I’ll tell you what, I fell off the blogging wagon.
Sure, I have excuses. Good ones. But what do you care?
So, let’s focus on my most recent of Weird Sports®: The 28th Annual National Championship Chuckwagon Races in Clinton, Arkansas.
As Cookie might say, “Come and get it!”
I learned about chuckwagon racing from beloved friend Julia Robinson, who shot a smaller, regional event in her native Texas the year before.
Everyone told her she needed to visit the granddaddy of them all in Arkansas, where tens of thousands of fans are in attendance and events span over Labor Day Weekend. Thankfully, we were able to road trip together from Texas in epic Grapes of Wrath fashion. (Thank goodness for that spare tire.)
The venue itself was awesome for photography. The Bar Of Ranch features a spectacular viewpoint atop a ridge. Can’t tell you how many races/sports I’ve been to where it’s nearly impossible for the majority of fans to see the action on a course so grand. And organizers were super hospitable and kind.
The timing of the races, though, was miserable: 1-3:30p Friday-Sunday. Jiggahwhat?
Ok, the light itself was horrible. But the triple-digit heat was insufferable. Even many of the racers didn’t understand why the heats were held during the heat of the day, as did a couple of the out of town photographers.
There are rules for competing, but I wouldn’t worry about it. Needless to say, the fastest team wins.
The amazing light was
wasted available as fans and wagoneers lounged around the ranch campsite, doing errands and chillaxing after a brutally hot day. As Jules and I wandered around, we realized we were pretty much the only ones moving around by foot, rather than by horse or monster truck.
After splurging on a hotel room with AC Friday night, we camped out Saturday at the ranch parking lot. We wanted to bare witness to some of the nightlife. For the kids, there was a rodeo. For the adults, there was a barn dance (minus the barn).
Like in high school, folks were tentative out of the gate. But after an hour or so, wallflowers – steeled by cheap beer – took to the dance, um, floor. I knew it was a party when I heard a couple Skynyrd cover songs.
Gimme three steps mister, and you’ll never see me no more. (For sure.)
Not sure if it was the heat or simply my lack of practice taking photos lately, but I was feeling a bit hesitant those first couple days. Maybe I needed a horse to ride on. Or boots instead of Tevas. I’ll tell you what, an assistant with a HUGE umbrella for shade would have been nice.
The third and final race day started with overcast skies and a mild break from the brutal sun. I wandered along the staging area, where fans and racers in wagons were holding court. Felt a bit more in my wheelhouse shooting behind-the-scene moments.
I might have been better served with a longer lens for some of these events. The challenge for me, though, is that I want to make photos I haven’t necessarily seen before. And not that I know how to make those happy accidents. (They’re called accidents for a reason.) If I’m using a 400mm lens, my photos will look less like mine and more of what I’d expect from a sports mag.
I always feel better making images with a wider lens. Doing that without getting trampled was an interesting challenge.
I so LOVE shooting Weird Sports® with friends. To turn around and see Julia smiling, having fun taking photos in rural Arkansas was a gift. And a reminder that what we do is fucking awesome and fun, despite the elements. (Did I mention it was African hot?? Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.)
I’ll tell you what, being alone on the road with so much visual gold is a lonely experience. Being with friends, it’s a celebration. I guarantee.