Sunday, January 13, 2013

Billy's Bad Day

This was the shot I had set out to capture for Glidden that weekend
Nearly eleven years ago, I took a stab at running my own race track photo sales business. I was an overly ambitious 23 year old with neither the business sense, nor experience to make the endeavor work. After nearly two years I had to fold the business and go back to working a regular day job. I don’t regret my attempt, or the consequences that come from it, I simply look back at it as a reference point for making better decisions today, and move on.
My business shot everything digital, and printed it from computers in a trailer that I’d customized with the help of some friends. I could produce a print as big as 11x17 inches within about 15 minutes of shooting the photo if needed. Most of the other businesses who did the same line of work had bulky photo processors, the big kind you see at Walmart and the like, crammed into their trailers. Their photos were great, but their technology typically required those companies to either have someone man the trailer constantly, or stay up all night printing orders from Saturday to be delivered on Sunday.
One person who offered support and advice to me during this time in my life was Billy Glidden. Those who follow NHRA racing and even Mustang and outlaw level street car racing know this name. Billy on several occasions worked out deals with me to provide photos for him to use either for his sponsors or other promotional work. It was a good relationship. Billy also provided me with a lot of good advice. He referred a lot of business to me. I haven’t seen or talked to him in a number of years as I’ve spent time away from the race track until recently. Next time I do run into him, I plan to thank him for all that advice, and the experience that came with it.
The World Ford Challenge, was a huge event during this time, drawing some 45,000 racers and fans combined. I ambitiously landed the deal to be World Ford Challenge 5’s official, and only photo vendor. That race was held the second weekend in May, 2002, at Gateway International, in East St. Louis.
Pro-Stock Legend Bob Glidden was also on hand, driving his son's Outlaw 10.5W car that weekend. This is a good wheels up shot that has been retouched recently in Lightroom 4
In addition to all the crazy Mustang and Ford madness of the weekend, NHRA Pro-Stock legend, Bob Glidden (Billy’s father) was going to step out of retirement, and drive Billy’s older outlaw car, while Billy drove the newer Pro 5.0 chassis which met the safety standard at the time to exceed 200MPH.
Prior to the event there was much press, and internet buzz about Bob competing. I headed to Glidden Racing Engines one Friday night, about 2 hours from my home, to take some promotional photos. I no longer have a disc of those photos, although I may have my own printed copy somewhere. Billy and his dad posed beside the cars, near sunset, in front of the shop. We ran on the bottom of the photo “The Legacy Continues...”. I agreed to do a limited print run of the photos, providing Billy with several copies. I would sell the others and give part of the money back to Billy as a commission, since I was essentially making a good deal of money from them.
Unfortunately it rained two of the days of the WFC5 event. Unable to sell as many starting line photos as I would normally have, our top seller was the Glidden father-son photo. Fans came to our trailer throughout the weekend and bought copies of the limited photo, printed in 11x17. I have no idea today how many we did, I think we limited the entire run to 200 pictures, maybe less. Bob and Bill were at their trailers, either between rounds, or during the rainouts, they autographed those prints for fans if requested.
Had it not been for that photo I’d have walked away from WFC5 deeper in the red for the event because of the weather and bad planning on my part. That photo took away some of the financial pain.
Billy had also asked me to get some photos of his Pro 5.0 car which had a special sponsor across the doors. The sponsor, was a St. Louis Ford dealer. I was also sure to get photos of Bob’s car as well.
Bad luck for Billy turned into a bit of good fortune for me. The photo you see of the red car with the fireball over the hood, is of Billy’s car having a rare nitrous backfire. Billy is a nitrous guru, knowing perhaps even more about setting up, and running nitrous than many that design and sell systems. I snapped this photo at just the right moment, with my Nikon D1x, what was considered to be the premiere digital SLR camera at the time. This was a time when nearly everyone else was still shooting film.
My shot  was the only one to grab the extent of the fireball. That D1x shot at an incredible frame rate for the time, and I had photographed Billy enough over the years to know when his car was about to launch. you just get a feel for that when you work the starting line as often as I did. I had hoped to get a good wheels up shot. Instead as soon as the clutch was let go, the car backfired in dramatic fashion.
The photo made the cover of ProMedia and NMRA’s magazine, Race Pages. I also was paid for providing the photography to ProMedia for the event. This was the first and only cover photo I ever snapped.
This is the shot that became famous for the weekend. Experience, timing, equipment and luck made it possible.
I recently came across the picture when I climbed up into the rafters of my garage and pulled down about 30 old archive cd’s I’d made before my original processing system went belly up in 2007. I’ve altered this photo recently, giving it lighting correction with Lightroom 4, and cropping it some to put the focus on the car more and less on the crowd. This is one of those shots that literally is a moment frozen in time. When the shot was taken, no one had yet processed, or reacted to it, the moment was that instantaneous, and surreal. I didn’t even fully realize it. I seldom close both eyes, and all I saw was a flash, and felt some heat. Realizing what had happened I immediately looked at my view screen, hitting the playback button, I found that I did capture the important image.
Sometimes it’s not just about good equipment, or the proper settings. Sometimes even the best timing and reflexes of a young person or a veteran starting line photohrapher aren’t enough either. Sometimes you just get lucky and an ordinary moment turns into something miraculous captured forever.

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