Most drag racing fans who are familiar with my story, know that I worked as a photographer for many years before my own racing career finally got underway in 1986. Once I started racing, I put away my cameras and focused (pun intended) solely on my career. All of my past work was no longer important to me. But even though I no longer cared about my past, I did manage to lug around 11 big plastic bins of negatives and transparencies from the mid eighties all over the country. They've been stored in numerous storage units, moved from Atlanta to Indy back in 1994, stacked up in the not-so-dry 1932 era basement of my first house, and most recently, stored in the garage next to all of my and my family's cycling and ski equipment out here in Oregon. How I kept them, and why, I am not sure, but, boy, am I glad I did. I kept all of my camera equipment too, for the most part, although I did sell my 500mm lens to noted photographer and fellow Super Stock Magazine contributor Francis Butler after we had blown something up in the funny car in 1990. I last did a professional shoot (for WInston) in 1989 to raise some quick money when Gary Evans and I formed our own team, Bazemore Evans Racing. I next shot our car in 1996 for the cover of National Dragster. That was it until 2005 when my son Dashiell was born. In 15 years, I had picked up a camera exactly one time.
A week after Dash was born I returned home from Gainesville and shot of few rolls of B&W film of our little joy, only to find it impossible to get the film processed in Indianapolis! Times had changed.
Fast forward to now, and I am back into photography, although not making a living at it the way I once did. I enjoy it in ways that I never did before though, and I do shoot professional cycling races several times a year. I shoot my kids, and I am trying to do more landscape fine art, as well. But one of the most fun, and satisfying, projects has been going through some of my old stuff and getting a handful of images scanned and reprocessed. I can spend hours in Lightroom doing post processing work. Editing the images has brought me back to a time in the sport when things were different, and dare I say, better. The cars looked like cars and the drivers could be who they were, not some sponsor kissing drones. The tracks were full and there was genuine excitement in the air every day of every race. I may be jaded (in fact, I know I am!) but I think some of my images tell the story of that difference.
Each photo is presented on its own, there is not an order to them, or a continuous theme. They should stand alone for what they are.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I have enjoyed re-editing them and going back a few years in time. ---Whit Bazemore
DON PRUDHOMME 1982 - This is one of my favorites, and one I DID in fact print back in the day. I still have an original 8x10 which looks really good - brand new in fact - even though it was shot and printed 31 years ago. I am happy that my prints are archival, because you never know until they pass a test of time.
My opinion is this car was one of the best looking "corporate" cars of the time. It was extremely photogenic, which meant it was photographed - and published - often. Isn't that the name of the game? Of course, running an ungodly 5.63 at INDY later in the year also meant it was the quickest of its era. By far.
In looking at this image, it is apparent to me that perhaps NHRA should take a step back in regards to today's FC bodies. They are ugly and look nothing like the real cars. The fans have lost the connection to the cars - a connection which once was very important. Who knows, maybe Detroit and Japan would have a bigger involvement if the cars were more representative. This is obviously an '82 Firebird, and when I look at, say, Del Worsham's car today, I really have no idea what the hell I am looking at.
GRAEME COWIN 1984 - This is not something you will ever see again, at least not in the current guise of the NHRA: a one-off, overhead cam, four valve, nitro motor. Typical of racing politics, (and not just the NHRA's) the sanctioning body let some smart people develop, engineer and most importantly, invest in, not necessarily a better idea, but a different idea. After many years of problem solving and spending lots and lots of money, the engine started to show signs of being competitive. Which meant, of course, it should not be legal. So, in 1997 the rules were changed, overnight limiting fuel engines to one cam and two valves per cylinder. The McGee never won a race in it's time, and was never seen again. A real shame, if you ask me.
It was cool while they tried to make this work, it generated a lot of interest, and some may remember when Dale Armstrong got involved while working for Bernstein.
The image shown here is not full frame, but almost. Which makes it a difficult image to have shot. This was before auto focus, so I was on my game (or, more likely, lucky!) to have gotten this in focus. Notice the fuel leak...
LARRY COOGLE 1982 - I swear racing photography is an athletic exercise. Some days were magical while others were just okay. Sometimes, it seemed even a roll of film was magical as well. This was one of those rolls. On this roll, I had this image, then two more of Bernstein, one of which I sold to Lincoln Mercury for $750 to make a poster. I'll never forget it ... Jeff Byrd had mentioned that L/M wanted a poster shot and when I saw the 2nd frame after this one, perfectly sharp, I called Bernstein to tell him what I had and would he be so kind as to give me the contact at L/M to send it in. I remember very clearly his reluctance – and why not – I was a high school student living at home and was certainly not very well known, or even considered "good" at the time. He relented, I sent the image off to Ernie Beckman, the executive at Ford, and a day later, when I returned home from school, my Mom said that "a Ernie Beckman called for you and I told him you were at school." Ugh. I called Mr. Beckman back (he did grill me as to how I got his address,) and was a little taken aback by my insistence of wanting $750 for the shot. I was a little nervous, but why not aim high? The resulting poster was awesome looking, and later we did more photography for a reprint which looked great.
Also on this roll, was a great shot of Gary Burgin which was published in the IHRA race programs (edited by the one and only Bob Frey - yes - that Bob Frey.) This image ran there too.
The owner of the Pontiac in this picture, Larry Coogle, was great to me... I spent a few races one summer ('83) working for him, and later (in 1990) he sponsored us on the QT when he bought a new Trans-am body for us which helped us land a one race Permatex sponsorship at Norwalk. That led to a 15 race contract for the next year, and well, the rest is history. So, I owe Larry a lot, along with many, many others, and am very grateful to him.
MIKE MAZZA 1982 - I met Mike a few times ... he was a super friendly guy. In fact, he invited us (the Winston crew) to his restaurant once after Norwalk. If I remember, it was superb. Sadly, Mike died from cancer about 10 years ago.
This shot of Mike at his home track in Columbus is different. It kinda says what Super Gas is all about ... speed and action, old vs new, slamming through the gears, and very close racing. I am sure Mike would have liked it and maybe would have a had a copy in his restaurant. I would have been honored and only wish it could happen now.
LUCILLE LEE, MARC DANEKAS 1982 - You don't read much about Lucille Lee when the subject of women racers comes up. Which is really too bad, because this was a great time in NHRA racing for rivalries. You have to remember, this was 1982, and Shirley was pretty much at the top of her game, and when Lucille came along - out of nowhere - driving for Marc Danekas, you just new it was going to be good. Of course, with Shirley involved, everything was good, whether racing Connie, Big, or hell, just about everyone, Shirley was on it – and that made her entertaining, competitive, and yes, famous. Lucille was soft spoken compared to Shirley, (who isn't) and the possible rivalry of the century just didn't develop as it could have. Which was our loss, of course. Despite winning the March Meet and Atlanta, Lucille's career was short lived, as was her life; sadly much like Mike Mazza, Lucille passed away from an illness in 2003.
ROY HILL 1982 - There is only one Roy Hill and man, what a character he is. If you know Roy, you know what I am talking about. There are lots of stories, most which can not be told.
Once, in Norwalk, Ohio, we had, as they say, a large time. I forget the year, maybe '82, but it started innocently enough: a Winston dinner with Kenny Bernstein, Roy, Jeff Byrd and a few others. There is a reason I can't remember all the details, but what I do remember is pretty good. Long story short, after some hilarious highjinx during dinner, and more drinking afterwards, we all walked out together and into these women who were walking in. I'll never forget Roy getting down on one knee in front of one these women, (who happened to be a 43 year old German, more on her in a minute... well, no, not more on her actually,) taking her hand, and saying in his North Carolina drawl, " You know what I like about you darlin? Everything!" Now if that isn't a come on line, I don't know what is, but it worked because these women came with us to where ever we went next. How could they resist? Needless to say, hanging out with Roy "after hours" was always going to be an adventure one way or another... and it always was.
I remember I felt pretty good the next day, but when I took the Winston VIP's over to Bernstein's between qualifying runs, he was never around... seems he was sleeping in the sleeper of the truck between runs. Same with Roy.
It must not have been long after this Norwalk night when Bernstein got VERY serious, increased his fitness considerably, lost a ton of weight, and while his car had been running well, he took his driving to the next level. Within a few years, he started winning championships, and becoming the all round NHRA hero that he is today.
The good ole days were certainly that, lots of fun. And while there are still a few guys today who stay out late, the truth is, you don't find them standing in the winners circle as often as you would if they focused a little more on their fitness and approach. But that isn't nearly as much fun, and it certainly doesn't make them a character in the Roy Hill sense of the word. And yes, the sport today could use a few more characters like Roy.
DON GARLITS 1982 - The greatest of them all, no doubt. Garlits.
It sounds egotistical, and it is, but I remember thinking that the moment I had "made it" in the sport was when I started getting free helmets. I was wrong. The real moment I knew I had made it was the first time Don Garlits referred to me by name. I remember the moment like it was yesterday, but I am not sure of the year... maybe 1992. My team and I went to the museum and Don was there, by the front door. "You're Whit Bazemore," he said as we walked in. I nearly fell over. Talk about getting a big head. Seriously. The only thing I was known for at the time was being able to calmly step out of a burning funny car race after race. He was Don Garlits... an almost God-like figure to me. It was almost like winning INDY. I swear.
When I was a little kid, on a family vacation to see my Grandparents in Florida, at my insistence, my parents took me to Don's shop in Tampa. It was a huge bummer that he was not there. Huge. But I got to look around and take it all in. My world back then was Petty, Andretti, Garlits and Prudhomme. Those were the guys. So to be in Garlits' shop was just super cool.
The thing about Garlits is this: he is all racer with no real "polish." Compare him to Prudhomme, who it could be argued is an equal to Big, and you can see what I am talking about. Snake can schmooze the sponsors, talk politics with the CEO's (and bend to their side, if needed, where as Garlits can talk politics too, but you better hope he agrees with you, because if he doesn't....) Anyway, see the difference? Garlits would rather be assembling a new blower, or designing a new car, than putting together a sponsorship proposal.
This photo tells the tale. Gar isn't playing John Force and hanging with the fans. Nope, because Garlits is a racer's racer. The only thing that mattered to him was his car and the win light.
JEFF HURST 1985 - The late Jeff Hurst and his dad, Fred, always had exceptional race cars. This one was super cool, of course. How could you be a racing fan and not like it?
