Check out the lean angle of Jeff Ward as he stuffs Frenchman Alex Thiebault in a turn at the downtown Columbus (Ohio) Supermoto in October of 2003. To me Wardy is the greatest Supermoto rier of all time. Not bad for a guy in his 40s.
Archive for June, 2009
I was looking through some old back-up CDs and came across this scan someone sent me of one of my photos that was in the San Francisco Chronicle. This photo of Ricky Carmichael at Hangtown was taken with a $300, Olympus E-100RS that had something like 1.2-Meg resolution. The photo not only ran in the Chronicle, but was also Yahoo Sports Photo of the Day!
I always liked the shot because you can see that every eye at Hangtown was on RC.
Just goes to show you don’t aways need the top-dollar gear to capture the moment.
By Larry Lawrence
When I went to work for AMA Pro Racing as communications manager in 1995 I was relatively new at media relations work. My experience was limited to a couple of years doing media work for the WERA Formula USA Series and in pro tennis for the RCA Championships, an ATP Tour event, and the Jell-O Championships, a lower-level WTA Tour event.
When I came on board at the AMA, Pro Racing was paying big bucks to a PR agency. This was the start of Paradama and the AMA was actually getting into promoting, or co-promoting races. The agency’s job was to pitch racing to media for these events. After just a few weeks on the job I realized that I did a better job pitching racing to the media than this big agency. I recommended to then AMA Pro Racing head Tom Mueller that we drop the agency and let me tackle the task myself.
I came in with ambitious plans for the communications side of Pro Racing and I think Mueller thought I should move into the job slowly and get my feet wet before taking on too many tasks. He was right under most circumstances, but I’d moved to Westerville, leaving my family temporarily back in Indy, and I had nothing to do but work. Either Bill Amick or I were the last out of the building every night and it was usually around eight or nine at night, sometimes later.
Mueller kept the big-buck agency for the rest of the year, but I went ahead and took the bull by the horns and told the agency I would be “working with them” and basically took over the show and pitched the media myself. The bottom line was I loved the sport, I knew the personalities well and I could pitch story ideas with more enthusiasm than some slick L.A. agency. After all, to them AMA Pro Racing was just another one of their hundreds of clients, and probably a lower-priority one at that, staffed by the least senior members of the agency.
I don’t mind saying that our little PR crew (Connie Fleming and myself) kicked butt and took names. Every year I worked as a staffer, and later a contractor, for the AMA, we got progressively more media for motorcycle racing in America. We tracked our progress with clippings, TV and radio time. After a few years I was on a first-name basis with sports editors, TV producers and radio directors in every market we had races.
There are no tricks in getting placements of motorcycle racing stories in radio, TV and newspapers (and now internet media). It simply takes hard work, friendly persistence and solid follow up. You’ve got to work the phones, email, go meet and greet folks in person, take them lunches and dinners, go to the nation’s media centers and meet with news agencies and other major media outlets. You’ve got to send t-shirts, coffee mugs, nice pens and other swag so they remember you. All this stuff works over time.
Outside of the excellent outreach done in Supercross, I don’t currently see that kind of effort being put into most forms of pro racing, with the possible exception of motocross. Some of the roads racing promoters do a good job with their local media without help from the AMA, but I’ve been told by a few of them that they’re not getting the level of support from AMA Pro Racing (DMG) that they’d received in the past.
By far the biggest gap in media work is in the AMA Grand National Championship. This lack of communications work for the Grand Nationals has been the case since R.J. Reynolds left the sport in the early 1990s.
There is no more exciting form of motorcycle racing than pro flat track. The racing is close and many events are decided with exciting last lap passes. Bikes are going two and three abreast into turns at triple-digit speed. The series’ riders are accessible, friendly and more than eager to do media work, yet very little is being done to promote the sport, even by some of the promoters, who depend on ticket sales!
As always the excuses are the same when it comes to strong media support of the Grand Nationals, the economics of the sport can’t support it. I understand that argument, but I also understand to sell sponsorships (especially outside the industry) there must be media coverage in place. Does the chicken or egg come first?
After covering the series for a year and a half now for Cycle News, I truly believe the AMA Grand National Championship is not only the most traditional form of motorcycle racing, it’s more than that. It’s a valuable property that should be treated as such. The DMG should put the resources into the sport to let more people know about it.
We’ve already built it. They will come. We just have to ask.
Photos from the 25th anniversary Lima AMA Grand National this last weekend.
