Last Runoffs?

I hadn't attended the runoffs since 1981 and decided it was time to return....albeit not the same guy pictured in the driving school photo above. Some 34 (!) years had passed and my life has taken all the typical, and a few atypical, "turns". No, I'm not a competitor and have never driven a car in any competition other than a novice rally for charity. I'm a photographer; I got bitten with the photo "bug" when I was 10 when my Dad, who was a WW2 pilot taught me how to develop B/W film and make contact prints. He'd bought an ancient Minolta TLR (120/220) and I have priceless photos from his time in China, Burma, and India. Fast forward now - thru high school yearbook photos, to becoming a wedding photographer (old girtfriends), thru college to 1970 and an afternoon at Lime Rock Park in early May......photo below

This photo was taken with my Dad's old TLR camera on 120 KodakTri-X (ASA 400) and enlarged onto the floor of my crude darkroom to get the huge image large enough to crop out a 5x7.  It's the start of the Trans-Am race with Swede Savage leading both Parnelli Jones and Mark Donohue. Parnelli would go on to win the race....  the "under-2 liter" race was dominated by Alfa GTAs driven by Gaston Andrey, Horst Kweck and the Lime Rock track owner, Harry Theodoracopulos.   I was hooked.  But it would take several years of college and the beginning of my "real" career for me to realize it......

Fast forward again, this time to 1978.  I had joined the SCCA and started attending regional and national events at Lime Rock and Bryar.  I had purchased a 35mm camera with a couple lenses and become a pretty good racing photographer.  After a few friends asked me for photos, I got to thinking...hmmm.   At the next national event I brought a card table, notebook, pens, and made a sign for competitors to sign up for free proofs from the races.  The response was beyond belief.  I then made color proof sheets, scanned them with a magnifier (for focus, sharpness, etc), cut and pasted them onto the back of postcards with pricing info.  I added a guarantee of satisfaction.  My part-time hobby was about to become a 2nd career.....

I ended up shooting for Autoweek, SportsCar, On Track, and many other publications.  I gave photos to every track I went to for their use in programs and other promotional uses.  I also ended doing a lot of sponsor work for Koni, BF Goodrich, and Momo.  Individual teams approached me for a variety of photo jobs, including Bob Sharp Racing.  Their public relations and "press guy" was Pete Slater, and he asked me about producing a newsletter for the team in the summer of 1981.  Paul Newman was their driver, and after winning the C-Production Championship in 1979, had decided to try the IMSA professional series.  Z-cars were becoming outnumbered and outclassed in the GTU series and Datsun had decided to develop a new entry in the radical GTX class - a twin-turbo V8 (based on the Japanese market Silvia motor) in a highly modified, barely recognizable Datsun 280ZX Turbo.  I shot the photo below which was used in the recent documentary and appeared on the main Facebook page.  It had never been published previously as the car never enjoyed a lot of success against the competition, which now included a few prototype entrants.

I

Summer turned into fall.  The SCCA runoffs were at Road Atlanta, one of my favorite tracks and I had been assigned by SportsCar to do both racing photos and write-ups for five National Championship races.  I'd attracted enough side work for competitors to keep me busy and as it turned out, I also received the 1981 SportsCar Magazine Best Photography award.  Gas prices had risen to the point where it cost me over $50 to fill up my van (2 tanks) and I needed new tires, and a transmission service which quickly erased my meager earnings surplus.

In the winter of 81-82,  it was a time of reflection and I decided my racing photography career was at a crossroads.  As a free-lance, I decided unless I had enough writing or photo assignments to at least cover my travel expenses I would not be able to continue doing what I loved.  I'd failed to attract any regular paying jobs (despite interviewing for Autoweek and SportsCar) and I was tired of juggling credit cards to remain on the circuit.  In desperation, I moved in with an old friend who had a huge house and I took over the third floor in return for keeping firewood in the cellar and general maintenance around the house.  He was a CPA with a busy tax practice so he was basically working 16-18 hours a day all winter.  I had been hired as a consultant pharmacist for the County (Nursing) Home, which had about 120 residents that needed monthly med chart reviews and other paperwork to satisfy their licensing requirements.

 One day near the end of January 1982, the phone rang and the caller identified himself as Dave Kent, who I'd interviewed for an Autoweek feature a year ago.  His team, Kent Racing, had dominated the GTU division all season starting with a fourth or fifth place OVERALL at the 1981 24 Hours of Daytona with two Mazda RX-7s.  They were independently entered but heavily backed by the Mazda Motorsports division which was in its "infancy".  I'd met the Mazda "boss", Damon Barnett, and most of the team and observed that they somehow managed to secure both the Manufacturer's Championship and Driver's Championship (for Walt Bohren) despite displaying a rag-tag appearance at some of the races.  He went on to explain that he had been approached by Toyota to put together an IMSA GTU team.  Toyota USA was located in Gardena, CA near his race shop and had heard that had he worked with Damon Barnett of Mazda Motorsports to transform an independent team into a well-oiled GTU effort that delivered the 1981 Manufacturers Championship for Mazda.  Toyota had fielded a half-hearted team of 2 Toyota Celicas (a coupe and a fastback) run by none other than Parnelli Jones without much success in 1980-81.  Toyota had hired Dave to pick up the pieces and do the same for them - and they were talking a major factory-backed effort.   I would learn that Toyota approach involved exhaustive research before any decision was made.  Then once it was made, it was full-speed ahead.  The factory wanted to go professional road racing and they were very serious about it.

