How I Got Here with Nigel Kinrade

Nigel Kinrade, seen here speaking to Jeff Gordon, is a familiar face in the NASCAR garage. (Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade)

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to explain the career path to their current position. Up next: Nigel Kinrade of Nigel Kinrade Photography. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

You’re quite an established guy in the racing industry. What do you do now with your company?

My company is Nigel Kinrade Photography — or NKP as it’s known within the industry — and we’re a photo agency. We attend every Monster Energy Cup Series event, and all the companion races that run with them apart from ARCA, we’ll shoot that stuff. That will be the Trucks, we shoot some K&N stuff and the Xfinity Series.

We always attend every Xfinity Series (race), including the standalones, and every Camping World Truck Series event. So top three series, we’re at every one of them.

We have a staff that we can pull on of about nine or 10 shooters, including myself, and we always have four of us here at the big events. Maybe the Daytona 500, we’ll bring in an extra couple of people for just the needs we have for satisfying our clients.

Our clients, we do Monster Energy — we’re the entitlement sponsor photographers. On the team side, we do Penske, Hendrick, Gibbs. Xfinity stuff, we do Kaz Grala’s stuff. We’ve done all the KBM stuff on the Trucks side. We do Cody Coughlin over there as well.

So we keep very very busy. We do all the stuff with Ford Performance, all their photography, and a bunch of sponsors — Interstate Batteries, Arris, we do the FedEx stuff for FedEx.

We also do a lot of stuff with NASCAR. We shoot the K&N Series for NASCAR if it’s a companion event. We shoot some of the Modified stuff we’ve done for them as well. And we do a lot of the meet and greets with celebrities and stuff and their (NASCAR) Foundation stuff. So we do a lot of stuff with NASCAR as well, which is very pleasing and rewarding. So it’s good.

That’s pretty amazing. I didn’t realize you guys had that much on your plate. Obviously you didn’t always have this much on your plate, so how did this all get started for you? Obviously people can probably tell from your (English) accent you didn’t grow up in Georgia or something.

Well I have grown up in Georgia. I have! The last 27 years! Yeah, I’m a Southerner now.

No, I actually grew up on a place called the Isle of Man. It’s famous for the crazy motorcycle race they have there every June. So that got me interested in motorsports, photography and stuff like that.

That’s the super dangerous one, right?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s 37 miles, guys on 200 mph superbikes, dodging telegraph poles and walls and edges of houses and cows and livestock and all that sort of stuff. It’s absolutely crazy.

It was the norm for me growing up until I moved to the states. And now a couple of times I’ve been back in the last 10, 12 years, I go back and watch it. I go, “God, these guys are just nuts. What is going through their minds? It’s crazy.” It makes what we do here look like kind of child’s play. I shouldn’t say that, but…

Well, you’ve got people dying there every single year.

Yeah, absolutely. Your protection over there is a helmet, a set of leathers and boots and gloves. That’s it. You come off (the bike), you’re just hoping that you don’t die. It’s crazy.

Thankfully, it makes our sport look a lot tamer and that’s in part to all the safety implementations we’ve had made over the last 17, 18 years since we had some bad accidents. But yeah, kudos to NASCAR. We’re pretty safe over here. Even some of those wrecks we saw last night (at Daytona), everyone kind of just walks away.

Yeah, so I grew up over there and moved to the states in 1991. My wife was a foreign student. She went to Georgia State University and we applied for our residency, so we got our green cards in ’91. And we moved here.

The first-ever NASCAR event I went to was October ’91 in Charlotte. I had never been to a NASCAR race before, so I’m in the middle of this infield in Charlotte and I’m thinking, “Oh my God, what have I got into here?” And I’m looking around and it’s just the infield culture was totally different. Mind you, that was Charlotte — and Charlotte’s pretty cosmopolitan!

So I thought that was pretty wild and the culture in the infield there was like, “Wow.” It was something I had never ever seen before. And then I get to go to places like Martinsville and Pocono and places like that. I realized Charlotte’s not that bad. So the first time I was immersed into NASCAR, it was like, “Whoa.” It was an eye-opener.

How did you get that assignment? I assume you were there to work.

Yeah, so growing up in the Isle of Man with the motorcycles and stuff, I shot a lot of that kind of stuff and I ventured out and I did some Grand Prix racing in Europe and stuff at MotoGP, that kind of stuff. It was called the 500cc World Championship Grand Prix motorcycle racing back then. Now it’s MotoGP. So I did a bunch of that. I did a couple of F1 races and stuff like that.

