After years of “chasing race cars” as a fan, I finally got my chance to be close to the action. In 1972, I was hired to be part of the IMS Photo Staff. Wow, was I proud of that 1st Silver Badge (yes, I still have it and all the credentials I’ve earned). I was to be a weekend shooter on staff and my 1st assignment was inside turn 3 shooting side action shots.
My camera was not top of the line and I only had a 200mm and a 55 mm lens but I was ready to go and I thought I was up for the challenge. My first weekend was spent in the turn 3 area and with film, you had to wait for film to be developed so there was about a 2 or 3 day lag between shooting and seeing the results. Qualifying weekend, I was assigned to turn 2 and there for the rest of Practice and Qualifications.
On race day, I show up bright and early and to my surprise, I am assigned to shoot the Garage Area all day. I didn’t understand until I was shown my results from my month’s shots. Not quite stellar. While I was disappointed to not have a “Prime Location” to shoot, I knew that it was still better than the alternative so I worked the garages all day. I was allowed to shoot the start from the pit area but my choice for a position there turned out to be a risky venture.
Due to the Pace car incident in 1971, in 1972 the Pace Car driver, 1960 Indianapolis 500 winner Jim Rathmann was directed to turn in at the Chute between the Pits and the Garages rather than going to the end of the pits. Of course MY selected position was in the middle of the entrance to that area.
As I was shooting the cars going by for the start, I suddenly felt a jerk on my shoulder as someone yanked me backwards with great abandon. I was lifted off my feet and spun to the rear of my original position, completely ruining my “Start of the Race Shot”. My initial thought was to come up swinging until I realized that the Pace car turned into where I was standing.
As I gathered my thoughts, the person responsible for my missed shot asked if I was OK. It was a bearded James Garner, the actor who had saved me from being a hood ornament for the Oldsmobile Pace Car. A thankful but rather embarrassed “Rookie”, I went back into the Garage Area to collect my thoughts and continue my assignment.
An inauspicious beginning to my long career here at IMS. I was happy to be brought back for a 2nd year and I improved on my equipment and technique and had great assignments in years to come.