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The Big Question! by Gil Rebilas


As I do my job taking pictures on the starting line at a drag race, it’s inevitable that I’m going to hear a question. How can I get to take pictures out there where you are? Boy, I’d like to just tell them to go and ask at the track office or tell them to apply for credentials like everybody else or maybe here’s my card, give me a call sometime!

Well, I’ve never told people that! What I usually tell them is to shoot from the grandstands. Once in a while, you may get some spectacular shot! When you get that shot, which may be a funny car on fire, some car that has lost control and crashes.

I was supposed to have credentials for the Arizona Nationals. When I went to the credentials trailer, they couldn’t find mine! So, I wasn’t going home with my tail between my legs! I did have a ticket for the weekend, so I went up to shoot from the grandstands. If you look at the gentleman in the orange vest all the way to the left, that’s Hall of Fame Pitcher, Randy Johnson!

Yes as some of you know, he has been taking advantage of his passion of being a photographer. He’s committing a cardinal sin! He didn’t follow through after taking a picture of the car coming right at him, he’s looking the other direction. If he had followed through and kept pressure on the shutter release, the shock wave of the engine exploding would have caused him to react, tripping the shutter without even thinking about it!

Here’s a shot that would be very difficult to get trackside! It’s a great shot! Dale Pulde (near lane) and he’s racing side by side with Kenny Bernstein. What makes this image so unique is that they’re both beer sponsored cars. It’s part of the “Beer Wars”!

Later on in time, Kenny Bernstein in a Top Fuel car raced against Larry Dixon in his Miller Genuine Draft sponsored car. This extended the “Beer Wars”!

Here’s one of those spectacular shots that I was talking about earlier. Larry Dixon had this blower explosion! There wasn’t any fire but as you can see, the injector hat is in the air between the engine and the rear wing! The whole blower casing has exploded apart with the innards, or the rotors along with the blower pulley, going forward and about to hit the back of the roll cage where Larry is sitting!


Shooting from the grandstands is not a place to shoot because you can’t get out on the starting line! It’s just another angle! It’s just another angle that gives you the opportunity to get the cars at speed. I was told by a family friend who was a photographer for the State Police in New Jersey, if I could capture a picture of a car going over 200mph where you can see the points on the lug nut on the rear wheels, that I would go far in the sport of Drag Racing! Boy was he right! I’ve had so many comments over the years about how sharp and clear my pictures were…. There was one time when Ed McCollough, when he was driving the Miller Top Fuel Dragster, that he would explode his blower at about the 1,000 foot mark on every run. It started at Firebird International Raceway during a five day test session. Then, when it came to the Winternationals, Ed had the same problem! On his first qualifying attempt he blew another blower. I went back to talk to him in his trailer after losing another Blower. This had to be getting very expensive! I asked Ed if he wanted me to get in the grandstands and get a picture of the car at the 1,000 foot mark!

He said he didn’t need to see a picture of the thing blowing up! I asked about moving back toward the 800 foot mark! He said okay, try that! I got up into the grandstands at the 800 foot mark and captured a shot of the engine just before it blew again! I left the track and went to a near by 1 hour photo lab. I took the picture to Ed and he saw the problem! There was a fog of fuel coming from one of the lines going into the injector hat. All the while he couldn’t see that there was a crack in the tightening nut that holds the injector in position! The only way he saw it was when it was thundering down the track when the fuel pressure made that crack expand, causing fuel to leak out, which in turn leaned out the fuel mixture that was lost and KaBOOM!

Sure, Funny Car fires look pretty impressive when shot head on, but this fire that Terry Haddock had at the 2010 Winternationals, was so bright that it was a really cool shot.

20100211-image010In this 3 shot sequence, Tony Schumacher has a blower explosion! My camera shoots at a rate of 6 frames per second! A blower explosion like this happens so fast that it can happen in between shots and wouldn’t show that it even happened except for the sparks in shot 3 and the whole blower with the injector hat being slammed forward against the driver’s back!






Words and photos submitted by renouned motorsports photographer Gil Rebilas.  Click here to contact Gil.


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