On Sunday August 19, I spent the day at the Brainerd International Raceway. Elisa Svee, a co-worker of mine, had been pushing to go up there for a while, so Sunday we took in the NHRA Full Throttle Energy Drink series Lucas Oil Nationals Final Eliminations at the track.
Unlike most of my pages, this one will not get into a lot about the image capturing process. I will give you some data at the end of the page (and all the camera Metadata is posted here), but this page is to give you a feel for the NHRA at BIR…enjoy!
After a long wait for tickets, we missed some of the opening round. We arrived in time to see Courtney Force (daughter of drag racing legend John Force, and sister to Ashley Force-Hood), in the Traxxas Ford Funny Car. Courtney lost in the opening round here at BIR, but won her previous event; her first career Funny Car victory.
Team Force driver Robert Hight, in the AAA Auto Club Ford, runs against his teammate, Mike Neff, in the Castrol GTX Ford, in the first round of eliminations. These cars reach speeds exceeding 300 m.p.h. in just over 4 seconds. No…that is NOT a typo! 4 seconds; 300 m.p.h.
Mike Neff (near lane) has either blown an engine or has smoked the tires; very common in this type of motorsport. Robert Hight is also having issues (note the smoke), and Neff ended up winning this round.
A crew member for Matt Hagan, in the Aarons/Mopar Dodge, assists after Matt’s pre-run burn-out. Matt went on to win this round.
Now in the Pro Stock class (there are 4 classes in the Full Throttle NHRA field), that blur you see is Greg Anderson, in the Summit Racing Pontiac. Greg is one of the top drivers in the Pro Stock field, and has won multiple championships.
A battle in the Pro Stock class shows Shane Gray in the NTB Chevrolet losing out to the obviously faster GK Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Erica Enders. We’ll see more of Erica later on.
Time for Pro Stock bikes! Steve Johnson and his Suzuki are screaming by. This fourth class of the NHRA’s top level reached speeds up to 194 m.p.h. at BIR. Wow! You think you’re brave? Try a Pro Stock bike for size.
Do you have that need for speed? Here are the Top Fuel dragsters. These are crazy fast; well over 300 m.p.h. in less than 4 seconds! It doesn’t always go as planned, however. In this round, Doug Kalitta in the Kalitta Air Attac dragster (near lane), is blowing a cylinder (white, feathery smoke), which allows Bruce Litton, in the Lucas Oil Hadman dragster, to take the win.
Very popular driver and 2 time Funny Car Champion Cruz Pedregon in his Snap-On Tools Toyota. I cannot think of any NHRA driver that is not a cool person, but Cruz is especially well liked by fans and competitors alike.
Nikon D5000 with a Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens shot at F/11 and a 1/1,000 of a second shutter speed. ISO 400. Focal length: 300mm.
The Legend himself; 15 time NHRA Champion John Force in his famous Castrol GTX Ford at the starting line. John is my favorite driver and is easily the crowd’s favorite. His interviews are possibly more legendary than his amazing win record. He’s hilarious! Please note how many are plugging their ears. Hearing protection at an NHRA event is an absolute MUST. You cannot believe how loud these machines are.
John Force winning yet another round on his way to the finals. There he would lose to Ron Capps. I shot this at track level. Note the NHRA official smartly plugging his ears.
Ron Capps in his Napa Dodge, doing a pre-run burn out. Ron has won over 30 NHRA Funny Car events and has always seemed to me to be a real classy guy.
This image was not Photoshopped; they race snowmobiles at BIR in August! These machines sail past you at speeds peaking around 150 m.p.h. Yowzer! The driver gave me a rapid “thumbs up” after I took this image. Smile!
After each run, the engine on a Top Fuel Dragster has to be re-built. The teams have 70 minutes to get this done. Here the Geico/Lucas Oil Hadman dragster team work feverishly to get their driver, Morgan Lucas, ready for the final round. Fans get to see this happening, as they have access to the pit areas.
