But his former rival Kimi Räikkönen has taken things a step further, starting a couple of races in NASCAR’s junior categories.
Jamey Price was at Charlotte Superspeedway last month to watch Räikkönen’s first race in a NASCAR Truck.
I have long been a Kimi Räikkönen fan. It’s no secret that the Iceman is notoriously self absorbed, quiet and rarely cracks a smile in anyone’s direction.
Much to my surprise, that Kimi Raikkonen that we all know from his Formula One years seems to have been pushed aside and in his place seems a genuinely humble, smiling and even an engaging character.
I was contracted to cover Räikkönen’s first attempt at NASCAR Truck racing at Charlotte Motorspeedway on May 20th as a photographer.
It was a first for me as well in that despite being born and raised in Charlotte North Carolina, I had never covered a NASCAR race at any level. I’ve been to a few, but never been paid to cover one with credentials.
My job was to cover Räikkönen’s every waking move from morning until night which made my job easier in that my eyes needed to be focused on only one man instead of covering the race as a whole.
After setting up in the media room and getting all the camera gear dialled-in and lenses all cleaned up, I walked toward the garage area where his crew were feverishly cleaning his car before the first practice session.
Räikkönen arrived in the garage after attending the rookie driver meeting and set about preparing himself to get in the car. They cranked up the engine and off he went to run his first laps of practice. It was immediately clear that he was off the pace and reports from the garage were that the car was ‘loose’ – oversteering.
I was standing on pit road shooting looking toward the start/finish line and lap after lap I noticed that cars he had been running with the previous time around were pulling away from him.
He came back to the garage spoke with the crew chief and made some changes to the car and went back out. You could tell he was frustrated with how the car was handling. He finished the first session 30th of 38 drivers with a time of 31.265s.
Second practice was not much better for the world champion. I had relocated to shoot from the outside wall at the exit of turn four where the cars come straight at you at around 300kph (almost 190mph).
Having never photographed NASCAR before, I can tell you it was quite exhilarating sitting inches away from the wall as the trucks roared past. I made some nice images of Kimi pushing the car around the turn and onto the front straight but there was little he could do to make an impression in the time sheets. He finished 30th again with a best time of 31.471s.
As the drivers readied for qualifying later in the day, I took advantage of the Sprint Cup practice to find some new vantage points to shoot Räikkönen’s qualifying run. I liked the angle from the bottom of turn four shooting up the track.
Not having a radio scanner or any way of knowing where Räikkönen would be in the randomly drawn qualifying order, I was more or less forced to shoot every truck as they qualified waiting to see the black and orange #15 Perky Jerky car that Räikkönen was driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
When he finally appeared, I snapped as many as I could and tried to capture as many different angles and styles as one can shoot with two laps and one lens. Räikkönen’s magic number for the day seemed to be 30th, since again he landed towards the back of the field posting the slowest lap time of his day.
I took advantage of the down-time between qualifying and the race to send some of the images off while waiting for the pre-race activities to begin. Raikkonen and the other truck drivers were introduced in front of the crowd about an hour before the race began
While wandering around looking for interesting things to shoot, I happened to glance up and see Räikkönen having a light hearted pre-race chat with former Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jnr.
The two seemed to be engaged and genuinely happy to see each other. Who knows what they were talking about but it was a short-lived conversation because it was time to introduce the world champion to the crowd.
Raikkonen’s name was called and he walked onto the stage with shades and Red Bull cap on his head, gave a quick wave and walked back toward the car which was sitting on pit road with his crew.
“Who’s that?” “Some Formula 1 champion…”
I am quite certain that NASCAR Truck racing has never had so much media attention. I remember very distinctly standing in the scrum with all the other media trying to get some interesting photos of Räikkönen before the race when I heard another truck driver walk by with a woman beside him.
She asked “what the heck is going on here?” The driver replied “It’s some Formula 1 world champion who’s trying NASCAR out for fun.”
I’m sure Räikkönen is used to the media, but many of the truck drivers live in relative obscurity and apart from their small contingent of fans, would never have a gaggle of photographers, TV crews and journalists all pushing and shoving to capture them before a race. This was a new experience for all involved.
Since I had a spot picked out on the start finish stretch about 300 yards down from the finish line, I had to leave the pit activities early and head toward my spot before they closed the track down and made it harder to get around.
Shooting wide open at f2.8 on a 300mm lens on a Nikon D3s, I shot the start of the race. Räikkönen got shuffled to the back early on. He was clearly uncomfortable with running in such a tight pack but as anyone who saw the race can attest, he quickly picked up his game.
I think I can speak for Räikkönen when I say we will both remember the race not for the racing itself, but for the number of cautions. It was absurd. There seemed to be a new incident every five minutes. It made for very frustrating work and very dull racing.
After shooting the first 50 laps, I walked back toward the pit lane to try and get one of the pit stops. After missing his first stop due to a miscommunication, I wasn’t sure how many chances I would get but I did manage to get one of his stops.
The rest of the race, I photographed his push through the field from the pit wall near his crew. He had definitely picked up the groove and was able to push a bit harder and actually look a bit like a racing driver again. I saw him pull some daring manoeuvres and was genuinely pleased that he finished the race a solid 15th.
Though his practice pace had been slow, he had been able to make the most of his racing ability and had certainly made an impression on the NASCAR community. It appears he will be running in the NASCAR Nationwide race this coming Friday and recently tested a Sprint Cup car in Virginia. Perhaps Räikkönen really is thinking of a permanent move to stock car racing. In any event, I was pleased his race ended well and that he appeared to enjoy the experience. I know I did.
Thanks to Sutton Images, Charlotte Motorspeedway and the photographers on site who made it a very enjoyable day in welcoming myself and Räikkönen to the NASCAR community with open arms.
This is a guest article by Jamey Price. Jamey is a sports photojournalist whose work has been published in a range of sporting publications worldwide. More of his photos can be found at www.jameypricephoto.com.
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Images © Jamey Price