Tuesday, May 31, 2011

2011 Indianapolis 500: Race Day!

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It's race day! We've been camping out in the rain, the cold, humidity and then the heat for this one reason: The 95th running of the Indianapolis 500. My father-in-law has been buying eight tickets for several years in the Northwest Vista of the track and each year he asks for an upgrade. An upgrade being higher up in the stands and further into Turn 4. Well this year he got it and the new seats are four sections over into the turn and 10 rows higher. The above photo is the view from my seat: Section 14, Row EE, Seat 5. This is a shot of the 33 cars as they make their final pass in front of Turn 4 before taking the green flag. The roar of the cars and the crowd as they go by is indescribable. It's definitely something you have to experience for yourself.

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I will be forever grateful for getting to experience the "500" weekend each year and I have my father-in-law, Ray (above), to thank. Thanks Ray, first and foremost, for having a wonderful daughter, I love her to death. And thanks for offering me a ticket every year for the race. I know you don't have to, but it means a lot.
This year's race was great. The temperature was nice, a little on the warm side, but nice and there was more racing this year than last. I believe there were only seven cautions this year as opposed to last year where half the race was under caution. And the finish to this year's race was both amazing and heartbreaking. A rookie, JR Hildebrand, had just one more turn to navigate before zipping down the homestretch to take the checkered flag. He had a comfortable lead on Dan Wheldon of about four or five seconds, but then made a rookie mistake. Coming up on lapped traffic, Hildebrand decided to pass the car on the outside of the turn instead of lifting his foot, slowing down and passing on the straightaway. Hildebrand's car got into the marbles (the small bits of rubber from worn tires), lost grip and slammed into the wall. Wheldon managed to pass Hildebrand's car on the homestretch before the caution lights came on and won his second Indy 500. Hildebrand slid across the start/finish yard of bricks seconds later to claim second place. The emotions in the stands went from elation to horror and disbelief to confusion and wonder. It was a fantastic ending worthy of the famed race. I hope next year is just as good.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

2011 Indianapolis 500: In the Beginning...

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...drivers had almost no protection from injuries if they crashed their cars during a race. I mean, look at this guy. He's completely exposed: No roll bar, almost no side panels to keep him in the car nor any seat belts , essentially his helmet is made of leather and cardboard and his car runs on highly combustible gasoline. Pretty brave if you ask me.
On Saturday, my buddy Chris and I headed back to the track for A.J. Foyt Day. We got a later start than we wanted to, but had a good breakfast, made a trip to the store for a few more supplies then made the hike to the track. We missed the starting field of cars parked in the Plaza, but we did get to see some restored cars from years past. Because of the way racing exists today you either run on pavement or dirt, but back in the day, many of the Indy 500 winners also ran on dirt tracks in midget cars. The new owners of these cars did a great job restoring these pieces of art.

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After cruising the line of old cars, Chris and I made our way into Gasoline Alley to see if any of the garages were open. But, as expected, not one of them was. It's hard to find anyone of interest moving around the day before the race. Unless you want to stand in line for hours for an autograph session. Personally I think it's more fun to catch the drivers and crew members in their element when they're in the garage or on pit road.
There is going to be a change in the style and set up for the cars in the league starting I believe next year with a new chassis and engines to choose from. I think this is going to be pretty cool. I wish that I had been alive back in the 60s and 70s when innovation was the norm. You just never knew what was going to show up to the track that year. But the new car designs are pretty cool and I look forward to watching them make the rounds on the street and oval tracks.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

2011 Indianapolis 500: Hero Worship

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After a long day on Wednesday traveling to Indy and trying the secure a spot in line to get into the campground, Thursday was mostly devoted to setting up camp and catching up on rest. Plus it rained almost the entire day so nothing was really going on the track. Man, was it cold. The day we left for Indy it was 105 at home. I don't think it even got up to 55 degrees yesterday here. Typically, I never wear anything other than shorts and t-shirts, but yesterday I had to wear long pants, a fleece and a rain coat.
Thankfully, today's weather was perfect and after a quick breakfast we headed to the track. I'll post more photos of the track later, but today I'd like to focus on a few of the drivers, past and present.

