Amongst my many “first loves” such as Blues, Motorsport and of course, Mrs. GForce, would be photography. I learned some of the very basic basics back in the late 1970’s from a professional shooter and learned of the three “C’s”: Color, Composition and Clarity. These three things have guided me to the point that I no longer suck as a photog; I just merely stink! Which leads me the point where I would like to mention the social medium platform Twitter (@gforcepaul for those of you playing along at home). It is on there that I began to follow a true professional photographer of motorsport. We chatted a bit back and forth on Twitter but Jay Alley and I never really had a schedule that would allow us to actually meet in person. I was guided however, to the website http://www.alleygroup.net. This is where Jay and his AlleyGroup Associates toil at what quite obviously to me is a true labor of love. For instance, a fun fact I learned is that Jay is also associated with ARCA racing ( http://www.arcaracing.com ) as chief photographer for the series. So, except for the header shot above that I took at Chicago Land Speedway a good 9 or so years ago, all photos appearing here are the credit of Jay Alley. In fact, the bulk of this installment of “The Rat Race Behind the Race” has been produced by Jay so I certainly want to thank him for that! Meanwhile, let’s get this party started, shall we Mr. Alley?
13 Questions with Jay Alley; and responses in italics
1. Whom all do you professionally shoot for?
I have been the chief photographer for the ARCA Racing Series the last three seasons. I have also shot for Associated Press at race events at Talladega, Daytona and Atlanta. During May, I shoot for motorsport.com at Indianapolis for the Grand Prix and the 500. In 2017 I will also be shooting for motorsport.com at the Rolex 24 Hours and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
2. How old were you when you first got the photography bug?
I didn’t really get serious about photography until I had graduated from the University of Chicago so I was about 24 when I realized I had to get closer to the action at the Indy 500 and began to pursue the dream of being a professional photographer.
3. What was your first camera; tell us about it.
I have a photo my parents took of me holding a Brownie camera when I was about 3 years old, so my interest started very early. My first really good 35 mm camera was a Canon A1 35 film camera which I bought new in 1983 at HPS Hoosier Photo in downtown Indy along with a used motor drive. It shot 5 frames per second and my son has that camera now.
4. Speak to your hobby as a high school sports referee. How is that parent monitoring thing going for you? Is it really like herding cats?
When I decided to change careers in 2009 and go back to school so I could get a teaching license, I knew there would be lean times so I got my basketball and soccer referee licenses to generate other income to help make ends meet. I have chosen to stick with mostly club and church leagues so the parents haven’t been too bad – except in soccer where I have had to tell a few to get out of my ear or get their own license and get on the pitch themselves. My first love is basketball so that’s what I concentrate on now and I gave up soccer last year as my racing schedule in spring and fall took most of my weekend time.
5. What is your actual day job?
As I said, I made a career change in 2009 to become a teacher. My teaching license has two endorsements, one in Social Studies and the other in Mathematics. I have been teaching Algebra and Economics in an adult high school called the Excel Center for the last two school years. I have basically been a full time teacher since 2010, first as a substitute when I was pursuing my initial license in May 2012. The Excel Centers are part of Goodwill Industries Educational Initiative and we are helping people by providing a second chance for their Indiana high school diploma.
6. Describe the competition between photogs to get that all important money shot.
I would call it a friendly competition as I think everyone understands we all have a job to do and our editors expect certain pictures to be delivered. Sometimes the competition does come out when trying to secure a preferred location to shoot so an “exclusive” angle can be obtained, but even then I have rarely had anyone deny me a rotation in a shooting spot. If I don’t get there first, then I have to just be more creative to get the shots I need. Then there’s the competition to be first during and after events, so the editing room can be kind of crazy when everyone is processing images to get them out to editors as fast as possible. First seems to be best nowadays.
7. Except for Marshall Pruett, what makes racing photogs so skinny? What track requires the most walking in a day?
Marshall is truly living the dream as a staffer for RACER Magazine so don’t go picking on him! I have never been fortunate enough to have a scooter or golf cart at a race track, so I always have to hoof it wherever I need to go. My all-time high for steps on a race day was over 23,000 at an ARCA race last summer. Combine the walking with the summer heat and lack of decent track food, those could contribute to an enforced diet of sorts. Road courses like Mid Ohio require a lot of walking and this year ARCA goes back to Road America so I know I will get a ton of steps there. The intermediate tracks (1.5 miles) like Chicagoland usually involve the most walking as there’s no direct way to get from one place inside the track to the outside, and I might walk the entire outside fence to find a spot where the angle of the sun and cars is just right. Good shoes are essential!
8. When is “crew call” on a typical race day?
For our ARCA officials meetings, we usually have to be at the track by 7:00 in the morning, even for a night race, so it is not unusual to be at the track until 1:00 the next morning after editing and filing has finally done, so 18 hour workdays are typical. At someplace like Indianapolis, I usually go in before the public gates open which means I am up by 4:00 a.m. and in the media center by 5:30 or so.
