By Ben Shelton
Editor Note: There’s no shortage of awesome photographers in dirt track racing. This is a fact not lost on our staff at OneDirt. As a result, we are starting this new feature profiling some of our sport’s brightest photographers.
When and where did you get your start in the racing photos business? What inspired you to try it out?
I come from mainly an asphalt background. My grandfather, father, and one uncle raced. I also had another uncle that was a crew chief for an asphalt Super Late Model team that toured the Southeast. I grew up around the track and always wanted to be involved, but never really had an interest in driving. I wanted to continue the family name, so in October 2012, I bought my first camera. I then shot my first race at Talladega Short Track during the 2013 Ice Bowl, and it quickly grew from there.
At the beginning of your photography career, who did you look up to the most?
One person that helped me from the beginning was Glenn Katauskas. I really admired his work as a fan of the sport and reached out to him prior to shooting my first race. He actually invited me to shadow him the entire weekend of the 2013 Ice Bowl and continued to mentor me from that point on.
Rick Schwallie was another person whose work I always admired, as well as Joey Millard.
Those three guys were at the top of the sport when I first started, and I’m proud to call all of them my friends now.
Would you have ever believed that you would make a living as a racing photographer?
Not at all. Had you told me 4 years ago when I began that I would be where I’m at today, I definitely wouldn’t have believed it. I’m very thankful for how far I’ve come and the people who have helped me along the way. So many people have helped me get to this point, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me.
If you didn’t work full-time as a photographer, what would be your job?
Honestly, I’m not sure what I would do if I didn’t work as a photographer in racing. At this point, it’s hard to even think about life without photography or racing.
When not taking photos, what is your favorite pastime?
I’m a diehard race fan. I’m 100 percent racing all of the time. I eat, sleep, and breathe it. I’m a huge history buff as well. I love learning about how our sport started. I’m not as familiar with dirt racing history as I’d like to be, so that’s something I’ve been researching a lot lately.
What’s the hardest part of working as a touring photographer?
Travelling is always hard. The windshield time is pretty grueling. I spend anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, traveling one way on weekends. It wears on you and your sleep schedule after a while.
Another thing is always having to adjust to new places each week. It’s a lot harder than people think, because you only have so many chances to try different angles and shooting positions. If you don’t quickly get a good game plan once you get to the track each day, it could be the difference in getting the shot of the night or missing it altogether.
What’s your best piece of advice for someone trying to break into the photography business?
Be different and stand out from the crowd. If a group of photographers are all bunched into Turn 3, then go to Turn 1. That’s one thing I pride myself on is having a different style of shooting than others.
One other suggestion is to shoot as much as you can. Shoot, shoot, and shoot more! You can always delete pictures, but you can’t make them appear out of thin air.
What’s an event you’ve never shot that’s on your bucket list?
I’ve always wanted to shoot the Indianapolis 500. The pageantry and hype leading up to the race, along with the race itself, is something I’ve always wanted to see and experience in person.
What’s your favorite track to take pictures?
My favorite track to shoot is Brownstown Speedway in Indiana. With it not having a wall around the majority of the track, it provides lots of different angles to capture the event.
What’s your biggest pet peeve as a photographer?
Photographers who don’t understand how to properly use their equipment to take photos drives me crazy. Knowing your camera gear inside and out is key to capturing great images. You can have the nicest equipment on the planet, but if you aren’t familiar with using it, it just won’t matter.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever had happen while shooting an event?
I’ve actually been hit by a race car. In 2014, I was on the front stretch of Talladega Short Track, behind the infield catch fence waiting to capture the “checkered flag shot.” A car spun coming off of Turn 4 and proceeded to jump the infield wall and come through the fence. I was struck by a fence post that was lodged in the left front wheel area.
Fortunately, I was paying attention and was able to move and escape with only a bruised sternum and a few bruised ribs.