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I had a goal this year to collect as many driver autographs as possible and the easiest way to do that is to hang out in Gasoline Alley for a while. In years past I didn't see many drivers and when I did, I wasn't able to get to them in time for an autograph. I did pretty good this year. There are a few drivers that I was particularly impressed with. The first was Alex Tagliani, the driver in the pole position for this Sunday's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A large crowd had gathered to photograph, talk and get an autograph and "Tags" made the effort to say thank you to each person who was there, willingly taking pictures with fans and answering any questions asked. After meeting a young boy with a severe handicap, Tags said "Hold on, I have something for you," and ran back into his garage. He came back out holding the visor he wore on the day he won the pole position, signed it and handed to the young boy who's eyes winded. Good form, Tags.
The next driver that impressed me (even though I knew he would judging from the stories I have heard) was four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears. I have always considered Mears one of my all time favorite drivers even though he drove and retired before I became an IndyCar fan. Mears writes the word "thanks" after his name anytime he gives an autograph. He was casually hanging out at the Penske garages (he's a driving coach) and noticed a small girl with her family standing outside holding a flag with his face on it. He got up, walked outside, all without the girl noticing of course, took a knee and tapped her on the shoulder and asked, "Is it okay if I sign that for you?" An enormous grin spread across the girl's face as she handed Mears a marker. Thanks, Rick Mears.
Tomorrow is A.J. Foyt Day at the track and there will be another autograph session in the morning. There are a few other former drivers that I would love to meet and they are all supposed to be here for the weekend. Here's to good hunting. More to come...

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Indy 500 Vacation Begins in... 3... 2...1

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It's that time of year again folks, for the running of the Indianapolis 500-mile race. This is the only week of the entire year that I know for sure that I will have something planned. Brooke and I have been spending the weekend getting the house in order and packing for the trip to head up to the Midwest. For Brooke, it's heading back home to spend time with her family, for me, it's a week of camping with my father-in-law in Lot 1A leading up to the race on Sunday. This is my fifth trip to the 500 and I'm grateful I get to go each year. I decided to dig into the archives and look for a few photos from Indys past, but to my surprise and shame, I found very little. It's that whole idea of "I shoot for a living, so I don't shoot on vacation" kind of thing. I did manage to find a few that I liked, but only a few. This year will be different... hopefully. I plan on carrying my camera with me at all times and posting to this blog each day. I chronicle the lives of people around me everyday, why not my own? Stay tuned....

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happy 150th Birthday Color Photography!

Color photography was born on May 17, 1861 by Scottish physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell and photographer Thomas Sutton. In honor of this historic anniversary, I give you some of my favorite color photographs from an assignment with the San Angelo Broadway Academy Youth Theatre. Their next production is "Les Miserables".

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Mother's Spirit

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Last Sunday we ran a piece on a local mom for our Mother's Day front. I meant to post this a week ago, but due to my hectic schedule and getting ready to head to State Week in Austin, I completely dropped the ball.
This story was about June Englert, a mom of two grown daughters both in their twenties, and the particular situation their family is in. This story could have easily been about just the daughters, but this was a Mother's Day feature and June was front and center. Again, my schedule the way it is, I was not going to be able to spend as much time with the family as I wanted to so I contacted June and she said to meet her and her daughter, Susan, at the Shannon Women's and Children's Hospital where Susan was undergoing tests. The story was supposed to be about June and her devotion to her kids, and it was when it published on that Sunday, but for me it was about her spirit, and I'll tell you why.

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If you're ever in need of a lesson in humility, look no further than the Englert family. Both Susan and her older sister, Amy, where born healthy, but at 18-months Susan was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and her medical problems only increased as she got older. Along with dealing with diabetes, Susan has also been diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which is a chronic inflammatory intestinal disease, and Still's disease, a form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Throw in an open heart surgery, kidney failure and, most recently, doctors believe she may have some kind of bone necrosis, which means, to put it bluntly, Susan's bones are dying, starting in her legs. She's gone through all of this and she's only 22-years-old. Lets not forget the older sibling, Amy, who at the age of 11 suffered a severe brain injury and had to relearn how to walk and talk. This family has gone through a lot. But, you'd never know it if you met them on the street.
I walked into Susan's hospital room expecting a situation of gloom and sadness. Boy was I wrong. There was laughter and joy, high spirits and a few jokes. Relieved, I was able to settle in with June and Susan right away and they were very welcoming. They both were willing to talk about their situation openly and were very candid. "You know, sometimes you get some bad news or news you're not expecting and have to take a pillow into the closet and scream, cuss and kick to high heaven," June said, "but, after that you have to come out and just deal with it." It was very clear that Susan adored her mother for everything she's done over the years. June eventually had to quit her job as a nurse when Susan's illnesses required full-time attention. "Mom did everything possible to make my sister and I feel just like any other kid growing up," Susan said. Sure, there were a few tears while I was there, but they were not tears of sadness but tears of joy, mostly on the part of Susan when she spoke of her mother's love. "I'm not doing anything any other mom would do if they had a sick child," June said. "Yeah, but you do it better than most," Susan added with smile.