So I was hired as Kent Racing's Road Manager and had to join the team in El Segundo, CA as preparations for the 1982 season got under way.  I had a desk with a folding metal chair and not much else when I arrived.  I would soon become the travel coordinator for the team, arrange the purchase of a motorhome which would become my home on the road in addition to being the Team Toyota headquarters on race weekends.  It was quite a challenge as there was so much to do and so little time.  The team operated out of Dave's shop "Creative Car Craft" and there was an existing staff and projects galore.  As the team was gradually assembled around primary drivers Lee Mueller and Rick Knoop, with Kathy Rude and Davina Galica as secondary drivers for endurance races.  We'd already missed the 1st two events (Daytona & Sebring) so the debut race was the 6 Hours of Riverside, the "home track" for Toyota Racing Development (TRD) and Toyota headquarters.  Long story short(er), the season did not turn out well for anyone remotely connected to Kent Racing or Toyota.  In July, I suffered injuries in a rental car accident near Brainerd, MN and mercifully returned home to recuperate from several compression fractures (spine). Around the first of September, Toyota announced they were terminating our (Kent Racings') contract immediately.  So I was out of a job anyway, and as my recuperation continued, the world of pharmacy started to look like better and better (from a job security standpoint, at least).  Computers were just coming into usage, and I signed on with an big (by NH standards) independent pharmacy and learned very BASIC programming, mostly to save the management from expensive service contracts. 

My dormant racing photography career returned to its "roots", doing mostly regional SCCA events.  In 1988, I heard a rumor that tne old Bryar Motorsports Park had been sold and the new owner was interested in creating a new NASCAR-style 1 mile oval that also had a road course built into it.  The road course would be hosting AMA-sanctioned motorcycle events, SCCA (!) sports car events, and other events TBD.  Hmmmm...a little poking around confirmed the rumor and I met with Ted Goddard, a longtime friend and SCCA member, and learned that the deal was already done.  Ted had worked for the Bryar family and would continue on as Operations Manager for the new owner(s) and construction was to begin any day on the new track, NH International Speedway.  I would go on to become the first "official" photographer for NHIS, a position I held from 1989-1992.  The digital age was about to revolutionize photography, and I was fast becoming a dinosaur.  But it was there I learned about the "business" side of professional racing, ie-selling tickets, attracting sponsors, and entertaining fans who were largely just in attendance for the "partying". I was more than happy to get back to my roots with the SCCA.

In 1994, NER hosted the National Convention (the 50th!) in Boston and I was the "official" photographer for the event.  I also ran a couple seminars on using photography to attract sponsorship (still relevant and much easier in the digital age).  I continued to contribute to Pit Talk, and they finally published my story "A Triumph of Sorts..." about my adventure driving a SSB TR-7 to the "winter nationals" in Daytona, W Palm Beach, and Sebring for my friend Steve Lewis.  The story took place in 1989 or 1990 I think, when it was possible to actually drive a "showroom stock" vehicle to an event.  Once there, mount the "race" tires/wheels, change tire pressures and head to the false grid.  Notice the use of the word "possible" in lieu of "insane".

11 years later, in 2005, I was diagnosed and subsequently operated on for a low-grade brain tumor which left me with multiple disabilities that are now pretty much "publicly" invisible but continue to be privately devastating.  I've recovered somewhat but every challenge of "normal" aging continues to be magnified by a factor of 10.   I have a portable left-foot accelerator which I can easily use in any car, but my spatial orientation and ability to maintain the focus one needs to drive in even rural settings today limits my travels to a 30 mile or so radius from my home in NH.

So 1994 also marked the end of my active participation in SCCA but I've always kept my membership current as a way on saying thanks to the best people on the planet who make up the SCCA.  And that's really the theme of this blog, a shout-out to all the fine folks of the club.  Whether behind the scenes,or working a race, I've worked and played with some great people.  Most would never recognize me, but to those who I've had a chance to meet in person, thank you.  You may have signed up at my card table behind my van at Lime Rock or intereviewed me for one of several editorial positions back in the 80s (and politely rejected me).  Or maybe you would recognize me, not by sight, but name as I sold you a photo of your car at speed which is still hanging in your office or den.  Or most recently, you maybe saw my ad for 1981 IMSA GTU championsip photos on eBay (Kent Racing RX-7s).  Imagine my surprise when one excellent customer who bought everything I had listed that was a Mazda RX-7 turned out to be John Doonan, current motorsports director for the Mazda Competition Dept.  I finally met John at the 50th running of the Daytona 24-hour where I was also a guest at the 2012 RRDC dinner thanks to my old friend Jim Downing.  That one event stands out in my memory like no other.... I met and visited with so many old friends, and all of them started out at SCCA sanctioned events!  Do I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world?  You bet and it all started in 1977 when I joined the SCCA..... thanks for reading about my various racing related adventures....It's been fun just remembering them.