By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
All throughout last month’s 46th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, the main focus was towards the three-man battle for the NTT IndyCar Series championship.
It wasn’t the only storyline that took place as a slew of news occurred, notably Andretti Autosport signing Romain Grosjean to drive the No. 28 DHL Honda next season.
While those were significant news stories, there was one angle I wanted to focus. That angle where I needed to challenge myself and provide a different outlook to the world of open wheel racing.
Prior of heading to Long Beach, an idea was pitched to me about doing a photo essay on a team and competitor that doesn’t normally get much coverage. Being both a writer and photographer, I was intrigued on the concept and been awhile I’ve done something out of the ordinary.
As my fourth year writing for Motorsports Tribune, I needed a new challenge. A photo essay brought it because I wasn’t sure how to go about this angle.
This came up at a perfect time because prior to Long Beach, one driver was already having a positive week. That man being AJ Foyt Racing’s Dalton Kellett, who proposed to Nicole Westra.
Not only that, Kellett was wrapping up his first full-time campaign in IndyCar. Although not a rookie, Kellett’s No. 4 K-Line Insulators Chevrolet had its ups and downs, but progress was made.
Thanks to the entire Foyt camp, I was able to document his race weekend where he ultimately finished 19th. Without further ado, here’s some of my shots I took of Kellett’s No. 4 crew.
Before officially getting this project underway, I was only focusing on capturing unique shots. Some I haven’t tried before, but I wanted to get creative. As seen in this shot, Kellett was wheeling it through the fountain/garden area.
My main inspiration was an old camera shot used in the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix. Prior to the big wreck that took place on Lap 1, they showed a slow motion shot of drivers navigating the old chicane before lining up to the dummy grid. I recommend finding that footage, especially when Mika Hakkinen appeared in the shot.
I’ve always thought it was a unique shot and wanted to replicate it in the opening turns at Long Beach.
Saturday’s Practice & Qualifying
By the time Saturday morning rolled along, the crew were ready for the next practice session. Anxiously waiting to roll Kellett’s car into the tight and narrow pit lane. Usually, it’s either a time for the crew to chat amongst each other, chat with other personnel or just wait until it’s time to move into the pit lane.
With just 15 minutes before the session kicked off, Kellett puts on his racing gear as he was preparing to navigate around Long Beach once again. Only this time, he’ll have more time to polish his craft compared to the shorter session the day before.
Hours after practice, the next objective was for the No. 4 team to qualify well. In the meantime, one of the things that make Long Beach unique is some of the buildings outside the street course. If you look at the crew member’s sunglasses, you’ll see a couple of them.
Kellett storming around the narrow Turn 11 during qualifying. I love capturing shots like these because there’s more than just capturing a clear car shot.
Normally, I tend to go all out and challenge myself to get caption blur but keep the car sharp enough for usage. This one’s the best one of Kellett from qualifying which he ended up 26th out of the 28-car field.
A couple hours after qualifying and during the IMSA race, the entire Foyt camp gathered around and celebrated Kellett’s engagement with Nicole. Team President Larry Foyt gave a speech before bringing up Kellett, who received a bottle of wine that was signed by his team members, friends, and family.
While not the Saturday the team had hope when it comes to on-track activities, the toast festivities surely was a highlight to the Long Beach weekend. As you’ll see with these next photos, it was quite the vibe.
In the world of motorsports, some laughs and banter are always a welcoming site.
The toast wasn’t just a time to celebrate Dalton and Nicole, but also marked Kirk’s birthday and who else but the man himself, AJ Foyt, giving him an incredible present.
“(AJ) never does this,” a surprised Kirk exclaimed.
Yes indeed, he got an autographed helmet which doesn’t get better than that. After a thank you handshake, it was all smiles from Kirk.
Following the speech, a series of group photos unfolded, including “Super Tex” himself. A cherished moment for everyone.
“It’s been great having AJ around,” said Kellett.
“When you have somebody like that and learn from and talk to. You take every opportunity you can because it’s really special having a legend of our sport sharing his insight and stories. It’s very cool hearing stories of them when they were back here 40 years ago is pretty amazing.”
As many events I’ve shot in a span of four seasons, the engagement toast was indeed extraordinary. Such as these photos of Dalton and Nicole having one of many moments that’ll continue to grow.
