Back in time. the divisional schedule of events held in NHRA’s seven divisions was simply called the World Championship Series (WCS). There was no sponsor until Winston came into the fold in the mid-‘70s, at which time it became known as the Winston Drag Racing Series. In 2001, Winston was forced to leave drag racing due to a government agreement. But when I first started as the Official NHRA Division 3 Photographer, who knew it would turn out to be a more or less a lucky break for me?
I say this because while I understood my regular duties at the time were for me to shoot and cover the divisional points meets, each were held at various D3 tracks I was familiar with, not to mention shooting all the classes and cars that competed. It seemed it was everything a guy could want, at least in my world, and I felt lucky to have been selected by then D3 Director Bob Daniels for the position.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I was still living in Rockford, Illinois, thinking nothing of leaving there and driving anywhere within the Division to cover events. I also learned really quick how much my photography would mean to the NHRA’s house newspaper, National Dragster. It was then that I learned about deadlines, captioning photos and the like along with how to split my time from shooting on the starting line and shooting in the pits. It was a balance you had to keep.
Of course, when I started shooting D3, there were three major NHRA national events within the Division, along with the five divisionals. For me, that meant I got to shoot at these locations at least twice a season, which is another reason I considered myself lucky. And then you had both pros and sportsman cars running at the divisionals.
When Winston came along in ’74, the NHRA instituted a points championship series with the points collected by the pro cars at divisionals counting towards the world championship, so you had a lot of teams also running both events. With this format you could be a Division Champion along with an NHRA World Champion in one of the pro classes.
Because it was my beginnings as a shooter in the sport, it was a lot of fun and work to travel to the races, learning the ropes on the fly as things happened.
This was also back in the days of shooting film. I would drive all night back home from a race, get a few hours’ sleep, get up and soup the film; which was the term for developing film; force dry it, printed the needed photos, caption them, put them in an envelope and ship them off to National Dragster for the coverage. I’d then have a few days around the house before I’d leave again for the next event, doing it all over again.
The days of digital photography has made those old film days a thing of the past. But I still relish the old days when I would slide that sheet of photo paper into the developer and see that shot come up in the soup with the darkroom red lights on. You just don’t get that same feeling with digital photography, Sure, you can still tweak a shot in Photoshop or any of the other photo apps, but it’s just not the same.
It was a very different time to be a photographer back then. It was a time when the selection of cars to shoot and write about were vastly different than the cars of today. But for someone who has been shooting drag racing for so long, it still has much of the same appeal. I guess my age shows when I say I wish some things had never changed, but in reality, the sport we all love so much, might still be considered in the dark ages had there been no changes. Some say it’s for the better, but who knows? Certainly when it comes to safety, the advancements made are welcomed, so in that case, I can agree that change was for the better.
But through it all, I am thankful I get to Remember When; when life was a little simpler and maybe a little less hectic, but I’m still here doing what I love. -RICHARD BRADY