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As I was saying my goodbyes, June pulled out a triangular folded piece of paper and handed it to me to read. It was a letter Susan had written her a while back. "I keep it with me always," June said. The letter is a simple heartfelt thank you note. The last paragraph reads:

"I love you so much, you could never do anything to alter my love for you or to keep us apart. I owe you so much for my life. So for the rest of my life I will happily be paying you back for the time and love that you have given me."
My eternal love,
Susie Q

Monday, May 16, 2011

State Week: 2011 In the Books

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Well, State Week 2011 is in the books. I finished shooting the state track meet on Saturday, transmitted photos back the office and my week was done. It was a long, but enjoyable week. And the temperature was perfect the last three days, too. Very uncommon for Austin, for Texas, in the middle of May.
Almost all of Saturday was dominated by running events for Class 1A and 2A for me. Starting at noon until 3:30pm we had an athlete running in every event. After that we had to wait around for the Class 5A meet because Central High School qualified a team for the mile relay. After that, I was done. I did a quick edit of the Central race, sent photos in and packed up and headed for the hotel. I was exhausted.
The following morning I wanted to sleep in, but just couldn't get this nagging feeling out of my head. I got up, paced around the room for awhile and then decided to review some the images I made over the week. After going back through them I decided I was very underwhelmed with the lot. None of my images, except for a few tennis photos, stood out as anything special. And then I figured out what that itch was in the back my brain was... I've become stagnant. Maybe it's burn out, lack of creativity or what not, but I feel as though I've lost an edge. And I'm not sure how to get it back. I feel as though I've been shooting more quantity than quality for the past few weeks. This happens once every so often and usually takes a few days away from work to kind of get my head on straight. Thankfully Brooke I will be heading to Indiana next week to see her family and go to the Indy 500. Perhaps that what I need, some time away. I really do enjoy my job. I get to be outside most of the time, meet new people and be creative everyday, but at times I don't even want to look at a camera. I'm certainly lucky to do what I love for a job, but at some point do you start to lose that love because it is also your job?
This week's mission: find my creativity, in whatever form it may be.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

State Week: A Mild Day at the Track

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Friday was the start of the state track meet at Mike A. Myers Stadium at UT-Austin and I've got to tell you, this was probably the coolest temperature wise it has ever been. I don't think it even broke 90 degrees today and Saturday is supposed to be even cooler. Huzzah! It's turning out to be a good meet. The West Texas kids are bringing home some medals, including Water Valley High School's Dylan Doss (above) who placed first in the Class 1A 3200 meter run this morning. He finished second in the same event last year at the state meet. Dylan finished first in every 3200 meter run he competed in this year. What a great accomplishment.
During the race Dylan seemed to be content to hang back with the pack, even though he led the pack the entire time. They were making good time around the track, somewhere in the range of just over a minute per lap. But the second that the bell rang for the final lap, Dylan turned on the after burners, and just exploded from the line. Whatever this mystical, magical, superhuman sixth gear Dylan has truly is unfair to the other competitors in the field. There you are keeping good time with the leaders and all of a sudden out of nowhere this kid you've been fallowing for seven laps decides to turn it up not just a notch, but seven notches, making it virtually impossible to give chase, knowing you're only competing for second-best. Man, that's got to be disheartening.

