Before photographer Anita Rich took on her biggest project to date, "Portraits of NASCAR," she knew fewer than a handful of drivers by name.
While paging through her one-of-a-kind coffee-table book Sunday in her Kannapolis home, the England native named each driver on sight as she recalled memories from each photo shoot.
NASCAR President Mike Helton stepped out of his customary suit and tie to pose for a picture wearing jeans, boots and a cowboy hat.
"You don't ever get a picture of Mike Helton like that," she said.
Never miss a local story.
She took to the lake to photograph Casey Mears on a wakeboard.
"You should have seen me trying to keep my balance, take the shots and keep the camera dry," she said.
The photos of Benny Parsons, one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers of all time, and Bill France Jr., the organization's former president, were the last taken of each. Both died last year before the book was published.
"To me, my emotion is in here," Rich said. "I captured what I wanted. I look at these pictures and I remember what it felt like. ... I'm ecstatic. It's everything I ever wanted and I feel I've made people happy."
Now, when she watches the races, she's more emotionally attached.
"I feel for them," she said. "If they're driving around and get hurt, my heart stops. I don't know if I want anyone to win; I just want them to be safe."
Behind the scenes
Rich's idea was to create a book that took fans on a behind-the-scenes journey into the personal lives of NASCAR families.For about a year, she tried on her own to gain access to "the NASCAR family" but had no luck.
"If you're an outsider, it's hard to get in," Rich said. "They didn't understand the concept. They said (creating the book) wasn't possible."
So she pitched the idea to her friend and eventual co-author, Robin Dallenbach, wife of former NASCAR racer and commentator Wally Dallenbach Jr.
Robin Dallenbach said, "She wanted to create an artistic book with black-and-white photography about NASCAR drivers and their families out of their uniforms and away from the track."
Dallenbach volunteered her family for the book's first photo shoot. She loved the photos, and they decided to become partners, she said.
"(Robin Dallenbach) played a very integral part in this book," Rich said. The NASCAR family is very close-knit, she said, "and she has such great friendships and relationships with all these people, which allowed me access into their lives."
Dallenbach started contacting drivers, scheduling shoots, and word began to spread.
"The shoots were fun and quick. There was no entourage, no lighting, and that's what made the shoots such a success," Dallenbach said. "It's a side of the NASCAR family the fans have never seen. It's an inside look and that's what makes it really unique."
A peek inside NASCAR families
Nearly four years later, the book was complete. When it arrived at Rich's home on Jan. 11, she screamed with joy. She popped open a bottle of champagne and leafed through the book with her family.
The book features more than 30 NASCAR personalities away from their race cars. Each has a small biography with career highlights and a quote or two.
"This book represents something completely new in the NASCAR marketplace," Michael Fesina, executive editor of NASCAR Illustrated magazine, said via e-mail. "It forgoes over-the-top commercialism in favor of a private, insider's view of NASCAR's most notable figures in their homes, with their families, living their lives. It shows our larger-than-life racing heroes away from the track ... (and it) achieves it with style and grace."
A portion of the book's proceeds will benefit Victory Junction Gang Camp, whose mission is to enrich the lives of children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses; and the Women's Auxiliary of Motorsports, which is part of the NASCAR Foundation Family of Charities.