In the last couple days I have been going through an awful lot of my old race stuff and I ran across this really nice B/W shot of the "King", Jerry Ruth doing this really nice burnout in his Top Fuel car with a portion of the Fall Nationals A-board that sits between the cars. That shot has prompted me to want to write about that race, or maybe I should say my getting to that race and back. Travel is always fun, isn’t it?
We’ve all had miscues traveling to and from the races and as I write this, I’ll be embarking on my 45th trip to that race, starting in 1975.
At one time in my life my daily driver was a 1969 Corvette with a 427 and 4-speed. Having one of those and driving it wasn't the problem but driving it from Rockford, Illinois; where I lived at the time; all the way to Seattle for the race might have cost me a small fortune even though gas cost way less than it does today but I was still worried about that cost. Instead, I opted to drive someone else's car, leaving them my Corvette to drive while I was gone. The car I borrowed was a 1974 Vega station wagon, not exactly a muscle car, but it did get good gas mileage.
This was my first ever Fall Nationals race and in those days, I used to drive to races without thinking to book a room ahead of time. This time it backfired on me as I had no room, but a friend offered me the other bed in his room, which was a help.
I arrived the day when the rigs are parked and in those days the camera gear I used was a Minolta with several camera bodies and a few lenses to use while shooting the race, which I might add we did in film as well; no digital in those days. One of the Minolta camera bodies was new to me in that it had a motor drive which was sort of bizarre and heavy at the time. The motor was in the bottom of the body, but the batteries that controlled the motor were in a grip attached to the side of the body. This was my first motor drive camera, but as I walked from one side of the track to the other, I realized I needed to change film and took the battery grip off, placing it on a guardrail post near the starting line. That was the last time I saw it!
I have no clue what happened to that Vega wagon as you can imagine, but I can tell you I fell asleep at the wheel driving back home and was woke up as I was running alongside the Interstate fence shearing off small trees and weeds. I have no clue how long I was up there but it put the fear of God in me. As a result of that episode I don’t think I’ve ever fallen asleep behind the wheel going to an event or returning from one in all the years I've been driving to races.
I’ve always enjoyed going to the Fall Nationals. The way the track is set up places wonderful light on the cars as they do burnouts. In addition, there is the angled stands that sits behind the starting line, so there is usually a sea of people in the background of most of the photos. Both those things in and of itself makes shooting this event unique.
Another visual thing for me back in 1975 was that if you shot just past the top end, you could see Mt. Rainer in the background of your photos. Each year I marvel at how much those same trees on the tower side of the track have grown.
Going to the Seattle event has been a great experience over the years. What's not to like, it's the Northwest, there are pine trees, plus some great seafood to enjoy, not to mention some great racing. I guess the biggest complaint might be in getting in and out of the track each day. It's certainly an interesting facility, and there have been changes to it over the years, making it what it is today.
As I mentioned earlier, we’ve all got travel stories and the Seattle event is one which always sticks in my mind. For now though, I’m thankful to be alive enjoying the travel and glad I get to Remember When.