From the Blog

A bad day at the races…

..is still better than a good day at work. Or, so the saying goes.

.DSCN2872

Over the many years I have been following this wonderful sport I have seen all sorts of days. I’ve been baked, fried, broiled and toasted. I’ve been drowned and sand blasted. I’ve been misguided, misdirected, misquoted and misunderstood. I’ve seen the highs and the lows and all the stages in between. I’ve seen the agony of defeat and the ecstasy of success. There have been days when everything went just right and there have been others where it couldn’t have gone more wrong. Tragically, I have seen days when a rider who turned up to race in the morning never went home to his family in the afternoon for all sorts of reasons and I have seen many of my friends pay a heavy price for the passion that we all pursue.

But, having said all that, it is still true; a bad day at the races is STILL better than a good day at work.

And so it was last weekend that I made my way to Sydney Motorsport Park (whose daft idea was it to give Eastern Creek Raceway such a pretentious and ridiculous name?) for the 9th running of the annual Barry Sheene Festival of Speed (hereinafter known as BSFoS). After the Island Classic, this meeting is the biggest historic bike race meeting in the country with 47 races spread over the weekend, starting on Friday afternoon and finishing on Sunday afternoon.

I should have been thrilled with the prospect of overdosing on two stroke fumes and the boom of loud exhausts, but, as I headed for the track, I was filled with apprehension. Because, for the first time in more years than I wanted to admit, I was not there off my own bat. I wasn’t even there to record interviews for MotoPod, I was going there as a working journalist, doing a paid gig for Australia’s largest online motorcycle magazine, mcnews.com.au   And it wouldn’t be an easy gig. My brief was to provide photographs, write a story about the meeting and report on the races and to have my copy on the editor’s virtual desk on Sunday night or Monday morning at the latest! It occurred to me pretty early in the piece that this was plainly going to be impossible, but, nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I bit the bullet and got stuck in.

One aspect that was to my advantage was that I knew pretty much everyone involved in the meeting, had built up good rapport with both riders and officials and was representing a well respected journal. Nevertheless, the time seemed to rush by and, before I knew it, practice and qualifying were over and the races had started. I had done my customary sweep of the pits with camera, voice recorder and lie detector and had pretty much got my head around who was there, who wasn’t, who was hot and who was not. So, the first part of the assignment was complete for the moment, what was next?

Well, I guessed that, before the carnage set in (as it inevitably does) I should get out on the track and take some photos while the bikes and riders still looked shiny-shiny and respectable. Now here I have to make a confession. There were four reasons why this part of the assignment terrified me. Firstly, I have a new camera that can certainly handle action photography but which I had not used for the purposes apart from about 3 shots at the WSBK meet a few weeks ago. Thankfully, my good friend, Taina Hall, had bought an identical camera to me at Christmas time and had used it to get some brilliant photos at PI so I was able to tap into her information about which settings to use, etc. The second part of the concern was that it had been some 30 years since I had done any motorcycle racing photography and the game has sorta moved on a bit since then. Would I remember how? Had the techniques and skills been eroded away by the passage of time? Thirdly, I have refrained from attempting racing photography since my accident because of the huge amount of walking that is involved getting to the spots where you can get that extra good shot. I knew that I would be giving my game leg a real work out and I could sense a painful day or two coming up. And, lastly, a little matter of self-preservation. If something went pear shaped and I had to take sudden avoiding action, would I be nimble enough to do so or would I end up being a sitting duck?

All of these thoughts went through my mind as I walked up to the rear entry gate of the pits to try and get some shots of T5. Unsurprisingly, once I had gotten used to the settings and lining up the shot a little before it was needed to be taken, the skills and techniques started coming back, slowly at first, but in increasing degree the longer I stood there. Pick the spot on the track, focus on it. Get the bike that you want to photograph in the viewfinder and start following its trajectory. Wait till the bike you want to photograph hits that spot on which you have focussed, then gently squeeze the button while continuing to follow the path of the bike. Of course the beauty of doing that with a digital camera is that, unlike film where you had to wait till your proofs came back from processing to find out if your technique had been correct, the rear screen on the camera tells you that you have hit or missed straight away.

