High School Photography Class Leads to a 33 Year Career in Motorsports Photography


Richmond International Raceway Photographer Honored with Third National Motorsports Press Association Photographer of the Year Award


It all started with a photography class at Freeman High School in 1982.  “I signed up for the class because I needed the credits to graduate,” explained Richmond International Raceway photographer John Harrelson. 

Thirty-three years later, Harrelson humbly approached the stage and accepted the 2014 National Motorsports Press Association Photographer of the Year award, his third time receiving the honor.

“It means so much to me to be honored with this award by my peers,” said Harrelson while on stage.  “I’m so appreciative of the time Coach [Bruce] Watson spent with me.  He was the one who got me involved in photography.  I wouldn’t be here without his encouragement.” 

That encouragement by photography teacher Bruce Watson, who is the Director of Career and Technical Education in nearby Goochland County, Virginia, turned into a lifelong and award winning career in the motorsports industry.

Now the track photographer for Richmond International Raceway, Darlington Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harrelson has worked with many of the greats of the sport.  But Richmond holds a special place in his heart.  “The thing about Richmond is I grew up going to the track.  It’s really cool to be from Richmond and know that my photographs are what is representing that racetrack.” 

“I’ve worked with so many great people in motorsports and been a part of so many impactful photo shoots, it’s hard to say which has been my favorite,” explained Harrelson.  “One of the coolest shoots I’ve ever been a part of was the ‘throw-back’ shoot with Bill and Chase Elliott at Darlington.  It really defined the history of the sport – the father and son connection as drivers, but also as fans of the sport.”   

Most of the NASCAR season, Harrelson can be found shooting at the various racetracks on the circuit through his partnership with Nigel Kinrade Photography.  The duo shoots for some of the biggest race teams in NASCAR, such as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, and the Wood Brothers.  Away from the track, Harrelson and local Richmond-based business partner Scott K. Brown, have a booming business, complete with a state-of-the-art photography studio in Ashland, Virginia, near the Hanover Air Park, where the two showcase their company Pixel Factory and Harrelson Photography Inc.

Winning the NMPA Photographer of the Year Award for the third time [previous wins came in 2010 and 2013], Harrelson still gets excited about the view through the lens.  “Since I was a kid in the grandstands this is all I’ve wanted to do.  To win photographer of the year and know my name is going to be on the trophy at the Darlington Stock Car Museum means the world.  I’m doing what I love and being honored for it at the same time.”

In addition to the NMPA Photographer of the Year honor, Harrelson also received the T. Taylor Photo of the Year award, as well as first place in race action, first and second place in portrait personality, second place in feature and third place in the open category.

“The picture that won Photo of the Year, was a slow shutter speed pit stop of the 22 car of Joey Logano.  All the crew guys are running around the car, but the car is perfectly sharp.  The neat thing about it is that the gas man and the gas can are perfectly sharp because they didn’t move at all.  I was just being a little creative at night time, doing those slow shutter speed pit stops.”  His first place in the portrait category is a hero shot of Chase Elliott standing on the start/finish line at Darlington. Second place in the portrait category is a shot of Virginian, Elliott Sadler, sitting in his car and second place in the feature category is a shot of Joey Logano getting out of his car after winning at Kansas.

So, given what he accomplished in 2014, what gets Harrelson excited as the NASCAR season kicks off in 2015?  “Being better than last year.”

“I’ve always been driven by challenges.  I want to do better than I did in 2014.  Nigel and I have a friendly competition about who can beat who. And I’m determined to win by delivering great images to all of my clients in 2015!”

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