Rumor Mill

POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHER LES WELCH PASSES AWAY

600499 10151412361027048 1080227639 nLes Welch motioned the reporter over to his computer in the press room at Englishtown, N.J.
 
"I have a great picture you have to see," he beamed.
 
Fully expecting to see a night image of a Top Fuel dragster with bright, crisp header flames, the reporter leaned over to peek at Welch's screen. Smiling back cheerfully was a picture of one of Welch's drag-racing photographer colleagues -- with Welch's . . . ahem . . . Editing. A few of the other photographer's teeth were blacked out, making him look more like a hockey player.
 
"Gotcha! Hahaha!" Welch roared.
 
Les Welch liked those "Gotcha!" moments.


600499 10151412361027048 1080227639 nAuto Imagery Les Welch motioned the reporter over to his computer in the press room at Englishtown, N.J.
 
"I have a great picture you have to see," he beamed.
 
Fully expecting to see a night image of a Top Fuel dragster with bright, crisp header flames, the reporter leaned over to peek at Welch's screen. Smiling back cheerfully was a picture of one of Welch's drag-racing photographer colleagues -- with Welch's . . . ahem . . . Editing. A few of the other photographer's teeth were blacked out, making him look more like a hockey player.
 
"Gotcha! Hahaha!" Welch roared.
 
Les Welch liked those "Gotcha!" moments.
 
And his friends in the industry were shocked and saddened Friday to learn that Welch, who had retired from active traveling on the NHRA tour, had passed away. It was one Les Welch "Gotcha!" surprise none of his racing friends saw coming and one that no one wanted to receive.
 
Welch, who would have turned 70 years old March 18, captured the drag-racing culture since the mid-1960s. But what many didn't know is his love for music, his skill in playing a handful of instruments, and -- for awhile -- his simultaneous careers at the dragstrip and in San Francisco nightclubs with his ensembles.
 
Brother Rich Welch, who survives and lives in Sacramento, said Les "began his photographic career working with me when I was a race-car photographer. In the '60s Les shot pictures with me at Fremont Drag Strip, Half Moon Bay, Sacramento Raceway, Kingdon (at Lodi, Calif.), Vaca Valley, and occasionally on our trips to Southern California when his schedule permitted.
 
"At that time Les was a successful musician in the 1960s San Francisco rock scene, arranging, performing, recording, and touring," he said.
 
"Eventually, Les migrated away from music. While on tour he had met his wife-to-be Joann ("Jo"), moved to Southern California, got married, and
became a regular in the Southern California drag-racing scene," Rich Welch said. "He started his company, Les Welch Color Photography, and as his business grew, the couple bought a motorhome and went on tour, supplying photos to racers and sponsors across the country. Since then his drag
racing photographs have been used in major corporate advertising campaigns, in driver and sponsor promotional materials, magazines, and
newspapers. His photos adorn the walls of sponsors' offices worldwide."
 
Even when the photo industry changed from film, slides, and prints to digital images and prints, Welch proudly and intentionally stuck with his more old-fashioned-sounding "Les Welch Color Photography" name.
 
As Jo's health worsened a few years ago, Les Welch retired from shooting NHRA national events. She passed away in late 2010, but he continued the
successful online photo sales effort through his web site.
 
Les Welch also leaves behind sister-in-law Kathleen; sons Jack and George and their wives, of Las Vegas; nephew Mike Welch of Humbolt County, Calif.; niece, Toni Welch-Edelman and her family in
Kentucky; and a legion of friends and admirers in the NHRA drag-racing community.
 
Jack and George Welch also shot photos at NHRA events for their dad's
company throughout the years.
 
"This was truly a family business," Rich Welch said. "The sons will continue their heritage and offer the historic motorsport photos at the current website: www.leswelch.com."
 
Instead of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the NHRA charity organization, DRAW.

 

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