Man Lucky to be Alive After Photographing Rally Car Racing

Poor judgment leads to injury.

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On Jan. 27, a person attending Sno*Drift Rally in Michigan chose the wrong place to take a photo and instead was hit by a rally car in a corner of the track.

My initial response to watching the video of the incident was, “Oh! F**k!” 

So, before you watch the video, let me offer a disclaimer: the following contains graphic footage and language that some may find disturbing (NSFW).

Jalopnik and two major photography blogs, FStoppers and PetaPixel are reporting that photographer David LaClair was shooting the Sno*Drift Rally, the first event of the Rally America 2018 championship, when a rally car lost control going into a sharp corner, slid off the road and hit LaClair. The impact sends LaClair flying into the air like a sack of potatoes. 

It is my personal opinion that LaClair is not a professional photographer and it’s an injustice to all working photographers to label him as one. Let me tell you why. 

In the video, LaClair does not appear to be wearing a media vest. He is not using professional or even consumer level equipment. It appears that he is shooting the oncoming Subaru with a point-and-shoot camera or mobile phone. This leads me to believe that he was blatantly disregarding safety standards on the rally stage and fancied himself an enthusiast photographer who made a very bad decision.

As a working professional photographer, I shoot a lot of motorcycle and automotive work for various clients and in my own articles here at The Drive. Shooting any moving vehicle traveling at high velocity is inherently dangerous. Rally racing photography even more so. It requires an understanding of the sport, the stage conditions, and possessing a modicum of self-preservation. 

Any working professional (or reasonable enthusiast) knows that in rally racing, courses are marked off with yellow and red tape. All of which are clearly seen in the video. As a spectator and photographer, you are permitted to stand behind yellow tape but the red tape is a no-go zone. It marks areas of particular danger where vehicles can run off the road. 

Getty Images

An Example of A Professional Motorsport Photographer

This photographer weighs the risks of getting the shot at an off-road vehicle. This photographer is wearing a high-viz safety vest and is not in the path of travel of the vehicle.  

While LaClaire could have been told by race officials on-location to move before the incident, he could have ultimately made the decision to disregard safety instructions. This is pure speculation on my part. 

The Drive reached out to LaClair and he did respond with, "No comment."

Photographers who are granted credentials to shoot these events are often given free reign to go where they please to get their shot. Part of that decision-making as a professional photographer means exercising excellent judgment and accepting the risks of your actions. 

Every time I set up for a shot, I have an internal conversation with myself about the risks versus the rewards. Is there safe harbor in my present location? Am I in danger if things go horribly wrong? Where are my escape routes? 

Rally America clearly outlines safety measures for all spectators and even shares an easy to understand diagram of where to stand and not to stand along the course. For every rally or track based race I have photographed, most organizers have safety briefings for credentialed media outside of spectators. Safety is such a paramount concern along all lines of motorsport that I don’t think there needs to be more regulation put in place to limit photographers. Especially since this incident may not involve a professional. 

When you work at the professional level in this business you have to exhibit professional judgment as well. This does not appear to be the case with LaClair. According to Jalopnik, LaClair suffered two broken scapulas and a lacerated liver from the impact. He is alive and I wish him a speedy recovery but let this serve as a lesson to everyone. Rally racing is both a dangerous and amazing sport, which makes it wildly attractive and fun to watch. 

We're awaiting a response from Rally America on whether or not LaClair was issued media credentials to cover the event in a professional capacity and will update this article when we hear back.

If you feel compelled to photograph a rally race, obey the yellow and red tape and invest in a telephoto lens. Abide by this simple rule and it could save you a trip to the hospital.

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