2011 NHRA Arizona Nationals from Firebird International Raceway – Top Fuel

Top Fuel dragster’s are the loudest, scariest, fastest somewhat controlled mayhem on four wheels you could imagine. Capturing the ‘feel’ of a top fuel launch is difficult at best and near impossible unless you have been in the car and experienced this first-hand. I would say that even from the stands you don’t get the same sensation that the photographers on the starting line feel.

I wanted to try to bring you a little closer to the action for the top fuel cars so I went for the super-tight shots hoping you feel like you are seeing something you hadn’t seen before. I hope you enjoy.

October 16, 2011: Tony Schumacher during 3rd round eliminations for the Full Throttle Series – NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler AZ.

Being able to see the slicks sidewall twist, the throttle blades wide open and that front tire just skimming off the track surface lets you know that although the image isn’t moving the moment frozen in time is one of all-out mayhem.

To see more great NHRA Top Fuel Drag Racing action, click on the more link below:

October 16, 2011: Brandon Bernstein smokes the tires during 2nd round eliminations for the Full Throttle Series – NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler AZ.

When the rear tire start to spin and traction is lost off the line the driver must ‘feather’ the throttle to try to get the car to regain traction and ‘hook up’ and all this is happening in a split second while the car is passing you at 150 mph.

Sometimes the bright sunlight makes it hard to see the huge flames coming out of the headers as the car heads down the track, but the heat-waves in the photo let you know there is all-kinds of heat and energy happening in this image.

October 15, 2011: Antron Brown during fourth round Top Fuel qualifying for the Full Throttle Series – NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler AZ.

Getting great shots of the drivers in the cars before they take their runs is not always easy, sometimes the sun and windshield glare can make for interesting challenges while shooting in the warm up lanes.

I was trying to use the burnout smoke to clean up the backgrounds of all the clutter, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I think this image works because you can see the driver’s eyes.

After the sun sets and the light gets low you can make some fantastic images of the cars making a pass with the header-flames lighting your shots.

October 14, 2011: Larry Dixon during Top Fuel qualifying for the Full Throttle Series – NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler AZ.

I wasn’t crazy about the straight, level daylight shots but I wanted to include an example of the ‘regular’ images.

I liked the tighter shots, but found that if I turned the camera on an angle I could fill the frame with more of the car and it gave the images a more dynamic look. Don’t get me wrong, the super-tight tilted on an angle shots are not for everybody, in fact some people will just hate the look of them.

Driver shots from the warm up lanes don’t need a lot of fancy angles to make them look good, just the drivers eyes.

When the light gets better in the afternoon these ‘regular’ shots look reasonably good, but I prefer the tilted, tight shots because I think they are more exciting.

When you can see the crew in the background and the car lifting the front wheels right at the moment of launch the images is interesting enough but the bright mid-day sun sure doesn’t make for very nice light to try to make photo in.

October 14, 2011: Morgan Lucas during Top Fuel qualifying for the Full Throttle Series – NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler AZ.

I tried all kinds of different angles, keeping the ‘Christmas Tree’ in the shot and still the images weren’t ‘jumping off the page’ like I wanted them to.

I kept coming back to the warm up lanes for those driver shots, but the shot of Antron Brown above ended up being the one I liked best.

I even tried shooting from the top end of the track, but the heat-waves were playing havoc with focusing and made getting good sharp images almost impossible.

I went back to the starting line but the TV camera ‘jib’ or ‘boom crane’ seemed like it and everything else cluttering up the background were working against me.

I kept working at it to see what kinds of images I could make and be happy with, and to be honest things are happening fast, the cars are pumping through rather quickly and I was working as fast and as smart as I could.

Just when I felt like I was starting to find my groove someone would oil down the track or there would be a break in the action I would have to look for a different location to get the shots I wanted to get.

It doesn’t really matter how you slice it, making nice photos at a drag race is off-the-charts fun, yeah its work but great fun for a Motorsports fan and photographer to try to make the kinds of images that will sell magazines or keep the fans coming back for more racing action.

You can see the thick black patch the rear tire is laying down in this shot.

Even a pink fire-breathing nitro-burning dragster is cool.

October 15, 2011: Antron Brown during fourth round Top Fuel qualifying for the Full Throttle Series – NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler AZ.

Still trying to get the perfect shot of Antron Brown in the car.

October 15, 2011: Del Worsham during round 4 of Top Fuel qualifying for the Full Throttle Series – NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler AZ.

How about this shot of Del Worsham, fighting the reflections in the windscreen but still thinking it’s not bad.

Here is an example of shooting through the story, Brandon Bernstein makes his burnout before the pass.

You can see legendary drag racer Kenny “the king” Bernstein in the background watching as son Brandon makes his pass.

And finally the shot of Brandon Bernstein making his pass with huge header flames.

October 15, 2011: Spencer Massey during fourth round Top Fuel qualifying for the Full Throttle Series – NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler AZ.

Finally I will round out the set with a driver shot of Spencer Massey. I hope you enjoyed this look into the top fuel ranks of NHRA drag racing from the 2011 Arizona Nationals

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