Big crowd as usual… Great final with Bryan Smith and Jared Mees banging bars all the way to the flag… Nichole Cheza was the crowd favorite and she had the speed to make the main until a flat tire put her out…. Stephen Vanderkuur was blazingly fast in the Pro Singles class… The brunette trophy girl was a beauty… Hall of Famers Dick Klamfoth, Scotty Parker and Ronnie Rall were on hand… Lima is so poorly lit it’s difficult to get a camera’s auto-focus to kick in at night… Kenny Coolbeth looked like a fish out of water on the Lima pea gravel… Chris Carr made a spectacular save in the final after hitting a rut in turn 3… Another classic Lima.
It was a crazy, work-packed weekend for me. Saturday I drove to Ohio for the 25th anniversary edition of the Lima Classic AMA Grand National. Personally, this is my second favorite Grand National behind Peoria. I know all the Springfield faithful out their will think I’m crazy, but I just love the skills required to ride well on a cushion track like Lima. There’s nothing like seeing riders in full-lock broadslides through Lima’s pea-gravel turns.
Anyway, I drove to Lima Saturday morning, covered the race then did my Cycle News posting and was back on the road to Indy by midnight. I arrived home at 3AM and set my alarm for 6AM to watch the World Superbike live scoring from Donington Park. I got the time difference wrong, I went back to bed for an extra hour when I found the first race wouldn’t start until 7AM.
Now here’s the craziest thing – I can’t watch WSBK, so I sit there staring at a scoring monitor to try to figure out what’s going on and text Mary Spies (Ben’s mom) to get details. Well this morning my brother called from Camp Salerno Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan. He’s a contractor there and they get WSBK on satellite from India!
So here’s my brother in Afghanistan calling me on his magicJack giving me play by play of the races. Turns out a bunch of the troops there are Spies fans and they all piled into my brother’s room to watch the races on his satellite TV and cheer on Ben.
During WSBK race two my brother yells “Haga crashed!” At first I was thinking about the championship implications and the opportunity for Spies to catch Haga in the championship. Then my brother described the replay. “Man that was bad. The bike chased him and pounded him. He’s got to be hurt pretty bad.”
So an hour later or so I’m talking to Ben on the phone (I do news releases for him). He’s just swept the weekend and basically is right back in the championship hunt, yet he’s not at all jovial on the phone, the exact opposite in fact. I thought about asking him why he sounded so down, but he had tons of press to talk to so I kept the conversation short.
A few minutes later I text Mary and told her Ben sounded unusually subdued. Mary called me right back and told me the reason – Ben was told of Haga’s crash and potentially serious injuries right before he talked to me. From what Mary told me the initial reports had Haga much worse off than what it actually turned out to be, so then Ben’s down mood made sense.
That’s one of the reason’s I like Ben Spies so much. Here he’s just had one of the biggest victories of his career and all he can think about is the condition of his rival (and friend) Nori Haga. Spies is truly a class act.
Here’s to a quick recovery for Haga. Spies wants to win the title, but I know he’d rather do it racing against Haga instead of winning while the hard-working veteran Haga sits on the sidelines.
Congrats to Bryan Smith for winning one of the races he’s wanted for a long time. On Saturday night Smith out-dueled Jared Mees in a last-lap thriller to win the Lima AMA Grand National. Sammy Halbert was third. More details to follow.
My old buddy Mike ‘Stu’ Stuhler has a blog. Stu’s been around motorcycle racing most of his life and fortunately for us he had a trusty Minolta SRT-101 camera in his hand much of that time. His classic old photos have been featured in Road Racer X and SuperbikePlanet.com.
Check it out:
If you click on the link over to the right “The Rider Files Photos” you’ll see the beginnings of my online photo archives. In the coming months I’ll be adding many hundreds of photos to the digital collection. I began photographing races in 1983, although I was so bad at that point almost nothing from that era is usable today.
Gary Van Voorhis was the associate editor at Cycle News East and he gave me the chance to cover my first race, a WERA National Endurance event at Indianapolis Raceway Park. He asked me if I was a photographer. “Yes,” I replied nervously, thinking I wouldn’t get to cover the race if I said no. In fact I wasn’t lying to Gary. One of my first jobs out of school was taking child portraits. However the medium-format cameras used in a portrait studio were designed for non-photographers. The truth was I’d never picked up a 35mm SLR in my life.
So the day before the race I ran to Sears and bought a Canon AE-1 Program with some cheap third-party zoom lens. Needless to say the photos I got from that WERA National Endurance race weren’t going to make the pages of Motocourse. I Fed Ex’d the film to Cycle News East and got a call from Van Voorhis. I think he knew I had never shot a motorcycle race, but I guess my reporting was solid enough and on time, so he at least had someone he could work with.
