Some things remain the same and other things change. Best way to describe my 18 days in Florida with 13 of those were racing related.
It’s Florida, man! A phrase that’s etched to me head, but it’s true. More so, the constant weather variations define the phrase.
This isn’t a blog about how Florida weather really is. You’re reading this to hear my thoughts as to why the trip changed me. To tell you the truth, appreciating the moments is what changed about my approach of living.
I’ve asked questions and interviewed musicians, drivers of all ages and legendary people. I’ve shot photos of planes, models and animals. Some are more recent than others, but the there’s certain thing.
I’ve enjoyed the moment over time, but never during THE ACTUAL MOMENT.
It started off rough at Volusia, but once I got the ball rolling at New Smyrna and even the two days at Daytona, the ball was rolling.
Not everything was perfect. I had some logistical nightmares and have to make most of what I can only do. It’s not how I typically roll because I love multitasking, but I wasn’t going to let restrictions dampen my spirits.
A week later and over 6000 photos I’ve deleted, I want to share my thoughts here.
It’ll give you mindset of what I’ve learned as a media personnel, photographer, reporter and as an individual.
To tell you I went through a lot is a total understatement, especially when frustrated drivers and tragedy were the common themes.
The Naïve Mindset Must End Soon
Maybe doing certain chicaneries isn’t ideal for my career development. Going forward, I’m just going to hope between now and “The Month of May” (if there is one for a journeyman), I’ll have my license. That’ll make life and everyone around me easier.
Glad I have no interest in traveling right now, so getting my license shouldn’t be a roadblock.
Volusia was a prime example that I’m not going to impress anyone by getting rides. In hindsight, it left a bad impression.
Aside from the ARCA East race, where nothing went right from a photographer point of view, Volusia was the low point in my trip.
The low points were before and after the events I needed to shoot unfolded. The middle part was the only positive I can say because dirt racing is a blast to shoot.
Challenges rose up at first, but nothing beats golden hour shots and just how a winged sprint or a dirt modified handle the corners. Nothing beats it in my young career I still hope can last for years to come.
If anything, at least one of my photos was used in a SPEED SPORT article. So, I guess it’s a win in my book.
Anyways, I initially planned of doing the first half, but things just didn’t work out that way and only lasted three nights. That’s because the cards leaned towards the World Series of Asphalt at New Smyrna.
Honestly, that was okay as weird as 8 out of the 9 days ended up. Before I reflect on those eight nights, I’ll dive into the missing day.
Bad Ass Aviation
Knowing I was going to be at the Daytona International Speedway for the Duels and the 63rd Daytona 500, I wanted to try something different.
Specifically, the day of the Duels which was Thursday. When I got an email about the AF Thunderbirds inviting Chase Briscoe and Ross Chastain to jump aboard on a bad ass flight, I couldn’t resist.
I wanted to take the opportunity of seeing the AF Thunderbirds at the airport and shoot photos. It was the only way I’ll get anything NASCAR related in the foreseeable future.
To me, it was the highlight of my trip for that reason. Not often I have the time or opportunity to capture something neat where drivers take step into other people’s shoes. That’s where the fun in photography really comes from, seeing stuff not many get to.
I can’t thank the AF Thunderbirds and Daytona International Speedway for the courtesy and hospitality. It’s the littlest things that matter, more so when those chances are extremely rare in this pandemic.
The Main (and Often Weird) Attraction
To put it bluntly, I’m only saying weird because I’ve never fully experienced the culture of short track racing before. Like, in it’s true and pure form.
I’ve planned on shooting photos at New Smyrna Speedway as a ‘Let’s see if anyone notice my works or presence’ experiment. That’s where Short Track SCENE comes into play because the outlet were interested in me providing content. Not just photography, but over time, get quotes from the competitors in the infield.
The latter was a true ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ moment because I had to approach drivers during low points. Since I was shooting photos in the infield, I had more access on getting drivers thoughts. Evident when there was a big crash and there were a plethora of them, especially the Tour Mods.
One thing I had to do is keep my questions short and sweet. Being a guy out West that isn’t exposed to Tour Mods or even major Super Late Model events, it was necessary to getting raw content.
As the week progressed, I felt more comfortable approaching drivers if they were inclined on sharing their frustrations. Only one declined and another I should’ve not asked a follow up, but the rest were open about it.
In my three previous years of doing motorsports media, I’ve been absorbed into the world of “email and ask PRs for any driver requests.” That’s fine, but when it’s an environment where such thing isn’t almost non-existent, I needed to get out of my introvert bubble.
