You might look at this photo of Indy Pro Series drivers Tom Wierenga (#40) and Al Unser III (#12) dicing it up at about 190 mph on the front straight of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the 2007 Freedom 100 and think “Dang, that’s some tight racing! Those drivers must have nerves of steel!” (or perhaps something more colorful). And to that I’d say, “Forget about the guys protected by helmets and carbon fiber… check out the photographer!”
For the record, I believe that is Indianapolis Motor Speedway photographer Shawn Payne in the lower left corner of the photo. To his credit, he is clearly observing rule #1 about motorsports photography: never turn your back on traffic.
The famous combat photographer Robert Capa once said, “If the photograph isn’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. I think that’s true of almost any type of photography, but even more so when it comes to any kind of action photography. But you know what? It can take some major cajones to get “close enough” sometimes. My personal rule is that when I start thinking more about my wife and kids than about “getting the shot” then I know it’s time to back off. I know I’m not about to get the opportunity to stand between the pit lane and the front straight at IMS anytime soon, but it doesn’t matter… I don’t think that position would pass my test. But at smaller tracks and dirt tracks in particular where security is not especially tight, it’s quite easy to put yourself in a position that really makes no sense. And at drag strips… well, I’m still not sure how anyone gets shots of anything when being subjected to the sound and fury of the land-based missles known as top fuel dragsters take off.
At any rate, the photo below was taken by Shawn Payne during the 2007 Freedom 100, quite possibly just a second or two before my shot above. Note the position of the #11, #40, and #12 cars, and the distance between the #40 and #12 in particular. It’s hard to say whether Wierenga (#40) moved closer to Unser (#12) in the time that elapsed between the two shots or whether the compressed perspective of my shot just makes the two appear to be closer together. Either way, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I love seeing two perspectives of the same moment in time… and the fact that my perspective was from the relative safety of the roof of the Gasoline Alley Suites!
Photo by Shawn Payne / Indianapolis Motor Speedway
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