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Most of my day was spent shooting field events for 1A and 2A schools. We don't cover any 3A schools and our only 4A school, Lake View, didn't field any state qualifiers this year. If I had my choice I'd probably shoot mostly field events anyway. There is usually more going on rather than just running around willy-nilly in circles all day. I do make an exception for the steeplechase. That is a cool race, and torturous too. How cruel is it to make people run around for miles and then jump over a big wooden beam into a freezing pool of water? Add in some piranhas or flesh-eating leaches and you've got a sport. Extra points for the runner who escapes with the most digits still attached. Unfortunately, they don't run the steeplechase in the high school ranks. Bummer.
Tomorrow, I will mostly be shooting running events. It's just how the UIL divides the meet up. It will be an intense three and a half hours of basically non-stop shooting until the meet ends. I'll do some editing, captioning, maybe find a bite to eat and transmit photos back to the office in San Angelo. Then I get to do something I never get to do... watch the 5A track meet. Like I mentioned in the previous post, Central High School has thrown a wrench into the state week machine by qualifying a relay team in the state meet. Can you guess which relay? Yep, the mile relay. The very last relay of the entire meet. The UIL decided this year that it would institute some kind of wild card rule where they take the third place finisher in every event from each of the four regional meets and who ever has the best time, jump or throw, they get the ninth spot at the state meet. So let's take the 100 meter dash, for instance, and look at the times of the third place finishers from the Region 1, 2, 3 and 4 meets. Whoever has the fastest time of those four gets the ninth spot at the state meet. Central's girls 4x400 meter relay was the beneficiary of this rule and thus gets to compete at state. Truth is, Central comes in to the state meet with fifth fastest time so they have a real chance of finishing on the podium. Central's region, 1, is stacked and is very hard to advance through due to the amount of talent. I hope they stay competitive and take home medal.
More to come...

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

State Week: Tennis Celebrations

A BRIEF NOTE TO READERS: Yesterday Blogger.com was experiencing some technical difficulties which resulted in this blog post being lost. This post was originally uploaded on Wednesday. I hope they have fixed the problem.

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Here we are again. State week here in Austin, Texas. Every year I get really excited about the week in the state capital, it's the best of the best in the state for high school tennis, golf and track. But my excitement quickly turns to anguish because the ever-present and oppressive heat and humidity. Not to mention the long hours in said heat and humidity. I truly do forget how hot it is down here. Sure San Angelo sits above 100 degrees for weeks on end, but it's a dry heat. Down here it's like you've just walked into a sauna every time you head outdoors.
But, I wouldn't give up coming down here for anything. Well, I take that back. There are a few dream assignments that if they fell on the same week as State Week I would gladly give up my spot. But, as we all know, dream assignments are mostly conjured up in our heads and probably don't even exist. Not unless you work for a major company with big bucks.

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Monday and Tuesday are dominated with tennis and golf. Typically I'll shoot the first two rounds of 1A and 2A tennis at the World of Tennis in Lakeway, and then on Tuesday shoot the tennis finals in the morning and then try and make my way across town to the golf course with the best local story. But trying to get across Austin in the middle of the day can be a challenge. If any of you have ever tried to drive Highway 71 between the hours of noon and 6:00pm you know what I mean. However, there was an extra wrench thrown into the state week machine for us this year after two Central High School doubles teams made it to the state 5A meet at UT-Austin. We can't not cover Central even if there are only two teams because they are the only 5A schools we cover.
So on Monday I headed out early to the 1A golf tournament at Morris Williams Golf Course until it was time to head over to UT for the Central matches. Staff writer Paul Harris and I stayed there for the rest of the day, in the blistering sun, faint from exhaustion and watched both teams advance to the semifinal round where the mixed doubles team lost, but the girls doubles team of Jamie Lee Denton and Katy Collins advanced to the final round on Saturday. Instead of going to UT to shoot the Central final, I headed to Lakeway to shoot the finals of our area schools. It was great day for Mason High School, steeped in tennis tradition, winning four state titles in the girls and boys singles and doubles matches. Wall High School won a title in the boys doubles and Menard High School won the title in the mixed doubles finals match.

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I really enjoy shooting the state tennis finals. One, it's in the morning and a heck of a lot cooler than shooting in the afternoon, and two, the pure joy on the faces of the champions is great to capture. All the elements are there: The best players in the state playing in the the final meet of the year. For some of these seniors, it will be the last time they play tennis competitively. What a cool job I have.
This Friday and Saturday I'll be heading back to UT to shoot the state track meet. We have something like 30+ qualifiers this year. That's more than usual, I think. Either way it should be a good time, especially if the weather holds out for us like it is now, overcast with a cool breeze and low humidity. I'm looking forward to it. You can find galleries from Monday and Tuesday HERE and HERE. More to come...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Wife Brooke a.k.a. "The Scarlet Shredder"

