I have been taking pictures out at Kil-Kare Dragway in Xenia since 2003. When I tell people I am a drag race photographer I can count on a few standard reactions, such as, “Oh I haven’t been out there in years,” “I used to go all the time.” or “my father, uncle or grandpa used to race out there,” That usually takes us a few steps down memory lane. And then there is the occasional blank stare which can be translated either as, what is drag racing, or why do you do that.
I like going out to the track early, especially on days like this when the sun is shining, the sky is blue and it isn’t too hot, at least not yet. Stop at the ticket booth to say hi to Annette and Bill, maybe trade some gossip and wishes for a good day of racing. Then pull around to the tech line to sign the waivers, get a wrist band and again, talk about what is up for the day. Getting there early means the track is still quiet as I drive down to the booth. Some of the other early birds are unloading cars or bikes and the clean-up crew is finishing up their work. The track crew is running the dragger, putting down spray and checking the lights. The mood is quiet, peaceful in a way.
JD and I go to work opening up the booth, setting up the awning and putting out the contact sheets, getting the computer and printers up and running and checking the cameras. More cars and bikes have been pulling in but it is still pretty quiet. Dave is setting up the souvenir booth but there is always time for more talk and I am wondering if Corndog Concessions has breakfast ready yet, never as soon as my stomach seems to want it.
It stays pretty quiet, until the first motor starts up, especially if it’s one of the big ones. Then you can feel the energy level change, just a little, but it continues to build until the call goes out for time runs and it is time to get down to the line, say hi to the crew and start shooting. We stay pretty busy, trying to get all the racers and keeping an eye out for new cars. We are always looking for racers we haven’t seen before, how do they run, what is the best way to shoot them, and always looking for ‘the shot’, the picture that makes you say ‘yeah,’ that’s the one.’
While we are shooting we also get to watch the race. Early in the day, everyone is hopeful, no one has lost yet. The pit crew walks off after time runs and we can see them thinking what went right, what can be done to make the next run a little better or what changes can be made to fix a problem. Everyone has the potential win that day.
Since we are not directly involved in the race, we don’t win or lose. We get to observe. There are a number of things we see that others who are not involved in drag racing might not notice. Such as, if Randy gets on the PA and puts out a call for a racer in need, it will get answered. At the bracket finals for junior dragsters one call went out and five people came up to help. It is the same for the adults. If you need something people will help you out if they can, often going out of their way to do so. Speaking of juniors, win or lose, after the race the parents will shake hands or at least give a nod of the head.
As racers bikes are a little different, they aren’t closed up in the car so there seems to be more of a connection between the riders. In the burn-out box riders look to the other racer and don’t start until the other one is ready. Same thing happens as they get to the line, a nod of the head and then edge up to the lights. On many Saturdays I have seen racers staged up against a rider who was there for Thursday test and tune helping them work out the bugs in their machine or improving the technique of a newer rider. Sometimes they aren’t even testing their own bikes, just there to help out. Come Saturday they are ready to race. And if that newer rider keeps going rounds, the other racers will come up to the line to watch, hoping to see them do well.
When time trials end and racing starts the energy level amps up and the mood changes. Win and the crew celebrates, maybe a smile and a fist bump as they walk away or even jog off with their heads up. Lose and it’s a shake of the head, a look of disgust, or a sagging of the shoulders. And the walk is slower, no rush to get ready for the next round.
As the race goes on the tension increases. The more rounds you go the more there is to lose, until the finals. JD took a picture of the final round in Super-Pro a few weeks ago, and the driver that lost that race loved it. It captured the drama of a great day of racing for him. And drama is the right word. Throughout the day it’s all there for you. Hundreds of people in the cast and all the human emotions right there on display. And as photographers we get to watch and document it all.
Those are the rewards of being a Drag Race Photographer.
Gene Idol, September 19, 2013
2358 So. Patterson Bivd. Apt 2 Kettering, OH 45409 United States
Detroit Harry's Photos has a solid background in racing photography, mostly drag racing so far but we are energized about expanding into other forms of racing, motorsports and otherwise. We also do scenic and custom shoots.