FOR STEVE REYES, BEING AN AUTHOR HELPS HIM KEEP DRAG RACING’S HISTORY ALIVE
Steve Reyes took drag racing photos for almost five decades because it was a really cool way to make a living. Today, pretty much removed from the drag strip’s retaining wall, the Hall of Fame shooter has a much bigger purpose.
Reyes intends to keep the memories alive of those with whom he journaled on film as one of drag racing’s living legends of photography. Becoming a photographic author seemed natural, considering the infrastructure he had in place.
“I had all this material laying around, and I can put two words together, and my wife taught school,” Reyes said. “My kids were homeschooled, so I got a built-in English teacher. So, ‘hey, why not?”
As Reyes sees it, he’s still drawing air, so it qualifies him to pass on the stories of those unable to tell their stories.
“I got all this material, and people seem to like the subject matter that I’m trying to get across to them,” Reyes said. “It takes a lot of work to do these books. You got to sit down, and you got to do research, which I don’t mind. I’ll sit down, and I’ll read. I’ll go through old Drag News, Drag Sport, etc., ten times over.”
Each reading, Reyes admits, will provide one new nugget he may have missed in eight previous reads.
“It really jogs the memory banks of the good times,” Reyes continued.
Reyes said he self-published his first books but recently has been commissioned to write books for Car Tech.
“It gives me a good reason to call some of these legends,” Reyes said.
Reyes considers former Top Fuel racer turned NHRA executive Carl Olson to be one of his staunchest advisors, along with former Funny Car racer Jim Terry. He even credits the old Suzy’s Scrapbook columns in Drag News for some of his juiciest material.
“Did I tell you this? Leroy Goldstein, he’s the championship gum chewer in drag racing,” Reyes said, spouting his list of oddball information. “He put 80 gumballs in his mouth, and I shot him at one time. I mean, it’s stupid stuff like that.”
The things a photographer could find out, aside from those extramarital affair rumors floating throughout the pits. Besides, learning that Funny Car racer Ron O’Donnell was a former U.S. Champion in Yo-Yo competition always appealed to him more than the other stuff floating around about some of the sport’s superstars.
“How many people know this?” Reyes asked. “When you read stuff like that in some of these books or whatever, that’s what I try to come across. These people are human; they’re not just little robots who get in cars and go boom and blow up, catch on fire, or whatever. Now these guys had stupid little crap they did or cool stuff from their youth.”
Reyes smirks when he mentions John Force was the quarterback of his high school team, and his Uncle Gene Beaver... well, he was just Beavs.
“That’s what I strive for when I research these books,” Reyes said. “It’s like anybody can put down, John Mulligan got in a car, and he ran a 696, was low E.T. at Indy or wherever there was racing. Anybody could do that.
“But, you find out crazy stuff. Dave Beebe basically would not leave home. He did not like to go outside of California. He wouldn’t leave his family to go drag racing. So henceforth, that’s why Dave Beebe never toured with some of the cars that he drove. The Mr. Ed car or the Soapy Sales car.”
If you ever wondered why the Mr. Ed Funny Car was sometimes piloted by 1978 NHRA Top Fuel champion Kelly Brown, that’s why.
“I’ve never been attracted to the gossip stuff,” Reyes said. “It’s those little tidbits about people that make them real people. They come alive, and they are the real people. They’re flesh and blood, just like everybody else. They take a whiz, dump, sleep, wake up, and have breakfast and lunch. This is back when drivers had real jobs and might be on a tractor or something during the week, and then they raced, like Matt Hagan, the farmer, cattle dude.”
Reyes admits his passion for drag racing still burns bright after all these decades.
“I grew up with these people when I was a snot-nosed kid going to the races,” Reyes said. “Even when I first started shooting and these guys, they were then and still are bigger than life to me. The cars were cool and the paint jobs were excellent. The noise and the smoke and all that stuff made it all exciting. Pretty much 99% of them treated me well.
“I’ve written this before in a couple of books that these guys kept me alive when I was a kid photographer because I didn’t have a lot of money. And I would live on Ramen noodles and Campbell’s soup in the wintertime. But I’d give people’s photos in Drag News, and those guys were very appreciative because their sponsor saw it -- so they could hit the sponsor up for a little more extra money or some parts or whatever.
“I’d see them at the races, and they’d either buy photos from me or say, “Hey, how you doing?”
