IMS staff photographer Chris Owens shared a few of his favorite photos and stories from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard weekend.
Jeff Gordon climbs in for the last time at Indy. This is the race afternoon grid, he’s climbing into the machine. It was really crowded. I find myself sometimes going “there’s too many people there, there’s other pictures to have, I’ll come back later,” then it occurred to me – the crowd’s never going to leave. It’s only going to get bigger. So I wiggled my way through there and snapped a few. Got him just in time, I knew it was “go” time.
Sam Hornish Jr. delights the fans. That’s one of the best pictures I’ve taken all year. Not because I set anything up; sometimes you just get lucky. Sam’s in focus, his hand is almost touching the lens, you’ve got the pagoda in there, the Crown Royal signage showing our event. And you have 20 people smiling – everyone’s grinning, all the way down the line. The whole thing flows. And Sam, he won the Indy 500 and the IndyCar title twice. He’s a big deal to us.
A moment with Dale Earnhardt Jr. I really like this picture. You only get to see the drivers on TV for 30 seconds at a time, but going back in the garage and watching them, you see the personalities they all have. Dale Jr. is just a really cool guy, really down to earth and really nice. I’ve seen him multiple times, when the crew wants to resituate the car, he helps out. He lifts the hood, he gets wrenches. He’s the man. Other drivers sit back, play on their phone. He doesn’t. Here, he’s in a good mood, waiting for the next thing to happen. He looks like he doesn’t have a care in the world.
Danica’s focus. She’s in the qualifying line, just putting her helmet on. It’s one of the sharpest pictures I’ve taken. Her eyes are really white, really sharp. You have a shared moment of focus and communication with a crew member there, giving her specific instructions and she’s taking it all in. With Danica, it’s one of those things where, yeah, you are gravitated towards her. Anyone who says they don’t as a photographer is lying. She has a history at Indy, she led the Indy 500, you know she’s going to be a story every time she comes back.
Champagne celebration for Kyle. That is one of the images of the weekend I was most looking forward to, no matter what driver it was going to be. But it’s kind of nerve-wracking because you have to really think, what is this race car driver going to do? He’s got this bottle of champagne, he’s not looking to hose the photographers down, he’s looking to spray the crew. Where am I go going to go to get a head-on shot? I went down to the far left-hand corner near victory podium to make sure I got a nice head-on shot of him hosing down the crew. And he’s very different guy than the day before (after winning the Lilly Diabetes 250), he was sitting on the ground and exhausted in Victory Circle.
One last time in Gasoline Alley. That photo’s kind of a big deal – one of the last times the Jeff Gordon 24 will come through Gasoline Alley. Now that the Cup guys the last handful of years have used the frontstretch garages, they really don’t go this way unless they’re going to tech.