In the fast lane: MSU prof also race car photographer
The first job Jef Richards had as a freshman in college is one he continues to do to this day.
For 41 years, Richards, who now chairs Michigan State University’s Department of Advertising and Public Relations, has worked as a professional photographer for Indy and NASCAR races. The first 20 years, he was a stringer for United Press International until he was hired in 1994 as an official photographer for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"A lot of what I do is documenting for advertising purposes,” he said. “I'm taking photos of cars and signs with sponsorship logos and graphics. I'm also there to photograph any action and to document the entire event, including the spectators."
As part of a staff of about 28 photographers, Richards covers a few events each year for the motor speedway, including the Indy 500, where he took more than 500 photos this year. He also photographed the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which took place two weeks before this year's Indy 500, and at the end of this month, he’ll return to Indianapolis to cover the Brickyard 400.
For Richards, whose passion for the sport began well before he started photographing it, taking a ride with racing legend Mario Andretti around the 2 1/2-mile track was the thrill of a lifetime.
"The fact that I got to ride in a car with Mario Andretti for two laps at about 180 miles per hour is amazing to me," Richards said. "Feeling the g-forces gives you a whole new perspective."
Richards grew up in southern Indiana at a time when the Indy 500 lasted the entire month of May with all the qualifications that used to take place.
Since graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Richards went on to earn a law degree from Indiana University and Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Wisconsin.
He was a professor and chair of the advertising department at the University of Texas at Austin before coming to MSU in 2011. Throughout all that, he has kept that job he worked so hard to get as a freshman in college.
"I am living out my dream, and I've continued to do it because in some ways it is just such a part of my life," he said. "I go there and I know a lot of the photographers. It is very much like going home."
Richards will be going "back home" to cover the Brickyard 400, which takes place July 24-27.