This is from Edgewater in Ohio, an IHRA National event where my good friend Mike Hart and I took an off weekend for me and went and sold my work to the racers, Auto Imagery style. If I remember, we did fairly well, sold a lot of 8x10 cibachrome prints on spec, and had a good time.
The Hurst's became customers, bought a print or two, and this was one they received. It'd be very cool if they still have it after all these years.
1983 FRANK HAWLEY - I kinda like this from Orange County at the end of 1983. Orange County was sometimes hard to photograph because the light was tricky. I have many shots from there that I just don't like, and yet sometimes tricky light gave opportunity to do some cool things. This is your standard image in bad, mid-day light that somehow looks okay.
LEOMARD HUGHES 1984 - Thanks to modern technology, this image of Leonard was easily converted to b&w from a Kodachrome color transparency. It looks good in color, but I like the b&w version much more. Back in the day, I shot either Kodachrome or b&w film, usually Ilford FP4. You got what you got, and there was not a good, or efficient way to convert color transparencies to a b&w image. Now, the magic is so good, and so easy, that it is almost unbelievable! Just a click on the mouse, and presto. Making b&w images is so easy now, I really believe anyone can become a good "printer" with very little experience. Sitting at a computer is so much easier than standing at an enlarger... What used to take hours now takes minutes, and what used to take days, only takes hours. More time for bike riding and everything else life throws at us these days.
JIM BERNARD 1982 - You can google Jim Bernard to find out more about him, or you can read a book written by retired Portland, Oregon police officer Ray Tercek, (which incidentally, has a photo of this very car on the cover) Suffice it to say, it is not a drag racing book, although there is plenty of action of another kind. It seemed at the time most people knew or had a strong idea about what "Barney" did and where his money came from. Truthfully, I was kinda out of the loop when it came to such things, and just as well too. Later, in my 5 years of driving for Lee Beard, I never thought to ask him about this deal, but I am sure there are lots of stories. It would be interesting to hear his perspective.
I do like this back lit shot from Atlanta though. I remember going through my boxes of Kodachromes after the race and thinking this was a shot that could get published, but I still have it in my possession, so obviously I never sent it off. Very grateful for that as I think is captures this era of our sport really well,.
ROGER GUSTIN 1985 - Man, I did some crazy stuff back then. Big props to Roger for 1) not killing me, and 2) agreeing to my creative and sometimes stupid ideas.
Proctor & Gamble was a great client at the time and we did several photo shoots, including a very cool poster of a head-on burner pop with the afterburner flames swirling around, which incidentally was shot during a NHRA National Event. Pretty sure I know how that would go over in today's over-regulated, over-controlling, and largely untrusting environment.
Originally, I wanted an ultra low angle of this which would have required me to lie down on my stomach with the car coming head on. I think if it had been anything but a jet, I would have shot it that way, but jets are too unpredictable, they don't necessarily stop accelerating when you pull back on the throttle. I didn't have the balls.
We shot this in Warner Robbins, Ga coming back up the track. The high chute tells you the car is still going pretty fast. Not the smartest photographer ever, but hey, it turned out ok.
KENNY YOUNGBLOOD 1983 - One day, I was walking through the pits, I think at OCIR, and came across this random - and much too clean - crew guy on Mike Van Sant's Invader FC. The light was nice so I fired off a few frames - shooting him doing the mundane job of fastening the blower restraints. Ha!
Actually, this is proof that some photographers, and I'll use Jon Asher as an example, and other artists, like Kenny Youngblood, harbor a secret desire to drive Funny Cars, and if they can't do that, then they'll be content to just work on them!
I was very honored when 'Blood did my helmet design in 1989 (black and gold with the American flag wrapped around the sides.) Then after Ayrton Senna's death in 1994, I changed the black to yellow in Senna's honor, but I kept the design Kenny did for me for the rest of my career. Youngblood = perfection.
FRANK MANZO 1983 - What can be said about Frank Manzo? The guy is a prolific winner and one of our sport's true superstars. Already, Manzo was a legend when this photo was taken at his home track in Englishtown. In 1986, when I drove Rich Fenwick's TAFC for the summer, Manzo was the guy. Bob Newberry and the Bell Boys were the other guys who, ahem, were a little intimidating when in the other lane, but I must say, all of them were more than helpful when we obviously had no idea what we were doing mechanically with the car. Hard to believe that Manzo is still regularly kicking major a** today.
BUTCH LEAL 1984 - This was one of my favorite locations to shoot at one of my favorite tracks. I actually liked racing there too, even if the traffic is notorious. Englishtown. Seemingly always just one small step away from extinction. That it could become another faceless, bland suburban housing development in the blink of an eye makes the place all the more special. You never knew if you were racing there for the last time. Every single time I went to E-town, and it was often over the years, I walked around the place and soaked in the history. Jungle, Jeb, Jenkins, Manzo, Garlits in '86. And when I was younger, it was the other guys too, Woody Hatten, Steve Collison, Norman Blake, Dave Milcarek, John McCartney, Steve Bell, and the list could go on and on. So many people have roots at this place. Very cool that It is still there, too.
Thanks to Vinny's kids for not caving in.
The "California Flash" is one of the legends of Pro Stock, and was always super friendly back in my photographer days. Of course, he played in all the Winston golf tourneys, and usually won.
JODY SMART 1983 - Well, this is was it was. I love this image now. It really seems unbelievable, doesn't it? Of course, there were no 50 minute services between rounds, but you know, the racing wasn't half bad. In fact, it could be argued that the racing was awesome. I certainly thought so.
Jody, J.E. and Ralph. One of the all time friendliest and nicest "teams" ever in the sport. That Jody let me warm up the car, on fuel, in 1982, says everything about the guy. Just super cool.
I was spoiled, for sure, just being friends with these guys.
FRANK HAWLEY 1983 - This is a shot I just discovered on a sheet of b&w negatives from Brainerd. I never printed, or even remember it, from back in the day. Which is kinda crazy, because I think it is pretty decent. It is in focus - and not all of them were!
RICHARD GRIFFIN 1985 - It is funny how the mind works after 30 plus years. There are some images I look at now, like the previous one of Hawley, and I don't recall ever having seen it, much less shooting it, Then there are others, such as this one of fellow Ga. boys Steve Bagwell and team, that I remember shooting like it was yesterday. It was a late afternoon on a qualifying day at Columbus, just hanging out, when suddenly the light got really, really nice - and importantly - SS class cars started running. This is what sportsman class racing is all about, and I was a fan. When I see this, I still am.
MARK OSWALD 1985 - Mark was a racer's racer, still, and someone I admire.
Candies & Hughes were obviously a great team. Say what you want about Leonard, he was there to win.
It is a little known fact that I was to drive for C&H in 1994, the first year of the Smokin' Joe's team. It was a done deal, until it wasn't. To this day, I don't know why Leonard changed his mind, but I can tell you that afterwards my single goal in life was to absolutely crush them. Then in Brainerd of '95, Leonard and I had a conversation which made me feel really good, and went a long way to easing the disappointment of the previous year. It showed his character.
It went down like this: in the fall of '93 I had already been told I was the driver of the Funny Car and there was a meeting scheduled at RJR in Winston-Salem on a Monday finalize everything. I was then traveling on to Hartford, CT on Wednesday to personally tell my long time sponsor Permatex goodbye and thank you.
It was during the Monday meeting that my good friends and mentors, T. Wayne Robertson and Jeff Byrd sat me down and gave me unbelievable news that I would not be their driver after all. They both gave me some advice: put my head down, race hard, and it will come back to me. At that moment, I can unequivocally say it was one of lowest points of my life. I was shattered.
So now I had one day to pull myself together and figure out a program for 1994. I found myself traveling to Hartford to save my career, again, and to turn my $90,000 partnership with Loctite/Permatex into something more competitive. I asked for $500,000 and walked out of the meeting with $250,000. I can unequivocally say it was one of the highest points of my life!
After that, it took three weeks (or more) to hire Rob Flynn, and it was only by convincing his wife Michelle that we could be successful together that it happened. Both Bob Brooks (who I owed a ton of money to) and Ken Veney helped convince him as well. I moved to Indianapolis and we started from scratch. During the next two years, we grew our team and raced hard. I may be wrong, but I don't think Gordie and Candies & Hughes ever won a round against us during those two years. We had significantly better results on the race track. It was personal for me. Very.
Even though it ended well (RJR moved the Smokin' Joe's sponsorship to Bazemore Racing in 1996) I still regret the fact that I was not able to drive for Paul and Leonard. It would have been awesome to follow in Mark (and all the other greats who drove for C&H) footsteps and be part of the history of that great team. Plus, I would have learned a lot from both Leonard and Paul. In my mind, they are one of the best NHRA teams ever, and the only thing better would be if they were still racing together today. Legends of the sport, for sure.
JOHN LOMBARDO/BLUE MAX 1985 - This is another b&w image I skipped over in 1985. Without sounding too "arty," it captures John's quiet personality, focus, and frustration with a car that struggled that year. I think they won Indy, so it wasn't all bad, but this portrait tells the story of many of the other races. This is my favorite type of image, I just wish I had more of them.
DON PRUDHOMME 1981 - Another of my favorites and once again it is of someone I admired as a kid, and still do, actually. The intensity of Prudhomme is not matched by too many others, unless your name is Andretti, Dennis (Ron), Senna, etc.
Yeah, comparing a drag racer to these guys may not make sense to some, and today, I'd have to ask myself if racing an over-downforced, sticky tired car on an over-prepped track for a thousand feet takes the same set of skills, but that is not for me to answer, and if it was, no one would like my answer anyway. But back then, the game was a different game, and the racers of the day were bad assed. All of them. And maybe this guy more than the others.
GARY ORMSBY 1984 - Gary was a cool guy, no doubt about it, super friendly and super laid back. I saw him more than once after a day at the track with some cocktail in his hand. Not sure what he liked, but it wasn't a beer. I didn't know him all that well, but I have heard a lot of good stories from a lot of different people who did know him and raced with him. Some of those stories can't be repeated, so, sorry...
When I look at this image though, I can't help but think about how small the world is and how small the sport is. Every name on this car played an important role in my own career, save for Gary's, and even he was connected to Tim Buckley of Vintage Designs who also was a great help to me at different times throughout my career. It makes me feel a little weird when I think about it.
