No matter what happens as the race unfolds, Dad and his team of photographers seemed poised to capture the action. As I listen in on my headphones, it’s apparent that my father is the wild card on the team.
“People ask me where I’m going to shoot from, but I usually don’t decide until 15 minutes before the race,” he tells me. “I walk around and absorb everything, and then I just sense where the best spot may be. It’s not necessarily where the biggest wreck is going to happen but where the turning point of the race will happen. It could be in the pits or on the track. It could be in the turns.”
Chasing the Story
Even as Dad unpacks his camera and adjusts his lenses like he does almost every weekend of the year, nothing seems routine about his approach. He is chasing the story here just as aggressively as he chased news when I was growing up to the sounds of police scanners and his car speeding out of the driveway toward the next breaking event in Charlotte.
As he sees it, NASCAR and the news aren’t that different. “The news prepared me for NASCAR,” Dad says. “You have to be ready for anything, anytime.” Frenzied pace and ever-changing circumstances are things Dad has become accustomed to. But it’s the pushing-the-boundaries experiences that have the greatest payoff, and he has had rare opportunities to chronicle history unfolding. “When the Berlin wall came down, Billy Graham gave a speech in front of the Reichstag, which is where he held a rally while they were putting the Berlin wall up,” Dad tells me. “I had the opportunity to go to Berlin with him and cover the rally and cover the wall coming down. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
For most photographers, one Pulitzer prize is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My dad’s been on two teams that won Pulitzers for Public Service, a staff award that’s considered the highest Pulitzer honor. “One was in 1981 for a series we did on brown lung, which was a problem in the textile mills at the time,” he recalls. “And the other one was in 1988 for a series we did on PTL and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and their diverting of funds and contributions to other things. I even wrote a couple of the stories and did the primary photography for the series.”