“[They’d] shake my hand, and there’d be a $20 bill in their hand. And it’s like, “Wow, what is that?” It’s like, “Hey, don’t worry about it. You got us in Drag News. That’s what we want. Just keep getting us some photos in the newspapers, magazines, or whatever you’re doing because there’s no T.V. coverage.”
Reyes said he watched the sport transform from the hoodlum greasers to top-shelf professionalism. He said he went the extra mile to live up to his end of the bargain.
“I was their media connection,” Reyes said. “Doris Herbert is the one that taught me that. She said, ‘You know, drag racing’s cool. The cars and all that is cool, but the people are drag racing. When you go to the races, you don’t just stand on the starting line; go, ‘Click. Okay, cool. Click. Okay, cool.’”
“She taught me to walk through the pits and shoot people talking to each other. Shoot people laughing. Whatever, crying. Whatever they’re doing, shoot people, and then we’ll put them in the paper. We’ll do a story about people and the cars, but the people are most important.”
Reyes followed her advice, leading to award-winning photographs of Don Moody daydreaming at the back of his car and Tony Nancy giving his engine the stink-eye. It was the ever-popular shot of Tom McEwen talking to his crew that would pay off in the long run, making his books more than just manuals of days gone by.
“That’s the stuff that makes a good book,” Reyes declares.
Almost all of Reyes’ books have sold out, and he expects no different from his latest, soon-to-hit bookstores on June 19, 2023, featuring Southern California Funny Cars. Reyes estimates as many as 4,000 books will print for this edition. Following this one, he will have one on Southern California Top Fuel Dragsters should follow in a few months.
These cars were in Reyes’s wheelhouse back in the day and remain a staple in his literary presentations.
“Whether these guys ran a C/Gas Chevy or D/Gas Chevy or they ran Top Fuel, they took care of me,” Reyes said. “And I don’t care if they’ve been dead 20 years; if I can do something to keep their name out there or in the book that people can appreciate, I’m going for it.”
LOOKING FOR REYES BOOKS?
QUARTER-MILE CHAOS - Relive drag racing’s dangerous past in this softcover edition of a previous best seller.
Quarter-Mile Chaos looks at the treacherous side of drag racing’s golden age. Almost 200 rare and stunning photographs from the late 1960s and early-to-mid 1970s capture terrifying fires, explosions, and crashes, all by-products on the quest to go faster. Quarter-Mile Chaos is full of up-close and personal documentation of the perilous task to reach the 1,320-foot mark first.
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FUNNY CAR FEVER - There wasn’t always a class for these funny-looking cars. In the mid-1960s, many of drag racings fastest drivers were outgrowing the Super Stock and Factory Experimental classes, building cars that stretched and eventually broke the rules. Promoters discovered they could pair up these altered-wheelbase, injected, blown machines in exhibition match races, and the spectators came running.
Rivalries were born, the Funny Car class was created, and the cars kept getting faster and faster. Funny Car Fever is a humorous, heartfelt, first-hand account of the most exciting and memorable years of the Funny Car class. Steve Reyes followed these fiberglass-bodied, nitro-burning machines and their drivers from the years leading up to the creation of the Funny Car class through its halcyon days. He’s included over 350 of his favorite images and more than a few never-before-heard stories to bring the feeling of the class and the era home to you.
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FUEL ALTEREDS FOREVER - What type of drag car makes strong men shudder, ‘women shriek, and kids cheer? A 200-mph, 7-second, 96-inch wheelbased A.A./Fuel Altered, that’s what! These supercharged, 2,000-horsepower cars from the bygone days of drag racing demanded the utmost respect, as did the racers who piloted them. Most contemporary Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers would quake at the thought of driving one of these short, ill-handling beasts. It took a rare (or slightly crazy) breed of drag racer to slide behind the wheel of one of these exciting nitro-burning drag cars.
SLINGSHOT SPECTACULAR - Out of drag racing’s early years came one style of drag car that stood above the rest: the front-engine slingshot dragster. The fearless drivers of yesteryear climbed in behind 2,000-plus horsepower engines and held on for a smoke-filled 1,320 feet. California was the early hotbed for drag racing, and the front-engine top-fuel dragster was the king of the quarter mile. These nitro-gulping racecars thundered down drag strips, exciting fans with their awesome power.
