For the working freelancer who covers big-time motorsports for a living, the off-season is not much of a vacation. You'd think that the time between the final checkered flag of the fall and the first green flag of the new season would be a time a sitting around the house watching TV with the kids and catching up on domestic chores. More and more, this is not the case.
First of all there's annual tour of the awards banquets. In 2007 I covered the following banquets: Grand American Road Racing Rolex Series (Las Vegas, September), Grand American Koni Challenge Series (Las Vegas, November) NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (Hollywood, FL, November), NASCAR Busch Series (Orlando, December) and NASCAR Nextel Cup Series (New York City, December). So, after all of that, after my tuxedo was hung up for the winter and I gave up my standing spot in the long term parking lot at the airport in anticipation of a leisurely off-season, here came the annual parade of primer painted race cars into town for the ritual of winter testing.
Fortunately, this testing all takes place in Daytona Beach, where I live, so the assignments aren't as grueling as the year-long grind of chasing the racers from track to track. Still, as many race fans know, the drivers don't really look forward to these test session, which involve endless laps around the track punctuated by periods of standing around as crewmen work on the race cars, with very little excitement involved. It's not much better for the media and photographers, as the cars aren't painted, the driver's uniforms aren't updated for the new year, and the photos are of little use to anyone, other than just documentation of the test sessions for the track and teams.
First, in December, the prototype and GT sports cars of the Grand American Road Racing Series rolled into town for the first of their 2 test sessions. I work as the series photographer for Grand Am, so I'm required to be there. It's a fun assignment and a chance to see my friends in the series in a less stressful setting than the usual race weekend. It's also a chance to see the new teams and cars in their first warmup for the season opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, which runs in late January.
The ARCA cars roll into Daytona for their annual pre-Christmas test, followed by a few actual days off for Christmas and New Years.
On January 4 of this year, the Grand Am cars returned to Daytona for their final test before the Rolex, now just 3 weeks away.
After that there is a string of NASCAR tests, each 3 days long: The first group of NASCAR Sprint Cup cars goes first, then comes the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series followed by the second group of Sprint Cup cars(the above photo shows the cars of Scott Riggs, 66, Michael Waltrip, 55, and Sam Hornish, 77 in action at this test session) and finally the NASCAR Nationwide Series. As that session ends, I'll finally settle to the couch to really get into the off-season and then I'll realize that the Grand Am cars are just 3 days away from rolling into town for the following weekend's Rolex 24 Hour race. Oh well, here we go again. Maybe I'll have time to catch my breath next December!