Drag Racing Season Starts Today

by | Feb 9, 2017

The 2017 NHRA drag racing season starts today with The Circle K Winternationals in Pomona, California, sos it’s time to dust off your cameras and head to the track. Here’s a few things to keep in mind if you like cars and want to photograph drag racing:

There is an old racer’s expression that says: “There’s no substitute for cubic inches.” Translating that into advice for photographing drag racing turns it into “There’s no substitute for millimeters of focal length.” My guess is that some of your best action images will be captured with zoom lenses that have a 200-300mm maximum focal length and maybe sticking a 1.4 extender in your pocket is not a bad idea either.


The above image was photographed at Bandimere Speedway. Camera using a Canon EOS 50D and an Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD lens with an exposure of 1/60 sec at f/18 and ISO 200. (I could have used a faster shutter speed but wanted to capture the tire smoke.)

But there’s more to drag racing than just making photographs. Unlike other forms of motorsports, you can sometimes get close enough to the action to photograph it with a wide-angle lens. For images in the pits bring a wide-angle zoom; I use the EF 16 – 35mm f/2.8L II USM lens but you can use whatever works with your camera system. The key word when shooting in the pits is safety, so pay attention to what’s happening around you and listen!


Camera using a Canon EOS 50D and an Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD lens with an exposure of 1/400 sec at f/11 and ISO 200.

Photographing any sport requires at least a rudimentary knowledge of the rules so you’ll know what’s going on and in what sequence to be able to capture the peak of action. You can photograph drag racing without knowing the difference between a “Christmas tree” and a Chanukah bush but you’ll get better pictures if you do a little research or ask a friend about the sport before trying to make any images. Visit the National Hot Rod Association’s website for information about the sport and read their publication National Dragster.

The essence of drag racing is head to head competition between two cars going full tilt down a quarter-mile of straight smooth track. That object on the pole in front of the cars is called a “Christmas tree” whose colored lights count down to begin a race. For action shots at the Christmas tree, I usually shoot a short burst of images using the camera’s continuous mode. Exposure is critical because there’s no time for bracketing so right before a race I to shoot a test shot and make exposure adjustments all day long by looking at the histogram.