Last weekend I was in the Infield at Richmond Raceway shooting the race for my friends at the German Daily News. I have been shooting at Richmond for over 10 years and the track management has always been fantastic.
One of the prime times to get driver images of them being relaxed and a little more candid is during the pre-race just prior to introductions. The area is packed with fans, the drivers are all together, it is just an energy packed time.
While in my super-secret place to get shots I was standing next to a family, a Dad and his young daughter and his son, who was dressed in a drivers fire suit. The young man looked like he belonged and after striking up a conversation with the Dad, after he asked the question “will Jimmie Johnson come by here?”I said, he probably will but sometimes the drivers make their own way to the holding area. Turns out his son, a very successful young man behind the wheel was wanting #48 to sign his DieCast car for him. Turns out the young fella is a back to back champion in Legends and Bandolero’s in Langley VA. He’s also a six time champion in his early career. You see, this fella Zach Lightfoot, is all of 13 years old.
So, we are waiting for that moment when 48 will stroll by to be encouraged by me over to Zach to have that moment when champion meets champion. Needless to say, Jimmie found his own way to the holding area and was chatting it up with the other drivers. Not realizing he was there, Zach suddenly noticed him and took off to get his car signed. He was quickly rebuffed by security… disappointed and disheartened.. he obviously wasn’t sure what was going to happen. One other amazing thing about Zach is that he is autistic so he took it in stride, but I knew he was disappointed.
Well, the one thing about being a credentialed photographer is the access. You see we wear the “magic vest” that will let you get anywhere that won’t quickly lead to your demise and several places that could lead to that outcome at any moment. So, I thought, well, 10 years in, lets see what I can do….
I strolled over to the holding area and found Jimmie up on the platform, feet at eye-level to me. He had his back turned and was talking to a group of drivers including Rick Stenhouse Jr. so I managed to get #17’s attention and asked him to get Jimmie’s attention for me. Now the press are somewhat ubiquitous, we are there, but not really there, no one pays attention to us until we get in the way. We just aren’t all that popular. I was hoping that after all these years of being out of the way, respectful, and not noticed, I had somehow gained some notice, as a reasonably credible guy that doesn’t ask for stuff.
Success with Ricky, and Jimmie looks at me and I give him the “come here” finger wave… I’m thinking “I just gave him the Dad come here son you’re in trouble, finger wave.. he’s the 7 time champ of MY sport!” He looks at me and comes right over.. bending down to talk to me. I tell him quickly about Zach, he smiles, and says no problem, where is he? I direct him to the end of the stage where he goes and meets Zach, signs his car, and says a few words. It’s magic. When done he looks at me, I say thank you, he gives me a thumbs up… a young man’s day is made.
Folk’s this is why I love NASCAR and the people I get to be around and work with every single day I am allowed to do it. We pray, we say the Pledge Of Allegiance (and leave the word “God” in it), we salute the American Flag, and don’t fuss about the Stars and Bars, we know the words and sing along to the National Anthem, and we love our troops and a good fly-over. This is a sport full of real people, that really care about others. When a seven-time champ at the top of the sport is willing to stop what he’s doing and listen to a hack photographer and go see a kid he doesn’t know with a smile on the whole time… that’s pretty darn sweet.