9. Have you ever been stuck in traffic on race morning?
That is my worst nightmare and I do actually have nightmares about missing the start of a race because I can’t get into the track or am stuck in traffic en route. Thankfully that has never actually happened but Indianapolis used to be the worst race morning to contend with as the credential gate on Georgetown Road would get jammed up with people without credentials who thought they could get in early. One year, several of us photographers had to get out of our stopped cars and beg State Troopers to get us moving before the public gates opened and we barely made it. No matter what track is involved, I always allow extra time to get inside and get parked; until then I am anxious as hell and that has paid off more than once.
10. Describe the daily photog meetings, are they required
I wish I had a dollar for all the photo meetings I’ve attended! Most tracks now require photographers to go through a safety briefing to get a photo vest that identifies us as media members, so usually someone from the sanctioning body (NASCAR, Indycar, etc.,) will run the meetings along with someone from the track staff. Safety requirements change sometimes, so we hear about areas that are acceptable for shooting and those which are off limits. There’s also the threat of credential revocation if you don’t follow the track or series photo rules, so even though I’ve probably heard the spiel a thousand times, the meetings are still important for the smooth and safe operation of a race event. We are quite often in dangerous trackside or pit positions so safety briefings like these meetings are absolutely necessary. I also appreciate the chance to meet series or track officials in person and put names with faces.
11. What music is on your playing device?
I love guitar oriented music so I have a lot of old school blues and rock on my iPod. Artists like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Deep Purple, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Bonnamassa, or Eric Gales feature prominently. However, I also like a lot of more recent music by bands like Evanescence, Skillet, Breaking Benjamin and Avenged Sevenfold. Hard and loud with some melody usually works for me. I will also admit to enjoying “The Voice” competition the last couple of years but I can’t stand country!
12. I was surprised to learn that your mother is a Sagamore of the Wabash recipient. When did she receive it and what were the circumstances behind her being selected.
Thank you so much for asking about her. My Mom, Reene Alley, God rest her soul, was honored with her Sagamore of the Wabash in June 1989 by Governor Evan Bayh. People outside of Indiana may not know that the Sagamore is the highest civilian honor that Indiana’s Governor can bestow so it was a big deal for our family, which has been in Indiana since the 1820’s, for Mom to receive that award. Mom was recognized as a trailblazer and significant contributor in education in Indiana as one of the first women to teach chemistry, physics and higher level mathematics in Indiana. She also held administrative positions such as principal at a time when very few women were being hired for those. She went back to school at Purdue in her 30’s to get her Masters in Mathematics and to Indiana University in her 40’s to get her Doctorate of Education in School Administration, so when I decided to go back to school at age 52, she had already blazed a path for me to follow. She finished her career as a professor at Akron University and Youngstown State University teaching doctoral students who wanted to be principals. Mom was also a huge race fan and loved going in to the 500 with us before the crack of dawn to experience the whole atmosphere. She passed away July 5, 2015 and I miss being able to call her when I am on the road.
13. What compelled you to shoot motorsport as opposed to say, shooting school kids pictures?
Anyone who is involved in racing would I’m sure tell you it gets in your blood. I always tell people I came by it naturally as I was born the day after Sam Hanks won the Indy 500 in 1957. My Mom’s dad, my Grandpa Jay (after whom I was named), barnstormed with Eddie Rickenbacker in the 1920’s so he loved racing and helped get a quarter-mile dirt track at the Kosciousko County Fairgrounds in Warsaw, Indiana built after World War II. He used to take me in the pits when I was no more than 4 years old and I have vivid memories of hanging on the board fence watching sprint cars or late models race there, and the sights, sounds and smells are what got me hooked. When my Dad took me to my first Indy 500 in 1970 for my 13th birthday, there was no turning back. Now, I still get a thrill from the physical aspects of racing that you can feel and experience through all of my senses. If my memory is bad sometimes, I tell people I have spent too much time in the sun breathing exhaust fumes at racetracks. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.
So there, in a nutshell is another individual, working away to bring you motorsports as an art form. I actually do enjoy shooting but I seldom get action shots. I look more for the artsy fartzy approach to my shots and as a result I stage the shot and do not go after pans and stop action stuff. That remains way to complicated for my tired old brain! Funny in that Jay and I finally met many months after we started to engage on Twitter. It was in the garage area as I was escorting my fresh, out of school IT Intern, Mr. Brett Wehmiller. Jay was very approachable and once he mentioned blues music it was on like donkey kong! Nice guy to say the least so next time you are roaming around the circuit De Le Mans pour La 24 heures du Mans, look Jay up. He got the gem of all gem assignments and will be there this June. I remain a jealous man!
As always, thanks for stopping by and we will talk to you next time!