I’ve been attaching various CHDK-hacked Canon cameras to 24 Hours of LeMons race cars for dozens of races, and they’ve come through the experience scratched and oil-splattered but more or less intact. I figured putting a timelapse camera on a stake at a particularly action-packed corner would work just as well; sure, an errant race car might slide into the camera, but placing the camera outside the area with the most skid marks should keep it safe. Right? Well, that plan worked pretty well… until yesterday in Michigan. 
Most of my timelapse cameras are cheap-on-eBay Canon Powershot A460s, but I also have an SD800 IS that I retired from frontline use after its lens got too schmutzed up by heavy use at dusty, grimy race tracks; it still worked fine, but bright backlight tended to fog out some photographs. The SD800 was the first expensive digital camera I’ve ever owned, purchased (on Mike Bumbeck‘s advice) so that I’d have something decent to shoot million-dollar Ferrari engines at the ’07 Monterey Historics. According to the diagnostic tools on CHDK, I shot more than 40,000 photographs using that camera. That total includes 99% of the images in the original Down On The Street series, most of my LeMons shots prior to the summer of 2010, and the majority of my junkyard photos. That camera was an absolutely bulletproof tool that survived plenty of drops onto pavement, getting soaked by rain, and month after month of getting beat up in my pocket at LeMons races and junkyards (this is in stark contrast to its replacement, an SD1300 that’s just about used up after only 10 months of similar use). 
Its image-stabilization feature meant that it wasn’t quite as good for bolted-to-race-car timelapse duty as the simpler A460, although it did manage to capture some decent images in that role. Mostly, I used it to take BS Inspection timelapse images, in order to create videos such as the one below:

When time and track conditions permitted, I’d also mount the SD800 on a sophisticated trackside camera mounting system (a sharpened stake with a 1/4″-20 stud JB-welded onto one end), install it just out of harm’s way at a particularly action-packed track location, and set it to shoot a photograph every 10 seconds. Here it is at CMP’s Turn 1 a couple months back. 
I knew I was taking a chance on having a race car overcook a turn in a novel manner and head out of the usual wipeout zone right into the SD800, but I figured the camera would have a good chance of survival if I placed it 20 or so feet back and away from the plowed-up earth created by earlier off-track excursions. Even if a car did hit the camera, I thought, it would likely be a survivable glancing blow, not a high-speed head-on wreck. 
A few hours into yesterday’s Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis racing session, I went over to Gingerman’s Turn 3 to get some photos with my SLR. Turn 3 was the location of the SD800, and it had gone missing. Uh-oh. After the checkered flag waved and I finished high-fiving all the non-DNF-ing racers, I hopped on a borrowed scooter and zipped out to the scene of the crime. There’s the camera in the dirt, 50 feet from its original location. That can’t be good! 
Ouch! The only salvageable parts were the battery, LCD screen, and memory card. I suppose I’ll put this camera in my photographic junkyard and start shopping for an SD800 with a busted screen. 
With the camera shooting an image every 10 seconds, I was hopeful that the final image on the memory card would show the culprit. Sure enough, it did. 
Clearly, the miscreant in question was the Neon Light District Dodge. If only I’d known they’d killed my camera when they rolled into the Penalty Box, I’d have made them pay. My memory is long, however, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing those boys at a future race. You can run, Neon Light District, but you can’t hide!

7 Responses to “This Won’t End Well: Neon Bashes Beloved Timelapse Camera”

  1. James L

    I look forward to seeing what woe you bestow upon that team of racers. I’m sure it will be highly entertaining for all involved.

  2. CraigSu

    Well. on the plus side, your monopod stake mount seems to have survived for another day’s use!

  3. Bob

    On the rear L quarter of the Fury you can see another one of your cameras. Big brother is everywhere…

  4. mechimike

    Don’t forget, that camera mount is actually a Whitworth thread- sure, a 1/4-20 bolt _might_ work, but you really should get a correct Whitworth bolt to ensure that camera stays tighten to the stake.

  5. DC Doug

    Obviously what is needed here is a breakaway fitting between said trusty stake and camera. Sure, you would have had to expand the search area for the camera, but if you love it… set it free (or something).

  6. DC Doug

    1) still a fail on NJMP commentary… just sayin’.
    2) did anyone ever come through on your challenge for a walkaround coolshirt last year? Apparently I need to find the edge at every race (by stumbling over it)… could use a GOOJF card or two for Summit.

  7. John Bianchi

    Well Murilee what did you really expect? I mean you still have the camera! Where were the cones marking its location with flashing lights? The yellow paint lines? No warning given at Drivers meeting! Hey, you didn’t even protect it from the elements!!
    OK! So I feel for the guy, I took out the timing eyes at the end of a SOLO 1 race once!

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