With the completion several months ago of NHRA’s premier week long running of what has to be termed the “World’s Most Famous Event,” specifically devoted to the Sport of Drag Racing, I began thinking of what was a very special part of the Big Go years ago, the Daily DRAGSTER.
Recently while I was at the Seattle event, I was able to engage National DRAGSTER editor, Phil Burgess and asked him several questions about the overnight publication which was put together and printed by the National DRAGSTER staff. Printed from 1988 through 2008 for a life span of 20 years. and for three days during the race, those passing through the gates got a free copy on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Each issue given out at the track contained photos and stories from the previous day’s racing, as well as sportsman coverage and all the pro qualifying numbers mixed with things going on around the track. And let’s not forget the photo page!
As a member of the DRAGSTER staff back then, this was far from easy to accomplish. There was no desk top publishing, no internet or email, as those were to come a few years down the road. The writing staff were in the bottom of the Parks Tower using regular typewriters to bang out those first issues. Because I lived on the west side of Indianapolis at the time, I got to dis-assemble, then drive my complete darkroom including my enlarger and everything we needed to develop film, do proof sheets and then print photos, re-assembling it with the help of Les Lovett and Bill Crites in the bottom floor of the top end tower’s bathroom. It was in that tower where we “souped” the film, forced dried it and made proofs for the writers to see, eventually making prints into the wee hours of the morning. Hard to believe this was all done in the confines of a very small bathroom, where one could hardly turn around in.
Phil also pointed out that the task of creating the Daily for the writers early on was not much better. While our prints had to be hand-delivered to the printer, the writer’s stories were faxed to the printer. Because the printer knew nothing about drag racing at all, they retyped all the stories and someone had to check every single story to be sure the names were correct and spelled right. Most times they finished at up at 4am, only to get up and head back to the track by 8. Those first few years really made for some long nights for all involved.
Eventually as technology changed, the whole operation was moved from the track to the host hotel, where a huge two-room suite was rented specifically to create the stories. By then, computers had become the in thing, especially with desk top publishing. My room initially became the darkroom again, but after a couple days it was determined that instead of using my bedroom, we might be better off using the bathroom so we didn’t ruin the carpet out in the main room, in case there was a chemical spill. My bathroom became the darkroom where we developed the film, did the proofs, walked them down the hall to the writers two-room suite where they were marked up, and then back to my room to print all the photos.
As time went on and as computing technologies with the advent of the internet and web based sites, it changed many things in the process which became easier to do. Everything production wise, like layout, design, and copy editing was able to be sent back to the DRAGSTER offices in California, via transmission over the internet, where the layout was done and eventually sent back to the printer in Indy. Even the photos that were to be used were sent that way as well, helping to make putting each day’s issue to bed faster.
I wish to thank Phil Burgess for his “remembering when,” and DRAGSTER assistant photo editor Jerry Foss for locating the photos of my hotel darkroom.
As for that darkroom, I still have it, and though we still shot film for a few more years, we switched to shooting color negative film, taking the film to a one-hour processing lab near the track, having regular black and white prints of every shot, from each roll turned in. Because this switch was made, I was able to leave my complete darkroom home but most of all I’m glad I always get to Remember When. -RICHARD BRADY