The 24 Hours Of Daytona On 35mm Film

It was 17 years ago that I attended my first Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. Up until that time, the only motorsports event I’d attended was an historic racing meet that I had been given tickets to. All of the professors at the college I was attending (Daytona Beach Community College) knew I was a petrol-head, so when an elective course in ‘Motorsports Photography’ opened up I was the first person they enrolled. That 2001 race I shot entirely on film, not because I wanted to but because that’s all there was. Digital hadn’t yet hit the quality mark that would push film out.

This past Christmas when my wife bought me tickets and camping passes to the Rolex 24, I knew I had to shoot film again. It’s been only about three years ago that I got back into the medium after a more than 10 year break. I had to take along my trusty Nikon F100, but only used one lens, the 50mm 1.8. I loaded the F100 with a roll of Kodak Tri-X black and white film. The other camera I took along was a relatively untested thrift store find Olympus XA that I loaded with a roll of 20-year-old Kodak Ektachrome color reversal (slide) film.

The race itself was an exercise in patience to photograph. In my day to day work I shoot strictly digital except for the odd job where my client requests film. I had photographed a couple of other motorsport events on film but they were drag races during the day and a couple car shows at night with no moving cars. For these night images I wanted to be sure to keep my exposure above 1/60th of a second so I could hand hold the camera and not get shaky images. Since I couldn’t look on the back of the camera to check the amount of blur, I only tried panning for a couple of night shots. One image in particular was a 2-second exposure from high in the grandstands. I knew it would be really blurry but I actually liked the streaks of light; it kind of reminded me of the craziness of a 24-hour race. I would imagine at some point in time this is what the crew or drivers must have felt like.

Since the infield parking lots are one of my favorite parts of the race, I tried to photograph many of the cars that parked there during the event. Porsche always has a large number of great cars in its ‘Porsche Corral’. You definitely see the odd Ferrari and Lamborghini too, but since the new NSX was just released Acura had a great display just outside the front gate of about 10 new cars as well as a hand full of original NSXs.

The results out of the F100 were perfectly predictable with nice contrast and grain. What I didn’t expect was the results from the XA. I had a local film friend cross-process the film since the age of the film was going to make the color funky anyway. To my surprise most of the frames had a light leak from bad light seals in the little rangefinder. I was kind of bummed at first, but this is the unpredictability of film. With digital I would have known instantly what the frames looked like, whereas these results took me two weeks to see. Before I could even think about repairing the camera I had many people tell me not to touch it.

If you’ve ever thought about shooting film I highly recommend it – especially if you’ve only ever shot digital. Thrift store-find cameras are some of the coolest, and if you’ve got a Nikon or Canon DSLR, chances are if you find either brand film SLR your lenses will work on it. There are tons of places that still sell film and there are many small companies who are manufacturing new film stocks. If you want to get really adventurous you can develop your black and white film at home. Just remember, with film the ‘spray and pray’ method is quite expensive so you’ll want to be sure your exposure and framing are exactly like you want it before you fire the shutter.

Josh Mattox

Instagram: josh_mattoxmattoxstudios

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It's like the historic racing photos of yesteryear. I love it!!

Tryon Lippincott

I was thinking the exact same thing


Thanks! In some respect that's exactly how I wanted to capture it.


Simply said. Awesome job. Love from Finland.


Loving the aspect of film with nowadays cars


So much grain! This is an amazing post, thank you. More film.


Yeah, I'm in the field of the 'please don't fix the light leak', it has made some incredible images. Great shoot all around.


What year is this?!? lol


What have I told you about driving that damn Delorean around at 88?


That I will see some serious shit!


Nothing at all against the black and white, but those color photos are GORGEOUS.
The light leak is actually my favorite part, and while I can understand your point, I don't think it ruined or spoiled anything.
Thanks for sharing these!


I totally agree! I was going to fix it but the more I look at them the more I like them. Can't wait for the next sunny day to shoot the XA again.

Tryon Lippincott

As a fellow Floridian I approve this message.


Thank you!


Please do more of this! Vintage/old race photos, have such an....aura about them. These photos are no exception, and in my opinion, really capture the essence and aura (or soul) that old/ vintage race photos have. The close-up of the Porsche 356, if you told me it was from the 50's or 60's, I'd totally believe you.
Great work Mr. Mattox


Thank you for the kind words! I think modern racing could use more of a “feel” again.


This is awesome Josh. I'm definitely in the camp of keeping the light leaks, despite years of engineering that went into avoiding this look, haha. The feel of film is unmatched though and this really makes me want to get back into it.


Thank you! Next event I go to I’ll be sure to take it!


I love the new perspectives that you guys give on events.

Louie Jiran Jr

Great job Josh and I agree with you and your other friends, the light leak adds an antique/historic look and really brings you back in time to the better days of photography!!


Thanks bud! Now you’ve got to get the Hassy out again!


Mr. Josh you are definitely the "Tarantino of cars photographers".
These pictures gave me some tickles in the neck and back.
Good old days when we used to store pieces of magazines and dated calendars for keeping the image printed on the back of each month, i remember keeping 1 on my room's door for around 5 years that had an F50 (can't remember the year but i think it was the back of February 2000 and it's kept now in a box somewhere it the garage).


You’re so right! I’ve still got a box of posters and mags that hit me in the feels. I’ve torn many a calendar apart at the end of the year for a print on the wall.

Rafał Szulejko

The only posts I enjoy as much as Time Attack are those. Love those analog photos of modern cars


Thank you! I’ve got more where these came from.


How about a month of only film for Speedhunters?


Stunning photos! Now I want to try some film...


Do it! The world needs more film shooters to help save the medium.


Love this kind of articles, as someone who shoots film to this day and read Larry’s How To Shoot Cars on film post when I first started with film. I appreciate features like this as they have that special “gena se qua” that only film has. Thanks for sharing these Josh Mattox.


Thank you for the kind words! I have ready Larry's post at least 5 times. It inspires me to go shoot more every time.