Through the Paddock: Barry Cantrell on racing through a camera’s eye

Van Knill

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Each week in Through the Paddock, Aaron Bearden takes the time to spotlight a member of the racing community in an effort for both himself and the fans to learn more about them. Interviewees can range from drivers to crew members, media representatives and more.

The audio version of this piece can be found here.

Most fans view motorsports through screens – either on a television, tablet or the smart phone they hold in their hands. Thousands take in races from the grandstands each weekend, and a few hundred people watch on from pit road.

Barry Cantrell, on the other hand, looks through the lens of a camera.

Bursting onto the motorsports scene in 2014 under the alias of “Short Track Spotlight,” Cantrell has quickly risen from an unproven beginner to one of the sport’s best photographers – snapping shots of drivers, sponsors and the beautiful race cars that people love throughout the year.

His heart often lies with the short tracks where he began – and most notably Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville – but the Tennessean can typically be found in the NASCAR garage area these days, snapping shots for Nigel Kinrade Photography and occasionally others.

From detailed snaps of machines on-track to elegant expressions on a driver’s face, Cantrell is one of a select group of people that visually document the many stops on the sport’s nine-month tour, from the K&N Pro Series up to the Camping World Truck Series, XFINITY Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Kickin’ the Tires sat down with Cantrell shortly before the Cup Series playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway to learn about his rapid ascendance through the photography ranks, ask how he manages to cover the sport from Tennessee and learn how life works for those that watch racing through a camera lens.


I’m here with Barry Cantrell, although you might know him as Short Track Spotlight. Isn’t that right, Barry?

Barry Cantrell: Some may know me as that, yeah. I started that brand. It seemed like it would be more recognizable than just a name. I put a logo behind it, and it seems to have worked fairly well for me.

You’ve been around for a little while now, but you’re still pretty fresh to the whole motorsports scene. How did you get your start?

From local late models to seven-time himself, Barry Cantrell’s seen a lot in his short tenure as a photographer. (Photo: Barry Cantrell/NKP)

I got my start in photography just (a few years ago). I shot my first race back in 2014 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville (FSN).

Growing up, I mainly wanted to design paint schemes on Cup cars, so I got into graphic design and did that for a while, but never could get my foot in the door. One day I thought, ‘Man, if I learn how to use a camera, maybe I could get my foot in the door to do some design work.’

I started shooting some high school football games, learning the camera. From there it only took one email, thanks to the awesome people at FSN. They gave me credentials, and I shot a Super Late Model race with a lot of the guys that are out here now – John Hunter Nemechek, Daniel Hemric, etc. It’s been awesome since.

As you’ve come on and started to progress, how has this journey been for you? You’re about to shoot a Cup race here at Chicagoland Speedway, as we start the playoffs. How has that progression been for you? 

The progression’s been extremely fast. At the time you think it’s going so slow, and you hope for certain checkpoints along the way. But looking back on it.. It has just flown by. I never would have imagined it.

Starting in 2014 with late models, I think I did 10 races that year – eight late model (races) at local quarter-mile tracks, and then two ARCA (Racing Series) races. By the end of 2016 I was on staff with Nigel Kinrade Photography shooting a portrait with Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and their seven championship trophies down at (Homestead-Miami Speedway). I never would have imagined I’d be blessed in that way.

That’s one thing I wanted to touch on. You’re with a team at Nigel Kinrade Photography now. What is a typical work like for you, and also you guys as a team? 

A typical work week.. A lot of times Thursday will be our travel day… Bruce Nuttleman’s out here. Oh my goodness…

*Barry was distracted and trailed off at this point because one of his colleagues ambushed us with their camera and snapped a few photos.*

Yeah… This happened. (Photo: Phil Cavali)

On a typical race weekend, we will probably fly in to the track on Thursday, shoot whatever practices there are. This weekend in particular we had two Truck (Series) practices, so we’ll do that. It’s usually just about getting to the track early and getting the ball rolling.

Friday morning we get to the track early. There’s Cup practice, XFINITY practice, qualifying. It’s like a lot of these teams guys. You show up and have a set schedule. Come in. Work. Shoot. Edit. And try to have everything done by the time you leave the track at night.