Lee Beard, obviously played an important role as my crew chief for four years at Schumacher's; we had a lot of success together and a few heartbreaks too. Gary Evans was perhaps the single most important guy, he gave me a chance in a fuel car, was the hardest working and hungriest guy I have ever known, and truthfully, was as dumb and naive as I was in believing that we could race on nothing. We didn't even think about it, we just raced with a blindness to reality. I highly recommend that approach if you have a dream. We survived long enough to actually survive, if you know what I mean. I wish I had contact with Gary now, but it has been since 1996 when I last saw or talked to him. Dickey was with me at perhaps my worst time... 1996 when we had a half way decent budget for the first time and yet we struggled with the car for the first half of the year. I was short on patience and felt the pressure of the team not getting the proper results. Then I rode my Ducati head-on under a truck and the team won our first race while I was learning how to walk again in a NC hospital. Dickie was a key guy, helping Rob Flynn and Chris Cunningham, in that first win with Pulde driving. It was a great day, especially for me, because as I have said before, it proved to me that my team could get the job done. It removed any doubt I had about them, and put the pressure squarely on me, which was something I could deal with. Simple, just rise to the occasion! 1997, the next year, was great...
This shot is very meaningful to me for those reasons... and is a personal reminder that we have no idea where life takes us.
GARY BECK, BERNIE FEDDERLY 1982 - What driver wouldn't want Bernie Fedderly to keep an eye on things? Bernie is one of the very best, and the sport is much poorer for his retirement this year. I can tell you without any doubt that Bernie has been the level headed voice of calm reason in Force's camp, especially during the 90's when things were a little, uh, out of control at times. Let's face it, John is John, and not always sane or reasonable, and everyone who has gotten at all close to him, and most who haven't, can see that. Bernie played a very important role in all of that success and it wasn't necessarily as Austin's right hand man.
Once, at the Winternationals in '98 (the year Tony tried, to no avail, to "let" John win in the first round after Force had broken the belt, if I remember correctly,) Force got out-of-control mad at me in his peach-pink colored lounge. He was so mad when I had questioned his diving, and called him out on it, that I really thought he was going to have a heart attack right then and there. I mean, he was so out-of-control, foaming at the mouth, literally, that it was all I could do not to laugh, which, of course, made him even madder. It WAS funny. I just sat on the counter top and watched him, trying not to laugh. Fortunately, for my sake, Bernie was there and he kept telling John, "it's not worth it!" The cool thing for me was that I think he too saw the stupidity of the situation as well as the humor. He had his hands full. Thanks Bernie... you probably saved me. Totally saved me, actually.
The other day, at our local hobby shop, my seven year old son decided he wants a Courtney Force Traxxas Funny Car along with a Traxxas off-road truck. Can you imagine? A Courtney Force Funny Car in my house!? And you know, being a good dad and all, trying to set a good example, means I can't say anything... just gotta smile and play happily along. My son totally understands competition, and winning and losing, but he is seven, so it is not life or death for him, and I certainly do not, and will not, teach him my characteristics, even if they did serve me well. Plus, to him, racing is about going fast, not about winning. It is cool he wants not just any race car, but a Funny Car (and the truck, John.) Funny Cars are all the same to him. "Look – a race car like yours, Dad!" Uh, yes, look at that! – Some kind of cruel karma at work here. Paying full retail will really kill me though... John.
Wishing Bernie the best and thought I would include this one when I saw it. It is different, but cool.
JOHN FORCE, AUSTIN COIL 1985 - And speaking of Force, this is a rare mistake (notice the oil on the inside of the body.) One of the cool things about IHRA races back then (this is Darlington,) is how much access we all had. It was pretty much do as you please. And as a photographer, I loved being able to get right up close to the action. In fact, I could never get close enough.
This is one of those images which is only relevant now. It is not too remarkable, but I like the tones, and the action. Coil lifting the body as they get shut off on the line. Very rare, indeed.
JOE AMATO 1983 - I really like this, and truthfully, never paid much attention to it before. It is a Kodachrome (color slide) and is just okay in its original form, but thanks to modern technology, it transforms nicely into a b&w.
I am still learning everything "computer processing" can do and it is amazing compared to the old days. I don't think anyone, except a real full time computer geek, can ever fully exploit and take advantage of this technology, but it is fun to learn so many new things. This is late afternoon at Orange County.
JOHN ABBOTT 1981 - John always fielded a good, clean operation. I did not know him well. But he is from an era when there were so many good racers, it was hard to know them all.
This is a typical qualifying run from Indy, in bad afternoon light, that somehow looks decent here. This is shot with my 500mm and I think if I were to do it today, I would want a 600 at the least, and probably an 800. Thing is, today, the photographers are so restricted, an 800 is probably unusable (if you can not get far enough down track.) Ironically, the cars are so much safer now. Night and day, in fact. I think I would get frustrated with the red tape almost immediately.
JIM BARNARD 1982 - This is Rockingham and check out the crowd! Also, proof that access is key. Not sure if modern day NHRA officials let anyone stand here (But, I have to say, Buster was most welcoming.) Again, this was IHRA, and proper access was never an issue.
Also, check out the wall and fence with thousands of spectators pressed up against it. Do you think our sport was lucky to survive the early days? Whew. Proof that the never ending focus on race car safety, while merited, was far from the most important issue comprising the topic "safety." Maybe still a valid point this very day.
JIM HEAD 1984 - Jim Head in Pomona, using up some parts. For all we know, this might've been shot this year in Bakersfield, which is very cool, in my opinion. We'll see how Chad does. You know he and his Dad have a "history," but I am sure having the opportunity Chad has means that he will acknowledge who is the boss and act accordingly. He should. If not, somebody like Scelzi will set him straight...
LEE SHEPHERD 1984 - Jeez, I think my friends at Bristol (and NHRA) might be amazed at this one. I haven't seen this at Bristol, since, well, back in the day. There are people around East Tennessee who love their racing, that is for sure. This is totally standing room only. Not sure what the magic was, but obviously there was some marketing going on that was very effective.
I never get tired of looking at these cars, this era of Pro Stock, either. This one in particular. Very cool.
DARRELL GWYNN 1985 - I've always thought Darrell is one tough dude to live with his injuries and situation the way he does, and never utter a public (or private, for all I know) complaint. This image shows us where that toughness comes from. Wanna mess with Jerry? I don't think so. Even though his demeanor is ultra laid back, and he will literally do anything for almost anyone, Jerry is all business and you don't want to be on his bad side. I see a lot in this photo and I really like it. Jerry has a hardness that you see here, a hardness which has probably served him well since 1990. You don't often see this hardness in person, in fact, I don't think I ever have. Super Stock published this (in 1320 notes,) years before the accident, but they ran it a lot smaller than I would have liked. (Not surprising, if it wasn't the cover, I was somewhat disappointed!)
Darrell is certainly an inspiration, kinda like Alex Zanardi, but in a different way. He is a reminder, whether he agrees with me or not, that racing has always been a sport that requires a price. There is always a price, a risk, so as a fan, it is worth remembering that racers, both good and bad, are giving it their all to compete, sometimes literally.
LINDA VAUGHN 1984 - There is no better way to start off the new year than with Linda Vaughn circa 1984. Linda is such a sweetheart. I remember once when I was about 14 or 15 years old, I posed for a picture with her in front of the War Eagle truck and when she put her leg across mine in some sort of modeling pose, I innocently (but not really) put my hand on her thigh. Wrong move. She slapped my hand, pretty firmly if I remember, all the while smiling sweetly for the picture. My face was beat red and in the ensuing photo, my hands are tightly pressed against my sides, looking very much like the young teenage nerd I was. One of life's lessons for sure. Of course, later, as I got to know Linda better, I realized how much respect she has in the racing community and how she is loved by racers and fans alike. She is cool. This transparency has faded and is in bad shape, but for obvious reasons, I had to include it.
BRUCE IVERSON 1983 - This happened at Orange County at the World Finals in 1983 I believe, It doesn't look too terribly bad here (not too good, either!) but because of the era, with steel brakes which couldn't stop a Pinto, this fire grew into a bad one. With today's carbon brakes, and a good driver, this is the kinda of fire you want to have if you have to have one! Chute out with a smoke free cockpit means nothing is too serious yet, and if you managed to get it stopped half way on time, you could maybe down play the whole thing with a Don Prudhomme sort of coolness. I loved going to Orange County for the 'Finals and am ever more grateful that I was able to experience a part of our sport's history before it sadly went away.
TIM RICHARDS 1983 - As far as photos go, this one is not my best ever. But I like it because it does have a much younger Tim Richards proving once and for all, to me at least, that his reputation as "The General" was much over rated.
Make no mistake, Tim showed up at the races to win, and he liked perfection. My time working for him was unfortunately very short lived, just a year and a half, but it was an experience that is really a highlight of my career.
In 1999, with the help of several friends, I was able put together a few last minute sponsorship deals to take to Chuck Etchells which made it possible for me to race that year. I actually got a real paycheck for the first time in my racing career, and I had Tim Richards as my crew chief! At the time I didn't think it could get much better, and as it turned out, it really couldn't.
Many of my friends have heard this story before, but it needs repeating here.
Up until driving for "The General," I was always part of the decision making process on my own race cars. Granted, my input was small, but I did have input and I enjoyed working with my crew chiefs at the time, Rob Flynn and Chris Cunningham. I enjoyed being part of a team, and being close to the car and the guys. I needed to know what changes we were making and what we were trying to accomplish with the tuneup.
My first few days on the job with Tim and Kim Richards, at the pre-season Phoenix test sessions, were a shock, to put it mildly. First, not much was said. By anyone. Just serious, focused work. Which was very cool by me. But later in the day, I was leaning on the car watching Kim do the clutch, when she turned around and said, "what the f--- do you need to watch me for?" "Ahh, I don't." Still cool by me, 'cause these were people I could win a championship with, so what ever. When we warmed up the car for the first time, I realized the oil pressure gauge was missing - there wasn't one. I asked Tim where it was. "Up here," he replied, nodding to the front to the engine. I asked how I was supposed to make decisions when I didn't have a gauge? " That is not your decision and why do you care if it has oil pressure," he asked? Good point. I didn't care, because the few times in prior years when it had low, or no, oil pressure (the 3rd round against Worsham at '92 Memphis comes to mind) I had said 'F--- it," and staged anyway. Not once that I can remember had I ever shut off because of what that gauge said. Tim said, " I don't want you to think about an F-ing thing except driving. That is it, understand." So we got through the first day and I tried to do exactly as Tim said... "go to the 330 this time," he would say, and I would try to lift RIGHT at the cone. Towing back, I would be blabbering on and on about how it felt, "it tried to go left a little and I really don't think it unloaded at all when I corrected," or, "it picked up the left front an inch or so way out there, but don't put any weight on it, 'cause it felt good." Tim would just look out the window for the most part. I think he was used to Chuck Etchells cracking open a beer at that point, and didn't quite know what to make of me.
