New England Forest Rally
Well, it finally happened. I went to a motorsports event and I took some pictures. I've been a racing fan for about five years now; in that time, I've largely enjoyed it via the comforts of my television, gaming seat, and a beer by my side. Well this time, I drove to Maine and stood mere meters from some beautiful racing machines being flogged by some seriously ballsy (read: skilled) drivers. Seeing as it was my first motorsports photography adventure, I kept maybe 130 shots of out 1,100. Even though I have plenty of room to improve, I completely enjoyed my time in upper (VERY UPPER) New England; shooting motorsports is something that I'll be doing a lot more of.
This rally began with Parc Exposé, as most rallies do. Simply put, the fans can wander around amidst the competitors' cars as they are prepped and primped for the big event. The cars are cleaned and polished as much as possible, since they'll be covered in rocks, dirt and grass for the next few days. The invading scent of gear oil hung in the air as cars were started, revved, and spot-checked before everyone headed out to Stage 1, and the beginning of Day 1 in earnest.
Rally: Day one
It's very hard to describe how much I missed the smell of burnt 100+ octane race fuel. Once the first car blasted past on Stage 1, the moment bordered on enlightenment; this is the environment in which I belong.
Then the dust hit. After every car went by.
One of our guides remarked very candidly that it was, "the worst dust [I've] experienced in forty years of rallying". Although I take statements like this very cautiously, I believed them. At times, the dust was a nuisance, and at other times, it induced hideous bouts of coughing which only water (read: beer) and a quick walk towards the woods would fix.
The kicker? I still enjoyed the hell out of it. The likes of David Higgins, Ken Block and David Yeoman were hurling dried earth at me via their fire-spitting rally machines. Somehow, despite the camera gear and clothes matted with dust, I derived some sort of thoracic masochism from all of this.
And that, apparently, is rally racing.
Rally: Day two
Day two began with a merciful, wonderful bout of New England rain. The downpour completely drenched the entire 30 mile radius in which the day's stages were run. Thankfully, that kept dust to a minimum, and the rain petered out mere minutes before the first stage. Rocks were a slight hazard, so I opened my stadium umbrella and laid it on the ground in front of me so that road stones wouldn't meet my stones.
It should be noted that we only saw six stages of the thirteen that occurred. Only a handful are actually open to the public, and published on a map; apparently, some of them are hazardous enough to be redacted from the list. I'm not sure I'm convinced of that entirely. Either way, we saw nearly half of the rally, which is more than what most people see. I must extend my sincere gratitude to the VIP Program for the rally this year, which supplied us VIP'ers with food, beer, and comfortable travel to and from each stage. If you'd like to see this for yourself, it's a great way to start!
The rally concluded with the predicted winner, well, winning. David Higgins swept the stages, with internet Gymkhana sensation and Reliant Robin-flipper Ken Block finishing 2nd (largely in part due to a disagreement with a rock wall, in which the rock wall won). Just after the last stage, this guy rolled up:
He asked where the "damaged spectator car" was. We had no clue, until leaving: a fan's Dodge Ram had its windows blown out by flying rocks from a rally car.
As such, spectating or driving a rally is risky. Motorsport as a whole is risky. By nature, I'm hesitant and cautious, which aren't two qualities that risk-takers normally have in spades. However, smelling the race gas, getting caught in machine-made dust storms, and standing mere feet from barely-controlled rally cars has taught me something: it's time to start taking more risks.
It's nice to be comfortable and safe, but it's fun to be near - or in - a motorsports event. So where am I headed with this rambling post about dust and cars? I'm not entirely sure myself. All I know is that I want to either A) keep photographing these incredible drivers doing their job, or B) join in on the fun myself.
At least with option B, I won't need to keep inhaling dust. Not that option A is without its charm.
This post is dedicated to Jules Bianchi, a Formula 1 driver who sadly lost his life after laying comatose following a hideous crash this past October. His car was #17, and this is Week 17 of my 52 Project. Godspeed, Jules.