A lot of times we’ll close up the media center. We were the last ones here on Friday night. We left at midnight and they were literally locking the doors behind us.

It’s not as sexy and exciting as you think it will be, because a lot of nights you’re exhausted, sore and going to get about three hours of sleep, then get up and do it all over again. But it’s a lot of fun.

As a writer, I know that feeling all too well. How many (photographers) do you typically bring to a track on any given weekend? 

Typically right now for Cup races we’ll bring four. We’ve got two that go to the Truck standalones, and two that go to the XFINITY standalones, but a normal weekend is four.

What do you look for when you’re shooting? Does it depend on the track? What are you trying to capture? 

First and foremost, we like to have a certain number of shots for each and every driver of the clients. As an example, we’ll all get assigned different parts of the garage. We’ll try to get headshots, wide shots. Make sure we take care of the sponsors and their logos on the fire suits and around the car, branding on the car. I like to do a lot of detail shots, just try to give them something different that they don’t get every single weekend.

We’ll also do car shots on-track. We usually have two people on the garage, and two on-track for each practice session. Hopefully by Happy Hour we’re good to go, and we can just touch up on any drivers that we need to get more shots of in the garage. Best-case scenario, by Sunday the hard part’s done. Then we go out and do grid shots with the guests, or any meet-and-greets that we have before the race.

When opportunity arises, Barry Cantrell likes to capture slow panning shots like the one above. (Photo: Barry Cantrell/NKP)

During the race you mainly try to get action shots. If they get strung out and single-file, I like to do slow pans and look for different angles. A lot of times about halfway through the race we’ll come in and start editing, just so it doesn’t take us five hours after the race to get out of here.

I have to ask. You’ve always got a Tennessee Titans hat on. You might be one of the few football fans as miserable as me, a Chicago Bears fan. Why the Titans hat? 

Man, it’s Tennessee! I love Tennessee. I can’t say I grew up in a Titans house, because the Titans are fairly new to the area, relatively speaking. But I love the Titans. Win or lose, I’m happy to support the local team.

So you’re still based out of Tennessee? 

Yeah! Absolutely. I’m about an hour-and-a-half east of Nashville. No one really knows where Middle Tennessee is, so I usually just say I’m from Nashville. But yeah, I’m from Smithville, Tenn. I live in McMinnville, Tenn. right now.

I think a lot of people assume I’m from North Carolina because everyone else is, but I think being near Nashville the travel is still fairly easily done. A lot of the tracks are close enough to drive to, and the Nashville Airport is one of the nicest airports I’ve ever been in, so it’s all good.

You’ve had such a meteoric rise. What do you think is next for you? What kind of goals do you set for yourself short-term and long-term? 

Everything is kind of up in the air right now, just to be perfectly honest with you. If it weren’t for my amazing wife, and my amazing three kids, it would probably be a lot easier to make a long-term goal as far as this career goes. But right now, it all happened so quick that it’s still a moving target.

Next year, I’ll probably be looking to do a fewer races, but we’ll see. Though I hate to go on record saying that, because it’s a moving target. It changes day-to-day.

I’m just appreciating all of the opportunities, and being extremely thankful to be here. I try not to get bogged down in all of the work, because this is where I want to be.

Some of us still know you as Short Track Spotlight. Are we going to see you at any short tracks down the road? 

You might see Short Track Spotlight back at one of his namesake tracks sometime soon. (Photo: Logan Whitton/NKP)

Man, I hope so. I miss the Nashville Fairgrounds. I miss going to Salem (Speedway). The ARCA Salem night race is still one of my absolute favorite races of the year. I’ve had to miss it for the last two seasons, but that’s a killer one. I’ve still gotta check out Winchester (Speedway), Pensacola (Five Flags Speedway). I haven’t been there.

I got to shoot a K&N (Pro Series) race at New Smyrna (Speedway), Greenville-Pickens (Speedway) and Mobile (Speedway). I’m so thankful to get to see those tracks, and I hope a lot of them continue to thrive – especially FSN.

Where can people follow you on social media? Where can we see your photos?

I try to keep a fairly active blog at shorttrackspotlight.com. I’m @ShortTrackSpotlight on Instagram. Just On Twitter it’s just @shorttrackspot – I ran out of characters. Oh, and BarryCantrell.com.

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