By Roger (6 February 2017)
Last weekend, I was invited to Daytona Beach, for the Rolex 24 sports car race. In case you're not familiar with this event, four different classes of cars race for 24 hours, continuously, rain or shine. It's one of the most prestigious sports car races in the United States. I had an all-access pass to take my cameras all around the racetrack.
I've been to the Daytona Speedway, a couple of times, so I had an idea of the layout of the track. However, I had never had this kind of access in the past, nor did I have any sports car experience. The Rolex course had an extra section of track opened that included many tight corners for the cars to weave their way through. I spent the first few hours roaming the track, looking for the best spots to be during the race. I was looking for locations where I could see the cars on the corners and along the steep banks of the speedway. With a 24-hour race, I knew I'd have the time to move around the track.
Next, I went down to the garages, but the cars had already been moved out to the pits for the crowd to see them. The pits are where the cars are refueled and worked on during the race. Each team had several drivers, and they switched out as the hours went on. Before the race, the pits were swarming with onlookers, drooling over the expensive race cars.
I went back to the Porsche Club of America tent, with my hosts, and began to plan out my shot list. The PCA has a special section to watch the race, and the members bring their Porsches out for display. The tent was less than 100 yards from the track; had several monitors to watch the race; and protected the PCA members from the elements. It was a cozy place to hang out. ;-) My hosts had come in their two machines, so I made some photos of them and a couple of the other cars in the lot.
By the time the race started, at 2:30, I thought I had everything figured out. I made a mental list of the shots I hoped to get. One photo I wanted depended on the weather, but the weather forecast looked good for me.
While the cars were on their warm-up laps, I tested out one of my initial positions for some easy photos before the cars got up to speed. The faster Prototype class cars would hit 200mph on the backstretch. Luckily, I've shot race cars before, so I had my hearing protection in. The decibel level from racing engines is not only harmful to your hearing, it is downright painful. You should always pack some kind of protection.
If you're new to these events – and I was – pick up a program, so you have descriptions of each car and race team. You want to know the car manufacturer, the drivers, and, in this case, the class of the race cars. The Rolex 24 program had a description of the course, so I could look for more photo locations.
On the first laps, I found out I had underestimated the shutter speed required to freeze the cars, especially on the main track. I also noticed that zooming in too far took away the context of the photo. I backed off a little and got a better shot.
I'm thinking that I should take out that light pole, dividing the photo into two pieces, but that will have to wait for a day when I have more time.
As the day progressed, my weather wish came true. It started to drizzle. This was not a good thing for the drivers – especially those in the open cockpits of the Prototype Challenge cars. But I wanted to get some photos with water mist on the track.
Unfortunately, it was already late in the evening, and we were all pretty much worn out. We retired to my hosts' boat for some sleep, but I was back at the track before the sun rose. The rain was just ending; there was enough light; I got my shots.
It was a long 24 hours for me, but what an opportunity! I carried both cameras, with my long lenses. With that much time, I figured out all the proper settings to make the photos I wanted and which camera was best for each type of photo. (I shot almost 4,000 photos.) I picked up some tips from the other photographers. (Always bring a stool for shots over the fencing.) I made lots of new contacts for future events. After watching that many hours at the track, I could tell which car was coming by the sound of its roaring engine. The Corvettes and Mercedes had the best sounding engines. Here's hoping I get to hear them, again.