The final two nights were a definite example where I was put to the test. With Matt Weaver at Daytona doing stuff for Autoweek, I had to do all the dirty work. More specifically, the last night when the Super Late Models competed in the Orange Blossom 100.
A clean race it may have been, but I needed to do myself and STS a favor by interviewing the top-three finishers (Stephen Nasse, Jesse Love and Sammy Smith) and the WSOA SLM champion Derek Griffith.
It had to be done because for over a week, I’m essentially representing Short Track SCENE.
In that week alone, I was able to get out of my introvert bubble and be more approachable. Yeah, most of my duties focused on the low points (ask Kody Swanson, who won the Pro Late Model title despite never running those cars before), but it’s how I’ll get better in this profession.
Not everything is going to go a driver’s way. Hell, not everything goes my way in life either. That’s no secret with each blog I’ve written on my website.
I seriously can’t thank Matt enough for giving me the grand opportunity to provide my works. I’m forever grateful. Certainly, it was a highlight of my career. No questions asked.
Coping with Double Tragedies
In this business, death takes a toll on folks who are linked to racing community. Truer words couldn’t be said at New Smyrna when Rusty Crews died Sunday morning following a Florida Sportsman confrontation the night before.
Two days later, two people were killed outside the track. At first, Matt and I thought it was racing related, but talking to an official and other people at the track, it wasn’t anything like Crews’ passing.
It was a highway accident that claimed the life of two people. Even if it wasn’t racing related, Tour Mod qualifying had to be halted twice.
My main thoughts were that I’ve never been surrounded with tragic outcomes. Not since Shaylynn’s death in December 2009 at the very least.
It brought an eerie feeling I’ve never felt, but that’s just how life works. It doesn’t prepare you for everything.
I didn’t hear about Crews’ death until Sunday morning. Some people on Twitter thought the WSOA would be cancelled. When I arrived, it was business as usual. Tour Mods arrived and were going through tech while Pro Late Model practice was underway.
Nevertheless, I could tell how hurt the community was during pre-race ceremonies.
Even during the tragic times, the racing community gathers and mourn. It wasn’t the easiest stuff shooting because those were raw emotions I captured. Aside from this blog and one Instagram post, it’s all I’ll say about those tragedies.
Finish Off What I Started
I’ve been vocal about 2/16/20 being the lowest point in my life. Fortunately, history didn’t repeat itself on 2/14/21 because I was able to cover the entire Daytona 500.
In fact, it didn’t got postponed to Monday afternoon like last year. Even if it did, I already made my traveling and staying changes to assure I’ll be there. Comes to show you how much prepared I am than ever before.
Yeah, it was just only writing at the Media Center. It would’ve been nice to do both that and photography because it’s where I thrive the most. It’s just not how things work right now.
Yeah, I’m back at “square one” among the world of established personnel. Everything I’ve build up going into 2020 is torn off and it’s back to where I was in early 2019.
It is what it is, but you know what?
I just don’t care about the negatives. I’m super flattered to have been among the select few who was on assignment for a pandemic race. That’s all I needed to solidified an accomplished two weeks in Florida.
My confidence level as far as writing was concerned was a lot better. The questions I asked ranging from Michael McDowell to Pitbull were well put. I wasn’t overthinking my questions which is one of many things I must improve this year.
Compared to my first Daytona 500 in 2019, the quality of my questions were a whole lot better. I wasn’t leaving without feeling like a total jack ass.
Despite leaving Daytona past 2:30 am knowing that McDowell won a rather odd 500, I was actually satisfied. I wasn’t angry or thinking about heading back home. I felt at peace.
McDowell winning the 500 is surreal. To think a guy I first heard in a SPEED Channel ad in 2004 is a Daytona 500 champion 17 years later is mindboggling.
No matter how you view Florida, we can agree that it’s a fascinating state.
Now that I’ve been there the past three Februarys, I’m starting to understand my career purpose.
Going forward, I just want to use the tools I’ve learned and received at the three venues and continuing thriving.
As I said earlier, I’m forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in Florida. I just hope I was able to deliver to their expectations and it’s only the beginning of what I’m capable of showing.
For now, I’m back to the asking questions on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, writing recaps and articles in the world of NASCAR and INDYCAR. Maybe some F1 and ARCA when time allows.
Not only that, focus on local stuff to keep my content fresh and diverse. Hope to have some from now until May.
And yes, GETTING MY DAMN LICENSE!
Until we meet again, check out my Patreon if you want to support my career path in 2021. I’ll appreciate it!
In the meantime, doubt me if you insist, prove me wrong if I give consent.