So I had a lot of contacts over there, and when I came over here, I contacted my contacts over there and said, “Hey, do you want some pictures? I’m going to start going to a couple of these NASCAR races and see what happens and how it progresses and stuff.” And they said, “Yeah, send us some stuff. We’ve always got people looking for NASCAR. We can’t ever find any.”

So a couple of British agencies, I started sending some images to them. You had to take slide film and process it and put them in slide pages and mail it off to them. So that’s how it all started, and here we are like 27 years later. I’ve got a staff of nine or 10 guys I can pull on and call them any time.

It’s all digital now. It’s all online. Everything we shoot is online. The servers and stuff like that — we have a guy in Virginia who actually builds servers and our server is also online in Virginia. But we’ve also branched out and built servers for online databases for Penske, Hendrick, Gibbs, Ford Motor Company. So a lot of their stuff is housed on our servers. It’s not just taking pictures anymore.

And we have to caption. I had to learn how to type! I’m a photographer. I didn’t know how to type. I had to learn how to type captions on pictures and upload them and stuff. So yeah, it’s pretty technical. But we’ve come a long way.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus pose with Nigel Kinrade (center) and his staff of photographers after winning the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series title. (Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade)

How did you know that you were any good at photography? I mean, anyone can just stand by the road in the Isle of Man and shoot, but you have to be good at it in order to make a living out of it. Were you self-taught?

Yeah. I’ve never been to college for photography or anything. I went to college for engineering. And I didn’t like that. Photography was a hobby, and fast vehicles was a hobby, so it was just natural that both combined.

It’s just a lot of practice. It’s practice, practice, practice. Nowadays you can pick up a camera, a lens, a laptop, whatever and you can go out there and practice and practice and practice and it’s all on a compact flashcard. You can put it on a computer and look at it and go, “Oh, that didn’t come out nice. I know what I need to do, I need to go and do something different with that.” So I’ll go back out and do it.

In my day, you put a roll of film into the camera and you shot something and you had to remember how you shot it, and then you’d take it to the lab and get it processed and maybe three or four hours later you’d get it back and you’d look at it and go, “Oh.” But three or four hours later, it was like, “I don’t feel like going back and trying that again.”

But now everything’s on the fly. You can look at it on the back of your screen on your camera and see where you are. Back in the day, there was nothing like that.

So I’m self-taught, but I went through a lot of film. And it was expensive. Film was expensive to process. So nowadays, it is easier. There are less steps involved. But yeah, it’s just practice. The more you practice, the better you get.

We’re also lucky in the fact a lot of our races are 400 or 500 miles long. So they take a lot of time. It’s not like a sprint race, or a MotoGP event where it’s 40 minutes. We’re out here for three, four hours. We get a chance to get out there and experiment and try different things and so we get a lot of practice.

Do you think that the way you came up, having to use the film and understand the techniques of what made a good picture a good picture back then helps you now? Like it was easier for you to adapt things quickly?

Yeah, it probably was. I always pay attention to backgrounds and stuff like that. Shooting qualifying here in Daytona, you get down low and you just try and frame the driver where you can see the tower in the background. Across the back of the tower you’ll see “World Center of Racing.” So that’s a unique look that you get here. You don’t see it anywhere else because you try and show where you are, try and implement some sort of structure that’s at a certain track or something else.

Like at Indy, you would try and frame a driver possibly with the pagoda in the background or something like that. So each track has its own little identity, physical buildings or whatever, you try to sort of incorporate it into the frame.

You’re always looking for a clean background, you’re always looking for something different. Or if you’re shooting for a sponsor, you’re always trying to get that logo alongside the driver or something like that. They’re covered in sponsor logos, but if you can get the car element and him together, it’s ideal.

Every time I pick up a camera, I learn. Even after 27 years of doing this, I’m still learning. You put a different lens on your camera, you get a totally different perspective.

So why NASCAR? You came up in some of these other sports and obviously NASCAR is a big form of racing in the United States. Was it just as simple as you’re living in the United States so this is what you’re going to be doing? Why did you stick with that over the years?

Part of that was we moved to Atlanta, so that’s in the Southeast, so it’s just like, “What’s around here? Well there’s some IMSA racing, there’s some drag racing, some IndyCar” — back in the early 90s. There was AMA Motorcycle racing. I’d go and shoot some of that stuff and it was cool, I enjoyed it.

But the NASCAR thing, the agencies kept on coming back looking for that. They’d say, ”This NASCAR thing, it’s cool. We’ve got open-wheel racing over here. We’ve got motorcycle racing over here. We’ve got endurance and IMSA-type racing over here. But we don’t have that stock car thing. So just keep sending that to us.”

