It is with some sadness that I formally announce my retirement from the NHRA major events following next November’s Auto Club Finals in Pomona. Yes, I do remember saying much the same thing in 2015 – something a lot of people remind me of – but a few medical issues made me re-think that idea. A couple of heart problems followed by surgery, and then hearing the dreaded word “cancer,” absolutely got my attention and gave me reason to re-consider that decision five years ago.
Maybe I should have walked away then but I’m glad I used those years to continue shooting the cars and people I’ve really come to love during my six-plus decades of drag racing. I’ll turn 75 next August, and that seems to be a nice round number at which to call it a day.
I was fortunate enough to have served as the NHRA Division 3 photographer for 26 years, during which time I learned and (hopefully) honed my shooting skills. In the late 70’s I started working with the National Dragster team at some of the national events. As the years passed and my photos were published in newspapers, magazines and even national advertising, I stuck with my dream of working with the National Dragster photographers on a more permanent basis. When you’re really lucky your dreams do come true, because in 1996 I was finally asked to joined the team, a position I held for almost 13 years until the economy soured and I was let go. I’ll readily acknowledge that was the lowest point of my career. Few will ever know just how lost I felt at the time.
I do feel that I’ve been very lucky to have lasted so long in the dog-eat-dog, cutthroat business that is drag racing photography. There’s no doubt that the advent of digital cameras and advanced computers have changed dozens of businesses, and that certainly includes drag racing. I’m an old-school shooter, a hold-over from the days when a photographer not only took the images, but processed the film and printed the photos as well. We had to be able to do it all – and then send everything off in the mail in a timely manner.
In some respects today’s remaining still shooters have it a bit easier, but the new day has brought with it its own challenges, not the least of which is the on-going demise of many of the monthly drag racing magazines upon which my early career depended.
It’s somewhat ironic that the quality of the images produced by today’s top-of-the-line DSLRs seems to have convinced some people that they’re suddenly full-fledged professionals. Add into the mix the skills they develop with programs like Photoshop and Lightroom and one is forced to ask what really constitutes an “honest” photograph in 2020.
Knowing this will be misunderstood, I’ll nevertheless suggest that the more restrictive rules photographers have been forced to adhere to at the major races has resulted in a decline in the quality of the images now being produced by and for the sport. Some of the best photographic angles have been arbitrarily eliminated due to the personal likes and dislikes of someone without sufficient knowledge on the subject, as has been the use of strobe lights – a decision apparently reached without scientific evidence that a strobe light was ever a factor in impacting drag racing’s electronic timing equipment.
It’s also ironic to note, even at this late date, that NHRA Founder Wally Parks came out of the world of magazine publishing (he was an early editor of Hot Rod Magazine). Probably more than anyone else at NHRA, Mr. Parks understood the value of still photography while also understanding the difficulties shooters had to deal with every weekend.
It’s been an interesting, exciting and sometimes even rewarding career, to say the very least! I’ve always tried to be the best shooter I could be of the endeavor we all love. Although, as you read this, my desire to get in that extra five years of shooting hasn’t come easily for me, including the health issues I mentioned above. Regardless of how I feel, I’m looking forward to the 2020 season, my last behind a camera. If I had the space – and the memory for it – I’d name the hundreds of people who have helped and supported my dreams for more than six decades, but rather than stumble through that I’ll just throw out a huge THANK YOU to everyone.
Okay, I lied about retirement in 2015, but I’m telling the truth now. The new season will be my last, and I just hope that I’ll get the chance to say a personal “Thank You” to everyone before the last car goes down the track at Pomona on Sunday afternoon, November 15, 2020.