a LOT of photos in the pits yesterday -- and am going back this morning.

PDTBVE ("Pretty Darn Tired But Very Excited")

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Graham Rahal In The Pits

I highly recommend getting a media pass for events like the Edmonton Indy.

It hangs around your neck and lets you into places like the Media Walk. Visualize this: the stadium seating is behind a fence. In front of the stadium is a walk right next to the track. There are holes cut into the fence at strategic places and when the cars come snarling by, you are just a few feet away from them.

So there I was, leaning into one of the conveniently placed holes in the fence. My leg was braced against the concrete block for stability when I saw two magazine type photographers standing behind me.

One of them had a lens longer than my car. He was wearing a seriously disapproving look. I shrugged and went back to shooting. The cars were coming so fast and I was trying to track them and get my shot.

When I turned back, the Serious Photographer Guy was frowning so deeply his eyes disappeared. He was looking right at me. The cars were loud but the tisking sound was loud enough to be heard over the roar.

“What?” I asked.

He gestured to my feet.

“You got to step back from that block, guy,” he said.

“Huh?” I inquire shrewdly.

He pointed to the concrete block again. Then he pointed to the track.

“One of those cars crash into the concrete,” he paused to smack his hands together, hard enough to startle me just a little. “If that happens, your ankle snaps.”

He holds his fists together and snaps them apart like he’s breaking a pencil in two.

I realize that this guy isn’t being a jerk. He’s looking out for me…so I thank him, step back and we both start shooting again.

We stood side by side for a while – he wielding a lens that could capture a pimple on the butt of a naked astronaut on the moon – and me with my Olympus telephoto.

“So…I haven’t shot at the races before,” I started.

He looked at me like he’d sort of suspected this already.

“Are there other things…etiquette…for shooting at the track?” I asked.

“Don’t put your crap on the walls,” he says. “Don’t ever lean your camera against the wall. Shooting is cool, but when you are looking at your shots, move aside for the next guy. We all have our shots to get.”

Serious Photographer Guy points to Not Quite So Serious Photographer Guy, who is standing beside him.

(I know he is not quite a serious because his lens is shorter than the one the Serious Photographer Guy has...and he is only carrying two cameras, whereas my mentor has FOUR cameras. All serious looking Canons. Geez.)

SPG points to NQSSPG and says "He has to get shots of specific drivers," he says.

"I do not," says NQSSPG with a self conscious laugh.

SPG ignores him. "One of those cars crashes against the wall, crap goes everywhere, tiny bits of it. You want to be out of the way."

I nod in agreement. I have a sneaking suspicion they are having me on a little...but still, it makes sense.

"Have you ever seen a crash?" I ask.

"" responds SPG. "But I've heard it's bad."

I nod again.

“That’s it?” I ask. "That's all I need to know about shooting here?"

“Yup,” he says.

I thank him again and he smiles and wanders off, his good deed done for the day. I was actually grateful that he took the time to tell me this stuff. How else am I going to know?

So I stay and shoot some more. But before long I come to the conclusion that photographing cars isn’t all that interesting to me.

So, a few minutes later I am back in the pits again. It has become my favourite place. I love the sounds and the people and the colors. Besides, I realize I may never be in this position again…with a media pass and access to the pits…and the media walk.

A car rolls into the pit a few feet away from me. These drivers really are the rock stars of the weekend. When the drivers come into the pits, someone stands over them with an umbrella to keep the sun off of them. Someone else puts a blower directly in their faces. I can only guess how hot it is in those suits.

One of the biggest drivers, Graham Rahal is in the pit, a few feet away. He is waiting for his car to be put back on the track. I know he’s only going to be here for about 45 seconds.

I step into the pit and raise the camera. Rahal looks at me and I look at him. I take the shot and smile a thank you. It would be cool to say he nodded or waved back. He didn’t. He just fixed his eyes back on the track.

I am learning a LOT about photographing at the Indy.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

One and a Half Seconds

I am standing in the pit on a blisteringly hot summer day.

The "pit" is an area of frenzied activity at the Edmonton Indy. Cars snarl in for quick service from their crews and seconds later, tear back onto the track with an almost deafening screaming of their engines.

It is an exhilirating thing to watch. I have never been in the pits before and am not quite sure what the rules are.

Can you walk right into the area beside the track? I have a sneaking suspicion that these guys would walk right over anyone who got in their way and kill them later.

Still...I know I have only a few seconds here before the drivers take off.

I step into the area behind the pit on the opposite side of the crew hut, train my telephoto on the driver and shoot.

There is the space of a second. Maybe a second and a half.

The crew lowers the car. The driver shifts slightly and I can feel sudden intensity bristling from him. He is total focus.

I am in a race of my own, because an instant after I take the picture, he's gone.

I watch him go, the rear end of his car fishtailing just a little as it seeks purchase on the hot track.

No one killed me. No one walked over me. No one told me to get the hell out of the pit area.

And I got my shot.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Danica Patrick

The first thing I noticed about Danica Patrick is that she’s very small. Her body is slender and I don’t think she even comes up to my shoulder. I doubt she weighs a hundred pounds.

The second thing I noticed is that this girl has a serious presence. She’s intense and that intensity crackles in the air around her.

Contrary to popular opinion, I did not see flames shooting from her mouth. I smelled no brimstone. No children cried. No women screamed. As I stood in the pit and watched her interact with her crew, she seemed relaxed. She smiled often and frequently touched the person she was talking to.

This doesn’t compute with her rep as the driving diva, the Indy beauty with a fiery temper.

I was interested in photographing her because she really is an enigma.

The other thing I noticed is now often people in the crowd call her name. They are, of course, trying to get her to look their way so they can take a picture. Sometimes the sound is coming from round men in way too tight “Danica Rules Indy” t-shirts. Other times it’s women in stretch pants or children that sound like they live just on the edge of panic, are not really sure who she is but know she’s somebody and really need to blow their nose.

Is it a surprise that she totally ignored the fans? She didn’t look at them, didn’t speak to them and appeared completely indifferent as to whether or not they took her picture. If you wanted the shot you had to be quick. Even from my vantage point in the Pit Walk, I had to time my shots perfectly.

Unlike the other drivers, she didn’t pose for pictures with fans and I don’t think she signed a single autograph.

But I wondered how it would feel to be her. People constantly calling to you, wanting you to look their way. What would it feel like to have every move scrutinized?

She had just finished a lackluster time trial – and was about to hop onto her scooter and take off. She was standing in front the small tent her crew was working in. She was blocked from the view of most of her fans and she seemed to be thinking some deep thoughts. That’s when I took this shot.

I wonder what she was thinking about.

I wonder what it would be like to be a woman racing cars…and constantly be described as an Indy babe. I wonder what actually happens inside her head before, during and after the race.

That’s what this image is about. It’s all about “wondering.”

And of course, the fact that she is a total Indy babe doesn’t hurt either…