Part of the craft of putting together a package of usable images from a race is balancing the on-track action with what is going on in the pits, part cerebral, part quiet boredom, part frenzy. Some of it can be done telephoto, from across the track—I’ve got a shot that I like from the 1960s of Carroll Shelby standing on pit row, looking down toward the last turn at Sebring, hoping maybe to see Ken Miles and his Cobra sooner rather than later. There’s a 1970s shot of Pedro Rodriguez at Daytona, his broken 917 in the pits, walking away from the car. In yet another decade, the Flying Lizard team at Road Atlanta, both cars in the pits at the same time. All telephoto from across the track, all in their way dramatic.
But for color and a real sense of action, it’s hard to best a wide angle lens from close in during the frenzy of a pit stop, when an explosion of activity unfolds in moments. The photographer has only tenuous control: the prime directive is to stay out of the way and not do anything or be anywhere that would impede the team at work or put anyone at risk. Getting the shot is always secondary. Press credentials are mandatory, and it helps to know the people involved on the team. Decisions to be made include choosing a faster or slower (to show some blurring of action) shutter speed, whether to use fill flash or not, and positioning—when possible—to show a wide field of action. Shots featuring driver changes and fueling activity are particularly riveting.
There’s a lot going on in this 2001 image from Sebring. The bright colors of the car and the fuel hose, the sweep of that hose leading the eye into the picture; the frantic action of the fuelers superimposed on the rapt attention of the fire safety man on the far right. The wheel man, gun in hand, at the far left, impatiently waiting his turn. The drivers, completing their transition.
I like the shot, one of a sequence, but I would rate it more lucky than good. I was fortunate to have a good vantage, and all the players moved in a way that they were isolated as individuals at the peak of their action. But luck has its limits, for the teams as well as the photographer: in spite of the expense and effort they endured, and the flair and professionalism with which they did their job, these guys weren’t able to finish well, were thus not a part of our story, and we used another image of another team.