There were vastly more “misses” than “hits” to begin with, but, as the day wore on, the trend started to reverse and a few photos actually started to look a lot like the good stuff that I used to take way back then. Phew. You can see the end results of my pit photographs and the ones from out on the track that were worth keeping in my Facebook album below.

BSFoS Album

But, all the time, in the back of my mind, was the thought that, while I was out here, working on composition and technique, these were races upon which I was supposed to be reporting..How to do both? Answer? My portable voice recorder. A quick summary of each race as a voice file should enable me to review it later and write some sort of intelligent report on the races. Bingo. I further decided that I would concentrate my efforts on the more “important” races and so be able to do the job better as well.

So, with a combination of technology, native cunning and a LOT of walking, I was able to sort of do all three jobs for the weekend, not that I would recommend you trying it. By Sunday night when I arrived home the thought of then sitting down and drawing all those strings together into a sensible report was too much, so I decided to do it in the morning and hope that I wasn’t messing up my editor’s schedule too much.

Monday morning it was head down and tail up for what seemed like hours as I pored over voice recordings, results sheets and the Natsoft web site. (full results available there, by the way)

BSFoS Results  Click on “Bikes” and follow the link to the Barry Sheene.

Just before lunch I was done (in more ways than one). Email report away and breathe huge sigh of relief.

Oh, you can read my report at the link below

BSFoS Report for mcnews.com.au

Now, one of the really neat things about actually getting down to the pits and talking to the riders is that you find out stuff. Many of you will have noted that I have posted pictures of this Kawasaki Z1R several times before. Though a dedicated Honda man, there is something very attractive about the first model Z1R, or perhaps it is that it is just very “Crosby-ish” I don’t know. Anyway, the #55 example belongs to Steve Dobson from Wagga and I had the opportunity of talking to him and hearing the story of how he came to be racing this bike.

DSCN3022 DSCN3023 DSCN3024 DSCN3025 DSCN3026

I hope you enjoy this quick interview and that it helps you to understand the enthusiasm and fun that makes historic racing so great.

So, is a bad day at the races better than a good day at work? Yes, of course it is! Was this weekend a bad one or a good one? It was a good one. Despite the workload and the extra pressure that it brought I was still able to spend quality time with my friends, watch the races and have fun. Yes, it was a great deal more difficult than what I had envisaged it being, but, with a few work-arounds, I was able to get it done and better than I first thought I would be able to do. If you’ve never been to an historic bike race meeting, do yourself a favour and go, it’s way better than being at work.

 

Comments

  1. small e says:

    A good description Phil of a pencil and shutter squeezer’s day track side. You certainly were thrown in the sharp end doing both. As much as I loved RR (the self imposed) pressure to get the best shots ‘n spots made for a pretty tiring day’s (off) work…and I was 20 something, not the old crock I’ve become. Well done, great report..and the shots even better for being your ‘novice race’ with the camera. I could never keep up with you at meetings then..so even with your gammy leg I likewise wouldn’t keep up today probably. And as for your mouth…well..I’d still be lapped all day!

    And odd to see the ol’ 55 on a non Mike Howard mount. Sad, but some rider’s numbers have remained in my brain to this day and I use them for bank account pin numbers…Johnny Pace is half of one…and the other is a former CRRC star..but that’s as much as I’ll say…except that all CRRC riders were stars to me! Envy you that Castrol R perfume(s) too..

    • Phil Hall says:

      Thank you, John, much appreciated. As someone whose skill with a camera always had me in awe, your kind words mean a lot. Yes, it’s funny about those numbers, isn’t it? 55 to me always means Tony Hatton. But when I scanned and catalogued all my photos, I was amazed the nearly all of the riders I was able to identify some 30 or more years later just because the discipline of having to look for certain numbers so that I could photograph the riders burned the numbers and the associated rider’s name into my brain.