For day two, I arrived nice and early, before the rest of the team, and when the guys arrived, I asked my good friend and engine builder Chris Forton if they (Tim and Kim) had offered any feedback back on the job I was doing so far. "Yeah, they said that you are a big pain in the ass. You're always in the way. And you ask too many f-ing questions." Man, was I deflated, because truthfully, I had made a big effort to be as inconspicuous as possible. So during the remainder of the test session, I made myself totally invisible, hanging out in the lounge. Tim would yell up, " Ok, we're ready," when it was time to warm it, and "this time I want you to go to the finish line," when it was time to go to the lanes. I just tried to do my job as perfectly as possible, and stayed very quiet. "Yes sir, no sir." I would still offer my thoughts about the run, but I quickly learned to speak as concisely as possible. "It was perfect," or, "it felt a little rich a few hundred feet before the lights." Stuff like that. Then I would disappear out of sight until the next warm up.
Near the end of the third day, out of the blue, Tim said, "Kim and I want to take you to dinner tomorrow night." Cool. I was nervous and excited at the same time. So we went to this little steak house somewhere in Phoenix, and they really opened up, relaxed, and we had a great time. They told me about the team, what needed improving, what was good, and their approach to racing. All kinds of stuff. From that moment, I knew they had accepted me, and we had a great working relationship, and a strong friendship which still exists to this day.
The General and Kim are people who command respect and get the best out of you. They are the kinds of people who you do not want to disappoint. I always tried to be as perfect and as mistake free as possible, and God knows I hated to lose, but with Tim and Kim, I think maybe it was more important than at any other time. I guess I felt like I had to prove myself to them, over and over, day after day, and for me, that was a very good thing.
KENNY BERNSTEIN 1984 - Gainesville, 1984, was a magic weekend as both Joe Amato in Top Fuel and Kenny Bernstein in Funny Car broke the 260 mph barrier. It had been 9 long years since Garlits had first broken the 250 mph barrier, so 260 was a big deal at the time, especially for a Funny Car. This car was way ahead of everyone's at the time, with an "aero package" to borrow F1 speak, plus bigger mags and of course, the first lock up clutch.
By 1984, I was pretty well established and this was my favorite style of shot... long lens, down track in the "danger zone" trying to capture the raw power and speed which had me in awe of the sport, the mechanics, the cars, and the people who drove them.
JOHN FORCE 1982 - This is from a set of black & white negatives I came across from Gainesville in 1982. I like this shot of Force, although I had a similar shot of Tom Hoover which was better and ran in Super Stock magazine. I no longer have the negative to the Hoover shot, which makes me wonder how many other cool shots I don't have anymore. I can't worry about it now, instead I am grateful for all the ones I DO have!
Force is someone who I have a lot of opinions about, both good and bad, because I have seen both sides of the guy. Most, but certainly not all, fans see Force only through rose colored glasses, but believe me, like all of us, there are things about the guy that are definitely NOT rose colored! One thing everyone has to admire about the guy though, is how he came up and how he paid his dues. Force is a drag racer, no question about that, and I think he will race as long as he is physically able to climb into the car - or - as long as someone is willing to pay him!
Force is addicted to the adulation he enjoys from the fans... take that away and I think he would be in a world of hurt. Once, in the mid 90's, we were all at the Richmond airport, not in the dead of winter mind you, and there was John standing in the middle of a concourse wearing one of those loud, tacky leather jackets with his name on it as big as it could be. He couldn't have shouted his name any louder! While most of us liked to travel as incognito as possible, not John. He wants the spotlight 24 -7. It is all part of the circus that is John Force. That he has turned that circus into a lot of money says a lot about his understanding of the game and his savvy. I am looking forward to seeing how he responds this season to the 2012 beating he got from Team Schumacher. Might be worth tuning into a few races to have a look!
JIM HEAD 1984 - INDY, 1984 was a pretty good day for Jim Head, seen here with Miss Winstons Becky Marshall (right) and Mindy Canada after winning. I like Head and the fact his independence has always allowed him to speak his mind (and, importantly, get away with it,) and race however he wants to. Even today, I think the way Jim races is reminiscent of a by-gone era, when people raced for fun and no one had any real pressure on them to perform.
My last winning round in a Funny Car came against Jim in the semis at INDY in '06. It was probably a pretty exciting race to watch from the outside... 'cause it certainly was from the inside! Our car smoked the tires before 300 feet and I got it to hook back up for a moment, only for it to blow the tires off again. After that, it would not recover at all. Sometimes that happens, and it is frustrating to say the least. But Jim never passed me, so given that, I knew we had won the round, even though we were not even at half track yet! It was my experience that it was always quicker to just leg the thing to the finish line smoking the tires (after half track) as opposed to peddling it repeatedly 100 times, and that is what I did. Our car was a handful, but still, Jim had had not passed us in the other lane, so I kept my foot planted. In fact, our car got VERY sideways near the finish line, (which, if you are in the right frame of mind, can be very fun. Or scary, if you in over your head.) But then, all of a sudden, just before the finish line (literally within feet,) he passed us. Right there. I was so dejected, getting beat in the semis at Indy... thinking we had won, then losing at the last possible moment, in a peddle fest no less. I thought I had driven the car beyond my best ability, yet he had done a better job, so it was an unglamorous end to my Funny Car career. I think I congratulated him, but I was most dejected, for sure. Then came the word that he had nicked the cone at the finish line and was DQed and we were reinstated! I still think Jim did a great job that day and probably deserved the round win... after all, he had smoked the tires too and had been able to get his car to recover. But I did a better job of staying in our lane, so it worked out in our favor.
Such are the emotions of winning and losing... a lot happens in those few seconds. We had gone from for-sure winning, to for-sure getting beat, then for-sure winning again! All the while driving on the ragged edge of control. In the final, Robert Hight left first by a few thousandths and we got out run by another few thousands to miss out on my 3rd Indy win. It would have a great win, maybe the best of my career, and huge for up and coming tuners Todd Okuhara and Phil Schuler, but we just didn't get it done.
Winning INDY is so special... better than anywhere else. You can see it in Jim Head's expression! Having Mindy and Becky hanging all over you will put a smile on your face too, but winning INDY is what our sport is all about.
RICK HOUSER 1985 - Pomona was always one of my favorite places to shoot (and race, although I never won there.) From a photographers perspective, it is near perfect light wise, especially in the late afternoon. I loved it, and the fact that the sun is low in the late winter sky during the Winternationals makes it possibly the best opportunity for 'chute shots all year.
As for racing there, during the Winternationals, everyone is always fired up and ready to go for a new season, and at the World Finals, it is pretty much the opposite, everyone is tired and grateful that the season is almost over!
BILL "GRUMPY" JENKINS 1985 - This shot of "Da Grump" from the mid eighties is pretty much accurate I would say. Only it isn't. Because, the few times I met "Da Grump" he was anything but.
The first time was the most memorable. It was in the Commerce, Ga., Holiday Inn bar across the freeway from the track. I think the day had rained out, and despite the fact I lived about an hour away, I had a room there. I also had my high school sweetheart with me, who happened to be, maybe, 16 at the time. (Please remember that I was all of 18 or 19 myself!) Anyway, we were in the bar, and I had to leave for a short period to meet the Winston guys. So I left my girlfriend in the bar, and when I returned about an hour later, who is she hanging out with, but Bill Jenkins. Now, I was in awe of Jenkins, after all, he was the man, but I had never really met him. He was pretty well lit (on straight vodka, I believe,) playing backgammon with my sweetheart, who by now was also very lit on the same vodkas! Holy crap, my innocent little sweetheart is drinking vodka and playing backgammon with Bill F-ing Jenkins! Whoa. This is cool. That she had no idea who he was, and could not of cared less anyway even if she had, just made it cooler. The thing I remember most about that encounter is how much he flirted with her and how friendly and funny he was.
I learned a lesson that one should never "hero worship" one's heroes, because at the end of the day, they are probably human too and will be themselves if you let them. We spent the next few hours drinking and playing backgammon with Bill, and as everyone who knew him will tell you, he could be as friendly and as funny as anyone. And man, when it came to the cocktails, he was beyond pro. I remember being totally trashed and practically worthless for the next several days...
Grumpy was a giant of the sport and is missed by all who knew him - or those just lucky enough to have had a drink or two with him.
RAHN TOBLER, SHIRLEY MULDOWNEY 1984 - This is one I really like as it tells a story, which all good photographs should do. Every photographer develops a style, and I was no different. Most drag racing photographers from this era including Shute and Kommel from Auto Imagery, Les Lovett, Jon Asher and several of the other "big names" often used medium format with fill flash, which certainly had its advantages, along with some disadvantages.
For me, I liked shooting my action stuff with 35mm using mostly available light. I felt (and still do) that it gives a scene a more real look, even if some elements of the image are flawed, as is the case here. Photography is about a lot of different things, but two of the most important are composition and the proper use of light. In this example, the composition is strong, while the use of light (on Tobler's and Shirley's faces) is somewhat compromised.
An assistant with a reflector (a-la current day photo superstar, Mark Rebilas) would have helped this, but then Shirley wouldn't been able to see what Rahn was pointing out and the shot probably would not have happened, at least not the way it did. For all its flaws, I still think it is strong.
MERT LITTLEFIELD 1984 - Being from the east coast, I never lost the excitement of going west and seeing all the west coast racers. This is Mert Littlefield using up a few parts at the end of the year in Pomona. Back then, of course, there were so many "local" racers. Easily thirty plus fuel cars at Pomona alone; guys like Pisano, Densham, Littlefield, John Martin, Sherm Gunn, etc, etc. It was a very cool scene. Fuel cars were everywhere!
