The roar. For the past eleven months I yearned for it. I spoke incessantly of it. And I counted the days until those famous words were preached from the loudspeakers and the roar began. “Drivers, start your engines,” commanded Tom Kristensen, the nine-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Grand Marshal for Rolex 24 at Daytona 2016.
Just one year ago, I was coerced into making the four hour drive up to Daytona, from Miami, for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. For years I had wanted to attend, but one thing after another prevented me, and then finally last year, my darling, Lauren (who shot and penned the first installment of Rolex 2016), convinced me to go after a long and grueling trip to Japan for Tokyo Auto Salon with Vossen. Thankfully, though, she was so convincing, because my life would have never been the same without the Rolex 24.
My very talented friend, Greg Keysar (@keysarphoto), flew down to Miami from Maryland for the event, and we made our way up to Daytona late on Thursday night, meeting up with Nickoli and Nando, from Simply Clean (@iamsimplyclean) to set up camp and settle in for the weekend. Narrowly missing afternoon and evening showers, we got into the track just before practice finished, getting a quick teaser of the roar before falling asleep.
Friday morning came and we ventured out to stock up on firewood for the long weekend. We returned to the sound of the first Ferrari Challenge, followed by the BMW Performance 200, and then Neil (@neilramcharitar) and Lauren (@myimola) and her father arrived, and the party really began!
Saturday morning came quick, though, and the second Ferrari Challenge passed us by in the blink of an eye. It wasn’t long before the Rolex 24 Heritage cars made their rounds, and Greg and I hustled to snap as much as we could in the few laps that they did!
After the vintage beauties made their rounds, we made our way to the pit area to hop onto the infield grass for the parade to begin. Last year, the parade was my favorite part of the event, getting to see the drum line march through the fan zone and all of the cars and drivers follow. We battled the masses for a few minutes before making our way to the grandstands to take in a new view of the start of the race.
Moments later, after enjoying a couple beverages and giving our feet a bit of a break, the infield was cleared and the engines were started. Rolex 24 at Daytona 2016 was about to commence, and we had such a great, unique view (captured superbly by Lauren, here)! While I tried to shoot some video, the cars passed by in a rush, and it was on. For the next twenty-three hours and fifty-nine minutes, the best drivers in the world battled it out.
The Delta Wing, one of my personal favorites, held its own for quite some time, demonstrating that a little creativity and thinking outside the box can result in wild competitiveness. Greg, Lauren and I focused on the Delta for quite some time, for fear that, like previous years, we might not see it later in the night. Shortly after catching a few shots, a little fender-bender took it out of the runnings for yet another year—but man, when that car is on, it’s fucking on.
As night fell, and Greg captured some truly amazing time lapses, I struggled to savor every last ray of light. Before long, the sun was down and the sky was black, and my favorite part of the weekend began. While some began to party and others turned in for the night, we stayed trackside snapping away. Greg and I were both spending the weekend teaching ourselves the ropes of shooting with super telephoto lenses, mine being the Canon 200-400, and the night exposures definitely resulted in some trial, error, and frustration. A few clicks managed to come out though, I think.
The night led on, and after a little run-in with our adolescent camping neighbors, we made our way to the ferris wheel for the fireworks. To our utmost disappointment, we didn’t make it in time, though, and watched them from the ferris wheel line. We’ll be sure not to miss it next year though, because it’ll really be something special!
The night drew on, filled with partying and celebrating, and in my case, napping, before the sun made its next appearance. Around 4:00am I woke, still feeling the jet lag from the Vossen trip to Japan a few days prior, and made my way to the other side of the track for sunrise.
Proceeded by beautifully warm-colored skies, the sun finally made its appearance for the day, and the final stretch of the Rolex 24 at Daytona was on. While some continued to celebrate the competition and others caught some Zs, I found myself amongst some fellow snappers catching what I could of the daybreak.
In the blink of an eye, the amber-blue skies were gone, replaced with overcast counterparts, and the day ensued. I continued shooting, dreading the task of breaking down camp and packing up. In full-on procrastination mode, I snapped on.
As we watched the final hours and began to pack up our campsite, I snuck some frames in here and there. From the third turn of the oval, the cars blurred by, with Lauren’s 964 taking some of the spotlight.
And with only minutes left in the race, we went for one final ferris wheel ride, making for a perfect ending to a perfect weekend in Daytona. It’s cliche to say, I know, but I will literally look forward to this weekend for the next eleven months. I strongly urge anyone, and everyone, who has even the slightest interest in cars or motorsports, to add it to your bucket list, because you’ll surely not regret it!