LA Stories

Everyone once in a great while the planets and star align and some really cool and somewhat unexpected things happen.

Every April I find myself in southern California covering the Long Beach Grand Prix.  This year was no exception.  The LBGP is the longest running street circuit in North America.  It has seen everything from Formula 5000, Formula 1, CART, IndyCar, IMSA sportscars, and drifting competition.  This event is the foundation of the rebirth of downtown Long Beach - it has made serious economic impact on this city over the past 40 years.

I made the trip to the left coast a couple of day early this year,  as I was invited to attend two events which I had made minor photographic contributions to.

The second of these events was the world premiere of the new documentary WINNING The Racing Life of Paul Newman.  The film is the love child of comedian, actor and radio personality Adam Carolla.  He can add the title of movie director and producer to his resume.  Carolla owns a lot of Newman's old race cars and was the driving force to making sure this film was made.  He did a great job digging up old footage of PLN's racing career and adding in-depth interviews by Bob Sharp (Newman's team owner in the early days), Mario Andretti, and a various Hollywood actors.

I was contacted last fall by one of the producers when he came across one of my photographs of Newman.  I did not photograph him very often - he was a private man and had very little tolerance for photographers unless they had a real reason to photograph him.  I did shoot for one of the teams that he drove for during the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the last time I worked with him was a story for Car and Driver magazine about the catering team for his IndyCar operation.  In those instances he was a pleasure to be around.  Most of the other times I had no interest in him, nor he in me.   I have two images in the film, one that appears early in the film and one of the last still shots toward the end.  I was glad I could contribute.  And pleased I was in LA and able to accept the invite to the premiere from the good folks at Nissan North America.  Nissan was one of the sponsors of the opening and only fitting considering Newman was arguably the most famous driver ever to race one of their cars - which he did for the majority of his racing career.

The first event of the trip, and the real highlight of the trip, occurred the previous evening in Beverly Hills.. 2 weeks ago I received a phone call from Doug Fehan, the Program Manager for Corvette Racing, asking if I could quickly get my hands of the Le Mans 24 podium shot of the Corvette team I took several years ago.  I said I could, and Doug put me in contact with Bruce Meyer.

Bruce Meyer and I have crossed paths a couple of times many many years ago through our mutual friend David Seibert.  Bruce is a car enthusiast without equal.  He was the founding chairman of the Peterson Automotive Museum. A man of great taste, and great humility,  and a friend of everyone in the world of cars and racing.  He had recently purchased the last Corvette GT1 car to with the Le Mans 24 Hour race.  He saw my podium shot and wanted to use it in his garage.

Now Bruce's garage is unlike any other.  His garage was built in 1926 and was the first public parking garage in Beverly Hills.  The Corvette is the latest addition to his collection which includes Porsche 935, a Ferrari 250 GT SWB (both Le Mans winners), a 57 Ferrari Testa Rossa, a 1936 Bugatti, a 1929 Dusenberg, and so forth.  His garage has been called by some "the ultimate man cave."  i would simply call it a space filled with automotive significance and history.

So a couple of weeks back Bruce called and asked if my LM24 photograph of the Vette drivers on the podium in France celebrating their victory above the mass of humanity, could installed behind the car and be a permanent part of his collection. Uh, yes it can.

The Vette, painted in its original yellow livery, is the brightest car in the garage.  The photograph is the only color image in the garage.  They fit well together.

Bruce graciously invited me to his Racers Night Out event - a wonderful gathering of the (mostly)  southern California racing scene - several of whom I have had portrait sessions with - Gurney, The Snake, Parnelli Jones, Dario Franchitti, and Jan Magnussen; and the chance to catch up with old friends that I don't get to see often enough - including Gayle and Peter Brock, Lyn St. James, and Johnny O'Connell.

Toward the end of the evening I saw Doug Fehan and thanked him helping to arrange all of this.  He is racer in every sense of the word.   He told me, "the coolest part of this whole deal is that car has a legacy that will be honored and admired here long after we are all gone.  And your photograph will too."  

Humbled and Honored.  

 

The Birthing Of A Racing Car

A lot of attention has been given to the new Nissan GT-R LM NISMO since the launch of the car during the 2015 Super Bowl.  I've been involved with the project since May of 2014 and thought I would give a little bit of insight on the documentation of this project.

It was last May, when on very short notice, I was asked to fly to Japan and photograph the teaser photo that would accompany the Nissan press release announcing the Japanese manufacturer's return to the prototype racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours and the World Endurance Championship.  The day after the TUSC event at Monterey, I flew from SFO to LAX to NRT, and then made the short drive to Yokohama, home of Nissan corporate offices and NISMO.  I was met by a small film crew from the UK and together we created images of a new production car and the teaser photo of the new race car.  While the new GT-R LM NISMO had been conceived many months earlier, this Nissan image told the world "we are expecting."