And back then, I think there was 29 races in a year, which was an easy schedule. So 29 races in a year, and a lot of them were in the Southeast. We still had two races at Darlington, we still had two races at (North) Wilkesboro. We still had two at Rockingham. And they were all drivable, so expenses were minimal then. So I just kept doing that.

And that was when a lot of those huge corporate sponsors were coming into the sport, the tracks were expanding, the schedule expanded, we were racing at Kansas, Chicago, Indianapolis, Fontana, all these places were coming online. Homestead. So it just made sense to stick with that.

So far, so good. I’ve been lucky.

Nigel Kinrade speaks with Kyle Busch. (Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade)

And those teams are looking for images to give to their sponsors. NAPA comes on with Hendrick and they’re like, “We want pictures of the NAPA car on the track, we want pictures of Chase Elliott,” things like that, I assume?

Yeah. The most important thing — and I tell this to my guys and girls that work with us — is what the client wants every week. We get emailed a list each week. And the most important stuff on that are the meet-and-greets. Appearances. The meet-and-greet at the car on the grid with the driver.

Because like NAPA, they have honorary pit crew members. So they bring in a couple of people — local distributors or store owners — and they’ll put their name on the quarterpanel of Chase’s car, a store number and a name. And they’ll deck them out with a shirt.

So they’ll do a meet-and-greet with Chase at his bus, probably two or three hours before the start of the race. Probably before he goes to the driver meeting, which is two hours before the start of the race. So we’ll do a meet-and-greet there. Then they’ll come to the car on the grid and Chase is all decked out in the uniform and we’ll do another photo there.

That is NAPA’s way of giving something back to their clients, all their store owners and stuff. So there is the most important thing we do each week. That’s what I tell my guys.

The car’s on track 36 times a (year), or however many times NAPA sponsors it, and it’s on track for practice, qualifying and the race. So we have that covered for the actual event.

But it’s the other stuff, the behind-the-scenes stuff the average fan doesn’t see unless they’re lucky enough to get inside the driver/owner lot or on the grid. So yeah. That’s the number one priority for us.

I often get people sending me DMs or emails or tweets saying, “I think I can shoot race photography. I do it as a hobby. I’ve been to this track. I really like to do it. How do I get involved?” What advice would you give people who would like to be the next Nigel and break into the industry? Is that still possible today?

Yes, it is. The industry’s changing a lot now, though. It’s expensive to travel the circuit and a lot of corporations now are watching how they spend their dollars and stuff. So it’s a lot tougher now.

But the best thing to do is just practice, practice, practice. And go to your local short track. They’ll gladly let you in if you’re willing to let them have some images. And on social media, you get into a local short track and they have a social media platform, you just bomb the heck out of their social media — just mention them, hashtag them or whatever. That way, hopefully they take notice of you and they say, “Yeah, come on back. We’ll pay you to do a shoot or do our victory lanes” or whatever.

It’s just practice and finding the right connections. I’ve been in this industry now 27 years, so I have a lot of connections here. And it’s funny how people in this industry will be from one corporation and then they’ll disappear, and then five or six years later, they’ll be back working for a team or something. You’ll get a call: “Hey, we need some photography. You’re the first person I thought of.” And it’s like, boom. ”OK, let’s sit down and talk.”

But you’ve just got to go out there and practice and earn respect of other people and just work hard at your craft. It’s easy to do. Well, it’s not easy to do, but it’s not as complex as you think it is. You’ve just got to put you mind into it. And that’s probably my best (advice).

Once you’ve done some short track stuff, you can venture out, get credentials to come to a NASCAR race and try that. But for the majority, going to a NASCAR race, you need some sort of like legitimate media outlet like that to vet you or to write for your credentials, you know.

We’re lucky in the fact that we have hard cards and we’re connected with a lot of the teams and stuff like that. So it is easier for us to get into the NASCAR events. But we pay for our credentials as well. We pay for our hard cards. We also pay for commercial licensing with NASCAR so we can do commercial work here. So that’s kind of different from somebody coming in just to take pictures for a media outlet.

And that way it can be used in an ad?

Yeah. So we are licensed to sell commercially, but we pay up front each year to NASCAR for the privilege to do that.

(Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade, who is on the far left in this photo)

3 Replies to “How I Got Here with Nigel Kinrade”

  1. Jeff, Had the opportunity to sit close to you on a couple occasions in the media center at different speedways and chatted a few times. I know Nigel and love the piece that you did with him. Keep up the great work… Dave Condit

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