As we creep ever so close to the Tire Rack SCCA® Solo Nationals Championship event in Lincoln, Nebraska, we want to shine a light on a few folks that we all know and appreciate, but who might not get the same attention as some of the drivers. These folks work long hours to help make Nationals the special event that it is. For this particular Take 5, we talk to the people that make Solo look so good. Those folks that capture our wins and losses and give us those mementos that we look back on year over year to remember “when.” Of course, we’re talking about the photographers. And while the Take 5 series usually focuses on one individual at a time, these three shutterbugs are grouped together as they’ve given us some amazing shots over the years. So, without further ado, here’s a Take 5 with David Cosseboom (GotCone.com), Perry Bennett (Autopix.com) and Rupert Berrington (Rupert Berrington Action Photography).
Q1: How did each of you get your start in motorsports photography? Were you already involved with photography, or was it what got you into the art?
DC: I got into photography when I started storm chasing. That's when I picked up my first digital SLR, a Canon EOS Rebel. I had started going to autocross about that same time and thought it would be fun to try out my new hobby at an event. I felt like I had a knack for it and the rest is history.
PB: I actually have to blame this one on Heyward Wagner. I was a recent graduate from college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing & Painting and had just purchased my first DSLR as a graduation present to myself. I had also started autocrossing with the Atlanta Region in my 1992 Mazda MX-3. And while I wasn’t very good, I really enjoyed coming home from events and checking the forums to see if anyone had taken pictures of me out on course in my car. However, after several times of doing it and complaining that there weren’t enough from each event, Heyward said that if I thought there should be more photos from events then I should bring my camera out and take some. So, I did ... and kinda became the defacto Atlanta Region autocross photographer for a few years. I decided I was a better photographer than a driver, so I stopped trying to do both (which was a real hassle) and just started coming to events to shoot. After attending the Dixie Tour (to shoot) one year, SportsCar and GRM asked me to send them some shots from the event and Heyward asked me to write up the event report for the newly created "SoloMatters”. My first magazine photos happened a few months later and the rush and pride of seeing my photos in print in a real magazine was so overwhelming I knew I had found my calling and had to keep doing it. I attended more National Tours and then the Pro Finale and Nationals the next year, and the rest is history. :)
RB: I was always interested in art and drawing from the first time I had pencil and paper in my hand. My father was a photogrammetrist, someone who makes maps from photographs, and had his own darkroom. By the time I was 7, he gave me my first camera. As I learned the basics of photography, I still spent much time drawing and contributed to my high school’s newspaper, including a front cover drawing of the school’s football team. At the age of 12, I started a historical gaming club at the local library. We played board games of historical events, including war games. By the time I was 16, the club had become huge and attracted famous game designers to test and R&D new and different games. One designer named Rocky Russo, who was also well known in slot-car racing circles, had designed a miniatures game called History of Grand Prix Racing. This sparked my interest in motor racing after I joined his R&D team. We went through many Grand Prix seasons in the ‘50s, ‘60s and 1970 where I ended up winning five World Championships with my driver, Jack Brabham. At two National conventions, I won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Mille Miglia with my driver, Stirling Moss. This was all before I turned 18. When I graduated from high school, I had an opportunity to visit family in Europe and, with my interest sparked by that game, I went to my first-ever auto race; the 1981 Austrian Grand Prix with my Pentax K1000. Watching Gilles Villeneuve blast into the lead in his red Ferrari got me hooked. My photos left a bit to be desired, so I challenged myself to get better. In a few years, I had my first photo published from the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
Q2: What is the biggest challenge in regard to simply taking pics at Solo Nationals? What would folks be surprised to hear is a challenge?
DC: I would say the biggest challenge is the weather. If it's not blistering hot, it's a monsoon. I've even had a random storm pop up right over my head and start hailing on me and the drivers on course. It's also a very long week. And to get photos of everyone, there is little to no break. It's almost like an endurance photoshoot. And if you are competing as well, it's even more of a challenge.
PB: The biggest challenge for me is simply the size and scope of the event and trying to capture it all. Oh, and making sure we have spotters for all of the heats and that they are on time for first car! I feel guilty if I miss someone on course. Most people don’t realize just how much work it is, physically and mentally, to cover the event all week and to be prepared to shoot in all conditions. I usually arrive on Saturday, and am either shooting pictures or back at the hotel clearing memory cards and trying to sort/edit those pics so we can upload a few highlights to Facebook. Most people relax on Monday or days they aren't driving. But between all of the things happening on Monday -- the various luncheons, town halls, Tacos & Talent, practice course, course walks, etc ... -- and then wanting to make sure I get everyone each day, it really cuts into any downtime we would have. At some point we just hope there is time to eat and stay hydrated. It’s mentally and physically draining to try to cover it all. It really is one big, non-stop work assignment!
