I spent this past Saturday on one of the most exciting and personally fulfilling assignments I have ever done. I spent the 14 hour Saturday documenting friend, and Late-Model race car driver, Mark Penticuff, as he raced his car at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri. This was a first to me as I had never been to a dirt track nor had I covered any motorsports since the NHRA races last year in St. Louis.
While I have known Mark for several years, I became interested in photographing him earlier this year when he mentioned that he is a race car driver and uses his racing as a way to minister to people. A few weeks ago, I asked him if I could tag along to one of his up coming races. Mark agreed and I began planning how I was going to tell his story visually.
“Chaplain” is seen written on the rear spoiler of Mark Penticuff’s Late-Model Camaro car while in pit row at Lucas Oil Speedway on August 3, 2013 in Wheatland, Missouri. Penticuff is one of several racers who participate in the National Fellowship of Raceway Ministries as a chaplain for Southwest Missouri.
I met up with Mark in the early afternoon and we headed up to the track. When we got there, he showed me around and gave me the lay of the land. He then went to prep his car for the night’s races. As other racers began showing up for the night’s events, I began to notice something profound about Mark’s operation. His rig was a modest one, run mostly off of donations from churches and other local support. He didn’t have the flashy car, camper-trailer combos, or the the hydraulic lifted bays that some of the other drivers had. But one thing I noticed was Mark was happy and thankful for what he did have, and explained to me that having the biggest and best and winning wasn’t the point of all of this. He wanted to show people that he is different than most. He wanted to be the guy that other drivers could come and talk to if they didn’t feel comfortable talking with the “paid religious folks” at the track. Win or lose, he would be content.
Mark Pentficuff works on his Late-Model Camaro in the pit area prior to NWTF race night at Lucas Oil Speedway on August 3, 2013 in Wheatland, Missouri.
Mark Penticuff’s gear sits in the back of his pickup truck in the pits at Lucas Oil Speedway on August 3, 2013 in Wheatland, Missouri. Penticuff is his own driver, mechanic and pit crew during races and has runs his ministry off of donations from churches and other sponsors for the past five years in order to put a car on the track.
Mark Penticuff sits in his Late-Model Camaro prior to NWTF race night at Lucas Oil Speedway on August 3, 2013 in Wheatland, Missouri.
The “Racer’s Prayer” is seen in the cockpit of Mark Penticuff’s Late-Model Camaro during NWTF race night at Lucas Oil Speedway on August 3, 2013 in Wheatland, Missouri. Penticuff serves as a chaplain for the National Fellowship of Raceway Ministries in Southwest Missouri.
As Mark finished up preparing his car, I went out and began photographing other races in order to get a good idea of how this track operated and figure out what kind of shots I could possibly get at Lucas Oil Speedway. Mark was scheduled for a total of four races on the night and he took the track shortly after I entered the infield.
Mark Penticuff races his Late-Model Camaro around the track during NWTF race night at Lucas Oil Speedway on August 3, 2013 in Wheatland, Missouri.
After a few hot laps, Mark raced in his first featured race of the evening. He placed 17th in a make up race from two weeks ago that was rained out. His race ended and he went back to the pits to make some adjustments for the later races. Meanwhile, I stayed out on the track to photograph other cars that were making their heat races for the evening. The track staff was very generous and gave me the run of the place in order to make some pretty neat photos from the night’s festivities. At Lucas Oil Speedway the staff really only has one rule. “Never turn your back to a car”. Other than that, everything was fair game. Since this track has no infield guard rail, I was allowed to stand as close as 20 or 30 feet from the track edge to get images down the stretch as cars made their way through turn two. I was quickly reminded how loud and fast some of these cars are as they rushed by me at nearly 110 mph.
Cars drive on the track at Lucas Oil Speedway during NWTF night on August 3, 2013 in Wheatland, Missouri.
Mark’s heat races came and gone and he was placed into the “B Feature” race to fight for a spot into the main feature. This is when disaster struck. After completing their first lap of the feature, Mark’s Late-Model Camaro was wrecked by another driver who spun out coming out of turn two. The driver clipped the right side of Mark’s car, peeling aluminum off like a banana. As the two cars came to a stop, the damage was evident. The Late-Model Camaro suffered a snapped axle tube, a severely bent axle, and major cosmetic damage to the right side. Mark’s night was over.
Mark Penticuff sits in his Late-Model Camaro after being wrecked in the first lap of the “B Feature” race during NWTF race night at Lucas Oil Speedway on August 3, 2013 in Wheatland, Missouri. Penticuff snapped is axle tube and bent his right rear axle after another car collided into him during the race.
Mark Penticuff sits in his Late-Model Camaro while being towed back to the pits after being wrecked in the first lap of the “B Feature” race during NWTF race night at Lucas Oil Speedway on August 3, 2013 in Wheatland, Missouri. Penticuff snapped is axle tube and bent his right rear axle after another car collided into him during the race.
Or so it seemed. As people came by the pitted race car later that night, observing the damage and offering their condolences on wrecking his car, Mark surprised me with how calm he was being. When a fellow racer mentioned that Mark should have gone over to the guy and given him a piece of his mind, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said “It happens, and it won’t solve much now.” Later that night, I asked Mark about that encounter, and why he said what he did. Simply put, Mark said, “My job is not to win races. It is not to be the fastest car out there. My job is to be different in a culture where it is easy to be selfish and let my temper get the best of me. I want to show some of the other drivers that there is a more important race to be won than the one on the track tonight. It’s about caring more about the people than the car or the race itself.”