Moments In Time: The Art Of NHRA Drag Racing

I’ve shot top fuel and nitro funny cars before, but up until very recently it had been a while since I’d experienced the eardrum-shattering and heart-thumping power of a 10,000hp drag car.

I figured it would be a good idea to check out the final round of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. After all, Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, is the closest race track to my home; I live just a few minutes away.

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I tried my best to capture some unique angles, like this top-down shot showing how much a top fuel dragster’s chassis flexes at launch.

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Because I was not there to follow a specific team or storyline, I was free to shoot how I wanted to, which is definitely my favorite kind of Speedhunting.

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These are a collection of my favorite photos from the event, with some added insights throughout the gallery.

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Panning a car as it accelerates to well over 300mph within 1000ft is definitely no easy task. The motion is more like swinging a baseball bat at full speed versus a slow and steady golf club arc.

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The eyes of a drag racer. Concentration is high as races are often won and lost within hundredths of a second.

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The surface of a prepped drag strip is very sticky, and if you don’t tie your shoes on properly you will lose them. I speak from personal experience. It’s quite embarrassing standing there with your shoes stuck on the strip.

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Not only do these machines pull insane wheelies, they also hop around the burnout box.

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The legend himself, John Force. I caught him in a quiet moment right before his qualifying run.

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All that stuff coming out of the exhaust is unburnt nitromethane. Stand too close while a nitro-fueled machine is doing a burnout and you are in for watery eyes and burning lungs, possibly not too unlike inhaling full shot of tequila. I also learned this the hard way.

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This shot of Leah Pritchett reminds me of a scene out of 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Check out the rear tire wrinkle as she leaves the start line.

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I love the license plate.

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It may look like a tilt-shift effect, but I can assure you that it’s all exhaust fumes blurring the bottom half of the image.

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Drag racing itself is such a simple concept on paper, but when you actually get to experience it in person you quickly learn just how complex it really is.

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These are the quickest race cars in the world, and so much goes on in the lead up to them powering down the strip that you don’t get to see.

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Hopefully next year I can try for some more in-depth stories surrounding this amazing motorsport.

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Baptism by nitro. These guys stood behind one of the funny cars as its engine was warmed up after a rebuild. If you can’t tell from the photo, they were really suffering from the fumes.

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Where’s the nearest jump?

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It’s so cool when you see drivers wear nitro gas masks. Does it get any more badass?

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I am kind of a weenie so I wear double ear protection, plugs for inside my ears and earmuffs to go over the top. With all that, I still flinch when these guys drop the hammer.

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It’s so violent that my camera even gives me a flicker warning, which normally only comes on when I am shooting a fluorescent light. The camera shakes so much from the shock waves that it freaks out.

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Just a few feet away from the start line you experience up to 150 decibels of nitro fury.

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To quote an article from Dragzine.com: “It should come as no surprise that the World Health Organization considers the output at close proximity to a fuel car to be in their “do not expose yourself to this” range, while the 127dB in the spectator area falls within the recommended range of only 1 second of exposure per 24 hours.”

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With that all said, it amazes me that there are those who are into cars and the surrounding culture who think drag racing is boring.

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Trust me when I say this: it’s only boring to you because you have not been an NHRA events. After one of these nitro funny cars shakes your bowels your outlook will be altered forever.

Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto
larry@speedhunters.com

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52 comments

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1

Nice! I went to my first NHRA back in Sept this year. It was amazing and overwhelming, and extremely hard to breathe when the top fuel and funny cars took off. Did take some decent shots from the stands with my trusty Nikon 70-200 though.

2

Really nice pan. How slow did you go?

3

"Only pussies run nitrometh."

-Alex

4

Larry Chen 1/80 on this one. I was going slower before that but couldn't get anything even remotely sharp. It's super not easy! :) Your work is what inspired it for me.

5

Larry, I love looking forward to your post, even if they have what it seems become fewer over the last year or so (too much exposure to perfection can be a bad thing i guess?)

Anyway, I think what really sets you apart is your management of distance between the subject and backdrop. Lots of people overlook this i fell and it really adds a visual addition when used properly.

Which lens did you use to shoot the "Lucas Oil" and "FireAde" dragster when you were track side? Those are some of my favorite shots from the article.

6

370 Hemi 
!!!
-Louis

7

DustinM Larry Chen great shot. I know first hand from a few years back at gatornationals in florida its not easy. Also, complimented from Larry on your shot, kuddos

8

Great pictures and thanks for sharing.

9

CodyRinaudo Thanks for the kind words. I try to keep it up, but it's hard not to shoot the same events over and over, I am always trying to find something new to shoot. Of course with that comes the cost of traveling etc....

I am glad at least someone notices my efforts, but like you said 90% of people don't really care. It's all about the subject in the photo.

I used the 35mm f/1.4 for both. The pan was at 1/20th and the frozen shot was at 1/8000th.

10

CodyRinaudo DustinM Larry Chen Right? Larry is the man in motorsport photography, and I'm a wedding photographer with a passion for motorsports. I'll have to put this on my resume ;)

11

DustinM Well considering they are already at near triple digit speeds at that moment 1/80th of a second is pretty darn slow. How blurred the people are in the background means you are doing something right.

12

CodyRinaudo I like the Gainesville track. The way the track is facing is nice for sunset shots.

13

Larry Chen Much appreciated, sir!

14

These are really awesome shots. I have to make it out to one of these some day.

15

LC.... you sir, are a machine! look at these photos!! this selection of shots is good enough for a 30 page coffee table book for Drag racing. you get angles never really seen in Drag photos, in fact only one or 2 of the photos are the generic tyre twist 3/4 launch shot. i'm just in awe of such beauty and am truly inspired by your talent.