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So my wife fancies herself a derby girl.
A few months back I came across San Angelo's very own roller derby team, the Knee High Knockouts of the San Angelo Soul Sisters league, while covering another assignment for the paper and I thought they would make a great story, so I have been shooting their various practices for a while now. When I told my wife what I was doing a fire ignited in her eyes. "I'm joining," she said, "and I don't care what I have to do." So she went to observe a few of their practices, bought some cheap skates, expensive pads, helmet and mouth guard and set about becoming a derby girl. As it turns out, it's pretty easy becoming a derby girl, at least with the San Angelo team because they don't turn anyone away. This is an all-inclusive bunch of ladies. If you have the proper protection, pay the team dues and want to make some cool friends... you're in. Who cares if you can skate or not, they'll teach you how.
Each player has to pass a certain number of minimums, skating techniques that must be met before they are allowed to play. Brooke phased up quickly, but because she has been working two jobs and going back to school full-time for a masters degree, finishing phase three has taken a little longer. But, Brooke has never had a better time and absolutely loves going to derby practice. She's at her happiest when she straps on her smelly elbow, wrist and knee pads, scrapped helmet and shares a laugh with a teammate while zipping around the track.

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"The Scarlet Shredder" you ask? Well, since Brooke is going back to school to become an English teacher, she wanted a name that played off a literary character or book title. If you look closely you can see her socks read 'bookworm' on them. What a nerd. Coming up with a name is difficult, especially since you have to submit your derby name to a national register for approval, so if the name is given the green light you're stuck with it. But, there's no guarantee the name you submit will be approved. Someone may already have the name or it too closely resembles another. Brooke first came up with the name "Nancy Drew-Blood" but it was already taken so in an effort to play off of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 work of fiction 'The Scarlet Letter', we came up with "The Scarlet Shredder". Brooke has submitted her name to the registry and is awaiting final approval. Who knows, she may have to change it again. But whatever the outcome, she's having a blast and she will be eligible to play in the team's upcoming bout in June against a team in Abilene. I think my whole family from Lubbock and DFW are coming to watch simply because none of them believe Brooke is actually playing roller derby. It should be fun in any case. More posts to come...

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Dominates the Front Page

With the breaking news of Osama bin Laden's demise Sunday night it was safe to say what the headlines where going to be Monday morning on newspaper fronts across the country. A great source for viewing these pages is the Newseum website which posts around 800 newspaper front pages from around the world everyday. Due to the mass amount of page views to their site yesterday, being able to navigate was a bit slow and often just came to a complete stand still. Fortunately, their database for yesterday's pages was still up today so I had a grand time of combing through some of the best designed page fronts in the country. I also looked a today's front pages from the rest of the world now that the news finally caught up to them.
I'm a sucker for a well designed page, especially those that feature bold use of photographs and illustrations. These are some of my favorite front pages from the last two days:

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May Photo Column

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For the first installment of my May photo column I focused on 10-year-old Angela Corley. A Veribest Elementary School fourth-grader, Angela spends everyday in her grandfather's clock shop dismantling old clocks for parts and scrap. She is a very smart and soft-spoken young girl with a bright future ahead of her and it was a pleasure to have met her.

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Amid the low tones and soft melodies of timepieces ringing in the hour, a small pair of hands works diligently in tearing down old clocks for parts and scrap. Angela Corley, nestled in the rear of the Heritage Haus Clocks store at a well-worn desk, is surrounded by the remains of clocks past, a veritable graveyard of gears, springs and screws.
"I enjoy being here because of all the music that surrounds me when the clocks hit certain times," the 10-year-old Veribest student said as she struggled with removing a screw from a face plate. "It makes me feel kind of at home. I just feel happy."
The shop is owned and operated by Angela's grandfather, Martin Valis, and her mother, Mary Ann, also works at the shop as a fan technician.
Angela is not your typical 10-year-old, forgoing the usual trappings of preteen girls of cellphones, clothes and boys. "I like to take apart clocks because it gives me time to memorize which (parts) go where," Angela said. "Working with my hands makes me feel very gentle and caring."
An easy touch and the ability to think critically is essential for disassembling the clocks. "I would like to become a fan technician like my mom," Angela said, "and whenever I'm here I get to spend some time with her, just mother-daughter stuff.
"It lets me know my mom more than I already do."

Here is the slide show that ran with the story on the Standard-Times website: