Op-Ed – Through The Viewfinder: A Different Way Of Enjoying Rally Racing

Shaun and Mike will share with you all of the events and details of last weekend’s 100 Acre Wood Rally, the 2nd stop for the Rally America National Championship, throughout the coming week. What I’d like to do is try to convince you why the sport of rallying is so incredible from a spectator’s point-of-view, and why you should NEVER forget to bring a camera even if its just the camera on your cell phone. You don’t always need the $8k camera with the yard long lens to come back from the a rally race with some fantastic shots and even better memories.

Racing is unpredictable, especially rally racing. You never know when something really cool/odd/amazing is going to happen in front of you. All weekend long, I had the good fortune of being escorted onto the stages by experiences rally photographer Brianne Corn. It was a fantastic time, and quite the new experience for me. I’m used to oval and circuit racing where you usually have a large chunk of concrete to hide behind if things go wrong for a driver. Photographing rally racing from on stage was a new experience for me, and it was good to have someone experienced to give some dos-n-don’ts. To be sure, I was able to get some really neat shots, but I will say that any spectator could also have scored some seriously great photos from the excellent spectator locations Rally America had selected. Here’s a case in point. During the early stages, our group was set up at Spectator Area A (SpecA), location of the infamous “Rolla Triangle”, and we had the Sun at our backs. Usually, this is a good situation for a photographer, and it turned out pretty well for me. I got a nice pic of rally winner Ken Block, and a pic of Antoine L’estage in a compromising position.

However, the best pic of the day wasn’t from me in my special little media area wearing my special little media badge, it was from my wife standing cheek-to-jowl with the rest of the rowdy and excited crowd. With the Sun in front of her, people all around her, two lines of caution tape between her and the action, she snapped a simply amazing shot of Block coming around that same hairpin.

Brilliant! And before you start in with “Well, yeah, but she probably had some super fancy camera and some super long and awesome lens,” I’ll tell you she had a Nikon D70s with the kit lens it came with, a 100-300mm f/5.6-6.3. Its not a high-end camera, nor a high-end lens. Yes, it is a dSLR, but you can pick up a used D70s or comparable Canon for about the same price as a typical point-n-shoot now days. Heck, even point-n-shoots are pretty darned good now days, and you probably could have taken the same shot with a Coolpix or a Powershot. The point being that just because you’re behind the tape, don’t think you can’t get some absolutely fantastic shots.

One of the best aspects of rally racing is the level of access fans have to the teams and drivers. The only time that I needed my media badge during the weekend was to get on stage for photos, and as you saw, that’s not always something that’s requisite for good pics. All fans have complete access to the service parks and to the Parc Expose areas. During those times, you can get right up close with the drivers, their cars, and the crew.

In fact, the crew of Last Ditch Racing told us that they really enjoyed working on the car while there was a crowd of fans looking on. “It’s like you’re putting on a show,” and in a sense they certainly were. John Cassidy, team principal and driver for Last Ditch Racing, loved having kids come up and touch the car and actively encouraged them to climb into the driver’s seat. If you’re a parent, how can you not want a pic of your daughter/son in the driver’s seat of a real race car? Even having a cell phone camera with you, you can take pics and forward on to your friends via Twitpic, MMS, Facebook, or [insert trendy social media site here]! You can have your pic taken with your favorite driver, or even meet your NEW favorite driver and talk with them about their car. Keep in mind that most of the competitors in Rally America have actual day jobs. This is what they do for fun, and they’re usually more than happy to sit and talk enthusiastically with fans. Just be respectful when approaching them. You’d be amazed how far a little politeness will take you. [Quick aside to the drivers: Don’t cut off your fans in the hot dog line. That really ticks them off. …lookin’ at you ACP.]

So next time you head out to see a rally. Don’t for get your camera, even if its a small one. You never know who you’re going to see, who you’re going to talk with, or what crazy things are going to happen in front of you at the spectator areas or in the service park. Having those pictures, you’ll be able to relive the fun and excitement of rally racing over and over again, and hopefully share some of that excitement with your friends and family. Pictures really do speak louder than words, and they can bring back memories like nothing else can!

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