“I want to go fast.”
I’m the first to admit, I can’t walk around a NASCAR track without whispers of Ricky Bobby in my head, however that is quickly subsided by the sheer size and awe of being at the newly upgraded Daytona International Speedway – even on just a practice day. It’s overwhelming, loud, and just visual chaos all around. Luckily, I had a really specific assignment: go hang with Danica Patrick as she starts a new season with a new sponsor, car, and crew chief. No a bad gig if you can get it, especially with The Players’ Tribune, who are amazingly fun to shoot for every time I head out into the world for them with a camera.
Access is always nice with this client, just because their whole thing is access, which at NASCAR if you haven’t shot it (and I’ve barely shot any) is crazy. It’s the only sport where you as a fan can literally walk right up to the athlete 30 seconds before they head out onto the field – well, track – and ask for an autograph. Their locker rooms are garages and their personal space is invaded all the time by thousands of people. There seems to be an invisible line (sometimes it’s yellow) where the garage door starts so once they are in that space it is obvious if you are doing something wrong. Luckily, Danica’s team was awesome to work with and got my that extra few steps to where I needed to go to make photos. Those 5-10 steps mean a lot when trying to get something different and show what a day is like for these drivers – especially one as well known as Danica. Gaining that trust fast is key.
Danica was gracious and accepting of me being around, but always on the move and with deliberate steps from bus to garage from car to track from track to garage. Focus is the key there. She can literally decide to leave that second and you better be ready to go because she has a destination and will run over anyone who gets in that way. Stop for one second and she is swarmed by autograph seekers and photographers. I learned real quickly to keep up with someone 5’2″ and drives 200 mph is more difficult than it sounds, but fun as hell. While in the garage it’s not hard to see the model exterior show – there was always a group of photographers around, but fascinating to watch her be able to tune all that out and focus on her team, the car, and upcoming race. She’s a professional race car driver first and foremost, and that is evident even in the few hours I got to spend with her.
The Players’ Tribune piece is up on their site now – go check it out! Pretty rare when the athlete herself captions my photography: http://www.theplayerstribune.com/danica-patrick-the-journey-begins/