If you follow my other social media accounts you probably know that I was just a few feet away from Mel Wade III, owner of Off Road Evolution and EVO Mfg, when he rolled his #4451 EVO1 Jeep JK during the qualify round at the 2015 Ultra4 King of the Hammers race in February. He miraculously landed on four tires and got the vehicle back under control to finish the run. I knew that I was close enough that I had to be in footage somewhere, and here it is. Watch closely at the end for the blonde in the hideous neon green vest! My husband decided that he needs to increase my life insurance after seeing this video.
There's a very good reason event organizers make media sign those liability forms! When a vehicle is moving that fast, one little misstep can cause it to fly through the air and you are not going to win that battle. Even photographing slow rock crawling can be dangerous, especially if you don't know what you're doing. It's important to understand where a vehicle might run into a problem and to know which direction a vehicle will roll/fall/flop/slide on a obstacle so you don't put yourself in harm's way, while still trying to get the best angle and light. I've been photographing off road long enough that I believe I have a very good understanding of what and where the problems can be, and how the vehicle will move if it finds trouble, but I still remember Kevin Sacalas of Big Ugly Racing doing cartwheels across the course in 2014 and how I had been shooting in that very location earlier in the day. This is also why I prefer to use my Canon 7D for shooting off road; the crop sensor allows me to keep a reasonably safe distance while using my Canon 70-200mm lens. A full frame sensor would require me to carry a much bigger and heavier lens, which would reduce my mobility.
Mel is a personal friend so my first thought as it happened was to pray that he would be okay. As I watched his vehicle fly up in the air and do a barrel roll, crashing into boulders as it bounced and rolled down the hill, my mind went back and forth between worrying about his safety, worrying about getting the shot, and worrying about when I needed to move to a safer spot. As you see in the video, the vehicle didn't just roll to the bottom and stay there, it kept moving. After seeing this video a couple people mentioned to me how casually I appear to stroll away. Make no mistake, I was watching every move that EVO1 made as it rolled down the hill, I could see the exact second that Mel had it back under control, and I could envision the arc the rig would take as he circled back around to complete his run.
There were a few gaps in my sequence because I had to remove the camera from my face to mentally calculate speed and distance of the vehicle, but I got some great shots. One of airborne shots is going to be used in the new EVO Manufacturing catalog.
Dave Cole yelled at me when I moved back to the same spot for the next vehicle, "You just almost got *#&*@ killed, why the *#&*@ would you go right back to the same spot?!!". I told him I figured what were the odds it would happen again? I guess I gave him a good scare, and he made all media move back another 20 feet for the rest of the Qualifying round.
When I caught up with EVO1 at the recent Tierra del Sol Desert Safari, I loved seeing the badass stitches holding it together!