Story of a Photo: Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick get into it

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images /

Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick got into a heated argument on the track after last week’s race. Here’s the story of the now-iconic photo.

Getty Images photographer Jared Tilton spoke with FanSided about his incredible shot of Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick arguing after the most recent race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

1. What was the story behind this incredible photo of Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick having words?

Short-track racing is at the heart of NASCAR roots and a favorite by fans across the country. It’s an intense race, full of emotions, to be the first to grab the checkered flag. That is what was expected heading into the final race in Round One of the playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway. Four drivers were set to be sent packing following the conclusion of the night race in Tennessee as they did not accrue enough points to earn a spot in the next round. A lot was on the line this race, and anything could happen with quite a few drivers teetering on that cutoff line.

The first three-quarters of the race went off like any other race at The Last Great Colosseum with a few wrecks, a little bumping, and playoff contenders trying to get to the front of the field. It wasn’t until the laps were winding down when two past champions started to battle for the lead. Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott raced each other hard, lap-after-lap, until the close-quarter racing cut a tire on Elliott’s Chevrolet and he had to make his way to pit road, ending his hopes at the checkered flag.

With the rest of the Getty Images team covering the frontstretch and Victory Lane, it allowed me to have a different approach. My plan was to head to the backstretch immediately following the checkered flag. I wanted to document the four drivers not continuing through the playoffs to complete our team’s storytelling from the event. But, as the end drew closer, a new story developed.

Elliott had returned to the track after his four-tire pit stop multiple laps down, but directly in the vicinity of where Harvick was now racing Kyle Larson for the race lead. Everyone has their opinions on the two racing each other, but the fact is that Harvick could not get back around Elliott in those final laps. This allowed Larson to catch up and eventually take the lead from Harvick with a few laps remaining.

It was at this point I knew it was even more important to get to the backstretch following the checkered flag because, more likely than not, tempers were going to soar between Harvick and Elliott. I photographed Larson taking the checkered flag in front of Harvick on the frontstretch and immediately sprinted through the infield to the backstretch following the flag wave. As I got to the backstretch pit wall, Harvick and Elliott were exiting their cars and they immediately drew close to each other. That’s when I hopped pit wall and ran to the action, arriving second to only two NASCAR officials. I was prepared with my wide-angle lens and as the officials shielded me from the two drivers, I held my camera as high in the air as I could and started firing away over their shoulders.

I continued to shoot until the conversation between the two drivers ended, but the frame that told the story was at the very start of their altercation. The closeness of their encounter and Elliott’s finger in Harvick’s face really set the tone for the moment.

2. How do you capture the human element in photographing racing when the drivers are so often hidden behind cars and helmets?

One of the most difficult aspects of photographing motorsports is being able to capture the human element in racing. With COVID protocols eliminating almost all garage activity and with practice and qualifying sessions reduced, there is very little time to capture the emotion of these athletes. Most of their time in the public eye is spent in a helmet and behind the wheel of a race car.

I feel that the most important time to capture the human element is immediately following a race. That exact moment an athlete takes their helmet off after it’s all over, that’s when you will see true human element and pure emotion. Whether it be jubilation from victory, dejection from defeat or exasperation towards another competitor, the human element soars to light in those first five minutes following a race. To me, those are the most important five minutes of the weekend, so I always make those minutes count!

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images /

3. In your opinion, what makes a great photo from a racing event?

In my opinion, there are multiple ways to create an impactful photo while documenting racing. Whether it be a visually pleasing slow pan full of color or a spectacular wreck on the last lap, some are created and some are captured. I believe at any point if you can both capture the moment and create a visually pleasing image it will stand out from the rest. The image should not only tell a story itself but leave you wanting to know or see more.

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