In the last few days there has been a lot of discussion about the dangers and the safety of drag racing, it's fans, it's media, etc. Well the simple fact of the matter is that this is a dangerous sport and a dangerous profession...PERIOD.
Last weekend during the PDRA race at Rockingham Dragway there was an accident when Ronnie "The King" Davis' car got out of control at the top end of the run, took a hard right and went over the retaining wall. In doing so, professional drag racing Photographer & Writer Ian Tocher from Drag Illustrated was severely injured. Unfortunately Ronnie did not survive the accident, and Ian is still in the hospital with another surgery planned for Friday.
I have sit here and read, along with listen to some people that say photographers should not shoot top end. They have stated that there is no reason to be up there. I am here to tell you that I could not disagree more. Drag racing is not something that is 60' long, it's a race that occurs at either 660', 1000', or 1320' and that's something that people need to realize.
If you were a photographer and you were shooting the NFL, would you only photographer from the 20 yard line to the end zone? The answer is absolutely not. Now some of you will try and tell me "that's different" and maybe it is, but when you are limiting top end shooting you are doing exactly what you would do by only shooting football from the 20 yard line to the end zone.
The fact of the matter is that being a race car driver or media personal that shoot track side is inherently dangerous. What gets left out of the discussion is the fact that there are photographers on the starting line, the 60' mark, the 330' mark etc. Your argument that shooting top end is more dangerous than anywhere else is absolutely absurd. You have just as much of a chance of getting injured at the starting line as you do the finish line.
I have personally been shooting at the track for more than 6 years now. Not nearly as long as some, but longer than others. I have shot the starting line, the 60', the 330' and even 200' past the boards while 1/4 mile promods cross at 250 mph. I feel just as safe at 60' than I do at 1500'. There is a reason for that too and I am more than happy to share.
Let's take for example some instances over the last few years. Multiple times at Lights Out this year I was in a situation that could have ended bad. Frank Mewshaw lost his back glass during a pass and a huge chunk of it went zipping past me without me even noticing. When Keith Haney struck the wall in Georgia, it wasn't much more than maybe 30' past where I was standing. How about the year that Sam Vincent stood the car up on one wheel and came straight towards John Fore and I. What about when a Chevy Nova broke at Holly Springs and came straight towards me? I think you get the idea there.
So in no situation while at the race track is it a "safe place" where nothing can every happen to you and to think otherwise is quite asinine. The failure to realize that all media, whether at the race track or shooting for National Geographic is dangerous. The reason that there are few that do what we do is because of the danger as well.
I am not saying that everyone should be on the top end shooting photos, and I am not saying that everyone should even be on the wall. You have to be hyper aware as a photographer at the race track no matter where you stand. Standing next to a nitrous car that goes boom on the starting line can injury you as well. So when I read other outlets take such a strong stance against shooting top end I just have to walk away and ignore it.
We also want people to understand that as media we CHOOSE to be out there. We CHOOSE to stand where we do and do what we do. A lot of us have no interest in standing against the wall taking the same 3/4 stock wheelstands for 12 hours a day. That doesn't mean you have to go up there, but don't tell me that you think it's best for me not to because it makes you scared. We cover drag racing the way that we do because we love it. We love bringing our readers the entire experience, not just everything that happens from the starting line out to 100'.
Instead of worrying about shooting top end, how about worrying about the inexperienced media that lean over the retaining wall or actually sit on the wall while passes are being made. There are a 100 places at the race track that someone can get injured and that's just a fact of life. When people start to come out and say that no one should shoot top end though, you are trying to decide for an entire industry the way that an event should be covered.
So instead of trying to scare everyone, how about you cover events the way that you want and the rest of us will decide what's best for us. We aren't covering swimming or marathon running, this is drag racing folks. Take it seriously. Respect it. Love it. And be as safe as you can.