17 July, 2014

Continuity (25 Hours of Camaraderie, Part 6)

25 Hours of Camaraderie, the conclusion: After 25 hours of racing, the Rotek Racing #24 Audi TT-RS claimed the overall victory, with a 28-lap margin of victory. But as is often the case, what's particularly interesting isn't what they accomplished, so much as how they did it, and in my own case, how I came to witness that victory.
Let's rewind. Driver Robb Holland (in sun glasses in the photo) wrote a piece for Jalopnik about an awesome, one-off Audi TT-RS racecar. I had been meaning to check out the 25 Hours of Thunderhill race for awhile, and given that this would likely be my only opportunity to see the car, I decided to spend a night at the racetrack in December, 2012, a scant 3 days before my wedding.

So I went, cameras in tow, and the experience was amazing. I got to watch that awesome racecar, and a little later on, I was watching as the fire-suppression system deployed following a mechanical problem with the transmission. Uh-oh.

The transmission was a one-off, and after getting the car back to the paddock, the team judged that the problem was irreparable. And so as I watched and photographed back at the pits, the team decided to call it quits for that year.

:o(
A year later, they were back. Different livery, different title sponsor, but the same car, and a lot of the same people. Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
So as they warmed up and got ready to race, I kept an eye out and kept my fingers crossed.
As the first day of racing wore on, the #24 seemed to be doing pretty well. The early sunset would find the team running fourth overall, among a pack of around 12 cars that remained within 10 laps of the lead, after the first 5 hours of racing.
To be clear, the early phases of an endurance race aren't about exact positions, so much as about staying within striking distance of the cars ahead, and maintaining a sufficient buffer from the cars behind. Mistakes and mechanical issues will happen, and you want to be able to capitalize on those opportunities when they happen to other cars, without pushing so hard that you give another team the opportunity to capitalize on your own mistakes and breakages.

In the photo, the #24 pursues the #9 Lexus USA IS-F, attempting to add another lap of buffer to the Audi's still-meager 4-lap advantage.
By Sunday morning, the team had built that into a 30-lap advantage over any other car in the race. In a stark contrast to his stressed and somewhat dejected demeanor the prior year, driver Robb Holland (left) appeared relaxed as he talked with Dale Sievwright, a driver for the #31 Hankook / El Diablo Motorsports BMW M3. The Rotek team would go on to maintain their lead as the checkered flag fell.
In the 25 Hours of Camaraderie introduction, I described camaraderie as a blend of teamwork and friendship, where your coworkers are also your family, in a sense. Friends always have some shared history — shared experiences — and that common foundation is an aspect of what makes those relationships special. For Rotek, victory was sweet, but I'm confident that in light of the prior year's result, it was even sweeter. I can say for certain that after being present for 2012's untimely end, I appreciated this moment a little bit more as well.
And what better way for friends to celebrate than by singing happy birthday to a teammate, from the top step of the podium? Yes, I sang too.
The full 25 Hours of Camaraderie sequence:

30 June, 2014

Copa

I've been playing soccer since time immemorial, and so I grew up experiencing soccer constantly in certain contexts, and not at all in other contexts. I remember my dad recording World Cup games on dozens of VHS cassettes, so that we could re-watch them after the matches were over. He would always squirm a little if the matches went over time, because there was a good chance that the end of the match would get cut off.

It's only more recently, though, that I've started to frequently bump into soccer where I didn't expect it. The vuvuzela craze in 2010 was one example. This year, I bumped into this guy at a gas station, still wearing the US flag after the US team's 2-1 victory over Ghana.
Many of the games air at work also, and conveniently, some of the matches happen during lunchtime. Moreover, I think the match scheduling has made it sufficiently convenient to watch matches, that I imagine a lot of people are watching simply because it's on and available, rather than because they have a specific interest in soccer.

That's a good thing for the sport, simply because some number of people will discover an interest in the sport that may not have been piqued otherwise. It's a lot easier to show up at work and watch Brazil-Mexico at lunchtime than to specifically make time to catch a 4:30 am or a 7:00 am match during the 2010 World Cup.

Also, when you watch an unfamiliar sport with fans of that sport, simply hearing them chant and whine and gasp can give you some idea of which parts they find interesting. Hearing the room erupt in applause after each of Ochoa's brilliant saves is an easy signal that something extraordinary just happened.
So imagine my surprise when I went to my first NASCAR race, the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, June 22nd, and they announced that they'd be showing the USA-Portugal match on the big screens after the race had finished. The cognitive dissonance was pretty intense, but my reaction also demonstrates that things are changing. There's a level of cross-pollination going on that was previously unimaginable.
Spectators cheer after the US scores late in the match to equalize Portugal's 1-0 lead. US would score one more, and Portugal would equalize very late in the match for a 2-2 final result. At a NASCAR race. Wow…

26 June, 2014

Light and Shadow

I need your help. I put my heart and soul into my photography, and into this photo blog, but I can't do it alone.

