NEW PARIS — Kim Jager spent her 52nd birthday Thursday at her second home: New Paris Speedway.
“It’s my home track. It gives me something to do,” Jager said.
Jager is the official track photographer for the speedway. She’s been in that role since the start of the 2019 season. She also was the track photographer in 2016 and 2017 as well.
Her impact goes beyond photography, though. Jager has become one of the familiar faces for everybody that visits the speedway during the season, becoming friends to hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
“It’s funny because I will have people come up to me and they’ll talk to me like they know who I am,” Jager said. “They’ll act like they’ve known me for years, and to me, it’s an automatic response: ‘How do I know you?’ And they go, ‘Well, I know your pictures.’ That’s pretty cool, you know?”
Jager didn’t start doing photography until 2012 when she and her husband, John, started going to the race track. John had a camera, so Kim started using it to take photos from outside the fenced area. Eventually, she became the official track photographer, granting her access to take photos from the infield. She’s the only one allowed to take photos from the infield during race day.
“It’s easier to focus when you don’t have to deal with the fence,” Jager admitted. “I love doing it; I try to find different angles all the time. I try to zoom up in their faces just so you can see the driver’s faces; even when they’re moving, I always sit in the pit entrance and zoom in right in on their faces.”
John owns a racecar and races it in the hornet class at New Paris. They started racing in the hornet division last year, with Kim set to drive the car.
The person who was supposed to be the track photographer last year never showed up to the first races, though, and the owners asked Kim if she could shoot for them. Jager agreed, and her racing career was over before it even began,
“I was going to be in the female class last year,” Jager said. “I was scared, but then again, I wanted to go out and wanted to try it just to see what it was like.”
New Paris isn’t the only track Jager shoots at. She is also the track photographer for Hartford Speedway in Michigan. Every Friday, Jager makes the two-hour drive from her house in Kimmel to Hartford for the races. New Paris does most of its racing on Saturday night, so the schedules don’t conflict for Jager.
Sunday is when Jager takes care of all her photos. She takes up to 2,000 photos a week and puts them through a watermark processor. Watermarking the photos takes 3-4 hours in itself. She then uploads the photos to her Facebook page, “KIZZ Photos,” in an album that can be as big as 1,000 photos. That process also takes 3-4 hours, giving Jager a lot of downtime to watch new shows on television.
“I’ve been on the kick of doing the murder mystery-type things, 48 Hours and such,” Jager said. “It’s like, ‘Really? How in the world do they get away with some of this? Are you serious?’”
Along with being known by many, Jager helps entertain the kids at the track in various ways. A couple of times around past Easters, Jager has helped organize an Easter egg hunt on the infield of the track. She said she helped color 8,000 Easter eggs one year for the event.
Another way she helps out is by making goodie bags for kids, usually on “Autograph Night.” This year’s “Autograph Night” was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though, leaving Jager with hundreds of goodie bags in her house. Over the past three weeks, she’s been handing them out to kids at the track.
She still had a huge box full of bags on Saturday.
“I like to see the smiles on the little kids. It takes away from them begging their parents, ‘Oh, can I go get this? Can I go get that?’” Jager said. “Like, last weekend — I always try to get the noisemakers to let the little kids make noise. So, I’m out in the infield last week, and all I hear is this whistle, and you have to laugh to yourself because, ‘Yup, there goes that little kid and he’s just as happy as can be.’”
Jager hasn’t worked a “real” job since 2012. She has dedicated the last eight years of her life to photography, and it’s provided her and her racing community with thousands of memories.
“My deal is it’s all about memories,” said Jager, who uses that phrase as her slogan for her photo company. “I don’t have to feel like I’m afraid when I’m here because everybody seems friendly, you know everybody, I can walk through the pits and have people say ‘Hi’ and smile. … It’s good.”