It’s nice to see you again Hockenheim. Small town with buildings that don’t go higher that an average tree. At first sight it seems that the tower that belongs to the fire station is the highest man-made structure in the region.
If you arrived to Hockenheim on an appropriate weekend you’ll hear some loud noises from the distance. They will come from the forest that is on the edge of the town. Those be racing car or bike noises that are amplified even greater by the huge structures of the Hockenheimring complex that puts the fire tower into a different, amateur, league.
Beneath the tower there’s a small parking area with an even smaller, but very important structure: it’s a metal container that you enter if you’re an accredited photographer or journalist in order to get a pass to what is usually a very exciting weekend.
It was my third time inside this container, in 2013 and 2015 I went to report on DTM and World Rally Cross, but this time it was completely different – European Top Fuel Dragracing Championship event NitrolympX.
I had very Napoleonic plans for this event – it should have been my highlight of the year, but this plan was partly sabotaged by the weather and greatly by German anal following of the rules and regulations; which can be good, but wasn’t.
First glimps of caution started to appear when I was told that I can have my photo vest for one hour. After that I need to come back to the media center that is next to the track and give the vest back, or if there is no queue, take it for another round. I understand that this is mostly done to protect fellow photographers, so if a dragster will start uncontrolably spinning and flying in a big ball of fire – not all will get killed.
It was Saturday, after two successful hours it started to rain and racing was paused. Forecast suggested that I can rest for at least 5 hours and go to nearby city, so I did. I would need to come back in the evening, since the Night Show should start. Lady that provides the vests said that she will be closed in the evening, but also mentioned that I won’t need a vest in order to see the show.
Only in the evening I understood what that girl meant: turns out that I’m not allowed to the track, but can watch from the “press tribune” which is the real elephant in the room, but we come to it later. Few officials said that “very few” permanent media people will be allowed to go to the track barriers in the evening. Well, seems like “very few” in Germany means around 30. In other words, almost everybody, every senior looking photographer that even didn’t have professional equipment, that by the looks of it was working for some local newspaper. Only possible advantage that I can think of is probably their bad hearing, since dragracing is loud – even a bit more than very loud. Even though earplugs were tickling my brain and most safisticated Bose headphones with active noise cancelling were on – all that failed to secure my ears from thousands and thousands of nitromethanol explosions happening inside the engines.
Press Tribune – place where you go when you were declined of a vest. It is situated just before the start, more exactly, just before the burnout zone. So, what do you think I can photograph from there? Mostly backs of the crews who are preparing the cars. Why the hell you put the tribune for photographers there, why can’t it be on the other side, closer to the finish? If it would be there, I wouldn’t even want to ask for a vest, it would be perfect to shoot from there. Tribunes do exist there, but media doesn’t have access to them, oh well.
Sunday was looking promising. Sky was blue, temperature below 20C. I was making good progress, snaping good picture after bad picture, after blury, after bad, good and so on picture. I needed to head back to the airport around 1PM, initial schedule was suggesting that Top Fuels will start racing at twelve. At 11:55 I was told that I can’t have the vest anymore since I was shooting for 3 hours already. Yes, sounds appropriate, but in my mind, the fact that I was almost leaving and others would have plenty of time to shoot after I’m gone looked stronger for me (or an idea that if there will be 1 pair of hands more than this “maximum”, no one will notice or care). I was wrong. So in short, sorry, no Top Fuels for you, go look them up on Google, probably some local with a pocket camera shot it just right.
After all of this I still claim that the event itself is great, it’s just not planned for motorsport photographers like me, who don’t follow the full season and just come to single gigs. NitrolympX itself is a celebration of pure and explosive engine power garnished with tire smoke and motorsport traditions.
Variety of classes and cars is mind-boggling. Yes, everybody expects american muscles, but a Citroen or a XKR Jag or 280SL? Small VW Bugs that do wheelies better than any BMX rider? A lot of people say that drifting or rally cross have a great variety of chassis, hah, look again!