Several months went by as the final design of the car was completed and the building took place.  I made several cross country trips documenting the construction of the car and the early testing days.  It was magical to witness the car being crafted by dedicated mechanics and engineers.  Time consuming minor details being worked out, honed, and fitted, refitted, and refined.  And that process continues on the GT-R LM, as it does with every racing car, no matter the age.

The early days of testing a race car is much like watching a child learn to walk.  Stumbles occur, patience is required, but confidence grows as crawling turns into baby steps, which turns into jogging, which turns into sprinting.   A fast steady marathon is a the desired end result and this simply takes time.

I finally saw the completed race car in mid December at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.  The COTA circuit was flooded with a huge production crew filming the Nissan Super Bowl ad.   What an education that was.  The production was a logistical exercise of a small Army of highly skilled professionals, each designated with a specific task that had to be prepared and ready to perform at a specific time.  Action shots with single cars, multiple cars, at night, during the day, a crash sequence, a podium sequence, and dozens of other shots that had to be captured in a 72 hour period.   Add the demands of wardrobe, make-up, lighting, track prep, catering, FX, etc., the list is endless.  And it all went off like clockwork.   The set up still photography was squeezed in a 45 minute on day 2 and a 3 hour early morning window on day 3.   That was all that was needed and the results speak for themselves.

The car was "born" during the 2nd quarter of the Super Bowl, along with the 2016 Nissan Maxima.  A great double header debut orchestrated by the folks at Nissan.  Online content was released a few minutes afterwards and additional material will follow in the coming weeks. 

A couple of notes about the images I shot.  The images were taken on Nikon D4 bodies and 4 lenses were used , 14-24/2.8, 17-35/f4, 24-70/2.8 and a 70-200/2.8.  Profoto power packs and heads were used for lighting.  The static shots were taken during a lunch break on the 2nd day.  Profoto was responsible for the killer lighting and one can easily see the difference it made when compared to the images were shot at exactly the same time by another photographer working for a monthly magazine and did not have the benefit of Profoto gear.  The rigged shots were taken over a 3 hour period during the early morning of the 3rd day.  Cameras were rigged to both the car and the tow vehicle and given the limited amount of time, several views had multiple cameras rigged and shooting at the same time.  The reason for the D4 bodies and not a Nikon D810 is quite simple.  I own two D4 bodies and only one D810 (that is about to change as another D810 is coming my way) and I wanted the image quality to be consistent shot to shot.  Using two different bodies would not have accomplished that goal.

The response to the images has been very positive.  Needless to say, it was a very good shoot.  The entire campaign from the printed material, to the online material, to the video both on television and online, and to the next wave of material that is forthcoming, is the end result of very talented people all working together to accomplish one goal - a kick ass campaign that resulted in one of the best launches of any race car in the history of the sport.  To those individuals that worked with me on my minor part of this project, and the people who gave me this wonderful opportunity and can only say thank you.  

Several years ago Steve Jobs spoke at the commencement ceremonies at Stanford University.  The message of that speech was "Don't Settle."  The good folks at Nissan and NISMO have lived this motto for the last 10 months and will continue to do so for the life of this race car.  And one other motto applies to this entire experience:  "Epic."

A Glance Back

2014 was a wonderful year of shooting of great assignments, the opportunity of seeing new parts of world, and working with very talented people.  One assignment stands out from the rest, a place I had never been before, but have definitive plans to return.  

Early on Monday morning following a very long week of covering the LeMans 24 Hours, I was part of a 4 car convoy of journalists on a 3 day whirlwind assignment through France and Belgium.  The final destination of this day was in the north east corner of France.

My only previous knowledge of Reims, France is a beautiful black & white photograph that hangs in my office of the start of the 1955 Grand Prix.  The image was taken by the great Jesse Alexander.  The frame is taken from the last row of the grid, Jesse standing in the middle of the road, and in the distance the viewer sees the grandstands on both sides of the circuit and the far horizon of the French countryside.

We arrived in late afternoon, winding through endless vineyards that produce some of the best champagne in the world.  Later that evening and the following morning time was taken to explore the city including Notre-Dame de Reims, the place of most of the coronations of French monarchs and Saint Remi Basilica.  But the current destination was the same location as Jesse's photograph - the grandstands of the grand prix circuit - still standing along the two lane public road.  This historic racing landmark did not disappoint.  It is virtually the same as it was 50 years ago.  Yes the logos are a bit faded, some of the concrete a bit cracked, however, it is alive with the spirit and history of racing.  It sits alone along this road, surrounded by  tranquil green and golden fields.

Spending time here was the highlight of my photographic year.  I love France anyway - the people, their appreciation of art and photography, and the history this marvelous country holds.  Reims is one of the most beautiful parts of this country or any country I have visited.  Perhaps the best part of this trip to Reims is remind myself to take my eye away from the viewfinder, take time  away from the deadlines, and simply appreciate the simplicity and beauty that surrounds me every day.