BOB GLIDDEN 1985 - As photos go, this one represents the rewards of perseverance and patience for me. It was my first cover for Super Stock and Drag Illustrated magazine. I'd first been published in SS&DI back in1980, thanks to the late Woody Hatten, who shuffled through a small pile of prints of the previous weekend's Gatornationals on a very blustery March day in Darlington, SC. Woody said, "send me this one, this one, and this one, kid." That in itself was the realization of a big goal, and naturally, the next goal was to get the cover! It took a lot longer than I wanted it to, that's for sure, but it finally happened. As far as magazines go, Super Stock was pretty small, but if you were a drag racing fan like me, it was a monthly moment of nirvana when it arrived in the mailbox. Super Stock was cool and so were all the people connected to it. It was always a special moment too, when I could open it and see my work published in it. The pay wasn't all that good, but it just meant something to be part of it.
JODY SMART, RICHARD THARP 1983 - Back then, IHRA races were a lot of fun and ended up being a place where up and coming racers could "cut their teeth" before moving "up" to NHRA. Mark Oswald and Kenny Bernstein are perfect examples, and actually, so am I. But back in the Winston days, there were usually a strong contingent of NHRA stars in addition to the up and comers. Check out this photo from Rockingham and you can see just how popular the races were ... packed stands and great racing. Sure, there were some leakers, but that was part of the draw.
Tharp, of course, was – and still is – a real character, and is someone who would come bounding into our trailer when I was with DSR, and ask loudly, "where is my picture?" Seems he wanted a reprint from some image I had given him from back in the day. I had to explain, "hell, I don't have any idea ... it is in a bin in the basement!" Well, maybe this is the one... But Tharp was always one of my favorites, just because he was always entertaining and fun to watch and be around.
While Tharp was not a saint, Jody came across as one of the most soft spoken and nicest guys you will ever meet. In fact, he let me warm up his dragster once, in 1982, which as you can imagine, was an unbelievable opportunity of a lifetime. I'll never forget it, but all it did was throw fuel on my already strong desire to someday race.
DALE PULDE, MIKE HAMBY 1980 - I was only 16 when I shot this, late at night at some IHRA race, and only now does it have some significance. No banners, no barriers, just a very respectful crowd standing behind a white line, watching intently as Dale and Mike get ready for the next round. The thing that really strikes me is that no one is asking for an autograph! The fans are getting a close up experience, and are content, as well they should be! Of course, the pit experience today is very different from this. Instead of a real life experience of being close, really close, to the action, the fans of today must be content with standing behind the trailers and waiting for the driver to come out and sign autographs. And just as I wish I had been around to experience the sport in the 70's, I am sure that some younger fans will see this photo and wish they had been around to experience the sport in the 80's. The sport has come a long way in many, many ways, but at the same time, maybe it is best that the new fans don't realize exactly how it really was back then...
WARREN JOHNSON 1983 - WJ is one of my favorite drag racers, regardless of what he thinks about FC drivers. I had to laugh at his comments a few years ago about how easy funny cars are to drive – even if they did have a little bit of merit. Just a little. The truth is, today, because of over-prepped tracks, huge downforce, and auto everything, fuel cars ARE easier to drive than they used to be. And there are very few fuel car drivers who can safely drive a car, full throttle, smoking the tires in the lights. Hell, there are very few of the new ones who could even do a proper burnout without a throttle stop, even if the engine was detuned for it. The pure art of driving has been reduced, which in my opinion, is a real shame. An unpopular opinion for some, to be sure, but never–the–less, true. Winning, of course, is as hard as it ever was, if not more so. So it is still a very challenging, and thus rewarding, endeavor.
Also true is the fact that WJ will never know exactly how easy, or hard, a fuel car is to drive. Because, for two small reasons, I don't think he will ever want to drive one. Fuel cars are very, very fast. Ungodly fast. I am sure Jim Head would let him make a few laps if he had proper crash insurance and asked politely...
But none of that keeps me from liking – and respecting – WJ. He is a hell of a racer, and the fact that he has intelligent and strong opinions (usually!) along with a very dry sense of humor, makes him an interesting person to talk to and a real icon of Pro Stock.
I don't think this shot from Darlington was ever published, but it is a nearly perfect example of a "pan" shot in great afternoon light. I kinda like it. And WJ might like it too, until he remembers that at least one funny car driver can actually take an in-focus picture...
WARREN JOHNSON 1982 - I am not sure of the date for this, but it was cool for me to have access to nearly everyone in the sport, even those I did not know all that well. If you want to be a good photographer, you have to adopt the thinking that rules are for others. Otherwise, you will almost always be on the outside when the good stuff is happening on the inside. That type of thinking doesn't always transfer well to other facets of life, speaking from experience, and I don't recommend it, but here, making myself at home in WJ's pit, as an uninvited guest, gave me a few decent shots. A good photographer goes where he wants – and needs – to go, but always tries to make himself as small and invisible as possible.
This is one I don't even remember seeing until a month ago. For sure, I never printed it back in the day.
MARK OSWALD, LEONARD HUGHES 1984 - The old cliche' "a picture is worth a thousand words" is so true when looking at this. Definitely a teacher - student thing going on here. Just look at Leonard's expression. Mark obviously paid attention.
CHI-TOWN HUSTLER 1982 - This one tells a story too ... is Hawley obviously proud or what?
I never knew Frank all that well when he raced; he was always under the engine when I dropped by. These guys worked incredibly hard and lived – hell, they were – the drag racing lifestyle as it was back then. Fun? No. Exhausting? Yes. Worth it? Yes.
I don't think I would have had a racing career if not for the fact Frank started his school back in 1984. I was the seventh guy to get signed (TAFC license) out of maybe 50 or so who had attempted at that point. Going through his school was a life changing experience. Really. You think you want something, you think you can do something, but when the moment actually comes, when it is time to put on the helmet and perform, it is a real test unlike any other. You learn who you are and what you are. Sometimes the answer isn't good, but you will have an answer. I jumped into the school's alcohol FC having only done four Skip Barber FF races, and while I had been quick, and had a second place finish to my credit, a FF has no power. An alcohol FC is a REAL race car, which is what was painfully obvious as I climbed into it for the first time. It was a huge moment for me and it was all I could do to not puke right then and there. You have to understand that this was the only thing in life I wanted ... the only thing. What if I failed? Up until then, 43 out of fifty already had...
By the second or third day, it was time for our first full run. I had done ok up until then – meaning I hadn't totally over-revved it on the practice burnouts, hadn't backed up over Frank, or his assistant Ronnie Swearingen, hadn't driven the thing under the tow vehicle, etc. Before the first full pass, Frank's instructions were perfectly clear: among many other things, if you ever lift off the throttle, ever, do NOT get back on it.
Even today, I remember every detail of my first full pass ... the car left, then a little past the tree it shook and moved right a little. I was off – and back on – the throttle before I even knew what I was doing and shifted at the same time ... Instantly I knew I had just made a big mistake. But it was too late and the car was going straight back into the groove and straight down the track. Suddenly we are at the finish line and huge, unbelievable speed (180 mph!) and I know that this was it, I was done. Hawley was a hard ass (and rightly so) who did not tolerate mistakes.
I immediately apologized profusely, but he had a big grin on face and just said "perfect." It was an unbelievable moment and perhaps the moment that gave me the confidence to throw away everything and embark on a racing career.
Frank and his wife Lana (third from left) did a huge amount for me in the ensuing years and I will always be indebted to them for taking me under their wing and pushing me in the right direction. I have no doubt that being successful in life takes hard work and a little luck. A big part of that luck is meeting people who believe in you and help you along the way. Frank is one of those people.
FRANK HAWLEY 1983 - This is the first time I have printed this ... kinda cool with a nice cockpit full of smoke. The stories Frank tells are alone worth the tuition of attending his school. If you ever want to see what you are made of, really made of, I highly recommend it. Of course, now, you have to drive a sportsman car before you can get in an Alcohol car. Still, they are quick and will get your attention. But an Alcohol car... whew. Hang on.
JIM & ALLISON LEE 1983 - Darlington had nice light, from a photography stand point, and I remember shooting this, and getting it back from Kodak. Sometimes blurs like this don't work, but other times they work really well. I liked this one a lot. I remember the Lees as being super nice people, but I never knew them all that well. Again, thinking back to this time, and a team like this, just reminds me of how different things are today. Not better, or worse, just different.
DALE ARMSTONG, BILLY MEYER, TOM ANDERSON 1981 - This is the immediate aftermath of Dale Armstrong's horrific fire in Columbus at the Springnationals. Car Craft Magazine and then editor Jon Asher ran a spread of the actual images of the car, and I do not have the originals in my possession. I do have this, which shows Tom Anderson running towards the car. I was perched at the top of the small hill on the return road atop a step ladder, and at first, did not see the chassis behind the burning body. It was obvious the body (car) was upside down, and obvious that time had already run out. There was no doubt in my mind that Dale had perished. It was a bad moment and I did not know what to do, or what to think. I had already experienced fatalities (Indy '79 was my first ever NHRA race) but this was really bad, it had happened right in front of me, and worse yet, I had pictures of it.
After a moment, I started running towards the car, because they were obviously not putting out the fire, and only then could I see the car behind the body. I clicked off this frame. It was a huge relief that Dale was ok ... I had images of him walking around the wreckage. Unfortunately, those images are among the missing, but this one brings back some memories. Several years later I thought Columbus had some sort of jinx, there were a lot of fires and crashes there, and sure enough, in 1993, I had my own bad fire and only real crash of my career there when the crankshaft broke just before the finish line. You have to put that type of stuff out of your mind, because if you think something bad might happen, it probably will.
This was a really bad one though ... There is nothing worse than the smell, heat and sound of a funny car on fire, even if you are just watching, or shooting it.
AL HOFMANN 1984 - I consider myself very lucky to have known Hofmann, although there might be some of his competitors who may not think the same way. Not that Al would care, he wouldn't, and that is the point.
Hofmann was as gruff and tough as they come, a bit un-polished to be sure, but underneath all that, he had a heart of gold. Al wasn't the type to stab you in back when you weren't looking, but rather the type who would tell you he was gonna stab you, but in the end, he never would.
