It would be forgivable for you, dear readers, to assume that the number one perk in the life of a car photographer would be centered around that moment when, after getting your shots, you give a knowing wink to the owner/guardian of whatever rare and priceless car you’ve got on hand, jump in, and tear ass down the road. Right? How could you not? IT’S RIGHT THERE. DO IT.
Yeah, No. First of all, that’s not why I’m there. Then, there’s probably a guy who is there to drive, or a few guys, or the car doesn’t work and lives in a trailer, or there’s just twenty minutes to get through the whole shot list, or whatever. The rarer the car, the better the odds that it’s got more important places to be than in this photographer’s grubby hands.
Once in a while though, things work out in pretty fantastic ways.
Back in January, I flew out to San Francisco to provide photo support for Road & Track writer Jack Baruth, whose assignment was to beat the crap out of the McLaren 675LT on a race track. After spending most of a day chasing Jack and the McLaren around the Bay Area and getting some great shots, we drove three hours north to the little town of Willows, which put us ten minutes away from Thunderhill Raceway the next morning. We arrived well after dark.
I asked Jack if he’d be cool with me doing some night photos around the hotel, or, maybe we could get up extra early and go do some sunrise shots? For context here, I just want to say that I can get excited when I rent a base model Ford Focus from the airport. I’ll take time to do a photo shoot of my mom’s minivan if it’s recently washed. So when there is a McLaren in the parking lot, forget sleep. Sensing that my enthusiasm to rest ratio was irrational and unhealthy and he wanted no part of it, Jack threw the key to the 675LT at me and said, “Let’s meet downstairs at 8am. Have fun.”
Cue to a green blur blasting past the hotel, my crazed eyes bathed in the light from the digital instruments, the twin turbo V8 howling behind me, the 675LT’s “airbrake” spoiler raised towards the stars. Jack shaking his fist out the window, “PUPPYKNUCKLES!”
Just kidding. Everything about this car tells you that you are a superhero and to go very fast, but I drove it like a total grandma. A very careful grandma who had just bought enough eggs for a whole elementary school’s bake sale. Any urge to get anywhere past first base on this unchaperoned first date was outweighed by a overwhelming sense of responsibility that photographers should not scratch McLarens. Don’t fuck this up, DW.
It’s not easy to look graceful getting into the McLaren 675LT. You kind of fall in, painfully. The ride is jarring and there is the constant fear of scraping the front end on things, but it’s actually a breeze to drive competently after you get past that. Push some buttons, pull a paddle, and you’re off. It was loud and rough inside. It felt raw and hardened. The carbon fiber seats are designed to hold your ass in place in 100mph corners, not coddle it at the stop lights.
Getting on the freeway, I did the thing. The thing where you slow way down and punch it. A bit of turbo whine, a kick in the stomach, and the car arrived at 70mph so effortlessly that I knew right away that to even scratch the surface of this car’s abilities, an extremely extra-legal approach is required. Cruising’s fine, thanks. For the hero stuff, i.e. reeling in a Corvette Z06 lap after lap, pushing the brakes to near exhaustion, truly digging into this car’s immense speed potential etc., go read Jack’s article. He’s very good at both driving fast and writing about it.
For me, I just thanked the universe for the opportunity to be alone, at night, one on one with this alien machine. After a few hours fitful sleep (there’s still a McLaren in parking lot, remember) I woke up, saw the key on the nightstand and got dressed again. Still time to catch the sunrise.