Will Lester, Staff Photographer, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Will Lester, Staff Photographer, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Staff photographer Will Lester earned the top motorsports journalism award in the country on Tuesday night for the fourth time.

Lester, a photographer for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and San Bernardino Sun, won the Taxslayer.com Motorsports Journalism Award in the photography category for his picture of an exploding Funny Car during an NHRA drag race last year. He accepted the award during a ceremony at the annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour.

"It's the most prestigious motorsports photography award in the country" said freelance photographer David Griffin, a past winner. "His (four) awards by far beats everybody."

As in years past, the Indiana University School of Journalism judged the award entries.

"Captures action not commonly seen in such photos. Excellent framing creates a sense of suspense and relates a story," was the panel's comment of the entry entitled "Blown Up." "Photo has `stopping power' - causes a person to pause and examine the details."

Lester's honor is particularly impressive given his duties for the newspaper do not focus strictly on motorsports. He has been taking pictures locally since 1998, but covers roughly 10 races per year.

Most other entrants in the contest are full-time motorsports photographers who attend as many as 50 races in a year.

All of Lester's awards have been won with photos focused on drag racing. He also took home the award in 2000, 2006 and 2008.

"That's his passion as far as his photography goes," Griffin said. "He sticks with it and gets those dynamic shots with explosions and fire."

Sports Editor Louis Brewster, who twice accepted the award for Lester, said the recognition reflects not only on the photographer's talent, but his work ethic.

"Great photos don't just happen. They are the result of anticipation and preparation," said Brewster. "There are not many photographers who will outwork Will Lester, that's pretty much his signature."

Lester, 50, said he was humbled to be recognized for his work.

"It's going up against some of the best photographers in the world," he said. "To get a shot I'm happy with that shows the explosiveness of the sport - both literally and figuratively - there's a lot of luck involved."

To capture his award-winning photograph, Lester shot last October's NHRA drag race in Las Vegas. He positioned himself toward the top end of the track during the final round of qualifying and waited to see if an incident would occur.

Fortunately for Lester - and unfortunately for racer Johnny Gray's car - it did (Gray was uninjured).

"It just happens in a fraction of a second," Lester said. "Johnny Gray's engine just exploded and blew the whole body off the car. The (car) body must have gone 125 feet in the air, and it landed outside the racing surface."

Lester realized he had caught the moment as soon as the car passed him and he looked down at his camera.

"You just want to make sure you have the shot in focus and all the pertinent information in the image," he said.

Lester's award comes with a $1,000 scholarship, which he has chosen to give to Cal State Fullerton, his alma mater.