I have a lot of Al stories, but two stand out. We were very friendly (as competitors go) until the second round of Brainerd '93. (Al and Helen used to make us sandwiches and, because we were all slightly poor, give us lots, and I do mean lots, of unwanted advice.) The Hofmanns were running strongly, winning races with Tom Anderson and funding from BDS blowers. In Brainerd, I was driving for Johnny West, and knew Al would favor going in last. So... of course, being the underdog, it was in my best interest to ask him to go in first. So we sat until he went in, then we beat him on a holeshot and not a small one. (I think I put the top light out, too, which only made it worse. But Al was late.) Long story short, at the other end, Hofmann was mad as hell and blaming me for his loss. Johnny had to stand between us, which was somewhat hilarious when you think about it. After that, I knew I was in his head, which was important, but I also thought less of him.
Fast forward a year or two later, to Memphis and Jerry Caminito's violent accident. I went to the hospital to see Jerry, as he had serious injuries, and who is in the waiting room, but Hofmann. No one else was there either, just the two of us. It was a small waiting room, and Hofmann and I didn't say a word, but I took a seat directly across from him, so I could watch him. We more or less stared at each other for two entire hours. Finally, Al spoke and during the conversation, apologized for what happened in Brainerd. We both decided it was stupid to hate each other, that life was (and is) too short. I thought that was cool. When we were finally were allowed to see Caminito, I am sure he thought he was hallucinating when the two of us walked in together.
Al had a ton of respect for racers who had paid their dues, much like he had. I don't think he liked the diving that took place from 1996 onwards, so we ended up having a lot in common. I think he appreciated anyone who took the fight to Force.
I miss the guy, and wonder what he would think of Drag Racing today. Actually, I have a pretty good idea of what he would say, how he would say it, and who he would say it about. It wouldn't endear him to anyone, but he wouldn't care at all.
BEADLE, VAUGHN AND PRUDHOMME 1982 - I guarantee any caption contest for this photo would probably not even come close to what really is being said! These were the early eighties, and it is probably accurate to say that these three knew how to have a good time. A very good time! Looks to me like someone here has the upper hand and she doesn't drive funny cars...
I found this gem, and knew that I had to share it. Classic!
ROY HILL 1981 - This was my first trip to the Winternationals, and I was in heaven. There was no better place to be. As a junior in high school, my photography was not all that good, except for the odd lucky shot, like this one, but I definitely was not afraid to get close to the action!
I was working for Winston and growing up fast, but man, what a dream to have the opportunity at such an early age. Hell, I even got to drink beer with adults who were my heroes. Probably, on the very day I shot this, I thought my life was complete, and couldn't possibly get any better...
Roy Hill is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, until you make him mad! His temper is famous, and so bad, that when I finally saw it in action, I thought he was faking it! I thought he was putting Robert De Niro to shame. He wasn't.
Fortunately for me, I never raced Pro Stock, so I never made him mad. Not too mad, at least!
ED MCCULLOCH 1985 - This doesn't look too good. But at least it wasn't on fire. The Ace is a legend, of course, and one of the toughest racers the sport has known. He is a hard guy to get to know, but once you do, and once he likes you, he is really great. I would have enjoyed driving for him, if I had ever had the opportunity. Ed is the kind of guy, and the kind of old school Funny Car driver, who you can learn a lot from, no matter who you are.
DALE ARMSTRONG 1984 - This is one of the best portraits I have ever taken, and one of my all-time favorite images. Armstrong is one of the sport's true superstars, and this captures his persona the way I saw him in his early days with Kenny.
I am very lucky to be able to share it, as I thought the negative had been lost many years ago. As I went through the bins of images, and never came across it, I was getting more and more bummed out. I have one 8x10 print which is in excellent condition, but one print does not make up for a lost negative, Then, almost unbelievably, about two weeks ago, I found the negative at the bottom of a bin full of images (taken by others) of my own career. I was going through this stuff, for the first time in 15 or more years, and found two pages of negatives under hundreds of other photos, totally mis-filed! Ahh, it was one of those great days...
Armstrong was in deep thought when I walked into the trailer, and after I took two frames, said to me, without even looking up, "Can I go back to thinking now?" Yes, of course. Two frames. That is it.
It is when I see stuff like this that I have a few regrets about the way I thought of my photo career. By about this time, though, I was so intent on somehow racing myself, that I basically hated what I was doing and didn't really respect the job. But when I was inspired, the magic sometimes happened. I only wish I had made more of an effort to get a lot more stuff like this. Obviously, I could have easily done it, and man, I'm not afraid to say that I love it now. There are so many of my childhood heroes that I don't have good, candid portraits of. What was I thinking? I have to remind myself that I was very young, and I had to shoot for clients, but that is really no excuse...
MARK OSWALD 1985 - Old school, no ear plugs, mask, or even a rag. But he is "crying."
And a World Champion again, too. This time as a co-tuner. Cool.
JERRY CAMINITO 1981 - This is one of those shots I got before I really knew what I was doing. But standing on the starting line at Englishtown, as a young photographer back then, I had an opportunity to learn from some of the best, as there was a virtual who's who of legendary drag racing photographers there. West coast guys like Jon Asher, Tim Marshall, Steve Reyes, Richard Brady, Francis Butler and Harold Hoch usually showed up, while the east coast guys and Englishtown home boys like Steve Bell, Dave Milcarek, "Stat Guy" Lewis Bloom (long before there was even a need for a stat guy,) Norman Blake, John McCartney, and several others, were all well known, extremely talented, and published often.
It was pretty unbelievable for me, because as a huge fan of the sport, these were the guys who, along with Woody Hatten, and Steve Collison (and of course everyone from National Dragster,) brought the sport to the fans. TV coverage was usually weeks, and even months after the fact, so the photographers were the eyes of the sport. In my mind, these guys were as big of legends as the racers themselves. Can you imagine, being 18 years old, in Englishtown on my own, and working next to most of these other photogs? Thinking back on those days, I have to say, it was very cool for me. Then, seeing the occasional cool image like this one once I got home, was just icing on the cake.
RAYMOND BEADLE 1982 - This thing is trying to blow up, but thankfully, not all the way.
Beadle was one of my all-time favorites, and getting to work for him was very, very cool. Truthfully, I didn't know how to act around the guy, such was his "hero-ness" to me! The thing about Raymond is that he never gets excited, never acted like anything was a big deal. He was totally laid back and seemingly was just not bothered by anything.
I have a lot of good stories to tell, and one is about Bruce Springsteen. Actually, two. The first was in Englishtown in '82 (I think.) Bruce was playing in Philly and Beadle, team and friends were going to the show in a big tour bus. Man, I wanted to go in the worse way. But I was maybe 19 at the time, and as Jeff Byrd so aptly and accurately put it, "Son, there will be things going on in that bus that you are just not old enough to see." Which only made me want to go more. I insisted, and finally he relented, (with Beadle's ok) and I went. It was pretty wild on the bus, but I tried to keep looking out the window, and later, the show, from back stage and where ever else we wanted to sit, was tremendous. And I was not even a huge Bruce fan. (Sorry, Stat Guy.) I do remember a very well regarded PR expert rolling himself up in a rug in a post show, back stage dressing room with Bruce and band in the room. Really.
A few years later, Bruce was coming to Atlanta, and I thought it might be a good opportunity to impress a hot date. So I called Raymond weeks in advance to get set up, and he said sure, no-problem, he would call me just before the show with the info. So I invited said Hottie and two more of my friends, with the promise of the red carpet treatment at a Springsteen concert. Cool, right? Well, nothing happened, so a few days before the show, I gave Raymond a call -- nothing. No return call. I started to think it wasn't going to happen, and I was about to look stupid, although it wasn't anything a good bottle of champagne wouldn't fix. Long story short, in typical Beadle fashion, the day of the show, in fact, just hours before, the phone rings. We are good to go -- all set up. No problem. And we were. I was trying to not get too excited, trying to act like it was no big deal, in Beadle style, but man, I don't think think Navy Seals are as cool, calm and collected as Raymond was and I'm sure still is. Truthfully, it meant more and was way cooler for me that Beadle actually set me up, than it was going to the show with backstage blah blah blah.
One of the best, for sure, and one of my real favorites.
DON GARLITS 1985 - Man, I am finding stuff that I never printed before, and that is very cool. B&W back then was a lot of work. I spent an inordinate amount of time in the darkroom, (no time consuming cycling hobby or kids then, nor could there have been,) so I only ended up printing the stuff I was going to get paid for. To say "processing" is easier now, is an understatement. I like this one and I am not sure how it escaped my eye 27 years ago, but it did. I think there are more images like this laying around, too.
DON PRUDHOMME 1985 - This is another one that never got published, printed, or even stored in the "good" file. But now I like it. When the light is bad, as it is here, best to do something half way creative in hopes that you "get" something, because the standard stuff will be pretty plain otherwise. I might make some prints of this to sell. It might look good big. Really big.
October 18, 2012
AL SEGRINI 1984 - Segrini had a great operation around this time. Very professional and polished. He was not your stereotypical funny car driver. Instead, he was a somewhat preppy New Englander, who looked like he might have been more at home eating a lobster after 18 holes of golf than, say, at Epping slamming the clutch in and out during a Friday night match race. But he was a racer, and as the Brut operation showed, a pretty good one at that. Totally Pro, he helped bring the sport to a higher level in terms of presentation and appearance.
JOHN FORCE - MIKE DUNN 1984 - Hard to believe now, but back when this was shot, I was hardly a newcomer, yet I didn't know either of these guys at all. I don't think I ever met or spoke to Dunn, or at the very least, only once or twice, until we started cycling together in 1999. Force and I were a little different... we'd say hello as far back as '90. But when I was a photographer, never. Didn't know him at all.
Dunn was a driver I admired though. He'd been through a lot driving for Roland: the "bomb explosion" at OCIR, the stuck throttle at Columbus, and quite a few more. I mean, here he is drilling Force... Plus, when I was 10 years old, I saw the movie Funny Car Summer. Dunn had a parachute on his bike, and that was beyond cool.
Force, on the other hand, was a greasy looking guy (seriously!) who beat all the odds. I even remember a conversation once with a high ranking NHRA official - he commented that he could not understand how Force even had a sponsor, such was his appearance! And it was true! Ask anyone... even after he hired Coil, not many gave him a chance to succeed. Proof, if there ever is any, that desire and hard work count for a lot.
They say Force and I had a great rivalry, but to me it was always a bit one-sided. There were times we were competitive, but when you look at our record against him, it doesn't look all that good. I enjoyed racing him though, and I know I used every bit of my ability to create an advantage for us. The fact I was so much under his skin often worked in our favor, even if the win light didn't come on every time! He was winning a lot of championships, but for sure, he knew we were there. He thought about us, and at the end of the day, sometimes that is all you can do, get your competition to art least think about you.