Thank you larry, thank you very very much.

16

StreetStatik I would buy that book in a heartbeat.

17

Larry, these shots are incredible. I was there with my 8 year old son. It's the second time I've taken him and he loves it. To ANYONE who has never been, go and see this in person. Words cannot do it justice. TV makes it almost routine looking. There is nothing routine about these cars at all. Even if you're a road racing and rally snob like myself, there is a great chance you will be a convert after seeing the first pass. The fan accessibility is some of the best you can get. Seeing these crews tear down the engine after a run is fascinating. Stand as close as your sinuses will let you when they fire them back up and marvel at the fact you can get so close to something so volatile. It is one of the most visceral motorsports experiences on the planet.
I cannot recommend this enough. For those of you in southern California, the 2017 season starts up at Pomona in February.

I know I must sound like a shill for the NHRA, but damn if this isn't a great time and an insane spectacle.

18

Larry, this will read as just another "epic shots bro" post as it's hard to convey emphasis via text, but these really are some quite stunning shots. Very well played, good sir. *golf clap*

19

Larry Chen CodyRinaudo Absolutely man, you deserve it. Your efforts show in your shots and creativity. 

Keep doing what your doing, i always look forward to your shots.

20

CJC_Matty Thank you! That means a lot!

21

evoCS Could you imagine driving by the venue without knowing whats going on as they take off? I would be scared to death.

22

Hey man don't ever feel like a weenie for wearing hearing protection. You don't get it back once it's gone. 

I work around jets (F-16s) and they're so damn loud I'm pretty much always wearing at least foamies. A lot of the older guys used to give people a lot of crap for it, but now they can't hear for shit, so jokes on them.


I love your photography work. I'm still just doing the whole "cell phone photographer" until I can save up for a decent DSLR.

23

Yet again your photography shades everything else Larry, those high views down the strip are amazing

24

I am amazed that you can make $9120 
 
in  weeks on .............
http://tinyurl.com/youtube-have-jobs

25

graet

26

my neighbor recently purchased Infinity FIX SUV
just by part time work from a-------
see more........................http://www.fox-88.com/

27

LOVED the photo's - the overhead shots are incredible

28

Nice shots, Larry. I actually used to work at the shop that built an earlier itteration of that Team Kalitta DHL funny car. That shop, formerly in Charlotte, MI, has since moved to the Teams Headquarters in Ypslanti, MI.

29

I'm thinking that Taryn should interview the ladies that race in the NHRA while you catch all these insane photos... just a thought.

30

Unfortunately she's not with us anymore. She still has her on blog though

31

Cell phones are no joke now. Plus having an awesome camera with you at all times is amazing.
It does baffle me that some of these shooters don't wear ear protection and they are right on the starting line.

32

Larry Chen 

I can safely say I have more Larry Chen photos in my wallpaper folder than any other source, by far.

33

There's something majestic about pictures and slowmotion video's of NHRA. And your certainly made some nice pictures!


Even though I must admit I'm never sure what to think about NHRA top fuel. From a entertainment and technical viewpoint it's incredible. But the actual racing doesn't really catch my attention.

34

Larry Chen How did I miss that? Well, I still think it'd make a good story, though.

35

Only pussies run nitrometh.

36

I am surprised that anybody can profit $5308 




in a few weeks .................





http://tinyurl.com/youtube-have-jobs

37

True, but amateur drag racing is fun if you are behind the wheel.

38

A good dose of nitro brings back good memories of early days of D/R

39

I knew I had spotted the SpeedHunter hehe! Amazing pictures as always Larry.

40

I am amazed that you able to earn $8936






in  weeks ....................








http://tinyurl.com/youtube-have-jobs

41
90nissanS13@my350z

This is the kind of album that even a Prius driver could appreciate.

42

Larry Chen evoCS I'm surprised there aren't more accidents on the street that runs right behind the west side grandstands during Nitro runs. Must be that EVERYONE in Pomona knows what's going on those days. By the way, that's my favorite side to sit on. Without the return lane, the stands are slightly closer to the track.

43

love the diversity of the events that you're covering. great photos as always

44

LARRY MF CHEN!! Insane photography work sir. I mean it. Specifically that last photo. The sky, the cars at full song, the straight line of the strip receding into the distance on a diagonal... damn son!
Do us a favor. When MotoGP or World Superbikes comes back in Spring to Texas or Laguna Seca... please go shoot the two-wheeled madness. I'd love to see your take on motorcycle photography.

45

I am shocked that you can get paid $9264







in a few weeks ..................







http://tinyurl.com/youtube-have-jobs

46

great

47

just as Gerald implied I am in shock that a person able to 
earn $7711 in 1 month on the computer ------====
see more....................http://www.pure-ethics1.com/

48

I am shocked that you can get paid $5264



   in a few   weeks ...............  http://tinyurl.com/youtube-have-jobs

49

I'm amazed that anyone able to get paid $9246





in 1 month ....................





http://tinyurl.com/youtube-have-jobs

50

Not sure which is more impressive here...the wide range of creative captures, or their technical brilliance. A+ work as usual, Mr. Chen.

51

I work in the near-by industrial estates, City of La Verne. The sound of these cars can make coffee in my cup ripple from nearly a mile away

52
EdgarSanchezBrambila

Great article and impressive shots. I've only seen the lower Top Alcohol cars and even those shake your body so I can only imagine what the Top Fuel cars sound and feel like in person.

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