Noticeable void without fans for longtime NASCAR photographer

Noticeable void with no fans for longtime NASCAR photographer

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - John Harrelson makes a living trying to get the perfect picture.

Harrelson, owner of Harrelson Photography, has been working NASCAR races for 36 years. He’s a staple of the infield and photo room at Richmond Raceway, but admits that in 2020, venues without fans can take away from some of his photos, as well as the atmosphere around him.

Coronavirus has changed the landscape, at least temporarily, for the longtime photographer, from the number of people giving him a hand to his schedule.

“Normally out here I would have a staff of about eight photographers and two editors to get everything done,” noted Harrelson. “We would’ve started this morning about 7:00.”

But this day found Harrelson parking his car and unpacking a little after 4:00 PM, just four hours before the green flag dropped on the Truck Series race. That usual ensemble of staff is currently more like a one-man band.

“It’s kind of flipped back to how it was when I started in [1984] with just me covering the event by myself,” he said, though he did have another photographer with him to take pictures from outside the track.

No fans in the seats means not as many things to capture for photographers like John. Without the activities, fan events and fanfare, he sees less action.

“The driver interactions with [fans] for the photos, to the stuff you can get of the fans with the colorful outfits on and stuff like that, and all of their emotion at the start of the race and the end of the race, capturing all of that.”

NASCAR is a sport where you never know what you might see in the stands, but 2020 has become a little bit more predictable from that aspect through John’s lens.

“Your backgrounds are all silver grandstands or barricades and stuff like that, where before you have the color of the fans and the emotion of the fans in the backgrounds of the photos and all,” Harrelson pointed out. “You’re missing a lot of that.”

Where he might notice it the most is the end of the race, where the usual roar of the crowd is replaced with an eerie silence.

“At the end of the race when the driver climbs out of the car at the start and finish line and they shut the motors off and it’s just quiet.”

Sports are made by the athletes and competitors, but they’re made whole by those who cheer them on. Drivers, teams, and those who work around them, like John, certainly notice when the fans are gone, but they can’t wait to welcome them inside the gates again.

“It’d be nice to have them back,” the photographer said. “It adds to the whole show.”

A typical year finds Harrelson working about 28-30 races. He said that last weekend at Darlington, he took about 2,000 photographs of the Cup race alone.

A double-header of racing hits the Action Track on Saturday, with the second Xfinity race of the weekend starting at 2:30 and green flag dropping for the Cup event at 7:30.

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