It’s nearly 2am, I’m sitting at the little food court in Jamaica station in NY waiting for the train back to eastern Long Island realizing I probably should have been wearing ear protection from the beginning of the Rolex 24 hours at Daytona race. The ringing in my right ear has overpowered the mumbling rant of the homeless guy and the snoring of the other transients passed out only a few tables over. To my left is the distorted conversation of some sort of night crew hanging around in the Air Bar, a shitty little dive bar kiosk neighboring the Tim Hortons and sandwich/panini spot. Somewhere between arriving in Daytona Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, the constant resonance and rasp of unrestricted exhausts and cannon fire downshifts had taken its toll on the delicate little bones in my eardrums.
I flew into Miami Friday night straight from my day job and arrived at Sam Dobbins’ apartment to attempt to nap before meeting our buddy Neil Ramcharitar to pack up the vehicles and begin the drive north to Daytona. 4 hours, a quick stop for firewood, a bite to eat and some coffee later we arrived at the speedway. Before even approaching the gates, the distinct roar of GT cars performing their practice laps could be heard. Upon entering the infield which we would be calling home for the next 20-something hours, that roar was felt more than heard. While I had been lucky enough as a kid to have the privilege of attending a handful of motorsport events, I’ve never before been completely surrounded and in such close range of the vehicles tearing around the track under full power. The sensations were all very familiar though. Fingertips tingled with adrenaline, chest cavities rattled from the machine gun blast bass notes of the American cars, hairs stood up on end with the canvas tearing shriek of the Euro cars, the thick burnt smell of scorched brake pads and rubber, and the hot blast of air from combustion and friction.
Sam, Neil and I set up our home base on the inside of the final turn. With the easy up tent in place, fire pit dug, firewood unloaded and ready to be our heat source for the night, we headed over to the pit lane for the pre-race parade. Standing room only is an understatement. Every car and race team was mobbed with spectators vying for their chance to get up close to peer into cockpits and take pictures with their favorite make.
Minutes later the mob was corralled into the grandstands for the national anthem. Finally, the R8 pace car led the pack onto the raceway for the start of the race. From up in the grandstands, the vibration could be felt throughout the structure as the pack began approaching wide open throttle as they hurled toward the waving green flag.
You haven’t lived until thousands of horsepower pass you in a tightly clustered group at full power. Sheer bliss is the rapid fire downshifts immediately following. The ensuing shit eating grin is impossible to stifle.
For the next 24 hours, the race raged on. Rainclouds blanketed the sky so there was no sunset to admire while the cars battled for position, just gradual darkness and rapidly dropping temperatures. The rain started shortly thereafter, and continued to intensify until the early morning. Many full course cautions followed with the worsening track conditions.
Exhausted and soggy from muscling around the massive super telephoto lens and camera, I retreated back to camp for a dinner of chorizo sausages made on our makeshift grill- the bottom rack from Sam’s oven placed directly over the campfire. After a few easter egg blue squishy silicone cupfuls of bourbon, I curled up in my tent for some rest and was quickly lulled to sleep by the sounds of cars powering through the long, sweeping banked turn in our back yard.
Morning brought better race conditions and some frustration via a malfunctioning rental camera/lens combo, rendering it completely useless. We packed up camp and made our way to Cracker Barrel for a 4,000 calorie breakfast before catching the very end of the race. I loaded up my trusty film camera and set off to the track to try to snap a handful more photos. The remaining cars showed their battle scars- panels were bent, bruised and taped into position, or discarded all together. Still, the pack shuffled and fought for position until the last seconds of the race.
Now, nearly 1,300 miles away from the track I’m left with the lingering buzz of excitement and a small list of things to do differently for next year. While I’ve narrowed this set down to 170 or so photos, I had clicked off over 900 within the first hours of shooting. To say that 24 Hours at Daytona is one of the most exciting events of the year is certainly an understatement. While 24 hours of constant racing seems like a long time, those hours elapse so much faster than one may expect. If you consider yourself an automotive enthusiast in any capacity, mark this on your calendar as a must attend. If you’re a photographer, be prepared for a challenge- had the rental camera not shit the bed, I would have completely filled both of the 64gb memory cards I was armed with. There’s an opportunity for great photos no matter where on the track you find yourself. No matter what, you will not be disappointed. Just be sure to bring ear protection, a waterproof jacket and warm clothing- take it from a guy who neglected to bring any of the three.