Thursday, November 3, 2016


Looking down the track, Talladega Superspeedway, Alabama, Oct. 2016

IT'S THE SIZE OF THE PLACE THAT GETS YOU FIRST. A whole town fits into the infield at Alabama's Talladega Superspeedway, and that doesn't take into account the town that springs up in the campgrounds outside the track for the race. Despite this, the race weekend never feels overcrowded or mobbed.

I jumped at my editor's suggestion that I build a travel story around living in the infield at a NASCAR race, and when the nice people at Alabama Tourism stepped up to make it happen, I knew I was going to be given a photo opportunity I'd probably never have again.

Infield campground, Talladega Superspeedway, Alabama, Oct. 2016

The infield is a story on its own, independent of the race, and I'll have more on that tomorrow. What was amazing was how well it all worked, with thousands of people showing up with tents, campers and RVs of varying size and quality to create a makeshift community for a hard-partying weekend, then disperse within a day of the race ending.

As a logistical feat, it's actually more impressive than the well-oiled machine that brings the cars, drivers, mechanics and crew to a new track almost every weekend. The people who make that happen are a community of professionals who get paid to make that happen; the folks in the infield and in the campgrounds outside the track are paying for the chance to sit in the sun (or rain) and celebrate their love of car racing, coming from around the country (and the world) with few certainties other than that they'll probably get drunk, eat grilled meat, and use a porta-potty.

Talladega Superspeedway, Alabama, Oct. 2016

As I wrote elsewhere, shooting the race itself proved to be far harder than I anticipated, and was nothing at all like photographing the Indycar street circuit here in Toronto. It was a good thing, then, that my job wasn't to cover a race but the whole circus around it.

The great attraction of a NASCAR race is how close fans can get to the cars and the drivers, so the garages and pits were thronged with people right up until the race started. After my competence with shooting racecars at the Honda Indy improved enough that it felt less challenging, I found myself turning my camera on the people at the track, and the hunt for photos there has never lost its thrill.

Race day, Talladega Superspeedway, Alabama, Oct. 2016

It's one thing to do street photography. It's another where the street has no speed limit, and half the people there are wearing clothes branded with corporate logos. And then there's the constant potential for accidents and misadventure, built into the the experience and anticipated with the waiver you sign just to be there. There's no other place like it.

I'd like to do it again - maybe at Talladega, but certainly at some other iconic track like Indy or Daytona or Watkins Glen. At the moment, though, I'm without any client interested in sending me back to a track with my cameras, so my weekend at Talladega felt something like a swansong.

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