Yeah, even at times a moment can create an even funnier moment.
A closeup of Nicole’s engagement ring wasn’t easy than it looks. Sometimes, it takes a couple shots to get the ring in focus. With the Nikon D750 and how it’s adjusted, it captures the center rather than the whole area. You’ll see that in the next photo with Nicole being the main focus while carrying the bottle of wine.
A better look at the Foyt wine bottle Larry gifted to Dalton during the ceremony.
Caught on the spot by AJ. Didn’t expect that on my bingo card for 2021, but here we are. Once AJ noticed, he got a photo with the future Mrs. Kellett.
It’s all fun and games that afternoon, but the biggest mission is the following day. The 16th and final round of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series campaign was near.
Unlike most racing disciplines, the NTT IndyCar Series competitors navigate in different ways.
Kellett is the only one out of the Foyt camp that rides a powered motorcycle. The others are either a traditional bike or a scooter. To each driver’s preference is their own but couldn’t help but capture this shot to showcase how each driver’s navigation are different.
Last couple of times the crew pulls out the No. 4 Chevrolet onto the waiting line as morning warmup is all the team have until the 85-lap finale commences later in the day.
Kellett looking around the paddock, waiting for the next time he gets behind the wheel of an Indy car.
The many roles Chris Tucker has in AJ Foyt Racing. Not only he’s the crew chief for Kellett, but also does the dirty work on race day. Tucker is also the outside front tire changer as seen when he wears his helmet before the warmup session began.
No matter the session or time of day, stretching is essential for a crew member.
There would be no SoCal sunshine on Championship Sunday. Nothing but clouds compared to the previous days. Fortunately, rain was never an issue as Kellett storms around the circuit one last time to get the car properly dialed in.
The 28-car field to the green flag past noon with Kellett looking to get a solid result to cap off his first full-season. Heading past Turns 1-2, Kellett was ahead of his teammate Sebastien Bourdais and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Kellett was able to avoid the Lap 1 carnage involving Pato O’Ward and Ed Jones on what was an otherwise trouble-free afternoon.
Compared to other circuits, Long Beach wasn’t the most physically demanding circuit.
“I wasn’t really out of breath during the race. Those last 10 laps or so and battling, it gets a little hard but that’s just stress,” Kellett on running at Long Beach for the first time. “Physically, this track was alright, but the most physical street course was probably St. Petersburg because of the heat.”
Through all the highs and lows, Long Beach ended with some positives. While it was a 19th place finish to cap off the year, Kellett stayed on the lead lap. This was his third lead lap finish of the season with the other two being the first Texas race and Gateway.
“This was a strong finish to our season. Happy to end the way we did. Definitely moved up some spots, but lost some ground at the end,” Kellett on his overall afternoon.
“I kind of burnt my push-to-pass by 12 to go, so I couldn’t defend that well. I think the team did a great job with the car and had a good race car. It’s a good way to cap the season off going into the off season on a bit of a positive note.”
Kellett finished 23rd in the final INDYCAR standings. It’s probably my favorite race capture I got, and you can tell Kellett’s steering movement which didn’t disappear when the Aeroscreen was introduced last year.
Once all the festivities from Alex Palou and Honda were done on the main stage, I headed back to the paddock and get some post-race comments from the Canadian competitor. But first, I captured this moment of Kellett chatting with former INDYCAR winner Ryan Briscoe and later Larry Foyt.
“It’s an important thing to surround yourself with people that can help you and grow. Especially, when you’re new to this. It kind of teaches you important lessons and I’ve been very fortunate to work with a lot of great coaches,” said Kellett.
“Not just Ryan, but also Darren Manning for the last few years. I’ve had some great people along the way that kind of contributed to this. It’s definitely been a team effort and the team we have is quite strong right now.”
As the race was taking place, the tents and all the equipment to prepare the Chevrolet entries have been all packed up. All was left were the cars and the motorbikes. Bare bones compared to what all of us see throughout the weekend.
With this image of the team packing up, it symbolized the end of 2021 campaign. 16 rounds were contested, and countless stories were made. Now the focus shifts to the off-season before the madness begins all over again at St. Petersburg in late February 2022.