Commentary and photos by Eli Kaikko
#10- Narrowing down a top-ten list from thousands of photos can be very difficult. However, I quickly realized that certain images jumped out at me that had to be the best of the best for 2019. It was mid July and Indiana Sprint Week had traveled to my home track, Gas City Speedway. I decided to take the outside of turn one for qualifying so I could get a dramatic shot of the cars exiting turn four. Just as qualifying started, the sun began to set and it created the dramatic effect I set out to achieve. The eventual 2019 USAC National sprint car Champion CJ Leary was the subject I chose from that day and a great way to start the countdown.
#9- A night at the races can be stressful on a track photographer. Do you shoot on track action or stay in the pits and find amazing opportunities to cover the sport from all angles? On a fall night at Gas City, I decided to hang out in the push off lane back in the pits and see if I could get something unique. As teams and drivers were getting ready I noticed Zane Briggs being pushed towards the track. I pointed the lens in his direction and got the shot I wanted which has made it’s way to the number nine spot on the countdown.
#8- Nothing is cooler than a national midget race on a Tuesday night to begin Indiana Midget Week. Montpelier Speedway was the venue of last years opener and the pits were jam packed with all the heavy hitters. As a photographer, however, some nights are stacked against you. On this night, by the time the feature rolled around, the dust and poor lighting conditions were playing havoc with getting any good quality pictures. Luckily I found a spot in turn one that was better lit which led to getting one of my favorite shots of the year. A three way battle for the lead (which happened to be the podium) was captured and now put into the number eight position of the countdown.
#7- When it comes to beautiful action shots, no place is better than the Terre Haute Action Track. It was Indiana Sprint week and I was wrapping up some pit shots when they pushed off for engine heat. I knew I only had a few minutes to get from the pit area behind turns three and four to turn one for hot laps. Nothing is better than turn one for the first few hot lap sessions at Terre Haute. As I made my way under the tunnel I could hear the cars picking up the throttle and start backing them in. Just as I came out of the tunnel and took my spot in turn one I pointed my camera at Justin Grant and was able to capture the number seven photo in the top 10 of 2019 countdown.
#6- If you are an open wheel photographer in Indiana and you have a top 10 list from the year, there’s no doubt that Thomas Meseraull will be on it. His wheels up, poetry-in-motion, driving style has made him a fan favorite across the country. You learn to keep your lens focused on his car throughout the night so you do not miss any of the action. It’s also very easy to find his car because it’s usually at the front of the pack. Number six on the countdown but always number one in our hearts, we present TMez.
#5- 2019 marked the end of one of the most historic races throughout the history of auto racing. The Hoosier Hundred, contested at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, would see it’s final checkered flag as the fair board voted to change the surface that would no longer allow for auto racing at that venue in the future. The stage was set, the pits were full and one driver took full advantage of this huge event to showcase his talent. Jason McDougal turned his first laps at the mile a little after five that evening and looked like he had be racing there for years. I was able to stand down in the entry of turn four to get a nice shot of the 27P backing it into the corner for #5 on the countdown. J-Mac came from deep in the field to finish 6th that day and earned the respect that Foyt, Parnelli and Mario once got at that famous race.
#4- Terre Haute is once again the location of another of the top ten photos of 2019. Indiana Sprint Week usually brings out a few big names that generally do not compete regularly on the USAC circuit. Upon learning that Tom Harris would be making a start at Terre Haute for this years race, I knew to keep my lens focused on his car. Over the years he has provided some great action when he made his way to this side of the pond. On this occasion he did not disappoint as I captured a perfect backed in shot in the middle of turns three and four. Tom Harris is one of my heroes and one heck of a race driver!
#3- Sometimes you don’t realize what you have until you get home from the race, pop the card in the reader and begin to dissect your footage. I must have snapped two thousand frames during the final Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds so it was quite overwhelming. I was scrolling through and saw a cool liking picture of Kevin Thomas Jr. in the iconic Foxco #56. I zoomed in and at that moment noticed that the pic got much better. KTJ was giving some sort of signal from the cockpit. It looks like he was telling everyone they were number one, but in this case it was the number three photo of 2019.
#2- If you mention Indianapolis Raceway Park in recent years, two names stand out in Silver Crown competition, Tanner and Kody Swanson. At this years Rich Vogler Classic I was able to catch these two fierce competitors having a brief chat before qualifying. A perfect day in Indianapolis created a nice back drop of the blue sky and fluffy white clouds. It was one of those moments where I walked into a perfect photo opportunity and took full advantage of the situation to capture the second best photo of 2019.
#1- The photo of the year. Sometimes you know you have it before you even see it. The James Dean classic at Gas City Speedway was midway through qualifying and the 7BC of Tyler Courtney was pushing off to begin his qualifying run. I was down on the outside of turn one with a new 1.4 lens extender which would allow my canon 70-200 reach a little further down into the exit of turn four. Luckily I had the range because on his second lap Sunshine did a wheelie of the entire decade down the front stretch and into the number one spot of 2019. It’s been an incredible journey and 2020 is going to be the best one yet. Happy New Year!