Doran-Lista's Crew Chief focuses on other things, too

BRASELTON, Ga., June 28 - Like most of the people in the paddock and pits at an American Le Mans Series race, there is a lot more to Jeff Graves than first meets the eye. Graves is the crew chief for Doran-Lista Racing, which fields ...

BRASELTON, Ga., June 28 - Like most of the people in the paddock and pits at an American Le Mans Series race, there is a lot more to Jeff Graves than first meets the eye.

Graves is the crew chief for Doran-Lista Racing, which fields the Michelin-shod Dallara MG #27 which will be driven by Belgium natives Didier Theys and Eric van de Poele in tomorrow's Chevy Grand Prix of Atlanta at Road Atlanta Motorsports Park here.

As one of the right-hand men of endurance sports car legend Kevin Doran, the team's owner, Graves is most often seen hard at work on the race car at the Doran-Lista transporter or changing outside tires during a pit stop. The Cincinnati resident has worked full-time in the Lebanon, Ohio-based shop of Doran Racing for 10 years.

When the immaculate red and white Dallara glides into the pits for a pit sto p, photojournalists often catch Graves in action as part of a well-oiled, experienced pit crew working together to service the car as quickly as possible. Despite the long lengths of endurance sports car races - insiders call Sunday's two hour and 45 minute event a "sprint race" because it's so "short" - there are no time-outs in racing once the green flag drops.

What the photographers who catch Graves in action during pit stops - and almost everybody else at the event - don't know is that when he's not working at Doran-Lista Racing, Graves is a fine-art photographer himself. While he concentrates on ride heights, tire pressures and wing angles at the track, he spends his free time focusing on shutter speeds, f-stops, developer, stop bath and fixer.

At the urging of friends he developed a Web site to showcase his photography at www.graymatterimages.com. All of the images posted on this electronic gallery are in black and white and they all capture the gradations of textures, lines and shapes through the eyes and camera lenses of a true artist.

Many of the images were taken in exotic locations, mirroring Graves' passions for travel and hiking as well as photography.

He recently returned from one such trip that he says was really memorable, as he, his girlfriend and several other friends participated in a four-day organized hiking tour of the original Inca Trail in Peru. Photographic images that he captured on that trip will be posted on his Web site soon.

It was Graves' first trip to Peru. He flew from Cincinnati to Atlanta and then went on to Lima, and then met the tour organizers in Cusco.

"There were about 15 of us, and we followed the spiritual journey of the Incas," Graves explained while double-checking bolts on the Doran-Lista Dallara before a practice session. "We started at 8,000 feet above sea level and we maxed out at 14,000 feet.

"Most of the time you're above 10,000 feet," he continued. "The mountains and peaks, the passes and vistas were just incredible.

"We hiked 15 to 16 kilometers a day, and we saw old ruins of different villages where the Incas stayed that were really fantastic," he added. "It was amazing to see the way they lived, and also the engineering of the structures was just fabulous. The stones were cut in a very intricate way even though it was 800 years ago, and they're still there."

Rather than concentrating on how to get a race car over the pavement as quickly as possible at some of North America's best road courses, for four days Graves focused on South America's ancient highways laid with thick, interlocking blocks of stone that were built for men on foot and sturdy llamas.

As far as wildlife goes, he said the group saw some alpacas, but he was most impressed with some of the native flora.

"We saw a lot of different variations of orchids in the rain forest that were just unbelievable," he said.

The high altitude caused some problems.  "The worst part was that for the
first two days, I was pretty nauseous," he said.  "The hardest day we hiked for
close to 12 hours.  It was extremely demanding both physically and mentally."

That's where Graves' experience in endurance sports car racing paid off.

"You have to pace yourself, just like we have to do for our long races," he said. "And when you're really tired, you just have to psyche yourself up to go on.

"Our guide told us to hike for 25 minutes and then rest for 5 minutes, and we did that all day long, except for lunchtime," he said. "We hiked over two mountain passes that were 14,000 and 13,500 feet, so it was grueling."

Graves said one memory of the trip that he'll keep forever was when the group headed towards the entrance to Machu Picchu, which is called Sun Gate.

"We got up at 3 a.m. and hiked in darkness so that we could see the sun come up at Sun Gate," he explained. "That was pretty cool."

Graves is currently showcasing his photography in six main areas: architecture, city scenes, landscapes, nature, oddities and still life.

"I try not to manipulate or create a fabricated stage," he wrote on his Web site. "Instead, I endeavor to capture the scene and the feeling I have when I experience an area for the first time. I feel my art comes into a given image based on how I perceive and record that given experience."

Graves concentrated on oil painting before he "discovered photography is a medium that better suits my mobile lifestyle.

"The aspect of photography I enjoy is the combination of finding a time/place experience, capturing it on film and reproducing the image to paper," he explained on the Web site. "All of the prints that you see are hand developed using traditional darkroom processing techniques. Doing so enables me to have complete control of creativity from the snap of the shutter to the final washing of the print. The images are printed on a quality, resin-coated paper, and then selenium-toned for permanence.

"Many of my images are captured during week-long backpacking trips and journeys to distant places," he added. "I also find beauty in familiar places and common objects or utilities most people take for granted."

A photograph taken in a Cincinnati junkyard is more than proof of that last claim.

Graves works in various formats: 35mm, 6x4.5 cm, 6x6 cm and 4x5 inches. The prints, which range in price from $60 to $75 and up, are available in 8x10 and 11x14-inch formats.

With his talent in photography, why are there no pictures of race cars on Graves' Web site?

"Oh no; no race cars," he said with a smile and a firm shake of his head. "Everything in moderation, you know!"

-ldr/lm-

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Didier Theys , Eric van de Poele , Kevin Doran