Charity Ride Photographer Kevin Kane details his passion for photography and what capturing the Ride means to him.
As a teenager in West Babylon, New York – located on the south shore of Long Island – Kevin Kane can ultimately credit his start in photography as a stroke of good luck. Kevin was just a 15-year-old kid working in a deli, when a customer, who was an avid gambler at the horse track, gave him a few horses to bet on one weekend. As luck would have it, Kevin’s horses won, and he went out and spent his winnings on an Olympus camera.
What started out as just taking photos of family and friends, quickly turned into a fun-filled passion. He became a staff photographer on his high school newspaper and continued taking photos in college for the Adelphi University newspaper and yearbook. However, Kevin didn’t study photography while in college – he majored in chemistry. “I mainly taught myself photography by looking at different photographers and mimicking styles that I liked, and then working to make it into something of my own,” said Kevin.
He always had a huge interest in shooting entertainment events, including sports and music. His interest in music, led Kevin to work for a company called Ticketron during college – which is similar to Ticketmaster or Live Nation. Through this job, he attended concerts up close and he always took his camera with him to capture photos of the performers. During one show, he met a man who eventually became well-known in the entertainment photography community and, to this day, continues to ask Kevin to shoot along with him at different gigs, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Grammys. Kevin has captured some pretty cool moments over the years of legendary performers like Aerosmith, Prince, Bill Joel, Paul McCartney and Barbara Streisand, Bono and The Rolling Stones – just to name a few.
Also, while in college, Kevin found a way to focus on his passion for capturing sporting events, specifically NASCAR. He formed a friendship with a new neighbor that moved in across the street, George Brunnhoelzl – who just happened to race in the NASCAR Modified Division. Kevin started taking photos at George’s racing events just for fun, plus it allowed him to get into the races for free. As his interest grew, Kevin wanted to start shooting races in the NASCAR Cup Series. Knowing he needed to be affiliated with a media outlet, he reached out to the Area Auto Racing newspaper in New Jersey. Working for them as a photographer gave him the credentials he needed to get into Cup races.
Upon graduating college, Kevin entered the Nassau County Police Department’s police academy and became a Police Officer in 1986. As a police officer, Kevin continued to do photography on the side. Through his photography and networking at the races, Kevin started getting odd jobs, including a deal to shoot for Pontiac Racing – which is where he met our very own Kyle Petty during his driving stint for Felix Sabates. “During one of our first photoshoots together, I drove down to Kyle’s house, set up the background display and took a ton of great shots of Kyle – or at least what I thought would be great shots, that is until I realized I never had any film in my camera,” said Kevin. “So, we had to completely start over and do the whole photoshoot again. As you can imagine, knowing Kyle, I’ve never lived it down.”
Fast-forward to 1995, I was out in California at the racetrack and had no idea that Kyle was about to embark on the inaugural Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America. “I had known about past motorcycle trips Kyle did like the Hey Buddy Tour, but I didn’t learn about the actual Charity Ride until right before it was set to take off,” said Kevin. “I found out that a few guys I knew from the NASCAR Scene publication were traveling along to photograph it.” While he didn’t get to participate that very first year of the Ride, Kevin was brought on by one of the Scene photographers to join the following year – and he’s been coming back every year since!
“I shoot the Ride the way I would want to see it as an outsider,” said Kevin. “From the bikes and scenic routes to the riders and fans we see along the way, I want my photos to tell the story of the Ride. I want people to see a photo and want to hear more about what they see.” The photos Kevin has captured over the years of the Ride have gone a long way in telling its story. They’ve been featured in thousands of media outlets – both print publication and broadcast television – and they’ve been shared across social media. Fans get to feel like they are a part of the Ride seeing Kevin’s photos on social media. Plus, his photos help spread the word about the Ride’s cause – helping us capture the attention of new supporters that want to get involved.
“On the Ride in the beginning, it was cool to know we were doing something to help others,” said Kevin. “But after Adam’s accident, when Victory Junction was created and became the Ride’s beneficiary, it was all the more humbling to know we were helping a lot of kids in need and also continuing Adam’s legacy.” This is likely because Adam made a real impact on Kevin, as he did for so many. “I don’t think I ever saw him in a bad mood,” said Kevin. “He was always just trying to make other people smile, especially when I photographed him visiting with the kids at different hospitals during the Ride.”
Adam’s impact also left on a mark on Kevin’s son, Brian. Brian was born in 1995 and Kevin brought him along on the Ride and to races at just a year old. “Adam always took Brian under his wing and talked to him about racing and made him feel special,” said Kevin. One of Kevin’s favorite memories of Adam actually happened about a week before he passed away. They were leaving a race at Richmond and heading back to Kyle’s farm. At the time, Adam was almost finished building his house just around the corner from Kyle’s property and he invited Kevin and Brian over to see it. Earlier that day, Brian had made a drawing of a cross while at the NASCAR daycare facility at the race. So when they got to Adam’s house, Brian gave the cross drawing to Adam and he immediately took it and stuck it on the refrigerator. “It was just a special moment that we’ll never forget, especially for my son who was just five years old at the time,” said Kevin.
For Kevin, it’s that same genuine, kindness within the people on the Ride that he finds so special and makes coming back on the Ride every year memorable. “The Ride truly is a family. Everyone treats each other just like they would their own family,” said Kevin. “I love that at any time during the year, not just on the Ride, you can call someone up for a favor or to meet up for dinner if you’re passing through their town, or even just to chat and catch up. It’s just nice to have people you can count on for things like that.
Q+A with Kevin Kane:
1. What is your favorite thing to capture on the Ride?
“I like to capture that moment when the bikes are one with the scenery. I want to show the size of the ride – not just one bike – with the scenic surroundings or background that really encompasses what we’re seeing on the road and tells a story.”
2. If you could describe the Ride in one word, what would it be?
“Well, you can’t put the Ride in one word, you just can’t. But I can say that to be involved in the Ride is humbling.”
3. Describe a day in the life of being a photographer on the Ride?
“I basically work around the clock. It’s fun and fast-paced. I take photos while traveling on the road and at all the stops and activities at the hotel each night. I shoot all day and edit and upload images all night. I try my best to get five or six hours of sleep, but it doesn’t always happen.”
4. Do you have one specific favorite photo that stands out from the Ride?
“My favorite photos are ones that tell a story, showing where we were and a memory that was captured. One that also stands out was in 2012 when I captured a photo of a hummingbird hovering over Adam's helmet, which just so happened to be in the same spot of a photo I took with Kyle and Adam on the 1998 Ride.”
5. What does it mean to you to be a part of something that gives back to the kids of Victory Junction?
“To be involved and to give back to the kids at Victory Junction is an enriching experience. To know you’re helping children in need and giving them an opportunity to have a week of fun with other kids like them, that means a lot.”