SHIRLEY MULDOWNEY 1983 - I remember thinking this shot would have made a great layout in a magazine, but it ended up never being published. And, like the War Eagle, I seem to have a lot of my better shots of Shirley. One reason is that I shot her often, as Pioneer was a client, and two, the car stood out and was easy to photograph. And, she is Shirley.
This is nice late afternoon light in Baton Rouge.
JOE AMATO 1984 - This is weird - Joe Amato sitting in a Funny Car1 But back in '84, Amato had Tim Richards build him one, a Mustang, and they ran it only once that I can remember, at an IHRA race in Rockingham, NC. Amato is a great champion and I feel privileged to have gotten to know him over the years. In fact, he helped me get back on my feet in 1994 when he did a deal with my sponsor Permatex to supply us with two Kase chassis at basically no cost to us. If I remember, he took payment in Permatex product (at a discount.) We got two great cars, he got paid, and Permatex "bought" the cars for .30 on the dollar. Back then, these were the types of things that could make or break a career, and I've gotta say, I was most fortunate (beyond belief,) that so many people helped me over the span of my career.
Later of course, I got to know Tim Richards very well when I drove for him in 1999 and part of '98. Tim's Amato stories are pretty good... but no different than the "General" stories Amato tells! Those two were an awesome team.
DALE PULDE 1982 - A real fan of drag racing will never get tired of seeing this car. I have a lot of photos of Dale and Mike - mainly because they were "my team!" So, I'll share them with you. This is Columbus, and interestingly, I have an original 16x20 print of this in one of my bins of goodies. It is ok, but lacks a little contrast. So I was elated to find the negative in good shape. This was a hard image to get right, and I'm sure it can still be improved upon, (I know my B&W skills are not what they once were back when I spent hours and hours at a time printing.) I love the shot though, even if the light was very over cast and the neg is a little under developed, or thin, as we used to say! As a photographer, it is far from perfect, but still pretty cool. I like it.
TOM MCEWEN 1983 - I never printed this frame back in the day, and only realized it was "printable" last month when I was going through a huge stack of B&W negatives to get scanned. Cool! You have to realize that there are many, many shots that are simply no good. So it is always a good feeling to look at a sheet of negs through the loupe and see something new properly exposed and halfway in focus... (of course, almost everything seems new again after 30 years!) This is from Indy, but it is undated, so I am not sure when it was shot. 82 or 83 probably.
I never got to know the Goose very well, either back in the day or once I started racing myself. I'm not sure why, but McEwen and I never really spoke much, even once I had reached a certain level of success. The fact is, in 1978, he was the first FC driver I ever saw. I remember it like it was yesterday, the speed, the noise, and the blast of air as the car went by. (We were leaning over the wall at about 1000' in Atlanta.) It was unforgettable, especially since McEwen is a real legend of the sport.
BILLY MEYER 1984 - This is something you don't see anymore: a championship caliber driver working on the tune-up! Billy always impressed me as a driver, I thought he was really good. He was always friendly too. Part of that may have been that I got to know him (and a lot of others) at the less stressful IHRA races, but the fact is, Billy was as tough a racer as there was. Obviously, Billy came from money, and lots of it, but he paid his dues too. In my opinion, if you get burned in a funny car, and then have the balls to climb back in one, it doesn't matter where you came from, you are a real racer.
It is too bad that IHRA didn't work out under Billy's ownership. There seems to be a pattern of smart racers getting more than frustrated with NHRA (Garlits, back in 72, the Funny Car guys in 82, Billy in the late 80's, etc, etc.)
If it had worked out, I wonder where the sport would be now...
LEE SHEPHERD 1983 - I remember the day Lee Shepherd was killed. It was a surreal feeling, like this can't be true, no way. Not Lee. Gainesville was later that week and people were obviously stunned.
Lee was a quiet guy, but a hell of a racer. I wish I had gotten to know him better, but he was always as nice and respectful as he could be, no matter what, or how, he was doing at the race track. I really liked Pro Stock during this time. The reason, perhaps, was the rivalry between these guys and Glidden. The fact that it was Ford vs Chevy was an important added bonus. The fans could relate to these guys too. I mean, you had Glidden, whose nickname was "Mad Dog," cause he worked so hard, then you had Shepherd who never said a word, cause he was always working! These were epic battles, and the sport was robbed of one it's true champions that fateful day in 1985.
This one is from Englishtown, 1983.
KENNY BERNSTEIN AND LINKDA VAUGHN 1983 - If you were there, you will never forget it. Indy '83 and the Big Bud Shootout. In only it's second year, the Bud Shootout had already become, to many, the second most important race of the year, second only to Indy itself.
Bernstein winning in '83 was as good as it gets, too. The celebration was pretty huge, if I say so myself. This is a real winners circle, the way they are supposed to be, and it was cool to be there to record it all. The frame after this one is basically x- rated, although Linda, Kenny and a few of my friends from RJR probably still have copies! I was afraid Linda would be mad at me when she saw the other photo, but no, she thought it was all in good fun. Which, of course, it was.
You'd have to ask Kenny what this win meant to him, but I'd have to say it was very important at the time, and not just because they won the race, but from a business standpoint. The timing was good as Bud was starting to dump money into the sport and obviously a win like this got them excited. And that was a very good thing for everyone.
KENNY BERNSTEIN 1984 - No one ever said being at the top of the sport is easy, and it isn't. This candid of Kenny Bernstein shows the stress some of the guys put themselves under to achieve great things. I always found it weird that sometimes the fans didn't get it. No doubt, Kenny wasn't always the friendliest guy in the pits, but you can't fault his drive, determination and success. Back in the day it seemed more acceptable for racers to "race" and not just smile all the time, like a handful of today's drivers, who always seem happy, no matter if they win or lose. The stars of the sport when I was coming up, the serial winners, like Garlits, Shirley, Prudhomme, Bernstein, Glidden - these were people who hated to lose and it showed in their personalities. And, yeah, sometimes it made for interesting photos too.
September 14, 2012
AL SEGRINI/MARK OSWALD 1983 - In my mind, the early eighties were a heyday for NHRA and funny car racing in particular. Every race was sold out, the stands packed and the parity between the teams was such that almost anyone could win on any given day. There was a new element of professionalism taking over and new sponsors from outside the regular norm of automotive based companies were starting to see the NHRA as a viable marketing outlet.
This is one of my favorite shots from this era which was never published. Sometimes (actually, more than sometimes,) things just happen to make an image "work." You have to put yourself in the right position and then have the patience to allow it to happen. For this shot in Englishtown, I was standing out on the track for a late afternoon round of qualifying and caught this image of Oswald and Segrini in perfect formation. Of course, I couldn't control the composition, but when it presented itself, with Segrini pulling in behind Oswald, I was ready. Good photographers seek out unique locations and shots. I was always trying to be different, and sometimes that meant doing things others considered "dangerous," but, truthfully, I did not consider this dangerous at all. While positioning yourself here (on the track) may be out of the question now, which for some of today's seasoned pros is very unfortunate, this is actually safer than standing along the wall at 100 feet... plus, the guys - both on the safety safari and in the cars - knew and trusted me. And vice-versa.
A little story about this image, famed drag racing artist Kenny Youngblood liked it and airbrushed a wall sized mural of it in the Indy Raceway Park Winston suite, which looked killer for one year. The next year, (1985, I think,) we arrived at the Nationals only to find that a window unit air conditioner had been crudely installed right in the middle of Oswald's parachute. Blood was more than a little pissed, to say the least, and yeah, it did ruin the look. Six years later, after my huge Indy fire in 1990, I spent Monday in the same WInston suite, and imagine my surprise upon seeing the airbrushed image still there, air conditioner and all.
FRED WHITE 1984 - My Winston responsibilities usually kept me busy until the Pros ran, so I didn't shoot a ton of sportsmen racers. But when the light was good, such as during late afternoons in Rockingham, I tried to take advantage. Here, Fred White's 'Vette looks pretty good with the sun going down.
SHIRLEY MULDOWNEY 1983 - Sometimes you can look into the future... this was almost a year before Shirley's near fatal accident in Canada which was caused by the same failure... the front tire coming off the wheel near the finish line. In this case, Shirley did a masterful job, just brushing the right wall. The outcome in Canada might have been the same -- had there been a wall. Instead, the car went off the track into a water filled ditch at speed and violently came apart. In the background is the late, great Leslie Lovett, and behind him, Jere Amato, I believe that might be Lance Larson on the right as well.
DALE PULDE 1982 - No doubt, the old days were a lot simpler. Usually the WarEagle just had Dale and Mike with the occasional "helper" either helping or hindering (as was the case with yours truly... I think the hardware bill after my on-the-road experiences tripled as I managed to strip every header and oil pan stud more than once.) But the pan never fell off, which was a huge relief every time we went to the finish line to pick Dale up. Seriously.
Dale is old school, no ear plugs, no mask, just a rag in his hand if the fumes got too strong. One of my favorite drivers, and one of the best to ever sit behind the wheel of a Funny Car.
JON ASHER/JEFF BYRD - Two of my favorite people and two people that every single drag racing fan should thank for their love and work for the sport, the late Jeff Byrd and iconic journalist Jon Asher. Both of these men played an important role in my career and I personally have a lot to thank them for. When I came across this b&w negative, I instantly remembered the moment when Jeff came down track-side and hung out with us for a while, but I can not remember the year or location. Everyone looks young so it was a long time ago! Maybe '82?
To use a political term, Jeff was "one of the people," he could mix with corporate executives, struggling photographers, greasy bottom end guys, and ego driven funny car drivers, and treat them all the same - with respect.
Asher is of course, Senior Editor to this site, so I don't want to say too much about him! I did try to follow in his foot steps though... from taking an occasional in-focus picture, to later driving a funny car on fire,
we have a lot in common! Jon gave me opportunities as a photographer, and also gave me tons of good, and timely, ink in the early days of my racing career. Plus, there are not many who have as accurate a pulse on the sport today as Jon.
BILLY MEYER/JODY SMART 1984 - This kind of thing was always fun for me to shoot as you never know exactly what you are going to get. I liked this one and kept it in the "good" bin all these years. Interestingly, Jody's Pluger built car ended up in the hands of California owner Ted Combis, and 4 years later, was the first fuel car I ever drove.