RB: Survival! Every year the Solo Nationals has more entrants and shorter times between cars, and breaks between heats get cut -- so there is little time to use the restroom, eat and drink, or take any kind of break. My help brings me food and water. If I am lucky, I can take a bite or have a sip in the 17 seconds I have between cars. My standard workday lasts 20 hours and I have to have a big crew to get all the photographs ready for the drivers at the awards banquet. Some of my help has worked all through the night to get the photos done and organized.
Q3: Each of you have quite the list of credentials behind you. From Pikes Peak to Le Mans, ARA Rally to politics, the three of you can do it all -- and have. What makes the SCCA Solo Nationals special or unique for each of you?
DC: The obvious answer is ”the people.” There are so many fun people and personalities in the group. On top of that, where else are you going to go and see 1200+ people competing at one event, in a wide variety of unique and interesting vehicles?
PB: Nothing can compare to the awesome people and the incredible machines I see at Nationals. The cars are all (well, okay, mostly) top-flight prepped cars and I love everyone's passionate and competitive spirit, yet willingness to let a competitor hop in their car or borrow a part or something if they need it.
RB: My first Solo Nationals was in 1993 in Salina, Kansas, photographing for Grassroots Motorsports magazine. I did not come in 1994, but in 1995 SportsCar magazine asked me to shoot the race -- and I have not missed one since. Made some great friends over the years and watched the entry list more than double over that time. I always enjoy the feedback from the racers who appreciate me being there and getting photos of them every year. Something you don’t see as much at pro races.
Q4: Coming into SCCA Solo Nationals, is there an aspect of Solo Nationals that you are most keen to capture? From candid shots to action shots, you are all amazing. But is there a type of shot you are most drawn to?
DC: I'm drawn to the shots that tell a story or help tell a story, whatever that may be. There are so many stories to tell at Nationals among the 1200+ competitors, it's a treat to be able to help capture and tell some of those.
PB: I started just shooting cars on course because they are all so awesome and that’s what folks are most likely to purchase, historically. However, I've come to realize that there is way more to the sport than just the cars themselves. The people are the main part of the story. I've really tried to focus more on the people instead of the cars the past few years. I want someone to be able to look back on my photo of them and remember the event and how great they looked, or that moment they drank out of their shoe, or when they got water dumped on them for winning with everyone giving them high fives and hugs. Also, most people want to shy away from emotional photos, but crying and disappointment is a very real and often-felt emotion at Nationals when someone gives it their all but are eeked out by someone who was just faster, somehow. People are passionate and I try to do my best to pay attention and capture not just the class winners but as many moments as I can with people helping each other and cheering each other on. It has become my favorite part, for sure.
RB: I would love to be more creative at the Solo Nationals, but I can’t miss a car and have to get guaranteed photos to SportsCar and several other magazines, as well as car and tire manufacturers. Once I feel I have a good number of shots on the second day, I can get a bit more aggressive.
Q5: Lastly, what advice would you give to someone wanting to get into photography. My only rule is you cannot say “practice.” We know that is just as important as seat time. Rather, what is a little nugget of wisdom from each of you that an aspiring photog can take with them and use as they develop their skills?
DC: I'd say don't be afraid to be yourself and let that shine through your photography. One of the things I love about photography is that you can have two different people take a picture of the same thing and each photo can be totally unique. There is no wrong way to photograph something, just different ways and all of them have their own value.
PB: I mean, I know you said we can’t say it. But really, that’s it; shoot more. Take classes and learn about your equipment. Study to learn new skills. Your current camera can likely take the same photos we take, you just need to know how to set the camera to make it do that. If it can’t, find a way to be unique and capture the event in a manner that is different with the equipment you have. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t expect to get rich from it. LOL
RB: I think the most important thing is to be safe. I had lots of close calls my first 10 years photographing motor racing. Much safer with experience, now. Learning through trial and error, and studying crashes to know what to do if it happens to you, is important. Never turn and run. Stop shooting when a car loses control and fills up your frame, and prepare to step to one side or the other -- but keep your eyes on the car. Solo is not as dangerous as other forms of racing, but you must pay attention at all times. If you are getting distracted by other things or people, step back ‘til you are ready to put 100% into it.