It all began with a spoof. In 1959, Bob Richards, the editor of the Nevada-based Territorial Enterprise, announced that a camel race would be run down the main street of Virginia City, Nevada, and challenged other newspapers to compete.
The Enterprise had forged a reputation for tall tales since Mark Twain had worked on the newsdesk, and no one took it seriously – until word reached the San Francisco Chronicle, which promptly sent a team to Virginia City, camels in tow.
Thus began an annual event, in its 55th year this September, that now includes ostrich and zebra races as well as camels.
"Pretty much anyone can give it a try," says Sol Neelman. "No one's a professional." The 43-year-old has photographed "weird sports", as he calls them, since 2005. Starting with roller derby in Seattle, he has shot more than 200 sports over the past decade, from lightsaber fencing to his favourite, live Kaiju monster wrestling in New York: "Think Godzilla characters battling for control of the universe in a wrestling ring. It's so fun."
He regards the series as "an excuse to travel and see friends across the States" – though his passion project has also taken him to Asia, South America and Europe. "I live in Portland, Oregon, but I've been on the road for at least five months a year for the past three years," he says.
"I love these sports because people are having so much fun. There's tons of laughter, lots of costumes and plenty of cheap beer. Plus, access is great: I don't have to apply for accreditation 18 months in advance, like with the Olympics. I just turn up with my gear and a smile on my face."
'Weird Sports 2' by Sol Neelman is published by Kehrer in September, priced £24.99Reuse content