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Photographer’s Diary – Daytona 1987

This article is the first of what I intend to be a continuing series of stories about how specific photos were made. Since the Rolex 24 at Daytona is coming up shortly, I thought that a couple of interesting photos from that event in the past might be of some interest.

The photos displayed here were taken at the 1987 24 Hours of Daytona, which at the time was called the SunBank 24, after the bank of the same name. Clever sponsorship at the time, since it was the very early days of bank ATMs and SunBank thought it appropriate to sponsor a 24 hour race since you could use their ATMs 24 hours a day. Funny how we now take such things for granted. Back in 1987 it was a new thing.

At the time, I was working for the Porsche Fabcar Camel Lights team, performing various duties, but working as a photographer as well, documenting the team’s activities, as time would allow.

Porsche Fabcar on the banking at Daytona in 1987.  [Photo by Jack Webster]

Porsche Fabcar on the banking at Daytona in 1987. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Before going to Daytona, I had come up with the idea of mounting a camera in the car during practice to try and get some shots of the car up on the banking from the driver’s perspective. Now, this was back in the day before in car cameras, GoPro video cameras and the like and I had to come up with a way to both mount the camera and fire it while the car was on the track.  At the time, I was also working for Ricoh Cameras as a sales representative, so I had access to the right camera for the job – the just released Ricoh XRP with a motor drive and most importantly, a built in interval timer which would let me program the camera to take the photos automatically.

For the interior photo, I used a Bogen camera mount, which was clamped to the top roll cage as close to the rear bulkhead of the car as possible. I mounted a 16mm full frame fisheye lens on the camera, set the exposure manually for a balance of the lighting both inside and outside of the car and then set the interval timer to shoot a photo every 15 seconds. Again, this was back in the day prior to digital imaging, and I was limited to the amount of film in the camera, 36 exposures.

Once back from the race, I had the film processed by Kodak and found that I had the image displayed here, with the car on the banking, the Daytona sign visible on the wall and the Fabcar with John Higgins driving, nicely framed with a Group 44 Jaguar and Ford Alba in front of it. You can see the driver’s hands clearly on the wheel, with the wheel slightly turned as the car settles down on the banking. Of note is the bright yellow light on the dash, labeled “low fuel”. Whenever the car got up onto the banking, this light would constantly stay on, regardless of how much fuel was in the car, due to the centrifugal force moving the fuel to one side of the bladder. The light became such a distraction to the drivers, especially at night, that we ended up taping it over so as to not disturb them. Such was the extent of high tech remedies in those days.

The night shot from the rear wing of the car was another story. There was no way to mount the Bogen camera mount on the rear wing of the car, since there was nothing to attach it to, so I went to the IMSA officials and told them what I planned to do, and with their permission, mounted the same Ricoh XRP camera with motor drive on the rear wing with what seemed like two rolls of racer’s tape. Since we were going to take these photos during night practice and not the race, we were given permission to mount the camera once we proved to them that there was no way it was going to come loose on the track. Again, back in the 1980’s it was easier to get permission to do stuff like this.

Again I set the interval timer to shoot a photo every 15 seconds, but this time I let the camera select the shutter speed automatically, while I selected the aperture to get the maximum depth of field so that the entire car would be in focus in the final shot. Again, the camera was loaded with a 36-exposure roll of film and I started the interval timer as soon as the car fired and was ready to leave the pits.

After the session, the car came back into the pits and I saw to my relief that the camera and lens were still attached. I noted that the camera had indeed fired the entire roll of 36 shots and we took the car back to the garage where I removed the set up. It was at this point that I noticed a stone chip in the front element of the lens, which in effect had ruined it. Being a 16mm lens, there was no way to put a protective filter over the lens, so this new Ricoh $600 lens just took a ride around Daytona, exposed to the elements, dirt, pebbles or whatever else got in the airflow around the rear wing.

Needless to say, when I saw the final images once they were processed after the race I was quite pleased with the results. I hope you enjoy the image presented here.

The slow shutter speed, dictated by the overall low amount of light, makes for an interesting effect, with the light trails reflecting everywhere as though the car is traveling through a light tunnel.

The damaged lens was returned to Ricoh, and they were never told about how it received the stone chip in the front element. They never said a word about it.

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Jack Webster has been shooting motorsports since the early 1970’s, covering Formula One, CanAm, F5000, TransAm, GrandAm and American Le Mans races, among others. In addition to his photography, he has also worked on racing teams, both in IMSA and IndyCar, so has a complete knowledge of the inner workings of motorsport. Both his photography and writing can be seen here on racingnation.com