For years Phillip Island has been a track I'd planned to go to, but for one reason or another, it was a trip I'd not been able to make happen. I was ticking off other top locations such as Catalunya, Mugello, Assen, places that were Bucket List items for me both as a race fan and a photographer. But PI wouldn't cooperate.
As soon as Casey issued his surprise announcement that he was retiring, I knew I had to make it to Phillip Island. This time there could be no excuse: I had to see Casey ride at his home track, and this was my last chance. Fortunately for me, there was still some money in the bank from the Elbow Down edition to pay for airfare and expenses. And my wife, whose patience and kindness seem to know no bounds, agreed to manage the childcare without my help yet again this season. I booked the trip and held my breath.
As a photographer, I set myself with the goal of finding an image that would stand as a recognition of what it was to be there that weekend. I'm always looking for stories to tell with my images, but for Casey's final home race I wanted to come up with something that not only his fans, but fans of MotoGP and what Casey has contributed to the top level of motorbike racing, would look at and know in an instant: That's Casey in his last race at Phillip Island.
The weekend began with the presentation at Turn 3, now known as Stoner Corner, where Casey has so famously shown over the past few years why he is unique among even the most talented motorbike riders in the world. The way he comes through this challenging turn is different from all others, and in the pre-race press conference he was asked about his method of taming this intimidating section of tarmac. He joked that he wasn’t quite ready to reveal his secret for getting around Turn 3 so much faster than anyone else. At the time he had yet to win his sixth consecutive victory here at his home track.
Each session seemed a farewell to the fans who lined the track to see the national hero on home turf for the final time. Not only did Casey dominate each time sheet, but he acknowledged the crowd at the end of each session as if aware that some fans might come only for Friday or Saturday as some tend to do. He seemed to want to wave to each and every person who made the trip to see him ride for the last time.
Everywhere I looked people were wearing the free King Casey paper crowns the track was handing out to honor their retiring hero. There was a tangible feeling that this was indeed a special weekend to go to a motorbike race, and that to be there in person was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events that folks would talk about for decades to come.
Back to my photographic goal: When I saw that Casey had arranged a special helmet design for the event I knew my photo had to feature that. I've seen other riders do this on many occasions, but this was the first time I'd seen Casey do a one-off helmet. So all photos from Friday were discounted since he’d worn his traditional crash hat until Saturday. I decided that Lukey Heights was my best chance of getting an image that offered a close up not only of this special helmet, worn uniquely for this special occasion, but also that showed Casey at home in a section of track that is uniquely Phillip Island.
Sometimes, when I get back to the computer after a day of shooting, an image seems to jump off the screen. The one shown at the top was one of those. The detail is incredible, and thanks to the fantastic trackside access at PI, Casey seems to be riding nearly straight at you as you view this image in a large format.
I knew I had the image I'd hoped to capture, and I also realized it was my best candidate for my desire to do one more signed, limited edition with him before he retired. The week between Phillip Island and Valencia was a hectic one as I raced to get the copies of this print produced and packed here in California, and also to line up an agreement with Casey to sign fifty copies on the final race weekend of his career.
When I presented the chosen image to Casey for his signature at Valencia as shown below, he gave me that same smile I got when he’d signed the Elbow Down image earlier at Laguna Seca. It was fantastic to see his own pleasure and satisfaction with the image I’d captured to commemorate his final home race. I’m very pleased to offer this edition, which is limited to 50 copies, each of which was signed by Casey at Valencia on November 11, 2012.
It’s my hope that some who were there that weekend will enjoy this signed print as a unique remembrance of the event, and also that some who were not able to attend but who appreciate Casey’s amazing talent and contribution to MotoGP will find this print perhaps the next best thing to having been there in person. If a copy of the print isn't for you, then I hope the story of what goes into a project like this from the photographer's perspective is interesting to read about.