Crew members of the Robert Tasca III Quick Lane Ford lift the body of his funny car onto the main chassis. The body doesn’t weigh a lot but this shot sure looks impressive, doesn’t it?
Erica Enders does her pre-run burn-out before the final round of Pro Stock. Guess what? She won! Her 3rd victory of 2012! Erica has had a tough road in the NHRA and at times had lost her ride. Through it all, she maintained a very positive attitude. She had not won an event until 2012, and now has won back-to-back events. Her competition in this round failed at the start so it was apparent right away she was going to win; I was overcome with the need to celebrate. If there had not been a camera strap on my D5000, it would have gone flying!
John Force, shortly before his loss to Ron Capps in the Finals. I saw John win the 2007 BIR event, and that was a thrill (second only to seeing Mark Martin win live at the Kansas Speedway in 2005). I like Ron Capps a lot, and was happy to see him win.
Morgan Lucas does his pre-run burn-out, along with Antron Brown in the Matco Tools DSR Top Fuel dragster. Both of these guys are class acts; I briefly met Morgan Lucas in 2009. He comes from a very well-to-do family (his Dad owns Lucas Oil), but was very cordial and down to Earth. Just a super young man. Check out the photographer; wish I had her spot!
Antron Brown (far lane) and Morgan Lucas begin their run. Note the nitro-methane flames from the exhaust. I suggest keeping clear of that stuff; it will make your eyes water if you get too close.
Morgan Lucas sneaks ahead and takes the win over Antron Brown. Note the shape of the tires. They take on a different form when driven at these speeds. Morgan covered the 1,000 foot race length in 3.818 seconds at a speed of 316.90 m.p.h. Antron Brown’s time was 3.831 seconds at 313.80 m.p.h. (and he lost). Mind-numbing, crazy speeds!
Elisa kissing the track. This tradition began in the mid 1990’s, and continued at Charlotte in 2009, after Elisa and her husband Rob won an all-expenses paid trip to the Sprint Cup All Star Race. Although heavily involved with motorsports all her life, Elisa’s eyes became saucer-like when the NHRA’s top classes went screaming down the pavement at BIR. By the way, that track surface is very sticky; it could pull your shoes right off your feet!
Easily my favorite shot of the day; Erica Enders celebrates in Winners Circle. I must admit being more than a little misty-eyed here. I recall cheering for her years ago, but she often lost out in the opening rounds. Now here she is, holding the “Wally” (the trophy is a statue of Wally Parks; founder of the NHRA) in victory! To learn more about Erica, visit her driver website linked HERE.
Once again, BIR did not disappoint. Even though my favorite driver, John Force, lost out in the Finals, Erica Enders’ victory sent me away happy. A very fun day of racing!
Some photo stuff:
• I went with my Nikon D5000 versus my flagship D7000, for multiple reasons. First, it was smaller and lighter. Next, since I knew I would be taking a lot of images (over 300), I wanted to cut down on processing time. Finally, I knew the D5000 would deliver great performance. It did not let me down (although it trended to the under-exposed side).
• I elected to shoot with a high ISO (400 to 500) in order to maintain the required high shutter speeds needed to capture these extraordinarily fast moving subjects. Note most of my shutter speeds were 1/1,000 of a second or higher, except when I was trying for motion/blurred/panned shots.
• All these images were taken with Shutter Priority Automatic mode. Shooting in Manual would have certainly left some of these shots at the track; it all just happens too fast.
• I prefer shooting in single frame mode versus continuous burst mode for racing images. I have more control over the timing of the shots that way.
• In order to capture these machines, you have to be able to follow them, so I used a rather short focal range (70mm). A good chunk of these then were at least partially cropped, and a number of them had to be adjusted in post-processing to be level. That was all part of the plan.
Shooting an NHRA event is fun but challenging. If you ever attend one, try some images, and you’ll see what I mean!
all images © Scott Woelm – August 2012