Don’t ever let anyone tell you working at IMS isn’t a dream come true. Sure, as with any job, it has its moments. There are times where you feel tested, frustrated, tired, lost and burned out. But then, without any warning, a single incredible moment happens. A moment when you look back and realize, “Wow … THAT just happened.” A moment when you realize that you not only were you a witness to history but you actively participated in it. That moment happened for me this year about 10 a.m. Monday, May 28.
In the wake of the retirement of legendary IMS Director of Photography Ron McQueeney, I inherited a few of the responsibilities of the photo department. While I certainly don’t claim to “run the photo department” or claim I’m talented enough to call myself the “head photographer,” I get the pleasure of organizing several of our shoots here at the facility. One specific shoot is arguably the most important every year. It’s often referred to as “THE DAY AFTER,” the shoot with the Indianapolis 500 winner the morning after the race.
I arrived at the track at about 7 a.m. that morning. Although I didn’t tell anyone, I was nervous about this one. I’d made it through another month of May, 33 qualifying photos, and two victory circle photo shoots. I had one task left, the winner’s shoot on the Yard of Bricks.
I headed out to the Yard of Bricks early to get a feel for what needed to be done. About that time, I looked down pit lane as the No. 50 Target Dallara/Honda of Dario Franchitti was being rolled out from Gasoline Alley and was heading north toward the start-finish line. The crew positioned the car perfectly along the bricks. The waiting game began. Photographers started to stroll in, and I did my best to make sure that everyone had a spot to get a great shot.
Dario was working his way through his string of media hits with assorted morning shows across the country while the rest of us were readying for a smooth morning.
After about an hour, Dario walked down from the media center and to the Yard of Bricks. He climbed into the car and positioned himself perfectly. He’s a three-time winner; he knows the drill. The dance began. “Dario wear this hat” … “Now look here” … “Next hat” … “Crew members, you’re in this shot” … “Family members only in this one.” Before you knew it, we’d gone through every sponsor shot, team shot, family shot and several others.
It wasn’t until after everything was over, Dario had left the track and I was sorting through photos before I realized something.
I was flipping through all of the various shots when I stumbled upon this shot of me handing Dario a hat.
Those of us that work in the motorsports industry — and professional sports, in general — strive to be professional at all times. Part of that attitude is keeping our “fan” urges in check. It’s a pretty common circumstance in May to sit or stand next to a well-known celebrity or a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner. So you need to act like it is an everyday occurrence. At the time this photo was taken, no part of me thought, “Man, this is Dario Franchitti, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion!” I was more likely thinking: “Man, it’s hot out here … what’s the next hat? Is the next group ready for their shot? How much time do we have left?”
I should provide a little background information to help you all understand why this photo is important to me. I am a fan. There, I said it. I grew up loving this sport. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be a part of, and Dario Franchitti has been my favorite driver since I was a kid. I’m truly blessed to be able to call the Indianapolis Motor Speedway my employer, and this photo made me realize something. In the rush that is May and in our efforts to remain professional at all times, we occasionally let these once-in-a-lifetime moments escape without noticing. We let these moments of history in which we’re actively participating slide by without record.
I was lucky enough to have a photographer snag this shot for me, and I’m forever grateful. The photo and experience also made me realize that our extremely vocal fans always tell us about their favorite moment at IMS or what the facility means to them, but we rarely explain to them what it means to those of us that are here every day and get up close and personal with the history. I’ve been to the Indianapolis 500 so many times I’ve nearly lost count, but I get chills every single year. Every race morning when I drive through the tunnel into a dark and virtually empty IMS I still get the nervous energy I did before my first “500.”
It’s easy for those of us that work here to fall into a routine. But IMS has a way of reminding you that just when you think you’ve seen it all and done it all, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Speaking of getting chills…