“Fill the frame,” Gary told me. “Zoom in enough that you see nothing but motorcycle and rider in the frame.”
It’s funny; years later when Cycle News was doing house cleaning they sent me the original negatives from that very first race I covered. I just had to laugh and shake my head. How they were able to get even one useful photo to use in the paper I’ll never know.
I gradually got better, but my photos often suffered because of the equipment I used. I was young, poor and really couldn’t afford the big, expensive lenses it takes to successfully capture motorcycle racing action. I have to laugh when I think back at some of the crap I tried to use. There was this old camera store in downtown Indy that’s been gone for 25 years now, but I think their specialty was junky, old used lenses, but they were cheap. That was right up my alley.
I had a Soligor 200mm f/2.8 that refused to produce a sharp image. The elements were probably rattling around from the former owner dropping the thing. I knew I needed a long lens so I bought a no-name 500-800mm mirror lens! I swear I could focus on and shoot a stationary motorcycle and it wouldn’t be sharp. Fortunately I learned after only a weekend or two that the lens was hopeless and I traded it in.
Finally I came across an ad in the Indianapolis Star for a Canon 400mm for 250 bucks. I went to look at it and it was a like new Canon 400mm f/4.5 SSC. It was an $1800 lens new! Finally I finally had a decent camera lens and my photos immediately took a giant leap.
Now I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. Good equipment doesn’t guarantee good photographs, but trying to capture speeding motorcycles with cheap third-party lenses is an almost certain recipe for failure.
I shot with my trusty Canon AE-1 Program, later joined by a tank of body in the Canon A-1, for the entire time I shot film – 1983 to 1995. Getting 12 years out of a pair of camera bodies, especially today in the world of digital would be impossible. Nikon produced the excellent F3 body for close to 20 years. These days they’re lucky to keep a digital SLR in production for 20 months.
When the AMA moved me from Superbike communications manager to motocross in 2002 I got my first digital camera to capture MX shots for the website. I didn’t want to go the SLR route because I wanted something compact I could travel with easily. I got the Olympus E-100RS, a camera that could shoot at 15 frames per second (taking movies as they say). I shot motocross with that camera for a couple of years and it produced photos decent enough for web use.
My first digital SLR was a Nikon D70, major jump in quality. I went with Nikon, even though they were behind Canon in digital technology at the time, since I had friends who shot Nikon and had some old lenses I could use. Then came a hand-me-down D2H from Henny Ray Abrams, again another major gain. Of course with motocross you can easily cover it with an 80-200mm lens. But for road racing you’ve got to have at the very least a 300mm, preferably a 500 or even 600mm. These things each cost about as much as compact cars. Seriously! It’s not a cheap hobby.
Today I’m using a Nikon D300 and aiming someday for a D3. Abrams let me use one of his D3 bodies at Road Atlanta and I must say it’s an absolutely amazing camera for motorsports. My primary shooting lenses are a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 and a 300mm f/4. When I’m shooting road races I get by with a little help from my friends (thanks Brian J., Tom and Henny) who occasionally let me borrow their old big dollar lenses.
Digital and auto-focus technology has made motorcycle racing photography much easier than in the old film and manual focus days, but you still have to have a good eye for composition and a steady hand.
At the Bulls Gap AMA Grand National Brian Phillips qualified the Bonneville Performance Racing Triumph in the Daytona Beach, Florida-based team’s first Grand National main.
Only two riders have put Triumphs in a Grand National main in the last 25 years. Ohio’s Daniel Gedeon put his Triumph in a national several times in 2007 and once last year. Prior to Gedeon and Phillips the last time Triumphs were in a Grand National was in the 1983 Peoria TT with Gary Scott and Brad Hurst. Bill Gately, co-owner of the team (with his brothers Steve and Jim) gave Brian Phillips some extra incentive at Bulls Gap. “I told Brian I’d give him an extra $200 just to beat Bill Werner’s Kawasaki,” Gately laughed.
Phillips was the only non-Harely-Davidson rider in the field.
The Gately brothers have been around racing since the 1970s. Jim raced Triumph’s in AMA District 7 and his brothers helped.
“This is all us,” Bill Gatley said. “We’re self-funded. Triumph doesn’t give us a penny – they might if we can get up there around a podium.”
To see more from Daytona 1990 click on “The Rider Files Photos” on the links to the right.