Inspired by recent threads by KennyG I had an idea to post some general safety tips for the race track.
Over the years I have seen posts and had emails from guys about to shoot their first race asking about tips. Seldom do they concern safety. When going to cover a race, safety should be your number one priority. There is not much chance of you surviving a collision with a race car. Let's deal with this in two parts, in the turns and in the pits.
Part 1, THE TURNS
When in a turn, be aware of what is happening on the track. If the track is hot (meaning green light conditions) don't sit down. If your sitting and an incident happens, you won't get it with the camera. Also if something is coming your way and you are sitting, before you can make an evasive move you have to stand up. Now granted it doesn't take much time to stand up but, considering an average crash may last 3-5 seconds and by the time you are aware of it 1-2 seconds may have already passed. That extra second may make a difference in leaving in your car or an ambulance. I am always amazed by fans in the stands in the background who are looking the other way as a car is smashing against a wall right in front of them.
If your on the move while the track is hot always turn to watch as cars are passing by. Never turn your back on traffic.
Before shooting place yourself in a safe place. Stand somewhere that you have protection in case something comes at you and if it does, think about yourself, not getting the shot.
Plan your route of escape. If your against a wall or fence, don't run away from it when something comes at you. If a car or tire is coming at you and you run away from the fence/wall and the object comes over the wall you have nothing to hide behind. Personally I am not a big fan of dropping where you are either, I believe you should try to advance along the wall/fence in the direction the traffic is coming from, in otherwords, uptrack. If a car is coming right at you and you run uptrack and it hits where you were, chances are any debris that is thrown over the fence will be carried downtrack by the forward motion of the car, leaving you in a safer position. If you run downtrack along the wall/fence you will be right smack in the middle of any debris field that comes over the fence and will sustain injuries, possibly fatal ones.
Sometimes it happens so fast that by the time your aware that the car is coming right at you and is not going to stop all you can do is drop down behind your protection and hope that the impact will not come thru the protection.
Another factor is have liquids with you. Water, soda pop, fruit juice, anything that will keep you hydrated. Don't drink alcohol. Besides impairing your judgement it only further dehydrates you.
If it is an extrememly hot day, have a small cooler with ice and some water in it. Take a small towel, soak it in the water and drench yourself. You will be surprised how refreshing this is. A water bottle frozen the night before will thaw and provide ice cold water for quite a while.
These tips are for inside turns. If you are not very experienced in motorsports I would highly recommend that you stay away from getting on the outside of a turn. It is 100 times more dangerous than the inside.
If you are near a saftey vehicle, never ever walk in front of that vehicle when the track is hot. At Indy the safety trucks are often rolling out before the crash has even stopped. I have seen safety trucks pulling up on the scene as a car is still sliding to a stop. The IRL saftey crews are the best in the world, other safety crews study how the IRL does it. Don't be afraid to ask questions of track workers or safety people and even other more experienced photographers at that track.
Part 2, THE PITS
If you have never shot a race before I would recommend staying out of the pits. It is probably the most dangerous place at a race for a photographer. Now if you are in the pits, arrive early and scope out where you want to shoot. Talk with the crew chiefs and ask where you can shoot from. You don't want to get in their way. A pissed off crew chief can get you thrown out of the pits faster than you will know what is happening.
Crashes happen in the pits too and when they do parts fly, tires, eqiupment, fuel all can ruin your day pretty fast. Beware of what is happening on the otherside of the pitwall. If you see your car coming in for a stop, look to see who is coming behind him before you look thru the camera. Shoot the stop and occaisionly open your other eye to see whats going on outside your field of view in the camera.
If you hear the word FIRE, run, don't look back get out of there ASAP. The last thing safety workers/fireman and team members need is to have to go around you to put the fire out.
Always be looking, left, right, in front of you, behind you. Know what is happening.
Last but not least in pit action coverage, some tracks require it and some don't but, invest in a firesuit. It may save your life.
RFM or Kenny or Ian if you can think of anything I have left out, please add it.
**EDIT** Also See
Etiquette for the sidelines