Behind the Scenes: Making the Formula Ford Group Photo at Sept. 13-15 ELVF

Elkhart Lake, WI — Staging roughly 180 Formula Fords precisely and quickly for a group photo at last month’s Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival was quite a feat, and we followed up with event co-chair Mike Korneli for details on how they pulled it off. Our thanks to Mike for this recap of the detailed process.

Formula Fords in the staging area Photo: Scott Paceley (Vintage Motorsport)

Why a group photo? Planning for the 50th anniversary of Formula Fords at the ELVF started two years before the event. We were fortunate to have Steve Beeler rallying his fellow Formula Ford drivers to attend, and we wanted to honor his request for a group photo.

Mike Korneli conducting the Formula Ford driver’s meeting, instructing drivers how the group photo would proceed. Photo: Scott Paceley (Vintage Motorsport)

Plans for schedule and location: The challenge was to get the large group of cars out on the track and back into the paddock as smoothly as possible. We determined that Friday during the lunch hour was the best option for the photo in terms of lighting and fewer spectators to work around. We started talking about location options with track officials on Tuesday before the race weekend. My preference was the front straight with photographers working from the starter’s bridge or even the roof of race control.

Cars leaving the staging area in the paddock to reassemble on Road America’s pit road for the group photo. Photo: Scott Paceley (Vintage Motorsport)

To keep the rows of cars as short as possible, we would need to put two rows on the grass.  The problem was that we had gotten a lot of rain and the grass was a little soft. More rain was in the forecast before the event, so planning to put the cars on the grass was a big risk.  Cars could get stuck or drag mud on the track that would require clean up, which was not acceptable. We looked at the option to take the cars off the grass and extend the rows on the asphalt, but determined that would make the cars at the back not able to be seen. The track crowns away, making the situation even worse.

Photo: Scott Paceley (Vintage Motorsport)

We looked at the possibility of doing the shoot on the uphill to the front straight. It would work great for the photographers. It would still require the rows to be too long for the back cars to be very visible. Worse yet, we needed a quick and precise line up of the cars while they would be trying to stop on a steep uphill grade. The idea was rejected. We toyed with the downhill coming into turn five. It had the same problem with a much longer distance to get to for the setup.

Photo: Scott Paceley (Vintage Motorsport)

Other group photo shoots had been done from pit lane. There we could do more rows across to make the back cars more visible, but there’s also a wall between pit lane and the track. If the cars are parked too close to the wall the cars would be hidden for the photo shoot.  Trying to do the shot from the starter’s bridge or the roof might be a problem if we didn’t get the lineup right. There was only time to line them up once with no rearranging possible. Road America offered a tractor with a lift that we could put in pit lane. This vantage point would guarantee us at least one clean shot where the wall would not be in the way.  Photographers would still have the option to shoot from the starter’s bridge or the roof of race control.

Photo: Scott Paceley (Vintage Motorsport)

On Thursday I reviewed our options with Jessica Johnk, a long time VSCDA volunteer and an experienced photographer. We checked out the view from the starter’s bridge and several views from the roof on race control. We determined where to start the first rows and how far down pit lane the cars would be. We examined the minimum distance needed from the wall so the shot could be taken from the bridge or the roof. We did one final check using a measurement wheel. So we had done about as much as we could to ensure that our educated guess could work.

Photo: Scott Paceley (Vintage Motorsport)

The logistics: We have done feature marque street car parade laps before the start of a race many times. They are released to the track at turn 13, keeping the traffic out of the paddock. This was a must to pull off this photo shoot. Fortunately the large corporate pad is next to turn 13; it was not being used as paddock space, so made the perfect place to pre- stage the cars. At the Formula Ford drivers meeting everyone was given the place and time to pre-stage: be there 45 minutes ahead of time or you do not get on the track.

Photo: Scott Paceley (Vintage Motorsport)

Mick Kraus has decades of experience working grids for SCCA, so I asked if he could help place cars on pit lane — and could he bring friends to assist? Friday morning Mick and I went to pit lane to review the plan. Steve Beeler had requested that several important cars be in the first row, so I would pre-stage those cars in a separate line to be released first. At a drivers meeting during the pre-staging, it was made clear that the staging at pit lane needed to go off with military precision. Mick would get only 3 to 4 minutes to stage the group, and needed to get the first car in each row spaced correctly. The cars would be placed only once. Ranks tight, straight rows and tight nose to tail.

Photo: Scott Paceley (Vintage Motorsport)

The result: I requested the chief steward allow me to release cars on track as soon as possible after the last session, even if other portions of track were in clean-up. I was given the okay to release cars a minute or so before noon. Even including the wait time between the first row and the rest of the cars, all cars (over 180, I think) were released by 12:10. There were a couple of cars that didn’t start, much to their drivers’ disappointment. My job was done. I needed to do the non-Formula Ford drivers meeting at 12:15.

Steve Beeler, Organizer of the Formula Ford Reunion at the Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival. Photo: Scott Paceley (Vintage Motorsport)

With Road America President Mike Kertscher on hand to help with the placement process, the track gave every member of the press — roughly 15 photographers — a chance to get a shot from the lift on pit lane.

Roland Johnson in a ’67 Lotus 61. This Lotus won the very first
SCCA Formula Ford race at Willow Springs in March of 1969. Photo: Scott Paceley (Vintage Motorsport)

I heard a lot of concern from everyone about drivers not listening and that photographers insisted on rearranging cars in the group. None of that happened. Everyone cooperated.  Thanks to great volunteers and support from Road America it all looked easy. Sometimes plans really do work.