Among these awestruck fans was a young photographer named Steve Reyes, and capturing these early four-wheeled asphalt missiles was his passion. Like so many fans, Steve got hooked on the smell of nitro and burning rubber. He photographed this bygone style of dragsters from 1963 to 1971, gathering great images and behind-the-scenes stories along the way. Follow the history of the front-engine dragster in Slingshot Spectacular: The Front-Engine Dragster Era, with over 400 vintage photos and personal stories to help you smell the nitro and feel the horsepower of the good old days of front-engine, top-fuel racing.
BLOOD SWEAT AND NITRO - Issued in 2010, Blood Sweat and Nitro is a black and white pictorial illustrating Steve Reyes’ personal flashback of the long-ago front engine dragsters from 1965-1970. This is a self-published book limited to 250.
FUNNY CAR FOLLIES - Issued in 2010, Funny Car Follies:1965-1970 is a black and white pictorial illustrating Steve Reyes’ personal flashback of unique funny cars during the 1965-1970 years. This is a self-published book limited to 500.
TOP FUEL DRAGSTERS - In general terms, drag racing is the fastest form of motor racing; within drag racing, Top Fuel is the fastest of the classes. Top Fuel has always been the leading class in terms of technology, cost, excitement, and speed. Over the years, technology has changed greatly. What started out as a flathead engine, four wheels, frame rails, and a steering wheel has morphed into technological wonders producing horsepower figures in the thousands and running supercharged nitromethane cars over the quarter-mile in the 4-second range.
Over the course of the evolution of these technological developments in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Top Fuelers were making enough horsepower so that sitting directly behind the engine, as the “diggers” did in the 1950s through the 1960s, was recognized as a fairly dangerous proposition for the driver. Any blower explosion or clutch and bellhousing failure occurred directly in the face of the pilot. Teams and engineers developed the rear-engine layout that is still in use today, where the engine sits behind the driver but in front of the rear wheels.
Industry legend and veteran journalist Steve Reyes was there through all the technological changes; he has the photos, anecdotes, quotes, and tales of the era. He discusses it all, including the experimentation that led to incredibly exciting racing and wild mishaps. Join him in the pages of this book, where he shares all the stories of this incredible racing era.
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NORTHERN CALIFORNIA DRAG RACING - Organized drag racing began in Northern California in 1949 thanks to World War II veterans with a need for speed. Towns like Redding, Lodi, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Fremont would host their own drag events featuring homebuilt jalopies. Anyone with a driver’s license and a paid entry fee could participate, and as the cars got more sophisticated and faster, more and more spectators came to watch the local speed demons. By the 1960s, a metamorphosis began with the introduction of the slingshot-style dragsters. For the next 12 years, the slingshot dragster was the king of the quarter mile, and it made stars of Gary Ormsby, Frank Bradley, Dennis Baca, and James Warren. Meanwhile, in 1965, a funny new race car challenged The King as it gained popularity in Northern California. Leading this funny car charge was a Pennsylvania transplant named Russell James Liberman. However, the golden years of Northern California drag racing came to an end in the mid-1970s. Today, only 5 out of 17 drag strips are still open.
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THE DAWN OF PRO STOCK - Pro Stock is a unique class of racing and one that has changed considerably over the years. In its early years, Pro Stock was similar to the Super Stock era from a decade before in that it featured cars that seemed to be a lot like a hot rod version of what people were driving on the street. While the engines were a little bigger and nastier than most street versions, they were not that far removed, and fans could really relate to cars like ‘Cudas, Mustangs, Camaros, Mavericks, and Vegas going at it on Sunday afternoon. These mostly stock-bodied cars were, after all, what most fans wanted their own street version to be.
Over the years, as always seems to happen in racing, the original vision morphs into something completely different, and in the case of Pro Stock, that meant tube frames and flip-up fiberglass bodies that resemble nothing seen on the street, and in that, there becomes a little bit of a disconnect with the fans, whose interest in Pro Stock originated in the relative stock appearance of the cars. For this reason, The Dawn of Pro Stock by Steve Reyes is a celebration of the early years, when fans could really connect with the cars and brand rivalries were intense.
Legendary drag racing photographer Reyes was trackside at the biggest and best NHRA events from the mid-1960s through the 1990s. He had a unique perspective on the development of Pro Stock, as he was able to document the evolution of both the cars and drivers as he observed them throughout the season. For a genuine insider’s view, Steve has gotten together his very best shots and supplemented them with some great images from his contemporaries to offer this new collection. Steve’s own observations punctuate the outstanding images to give the reader a trackside view of Pro Stock’s early days, unlike any offered before.
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