Anatomy of “The Shot”
by Mike Sopko Jr. with Kyle Hough
The “Spectacular!” That’s what drag racing is all about. When comparing the finer points of interest between drag racing and circle track racing, I’ve always argued that during a 500 mile circle track race you will probably have a few accidents which will garner excitement, but on any given quartermile drag racing pass a car can wheel stand, go up in smoke, get completely out of shape, tag the wall, explode, or do any combination of these. And though we don’t go to the track in search of these we understand, just as the racers do, that these are some of the inherent elements that make even a “normal pass” impressive because the racer and his/her team have beat the odds of having a catastrophic mishap.
Of course, as we all know catastrophic mishaps occur and as a drag racing photographer, I and others find ourselves in a precarious position. As a photographer we’re always searching for that incredible moment to capture on film…memory card yet at the same time we are shooting individuals who we have a great deal of respect for and even consider friends. Therefore we are caught in that juxtaposition where we seek the incredible moment, but we wish nobody ill will at the same time.
With that being said, if you have read any of my previous articles you know that I grew up in a household with a very accomplished photographer. My Dad has had a knack for catching these incredible wheels up, on fire, or in the guard rail pictures and I spent a great deal of my childhood in awe of his images. When I wasn’t looking at Dad’s pics, I was looking through old magazines or books of drag racing’s great photographers such as Bob McClurg and Steve Reyes. And some of their most impressive work was their captures of drag racing mishaps. In my 20 years of photography I had never really captured any of these “jaw-dropping” moments. Hey, don’t get me wrong I’ve had plenty of great shots, but just none that managed to capture one of these moments that you would have seen on a Diamond P video’s “And They Walked Away” series.
For me that moment finally came this past year at the National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Kentucky where due to a series of unique events I captured what I call, “The Shot.”
The whole thing started with the real possibility that I wouldn’t even be going. At home my wife and I had to deal with an incredibly taxing situation that didn’t seem to have an end in sight. With that on my mind drag racing really went to the backburner and quite frankly nearly fell off the stove. Once that situation was temporarily resolved I was able to look past it, but then had the unenviable task of completing over 20 plus hours of graduate school work within only a couple days so that we could leave. It was a good thing we left when we did because if we had waited a couple more hours we may not have made it out till the next day. An impressive set of thunderstorms wreaked havoc on my neighborhood knocking trees down all around my house and completely removing a roof off of a nearby home. Fortunately, we received no damage and my wife and kids were just fine. Now that I was there I had certain set of guidelines that I had to be mindful of.
Kyle Hough in Super Nanook
NHRA was getting much stingier and more strict on who they gave photo credentials to and had rules in place for those who did receive credentials. One rule was not to constantly be up at the starting line to shoot. They were trying to limit the number of photogs blocking the view of spectators. As somebody who has spent most of my drag racing life in the grandstands I appreciated the rule and did my best to follow it. That is why on Friday I spent a couple of sessions down at the 1,000 ft. mark, obviously not on the guardrail, but behind the spectator fence.
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