My father may be a pro at this, but I obviously am not. I fumble when asked for my pit pass, can’t find the bathrooms in the media center, and get queasy when I get up on the roof of the grandstands with him. But I quickly learn that if I get a suspicious look, mumbling something about being Mark Sluder’s daughter usually gets me where I need to go.
As the senior photographer for NASCAR Illustrated and NASCAR Scene magazines, my dad practically lives on the racing circuit. He has covered NASCAR for more than 25 years, starting out at The Charlotte Observer as a general assignment photographer. With his work featured in national magazines and best-selling books, he’s won numerous awards for photojournalism and been on two Pulitzer Prize-winning news teams. But as we stand on top of the Atlanta Motor Speedway grandstand, it’s clear that it’s the experiences, not the accolades, that make my dad tick.
The Allure of Racing
In what promises to be the quietest moment of the day, race fans clutch their Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., hats to their chests as they stand for the National Anthem. Soon the track will swell with the roar of car engines and cheers from some of the most passionate fans in sports. This passion is in part what attracted my father to NASCAR.
“There’s a lot of pain associated with it, but there’s also a lot of joy too,” he explains. “It’s very emotional; it’s very visual; it’s very exciting. You never know what’s going to happen.”
The thin line between life and death makes NASCAR larger than life. For my dad and others who have followed racing closely, the sport’s dramatic storylines have been all too real. “Very seldom does a basketball player go out on the court and wonder if he’s going to come back alive. Motorsports racers face that every time they go out on a track. So it’s a little bit more than a sport. There’s always that possibility of disaster.”