Let's talk about this photo. I love this photo. I was visiting the deYoung museum with some friends, and I spotted this tall window that allowed passersby to look over the courtyard. And then a member of the security staff stood in the window. Perfect. *click*.

This photo is a story of contrasts. The angles and corners and straight lines of the top, against the dark tones and organic curves below. The window breaks the broad, smooth expanse of gentle gradient in a way that draws the eye straight to it. But in the lower half, your eye is free to wander from detail to detail to detail.

This is where you come in. It was with the help of my supporters, particularly via Patreon, that I was able to afford the Fuji X-T1 camera which made this photo possible. If you love the photos I take, the stories I share, and my dedication to high quality publication, I would sincerely appreciate if you could take the time to support me on Patreon. That means that you would pledge some amount per blog post, with an easy-to-configure monthly cap, and I would earn that money by continuing to produce and share the high-quality content that you've already seen right here.

At the most basic level, your support will help convince me that my work has value, and that I'm on the right path. Sometimes I have doubts, just like any other creative person, and it means so much to me to have that affirmation. Beyond that, your support will help me shuffle the priorities in my life so that I can publish more regularly, and try more audacious experiments (blog R&D, if you will).

If now is not the time, that's absolutely okay. I will still continue to put everything I can into my photography, and into this blog. But priorities are priorities, and sometimes, the blog doesn't come first. If you ever have a change of heart, maybe after a particularly amazing post, there's a convenient red link at the top-right of every page. Just click that, and you'll be able to help me take this blog to the next level.

Sincerest thanks, to my current Patreon supporters, and to everyone else who reads or follows this blog,
--Omari Stephens

17 June, 2014

Playground (25 Hours of Camaraderie, Part 5)

This is the continuation of the 25 Hours of Camaraderie blog post sequence that I began right at the tail end of 2013. The day for this post, I ended up spending laid up in bed, which kind of messed up my plans of finishing before other aspects of life took me away. As a reminder, though, this sequence is about connecting various stories from last year's 25 Hours of Thunderhill with the theme of camaraderie.
In the series opener, I mentioned that I was looking for situations that demonstrated a level of friendship and kinship that extended beyond mere teamwork. This post tells the story of two teams, and the unlikely situation that turned the racetrack into a playground, even if only for a moment.

GMG Racing campaigned the #08 Audi R8-LMS shown in the photo. The team ran into trouble early, when the car was badly damaged after a crash during Friday morning practice. However, an all-day, all-night effort would see the team ready to race when the green flag flew on Saturday morning.
TFB Performance Automotive supported three vehicles, including the #62 BMW 330 seen in the photo, which was co-sponsored by Melhill Racing. The game plan for #62 was slow and steady — they were the slowest finisher in their class by a full four seconds per lap, but clean, economical driving would see them third in class with just over an hour to go in the race.

And that's when the problems began. I followed the #62 when I saw the team push the car from the hot pits into the paddock. After some of the engineers peered into the engine bay with flashlights, and then pulled the spark plugs, I spotted this moment. Clearly, a decision was at hand.
In the final hour of the race, the #08 started running out of luck as well. The transmission began to malfunction, and the car turned increasingly slow laps, but stayed on track in an effort to tighten their failing grasp on third-in-class as the race came to a close. The #9 Lexus IS-F was fast approaching, in fourth place, but only 18 laps behind the Audi at the 24-hour mark.

Eventually, the team pitted the car with about 30 minutes to go, and smoke poured out of the engine bay as they removed the cover. That was it for this race. Would the buffer be enough? Only time would tell.
In a similar bid to stay on the podium, the #62 turned ever smokier laps as their engine became less and less healthy. After a last run down the pits, the car pulled off the track just after the track entrance when it was clear that they were dropping oil on the track, rather than just on hot engine components.

Rather than tow the car all the way around the track, the safety crew simply towed them backward, back into the hot pits. Just like the #08, at this point, the race was out of their hands.
In the closing minutes of the race, the stress was undoubtedly on. The fourth place teams in each class were looming ever larger, whittling the respective leads down with every two minutes that passed. That wait must have been excruciating: Is that flag gonna fly before they catch us? Not yet, one more lap. Not yet, one more lap. One more lap…
Each team started pushing its car toward the finish line to cement its position, and hopefully score one last lap in tandem bids to stay on the podium. The #62 slowly rolled past the #08 as the two teams strolled down pit lane. And then the R8 team quickened their step. And the BMW team picked up the pace as well.

Pretty soon, both teams were sprinting toward the line at full gallop. At one of the most stressful parts of the race, when neither team had anything left to give, they found a moment of solace in a race without a podium.

And when all was said and done, both teams managed to maintain their positions, even if by the narrowest of margins. After 25 hours of racing, the #62 BMW was pushed across the line with a 20-second margin over the fourth-in-class #31 Hankook / El Diablo Motorsports BMW M3. And the #08 R8 still maintained a 3-lap lead over the #9 Lexus USA Lexus IS-F, which would have amounted to around 6 minutes of racing time. What a race…
The full 25 Hours of Camaraderie sequence: