A Day at the Races
One of the things you can always expect to happen during the summer in the Poconos are the races. Every June, July, and August, Pocono Raceway becomes packed with NASCAR and Indy fans from all over the country and, possible, the world. It becomes like a mini city. Campers come in droves. Vendors have merchandise on display throughout the grounds of the track. Local stores will have mini meet and greets with some of the drivers. Wal*Mart has cases of water, packages of hotdog rolls, and other goodies right as you walk into the store, situated next to the giant cut out of the favorite driver. Road directions are changed and alternate routes are set up. And for some locals, depending on where they live, it’s a great weekend to clean out a closet, paint their kitchen, or even leave town. Yes, the races attract ons of people!
Growing up, I was never a big fan of the race—like many of my friends were. I didn’t have a favorite driver or a favorite car. For a while, I didn’t understand why people were so fascinated by it. I mean, it’s probably pretty cool to travel around the race track of speeds of 200mph or more—but only if you’re in the car. All joking aside, NASCAR and Indy (a fancier NASCAR) are respected sports and can be quite entertaining. Recently, I had the opportunity to go “behind the scenes” at the Indy Race held at Pocono Raceway. I have to say, I have a new found respect for the sport of race car driving.
The Indy Race is often called the “rich man’s race” or the “rich man’s sport”. For many years, the elite and sophisticated were the ones who attended Indy races (think of the fancy track of Monaco). That hasn’t changed much over the years. The Indy Race is still fancy. From the presentation of the track to the cars, the Indy Race has a different feel than NASCAR.
I started my day at the race by photographing some of the vintage Indy cars. I even got to see Mario Andretti’s race car (I did, however, miss seeing him). The cars are amazing. Mostly all of them are open cars, unlike the NASCAR cars. Drivers still where protective suits (fire suits) and helmets. Some of the Indy cars do advertise for companies, but that is not the main feature of the car. One car seems to be different from the other. Some are shaped like mini go karts, while others are flat and very low to the ground. I think the different shapes and styles of the cars make the race even more interesting.
On the day I was there, the main Indy cars (the cars for Sunday’s big race) were still arriving and the vintage racers were doing practice laps around the track. I had the opportunity to go onto the side where the main Indy cars were. It was like being on a movie set. Each driver had their own garage, with their own team working on their car. Mechanics were checking the engines and making sure tire pressure was correct. Mini golf cart-type vehicles were driving all around, delivering ice and tires. People were all over the place—hurrying around trying to get everything set up. It was quite amazing to see all the hustle and bustle of the preparation.
Since it was my first time photographing the Indy Race, I spent a good portion of the day with the official raceway photographer, Jim. I was very grateful for this. He showed me around the track and the “behind the scenes” area and explained different things about the race. Since he was the official photographer, I was allowed to join him in the middle part of the track when the practice races were going on. This area, which is located right in front of the pit lane, is separated from the track by styrofoam-type boulders. This are is restricted to anyone on race day, due to the high speed of the race cars. It was such an amazing experience to be in that area! It’s almost like being on the track! Talk about an adrenalin rush!
During practice races, the cars do not go as fast as they do on the actual race day. Average speeds on race day are 200mph or higher. On practice days, the cars only get up to 150 mph. Indy cars do not have starters, therefore, all of the race cars need a “pusher” car to help them get started. The pusher car pushes the Indy car to the starting line, which then gives them enough power to get started. Once the race is done, the Indy car will pull into the pit lane, meet its pusher car, and then get back to its garage. The pit lane is quite amazing too. To prevent the racers from falling behind, the pit crew needs to be lightening fast. Specialized gas pumps with increased pressure are used to fill up tanks in less than 30 seconds. Four mechanics will work on the car during tire change, with each mechanic changing one tire. These people are super important to the maintenance of the cars.
I ended the day by mingling with some of the racing big shots, such as Ray Evernham, Geoff Bodine, and Simon Pagenaud. I’m sure there are people out there who are super jealous that I had that opportunity! To be honest, it was pretty amazing! Ray Evernham used to work with Jeff Gordon— he was his crew chief. Geoff Bodine is a five time Indy Race winner, who participated in close to 600 races over a 27 year span. Simon Pagenaud is a current Indy Race driver, who participated in the race that was being held at Pocono Raceway that weekend.
I have to say, I have a new found respect for the sport of racing. It was an amazing day filled with new friendships, great memories, and, most of all, awesome photos!
Thanks for reading.