Motorsports in general may pose the most dangers of any sport for photographers and journalists to cover. When racing season hits full swing, members of the media find themselves track side with cameras and notebooks in tow. For many, this will be the first time. If you are in that category, make sure you arrive at the track early, a day or two prior to the main event, to become acquainted with the track and to understand their media guidelines. This also gives you an opportunity to cover qualifying rounds and to find the best vantage point for race day. For others, this may feel like old hat. Regardless of experience, however, everyone can benefit from reviewing safe working procedures and getting fully prepared before the big race.
First make sure your press cards are up to date. The novice must avoid becoming distracted. All motorsports are dangerous events and totally unpredictable. Pay careful attention to your track position and never hesitate to check with corner workers about potential dangers. They know where to go when disaster strikes and will be happy to share that information with you. Stay alert at all times.
Veteran photographers must combat complacency. Retain respect for the potential of race cars. Concentrate, keep your attention on the action. Although the track floods your senses with noise, speed, and excitement, you must confirm focus, select the correct exposure, and evaluate subjects that move at 200 mph. When you need a break, move to a safe area or cross the fence and relax for a while.
Three General Tips:
1. Follow directions. The media guide available from each circuit provides the information the photographer needs. A media guide from the particular series you are covering should also be consulted.
2. Get a photographer’s map of the circuit each time you photograph a race, whether you know the course or not. Safety is the real issue here, but you may also find a vantage point on the map that yields a fresh perspective.
3. If you don’t know where you’re going, don’t try to fake it by following other photographers. Do your homework and know what you’re doing before you start.
Six Safety Tips:
1. Learn to use your camera with both eyes open. When proficient, you will encounter less eye strain. You will also enjoy greater peripheral vision. With both eyes open you learn to see the action as it develops and capture it or move to safety if necessary.
2. Take care in selecting your footing. Be prepared to move at any time, and plan your escape route. When shooting from a low perspective, always keep one foot on the ground. Never kneel on both knees.
3. Your hearing alerts you to action coming your way outside the scope of your peripheral view. Avoid wearing headphones.
4. Fire regulations dictate appropriate dress in the pit areas. Shorts, sleeveless shirts, and sandals are prohibited in Indy car pit areas and are not a good idea in any pit area. Thankfully, fire poses less of a problem than in previous years. Improved fuel handling significantly reduced the risks. The greatest danger of fire still exists in the pits. Race cars use high octane fuel, which can appear nearly invisible in daylight. However, racing officials are prepared to extinguish such fires.
5. Note the location of safety vehicles while moving around a racing circuit. Never stand between them and the track. Often they start rolling before the accident vehicles even come to a complete stop.
6. Avoid the temptation to rest your foot on the Armco during a long race. These guard rails absorb the shock of impact when hit by a car. The impact reverberates with such force down the rail that it can cause serious damage to anyone in contact with the rail.
Keep these safety tips in mind the next time you venture out to the track. You will project a professional image and your work will benefit from the careful attention and concentration. Everyone wins when we work safely.