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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2006-07-03

Race Day at the Indy 500
By AJ Mast

So after weeks of shooting the same people in the same place, the payoff is race day.

This is when it really counts; just about every paper in the country will be running something from the Indy 500 the next day. So this is when we need to be on our game.

Associated Press photo coverage of the race takes about 50 people. If that sounds like a lot, it is. But keep in mind, this is a two-and-a-half mile track, and a 500-mile race. There is something in the neighborhood of 300,000 attendees. There are about 2,000 credentialed media people. And until the checkered flag drops, there is no way to know exactly what the story of the day is going to be. In fact, it's really like covering the story of each lap, all 200 of them.

So what do those people do? For the most part, it's kind of a choreographed ballet, though not always well executed, and rarely performed in toe shoes.

This year on race day, some of us arrived for the 1 p.m. start as early as 7:30 a.m. We need to mark spots for certain areas we'll be shooting from and make last-minute arrangements. Things are pretty laid back till around 10 a.m. The photographers working the inside turns come in for a meeting, followed by the pit photographers' meeting.

About 40 stringers work in the turns and various locations around the track. Their job is to get crashes - both the crash and anything that might happen on the track as a result of the crash. They have to have the camera up in front of their eye for pretty much the whole race and be aware of what's going on. You might think it's a great way to watch the race, but it takes a lot of concentration and effort to do this job as well as the people the AP has out there. There isn't much time to relax.

Around 10:30, the pit photographers head out to do pre-race assignments. There are celebrities to shoot in the green room and on the awards stand. Features to look for - this year it was the heat, drivers getting ready to do their thing. You try and get some pre-race stuff on the top drivers. A lot of traditions lead up to the call for "Lady and gentleman, start your engines,"

Before the race begins, a few other photographers have to get in position. There will be one person sitting in the crow's nest hanging from under the grandstands looking down the front straightaway from high above the first turn - this year it was AP Orlando photographer John Raoux. That shooter will stay there for the whole race. Stringer Tom Stratman will be on the turn-one drop gate, a hole in the fence just above the concrete wall, for the first few dozen laps before he moves on the pits. This is where the head-on shots of the car get made - and a chance to get something on every car in the race. A couple of photographers will take up positions on the roof of the main grandstand across from the pits. They too will be up there through the entire race.

During our meeting for the pit photographers, we talked about who will be covering what. This year we had seven photographers working the pits. So we divided the 33 pits up into sections and each photographer is responsible for a given section. Though some photographers ignore it, at Indy, you're supposed to be in a fire suit if you're going up to the pit wall. This can make for a pretty miserable existence on a hot day. In my case, I was going to be in a spot I couldn't leave, so I started hydrating a few days before the race and made sure to use the restroom as close to green flag time as possible. While AP provides fire suits, I have my own. I got a good deal on it, but in retrospect, going with black because it was on close out was a bad decision.

During the race in the pits you're looking for drivers who drop out, stops gone bad, owners or team managers, really anything that tells the story of that lap. At the end of the race, a bad pit stop on lap 50 may not matter, but it also MIGHT be what decides the race, so we need art of it.

As the race winds down, the pit guys start moving around. Staffer Darron Cummings will move to victory circle, along with Stratman. The other shooters will take up positions in leaders pits. In the pre-race meeting, different shooters are assigned to cover the first-place team, second- and third-place drivers, Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti for post-race.

As Marco Andretti passed his father, Michael - to lead the race as a rookie and be in a position to both win and eliminate the Andretti Curse at the Speedway - I moved into position shooting his family. Marco's mother, sister and Grandfather Mario were giving me great reaction as the 19-year-old driver led the race. Then in the second-closest finish in Indy 500 history, Sam Hornish passed Marco at the line for the win. I made two frames of them reacting to the last-millisecond pass and sprinted down to the Hornish pit.

During post-race, anything can happen. The winning driver might decide to get out of his car on the yard of bricks or do a burn out someplace and stall the engine. You just can't tell. So we have people in several places ready to shoot whatever happens.

After the initial victory-circle celebration is over (they will come back later for more pics), the driver does a lap around the track with a broadcaster (who always screws up the shot as the car pulls up to the yard of bricks) and then kisses the bricks. To be sure you get a good brick kiss you need several people shooting it (I think we had four this year), because the photo crowd is too large to move, so you need people wherever the driver might go.

This year we had three people editing, Indy AP staffer Michael Conroy was looking at the full take as it came in - about 8,000 images for the day. He made selects and passed off images for the wire to editor Dave Boe, who captioned, cropped, toned and transmitted. At the same time, editor Chuck Zoeller was editing for the archive and captioning, cropping and toning those pics. Between the wire and the archive, about 120 images were moved.

It was a long hot day. The race was pretty good. Our pictures got pretty good play from what I saw, and I was pleased with my effort.

If 200 laps of left turns sounds boring too you, I can understand. But if you look beyond the obvious to the stories, the drama, the lifelong hopes, fears and dreams of the participants, you'll find something as interesting to cover as any sporting event in the world.


(A.J. Mast is a freelance photographer passed in Indianapolis, IN. You can check out his work at: http://www.roninimages.com and his SportsShooter.com member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/ajmast. For look on the weeks leading up to the Indianapolis 500, read part 1: http://www.sportsshooter.com/news/1591.)

Related Links:
Mast's member page

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