The racing culture in and around Roanoke, Virginia runs deep. There are drivers running local tracks, there is a deep fan base and there are folks who simply live within that culture day to day. One of these fellows has been deeply immersed in area racing for quite a long time. He is so often behind the scenes that his influence is experienced without notice. He’s a bit like mild mannered Clark Kent… However, he has no cape (that we know of), he simply has a love of the sport of racing and throws a super effort into what he does.
The man is Mike Paris. He doesn’t walk around with his “Race Day” game face on all the time. It’s more likely, if you passed by him walking about, you wouldn’t know from looking that he’s even a racing fan. He has a family. He has cats. He has a Porsche. But he’s not one of “those” Porsche guys… Given the chance he may talk more about the cats than the car… They are named after Formula 1 Ferrari drivers. That’s just Mike.
He’s been around racing a long time. His father was involved selling tickets, driving the clean-up truck and whatever else needed done at Martinsville. Mike’s Dad was a pretty good shooter, too. Here’s a good shot of the “Petty Blue” #43 Plymouth and 4 year old Mike with H. Clay Earles (Martinsville Speedway builder / owner) and The King, Richard Petty.
Our first contact with Mike Paris was, of course, at Martinsville Speedway. It was easy to see he knew his way around. He knew the people around the room and the track. However, unlike many race photographers, he was open and welcoming and happy to share advice on where to get photos. More importantly… Where NOT to get photos. This was before the mandatory photographer meetings. (These days, NASCAR and other sanctioned series tracks hold “must attend” photographer meetings to lay out the rules of where and when photographers may shoot.)
Plus… To give you kids an idea of how long Mike has been shooting at race tracks. Many years ago, the cameras used “film”. It was a special strip of thin plastic on rolls that fit inside the camera and required time and chemicals to get a single photo. The rolls allowed a photographer to shoot 24 or 36 photos before manually switching out to another roll of film. Modern cameras, of course, are digital and a single storage card can hold hundreds of images which are immediately available…
Mike comes from the film days at the race track. Watching for the shot, being patient with the camera, paying attention to the details of racing so those 36 frames per roll are used as efficiently as possible. The rush came after the race… Getting that film to the lab to be processed… Often for next day publication. There was no PhotoShop. You got the shot right in the camera, in focus, with correct light or you had a worthless, blurry waste of a shot.
You’ve seen Mike’s images in local (and national) news publications… He is a practical wiki of walking race information. His photos and time at the track have cultivated friendships and first name relationships with drivers, crews and owners.
But wait! That’s not all! With Mike Paris, you also get racing teams! Mike has been on the pit wall of racing with winning teams. He has been there when the tires need changed, when the fuel goes in, when the car needs “no seconds to spare” repairs… He has done the late nights in the garage and he has been there in Victory Lane. It showcases his love of racing and the people within it to be directly involved with the teams through participation sponsorship. Many companies run money through the sport but few can boast the personal attention and passion that Paris brought with it.
This deep involvement with racing has influenced the sport locally for the benefit of the many race fans that live in and visit the area. Working promotions and planning for a major auto parts chain, Mike was centrally involved with sponsorship of racing events at small local tracks and national series events. He was there for NASCAR, NHRA, Modifieds and Late Model with direct sponsorship deals of winning race teams.
Mike’s perspective as a race fan was a driving force with his work in this capacity. He was outspoken with his view that sponsorship also has a responsibility to create a fan experience. He knew the fans made any event work and the name on the billboards was to issue a “Thank You” for their support.
Now…? What’s he doing now…? Mike’s history, deep experience and friendships from on and off the track presented an opportunity that couldn’t be passed over. These days, Mike is surrounded by the open wheel racing culture. He is working with a racing entrenched promotions company directly involved with the planning and execution of sponsorship events on the IndyCar schedule.
With Covid and the black flag out on the year 2020, Mike found himself working from home. However, even with this, he threw “all in”. He treated his home work area like a place of business. He got up and dressed for work and did his job just as if he was in the office.
(Did he drive the Porsche around the block to simulate the drive in to work…? Maybe…)
This year, 2021, is a hodge podge puzzle of wait and see… Fans and attendance at racing events is still on shaky ground but Mike’s work continues. Racing and the events that make it come together are still whirling in the background.
Mike Paris is there keeping things moving and at the ready for racing. If you see him at the track, give him a “Thank You” wave. He’s earned it.
Below are just a few photos from a large catalog by Mike Paris. All images are copyright / owned by Mike Paris. Duplication without permission prohibited.