18 March 2016

Risk and reward at the 2016 Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet

Hope you like the photos, they nearly cost me my life

As a couple of hard-hitters made their passes, I realized just how close I really was to these raging vehicles: Only a short concrete barrier provided cover as thousands of horsepower flew past. And as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the next racer took off with a bang. I peered through the camera’s viewfinder. The car wobbled, then weaved. It was losing traction and hurling towards the barrier, directly at me. Scant milliseconds passed between the realization of what was happening and dropping behind the barrier in a panic. As I did so, bits of fiberglass exploded through the air as the car scraped the barrier wall’s other side with a screech. Miraculously, the driver regained control and managed to straighten the dragster up.

It was at that moment that I came to this conclusion: Dragstrip photography is perhaps the most dangerous form of automotive photography in the US with some photographers risking their lives to get that one jaw-dropping shot.

The Nitro car round ended after a few more runs, and I took the opportunity to regain my composure and check my pants. I also grabbed a bite to eat and checked out the cars featured in the car show behind the stands. A fine mix of hot rods, customs and muscle cars completed the field, and I soon found myself wandering through the vendor area to purchase an epic tank top from Drag Daddy’s Garage. After removing bits of rubber, tar and fiberglass from my hair, I headed back to the track to get more photos while I still could. Next up was 7.0 Pro, Junior Fuel, A/Fuel, and more qualifying sessions for the Funny Cars, Top Fuel and Fuel Altered classes were yet to come.

It was the annual 2016 Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet and it felt like a four-day long earthquake. The Auto Club Famoso Raceway in McFarland, Cali. rumbled from March 3-6 with over 500 racers and thousands of fans converging to watch their favorite speed demons in 15 different classes battle for the best times down the quarter-mile dragstrip.

If you have a thirst for speed, this was the place to be; from nostalgic hot rods to screaming nitromethane-powered cars, there was something to get anyone’s blood pumping. And this year, Hagerty and the Famoso Raceway gang granted me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close and personal for what turned out to be my life’s ultimate adrenaline rush.

I took a deep breath as I was handed a pass and signed my life away in order to get what I believe are the most spectacular photos I have taken to this day. My only regret was not having the pro-photography equipment that seasoned shooters carry, but my little Canon Rebel exceeded expectations. You’re welcome.

The sweet smell of race gas and burned rubber already filled the early morning air as I made my way to watch the first races of day. First up was the hot rod class, which also happens to be my favorite because of their nostalgic looks. They left me, and others, wearing silly grins, but paled in comparison to the Top Fuel Nitro-burning cars, including, of course, the Funny Cars, that are really more intimidatingly spine-tingling than ‘funny’. The nickname comes from wheelbase modifications that involve the rear wheels being moved forward on the chassis, which shifts the center of gravity rearward providing more traction, and an accordingly abnormal appearance. But these cars are no joke.

Top Fuel cars are the fastest accelerating vehicles in the world with the ability to go from 0-100 mph in .8 seconds. That sounds impressive on paper, but it is even more amazing in person; don’t blink while these drivers make their runs because you might miss the action, or become part of it as I nearly did. I hope you enjoy the photos.

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