Since I joined the Front Street team at the beginning of 2016, it’s been a year of firsts for me. I’ve covered my first diesel performance event, written my first article about a sport compact car show, and now the focus of today’s post – a trip to the middle of New Jersey, with a chance to immerse myself for an evening in the glorious spectacle that is dirt-track roundy-round racing at New Egypt Speedway.
When Kyle and I brainstorm event coverage ideas for Front Street, we try to dream up content which provides you with an opportunity to experience a wide range of motorsports and performance events from our perspective. It’s even better when those events are something neither one of us has had the chance to see before, because not only do we become exposed to something new, but we can share that with you in the process.
So when we were talking about it earlier this summer, the idea of covering a dirt-track event appealed to me greatly. I have friends in other parts of the country who go to the dirt track regularly, but as someone who grew up in the city, it wasn’t something I ever had the opportunity to be exposed to previously. But when I found out that New Egypt Speedway, a 7/16-mile dirt track, was just a hop, skip, and jump away from our home office here in the Philly ‘burbs, I reached out to the track staff to see if we could enter their world for the evening, which they graciously allowed.
Last Saturday I loaded up my camera gear and hit the road for New Egypt, which is about an hour from my house. I fully expected to get dirty, but I had no idea what was in store for me – where I’d be able to stand, whether I’d be able to get into the pits, or if I’d be able to capture the event in a way I’d be proud of sharing with our Front Street readers. As I’ve primarily been a drag racing shooter throughout my career, shooting vehicles that aren’t going in a straight line had me entering the premises with a bit of nervousness, which would later prove to be unfounded.
Upon arrival, the New Egypt staff handed me a media vest, told me where I could and couldn’t stand, and told me to have fun – it was that simple. So I wandered out to the track area, taking a moment to just observe the atmosphere. At first glance, it was quite similar to any of the drag events I’ve been to – trailers lined up in the pits, toolboxes and jackstands and people feverishly working to ready the cars for the qualifying sessions, called heats in circle-track-speak.
You want race fuel? You gotta pay the man. We are in Jersey, after all.
This was my indoctrination into the circle track world. I wandered up to the track’s entry road, where I met another photographer who was there shooting the first heat for the Crate Modified class. His only warning? “You’re gonna get dirty.” Boy was he right… as the first set of cars went past me, I got pelted with chunks of clay coming through the catch fence. Each car powered out of the turn and kicked up a massive shower of clay chunks from the racing surface. I bravely hung in there, but the look of shock on my face had him laughing for a while. I remember thinking clearly, “This is insane” and “How do guys shoot this every week?” before a blob of clay landed directly on the face of my camera lens and I had to back out to clean it off.
I found a bit of irony in the sign on the back of this car. One thing I noticed is that clean body panels are the exception rather than the norm, no matter which class the car was built for.
The mud rain continued with the NEWS Sprint class – with the little tires up front and monster meats in the rear, these little cars squirt around the track.
All business behind the wheel as he awaits his turn to get onto the track. Over the years I’ve been covering motorsports, one thing that sticks out to me is no matter the form of racing, the drivers all slip into this “zen” zone just before their chance to get onto the track. I wonder what was going through his mind at this point.
The track staff were all business – this corner worker was on the ball all night long to keep the racers in line when the caution flag came out.
Engine smoking like a pork butt on top of charcoal? No matter.. hammer down and fix it after the heat. I also caught this photo during my duck-and-run education.
The leaderboard makes it easy for the fans to see who’s in the front once the action gets hot and heavy in the 20-lap feature events.
As the green flag drops, the racers start jockeying for position. They are given a running start – a Pace Truck leads them around the track, then pulls off the backstretch just before the green flag drops. By the time the pack reaches the flagman, everyone is under full power and looking to make a pass.
Just inches separates the racers from one another most of the time – the racer who finds the clean line through the turns and is smooth with their driving motion can often find an advantage. Rich Mellor (far racer) is in the fourth points position in his NEWS Wingless Sprint car.
This was one of the most breathtaking and challenging parts of the evening. With my wide-angle camera lens, I was able to get right up on the inside rail of the racetrack. Although the photographers are forced to stand behind huge chunks of concrete for safety, it still feels like the cars are blasting right past your face on the way by. They’re about 6 feet, or maybe a little further away at this point on the track.
No matter which class was on the track, the racers battled furiously to maintain their position. The famous line from Days of Thunder came to mind.. rubbin’s racin’! It definitely is with this form of motorsports. Spinouts were common – some racers could probably pick up a second job teaching the local police how to perform the PIT maneuver.
More than one car exited the fourth turn with one wheel hanging in the air. I did notice that several racers seemed to have perfected the slide angles through the turns and were much quicker than the competition.
With all of the dust in the infield, the water truck was a welcome sight between heats.
These spectators crowded up to the fence to watch for a short period, but there are signs posted everywhere for the fans to be careful.
The top three or four racers from each heat pulled into the infield to cross the scales.
The Street Stock class was easily my favorite class of the evening. These cars are constructed from street cars combined with track-safe equipment. The class consisted of G-Bodies and Second-Gen Camaros outfitted with steel tube bumpers.
Nobody wants to end up this way. Joe Reid got out of shape in the Street Stock heat, then ended up hanging on the hook on his way out of the track.
The Vintage Modified class had only a few cars in it, but it was evident that they were a fan favorite. Where else are you going to see an AMC Pacer, VW Bug, and Anglia all in one place in competition against one another, on the same track, at the same time?
Action in the pits was hot and heavy between rounds; some racers were adjusting shocks and suspension parts, while other crew members were simply pondering potential changes to pick up performances. Measuring tire rollout was also at the top of the list for many.
Racing can be a community sport, or it can be solitary. Some of the racers were happy to interact with their friends and families during the downtime, while others were lost in thought.
This is one of the benches, about six rows back from the racing surface – the dirt really does get everywhere. Many of the fans were sitting up high in the stands as a result.
Summing up the event from a photographer’s perspective is simple – I need more practice, and I have to remember to take more than one memory card next time. This was an amazing experience, and I thank the fine folks at New Egypt Speedway for welcoming me into their world for the evening, along with the photographer who spent quite a bit of time showing me the ropes when I first got there. I didn’t catch his name, but his experience and guidance was invaluable. Dirt track racing is the real deal – now I see why there are so many short-tracks all over the country. Now, how do I get behind the wheel of one of these bad boys?