BOB GLIDDEN 1982 - Bob is a racer's racer and one of my all-time favorites. Some people are just born winners, or so it looks from the outside, but when you delve into their lives a little bit, you can see the effort and commitment it takes to be successful. "Mad Dog" epitomizes that effort. Back then, Pro Stock was arguably more exciting to watch with wheels up launches and, of course, the always outspoken and opinionated Bob Glidden competing against Lee Sheperd and later, WJ.
DON GARLITS 1984 - No date for this, but maybe 1984? If I remember correctly, Garlits was trying to set a new speed record (when wasn't he?) and was driving out the back door - way out the back door - on almost every run. I remember thinking at the time that this is a guy who loves to go fast. Really, it is that simple, I think. Garlits loved to win, build, tune, etc, but above all, he loved going fast. My opinion, anyway. Years later, I came to appreciate the speed myself. In fact, in winning Gaineville in 2005, I was reprimanded by a senior NHRA official for not using the parachutes at all in the second and third rounds. Forget the fact that you don't even need them in Gainesville, the cool thing was going faster for longer...
In this particular shot, the car is still at speed with the chute high and the tires big. But I was positioned at a place on the track where most cars were turning off just behind me! Not Garlits! Full speed, all the while checking the pipes in the little rear view mirror. Very cool.
GARLITS AGAIN 1985 - Garlits once again checking the pipes, this time backing up from the burnout.
SCOTT KALITTA 1982 - I like some images because of the photo itself while others I like because of who it is. I like this one for both reasons. Scott was a no bulls*** guy and I really liked that about him. He was friendly and although we were never what I would call close, at Del's margarita party after the '06 season (or maybe it was '07, ...it was a margarita party, after all,) we talked for a while. It was cool. I found myself thinking I could easily be better friends with him with a little more effort.
Scott's accident is, of course, the reminder we all get at different times throughout our careers that the sport has a brutal and ugly side. Unfortunately, the ugly side is usually overlooked by most until the moment actually occurs, and then everybody runs around trying to fix things after the fact. Which, I suppose, is better than doing nothing at all, as long as the right things are being fixed.
SHIRLEY MULDOWNEY 1982 - I like this image from the 1982 Winternationals. It is kinda like the calm before the storm and it has a little bit of history to it. Shirley was and still is one of my favorites. She is as tough a person you will ever meet. She takes no BS, and was brave. Most racers are different from normal people, especially from this era when you really had to earn every opportunity, and Shirley is a great example of that. Going through what she went through in the early days was one thing, I am sure, but going through the recovery from her accident in Montreal was another thing altogether. Long before this moment, the fact she was a women was a big deal, but my respect for her comes from the fact she was a great winner and then overcame huge odds and injuries to race again.
DICK LAHAIE 1981 - Dick LaHaie absolutely will not remember this, but he bought a b&w print from me in Commerce, Ga way back in 1978 or 79. It was the first picture I ever sold. He paid $7 for an 8x10. Of course, that will make an impression on a young fan. Since then, Dick was one of my favorites, well before I knew him very well. That he went from what they call "an independent" (a term I still don't get) to a multi - time world champ as both a driver and tuner has made him one of the most respected racers ever in Top Fuel. This is shot with available light, late at night in Commerce, and is a somewhat typical image from the seventies and early eighties. Header flames at idle were cool.
DARRELL GWYNN BACK IN THE DAY - I don't have a date for this, but it was maybe 1984. I do remember it is from the first day of qualifying at the Summernationals in Englishtown and I had just walked up to the team as they were getting ready to warm the car. These were great times for Darrell as he was already a great racer and had the world in front of him. I'll never forget the emotion of his return to the sport at Indy in 1990. Just huge. It was so good to see him, even if it was a stark reminder of the price that one sometimes pays to race. I think everyone felt sadness and happiness at the same time that weekend, but I also think Darrell only felt happiness, which says so much about him as a person. In 1991, after my second huge fire in as many races, Darrell offered to help get us sorted out and was basically my tuner with Gary Evans for several months. Our car was certainly a lot safer with Darrell's input, my confidence slowly returned, and we started running better and better. I owe him a lot, as I don't think I would have survived, literally, continuing down the road we were on.
Darrell was a star and had his career continued, he no doubt would have become one of the sport's most prolific winners.
DANNY ONGAIS, 1983 MID-OHIO CART RACE - Ok, so this was shot at an Indy car race, but even so, it is a portrait of a great Drag Racer. Ongais was a racer's racer, quite, focused and brave as hell. I did not know him at all, but one day in the mid 90's, he came wandering into our shop on Gasoline Alley in Indianapolis and wanted to meet the team and me. How cool was that? Very, very cool, and I was honored that he even knew who we were...
DON PRUDHOMME 1983 - The Snake was one of my favorite drag racers. He was such a bad-a** throughout the late 60's and 70's you couldn't help but be a fan of his. Then, once I got into the sport in the early 80's, I learned a little of his approach to racing. Totally focused, intense, and there to win. I think this shot of him perfectly sums up his on track personality, which is why I like it so much. I think it is one of my best photographs, it tells a story about him.
Away from the track, the Snake is super cool and ultra laid-back. In 1982, I did the first of many jobs for Pepsi, his sponsor at the time, and one time we were driving to a PR function together with Steve Earwood. Snake asked me what I wanted to do with my life. Forget the fact that I had just graduated from high school that very year, and had several Fortune 500 clients, one of which was his own sponsor... I guess the Snake thought I was kinda playing around. I told him I wanted to race Funny Cars. In typical Snake fashion, he said something to the effect, that "yeah, kid, you think you could do that? Ya, know, it's pretty easy driving these things, ya know... not much to it, kid." to which I replied, " Well, I'd like to just try it, maybe just go to half track to see if I can do it." Snake's response? "Yeah, just drive it to half track, and ya know, if you make it that far, ya might as well reach down and just put the thing in high, ya know what I mean? Might as well just go all the way kid..." I spent the rest of the day, if not the rest of the year, thinking only about getting to half track, and "reaching down, and just puttin' the thing in high..." It was the stuff dreams were made of; getting driving advice from Don Prudhomme. It was many years before I was able to put it to use.
JOHN COLLINS 1981 - This one was never published, but it is a typical early 80's type shot that you could get if you were focused on the right driver and something cool happened. I like the fact the blades are still wide open! These days are pretty much gone now... a car might pick the front end up further down track, and the best way to save the run is to grab a quick handful of brake which will usually settle the front down with out unloading the rear. Not many of todays drivers have that experience though, so usually something like this now results in tire smoke. Ahh, the good old days!
DALE PULDE 1982 - There is a lot wrong with this picture, but it is still one of my favorites. That so many others like it as well, makes me feel good. I was pretty young when we did this one night at the end of the track in Commerce, Ga. I was still in high school, in fact, so it was great that Dale and Mike gave me the time. You have to realize how much extra work it was for them to do something like this. I thought I had an idea, but, really, it wasn't until later that summer, when I went on the road with these guys, that I saw first hand how hard they worked. Imagine doing a day of racing, then sitting around late at night while some punk kid tried to figure out what he was doing... can't thank them enough, really.
I remember very clearly doing this shoot, and especially getting the film back a few days later. I was amazed with how it looked... we did it with no tests, just body off, car running, pitch black outside with one strobe going off. Then I covered the lens with the shutter still open while we shined car headlights on the scene so the guys could put the body on. Once on, I fired the strobe again, just once, (a mistake, by the way) and bingo. It was one shot and I would have hated to have had to tell them it didn't turn out. They even burnt nitro at a time when they couldn't afford to even spill any. So there was a little on the line for me.
Far from perfect, but useable and that is what Super Stock Magazine did... a full center spread in a 1982 issue.
Dale and Mike... Thanks for letting me hang out and do this sort of thing with you guys!
KENNY BERNSTEIN 1981 - This is from Englishtown in 1981, before the championship years began. I think Ray Alley was the tuner, but you can see the name Gary Evans on the car. Gary is a guy I owe a lot to as he gave me my first opportunity in a fuel car in 1988 and later was my crew chief and partner in Bazemore Evans Racing. Another name on the car is Norman Lenard. Norman was this cool older guy, one of those stereotypical skinny Texas cowboy types in his 60's. Super great guy. I'll never forget a few years after this, Norman came up to me and very discretely gave me a roll of film to take back and develop. "What ever you do, do not let Kenny see these, and if anyone does, I didn't give it to you." Ahh, Ok. All I'll say now is the pictures involved the Budweiser King Funny Car, one very big and not so attractive woman, and not much clothing. Norman loved the pictures. Classic!
Obviously, the sky makes this picture more special than it would otherwise be. Being that I was a high school junior, I was learning a lot at the time, and I thought this was pretty cool, if only because I set out to get this shot, and got it.
DALE PULDE 1984 - This was published in Super Stock Magazine as a center spread. Shot from way down track at Indy, this type of shot was difficult to get as the car was going pretty fast by this point and I was shooting with a Canon 500mm 4.5 lens. The depth of field was pretty small so getting the car in focus was the big challenge here. Remember, this is before the auto focus cameras of today, so it really was a challenge! It was only later in my photographic career that I was able to get shots like this... earlier on I simply would not have been good enough to get consistent results and would have wasted a ton of film. At the time, it was great that Dale and Mike got funding, but like most people, I missed the "real" War Eagle. Something most people don't understand about Motorsports, is that sometimes you have to sell your soul...
BILLY MEYER 1981 - Look at this fire in the cockpit, and you get an idea of just how dangerous Funny Cars used to be. They don't make fires like this anymore , and in my opinion, they don't make many drivers like this any more either. Billy was a great driver, but someone who never won a Championship, and to me, proof that some of the best "real" drivers aren't always World Champions. Guys like Meyer, McCulloch, Pulde, Dunn, are all guys I would put before many other guys who have won Championships.
This was the World Finals in 1981... which happened to be a tough race for Funny Cars. If I remember correctly, Densham had a big one, Prudhomme had a big one, Meyer had this, and maybe Dunn had that big explosion in Roland's car that year too. Some photographers were well known for their crash and burn photos, while others thought that crash and burn photos were the only good ones worth getting. I never believed that. Yeah, it meant something about your ability as a photographer to react to something and capture it on film, but I never went out of my way to sit and wait for this type of stuff. But, if it happened in front of me, and I missed it, I would have been mad with myself though!
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