When December 31st of this past year rolls around it will be significant for me. After dealing with two major surgeries back in 2014 and ‘15, I asked if I could have five more years before I’d quit going to any more of the NHRA major drag races. I think spending a little over 60-some years in one sport is enough. So at the age of 75, and with December fast approaching I’ve been preparing myself to walk away from the sport that I have spent my whole life involved in as a photographer and writer. What can I say, I feel very lucky to have lasted so long.
Even before the two surgeries, back when things were much better, age was catching up to me and so were the hours spent standing and shooting all day long in the sun for the very long 14 or 16 hours days it was taking to just cover an event properly.
Make no mistake, I’m not complaining at all. I think when I started nobody understood the dedication and time it takes to achieve in a single field sport. Still just about every weekend I’d be involved with my away family of NHRA officials, racers and their families, and other photographers, all blended together as one big giant family. I got to know an awful lot of the families, and witnessed many times as a son or daughter took over the driving chores for a given family. I also saw some racers who had a gift to make things with their hands eventually turning it into a very well-known business venture.
Over the years I was asked at times what cars or what tracks did I like, or on several occasions I was asked if I might guess as to how many rolls of film (the younger readers probably won’t know what film is) I shot or had I given any thought to how many miles in length would all that film I shot be? I couldn’t even begin to guess at some of the answers to those questions.
I know when I think back to the start of my career, I can recall the early struggles, like the lack of proper camera gear for shooting sports action events such as drag racing. The struggles to get credentials because no one knew me, heck I wasn’t sure I even knew me? Then there is the learning curve of the act of shooting the cars or trying to learn how to fill the frame correctly.
However I will say that like rookie drivers who need seat time in a race car to gain experience, that same analogy applies to rookie race car photographers. The more races you go to and shoot under all sorts of different track and weather conditions, the better you will be as a shooter. As far as that part of my career, I feel very lucky because when I started there was match racing going on at tracks all over the country, but a big plus was that I lived very near three of the big match race tracks in the Midwest. I’ve shot many Wednesday night drag races, which helped me learn the value of how to use a flash at dimly lit tracks. Add in Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, all of those helped me to perfect my chosen craft.
I guess the point is that the more cars and races one shoots the better you become, and I’d like to think that I did pretty well over the years. I at least feel I did the best I could with what I had to work with.
I’m truly grateful (in no particular order) for Ron Leek, Bob Metzler, Bob and Dawn Bartel, Bob and Eileen Daniels, Wally and Barbara Parks, Leslie Lovett, Steve Reyes, John Grivins, Jim Kelly, Jon Asher, Les Welch, John Raffa, Teresa Long, John DiBartolomeo, Roger Richards, Tim Marshal, Bret Kepner, Jim Edmonds, Phil Burgess, Dave Kommel, Rick Hauser, Chris Haverly, Jay Hullinger, Carol Johnson, Peg and Bruce Lindquist, Richard Shute, George Williams, JF, MQ, RW, and many others I apologize for forgetting. And a big shout out to Sharyl McDowell Brady (oh did I fail to mention that after 23 years we just got married?) who has put up with me and my life as a drag racing photographer. What a learning curve I’d bet for her.
As I move away from the travels of following the major circuits, I hope to still continue to somewhat be a part of the sport I dearly enjoy. I’ll miss my extended family but as always, I’m glad I get to Remember When.