'The Man with the X-ray Eyes'Friday, June 07, 2013
Posted by: Phil Burgess

In the same vein as last week’s series of cutaway (or, more pointedly, see-through) photos I’m thrilled to be able to present an amazing body of artistic automotive work by Tom West, who many of you may know for his collection of drag racing photos (and whom Steve Reyes credited as his lighting director in the thread before this one), but those of us in the biz know him better for his exacting cutaway drawings of famous drag racing cars.

I reached out to Tom and asked if he’d like to show off some of his roughly 80 great drawings with the Insider nation, and he responded with a reaction time (and series of drawings and descriptions) that any drag racer would envy and a recap of his amazing journey.

“This goes back to my first one that was published in Popular Hot Rodding magazine in 1968,” wrote West. “The first original TWest illustration was the beautiful Herrera and Sons Austin Sedan that ran in A/GS in the late 1960s. I had ‘taught’ myself how to do these things by copying a few drawings out of the magazines when I was in high school in 1966, just to see how it felt to make the lines happen on the page, starting with the one that actually inspired me to do this stuff, the Steve Swaja pieces, which I still really love. I started with his Scrimaliner illustration, then did a couple of William Moore pieces, then a Clarence LaTourette illustration on the Summers Brothers Goldenrod. I completed my training with the best cutaway artist of the time, James Allington and his Ferrari 250LM.

“I decided that the best way to do this was to get out and take pictures, so I borrowed a camera, and Steve Gibbs actually let me out on the starting line. I found that I could actually take photos a bit and met guys who allowed me to shoot detailed photos of their car. I had no real reason to actually draw one until I talked with writer-photog Jess Money, who was going to do the new Herrera Super Gasser for Popular Hot Rodding. I went with him when he shot the article and got photos of the car for this illustration. Interestingly, I sort of forgot all of the technique that I had picked up from those copy drawings and did this more like a drafting drawing with single-weight lines, which is the way it was originally published. I made some prints and used pens to go back and create some more line depth, so it fits better into my later work ... and just looks better."

(More maximum enjoyment, click on any image below to view in a larger format.)

“I am asked what kind of art training that I have to do these things, and there is not much to tell, as those copy illustrations were done during the second half of my senior year of high school was pretty much it. Everything else was just typical mechanical drawing stuff, and I used to get marked down because I used to get too heavy with the line work ... something that seems to set apart what I do with these illustrations, which, with a couple of exceptions, are done in pencil," West added. "For those who care about such things, the Herrera Gasser was drawn about three feet long with drafting pencil on vellum.

“After doing eight illustrations based on my original style, Don Green, the great staff photographer at Car Craft, got me a meeting with John Raffa and Terry Cook about doing cutaways for CCM. Considering that the earlier series started by Steve Swaja and done later by William A. Moore was one of my favorite magazine features ever, I was floating when I went in there for that meeting. They seemed to be happy with what they saw, but I told them I thought I could do better if I saw one of Swaja's pieces just to be able to study it. They gave me two of his originals, which I still treasure to this day.

“After taking them home and going over them, I almost decided to stop doing the illustrations because I had drifted so far away from what I originally intended with my 'engineering drawing' line style ... it was quite far from the amazing line work on those two Swaja pieces.

“I guess I used them for inspiration and studied a few other things before I started this piece that you see here, switching over from the drafting vellum to mylar drafting film, the medium that I still use today. I incorporated some of the Swaja techniques, as much as I could, and the result looked like it had been drawn by someone totally different from my first pieces."

“This drawing of the Frantic Ford Mustang of Jim Fox and Ronnie Rivero was to have been my first piece in Car Craft, so I jumped right on it after our meeting at the Petersen building on Sunset Boulevard. Shot the photos and got it up there, where everyone sort of sheepishly finally told me that they had not bothered to contact the boys, and the car had already departed for its permanent home on the East Coast ... so no article.

“The piece was good enough that I finally screwed up my courage to introduce myself to Swaja, as I had always been in such awe that I would not do it. I asked him to comment on the drawing, and he pointed out an area that might have been the worst single area of an illustration that I have ever drawn (it is removed on the copy you see here), but he then suggested that I make it easier and work in pencil instead of ink ... I ended up taking the time to describe how I got my pencil lines to look like ink. That was almost worth doing a piece for nothing just to have him ask me my technique on something.

“Still have ultimate respect for Steve Swaja for his artistic and design skills to this day," said West.

“After the false start with the Frantic Ford illustration, we talked about a serious effort for my premier piece that would go in Car Craft — really — for sure this time. They were going to do a feature on the new Don Kirby piece with Gary Gabelich as the driver to be run under the Beach City Chevrolet banner. Most of us remember that beautiful Corvette roadster — probably all three of them — but the big fuss was around that '69 car, which had many of the mixed features from earlier and later as the technology transitioned through that year. I ended up shooting the research pics out behind Kirby's shop, doing a front angle, as you see here, plus a rear angle that ended up being illustrated for the dealership program.

“Part of the discussion with Raffa and Cook was about Cook wanting to do something different with the cutaway ... like, how's this? Draw Gabelich in his suit standing behind the car, and do a skeleton inside the suit ... Cool, huh? I was not exactly into medical illustration, so I asked if just having the cutaway for the first time in over 18 months might not be sufficient to start. After a couple of pieces, maybe we could start the driver vivisection series.

“I had finished the first drawing for the magazine and was waiting for it to come out and finished the second. I went over to Irwindale [Dragstrip] with the drawing in my car. Kirby said to bring it down to the dealer in the morning (Sunday), as they were all going to be there to talk about various marketing issues. So, we get back to the racing, and I am feeling like crap ... leaving the race early probably for the only time ever. Gabelich would be in the finals, so it was going to be a good day," said West.

“I awoke on Sunday to see a picture of this distorted Corvette-shaped thing burning, finding out that the car was destroyed in the final. I drove down to Beach City, Calif., with my heart in my throat, afraid that they might back out on our $150 deal for the illustration.

“I got there to see the chassis, with a steel engine block and a few other pieces in the chassis, tufts of scorched fiberglass stuck to the frame in various places, but everything else completely gone. Everyone was sitting in a conference room dazed, but they agreed on the spot that the car would be rebuilt and took the illustration.

“I had mixed feelings when the piece came out in that December, 1969 issue, as one of the largest images was that shot of the car on fire. My finely detailed piece was printed in red, which was supposed to be more of a maroon, but turned out to be more of a pinkish red, so most of the details were lost as it was reversed out of the red. I was about to tell them that if they were going to do that, I didn't even want to do any more work for them, but they apologized and said it would not happen again before I even asked.

“At least I hadn't drawn Gabelich as a skeleton, which he could easily have become."

“One of those projects that I did that never got published at the time was to become part of one of the beloved legends of the sport ‘Jungle Jim’ Liberman. Originally to be part of a Big 3 Review with a Mopar and a Ford, the project got dropped after I had done the illustration of the ‘Jungle Jim’ '69 Nova Funny Car. This was actually the Clare Sanders car and ended up being shot just off the freeway at Detroit Dragway, the only time I went there during the time I was commuting to Michigan every six weeks for school during the time. The boys made me feel welcome, and we did the thing during the afternoon of the race, as nobody seemed overly pressured to do anything much to get ready for the evening booked-in program.

“Just so you remember, ‘Jungle’ was about the top of the sport in 1969, running the Chevy-powered car, putting on the big show and having his two-car pro team, the first to really pull that off. The Sanders car was the winner of the Winternationals earlier that year, just to show how strong these guys were," said West.

“I was really honored to be able to do this thing at the time and wish it would have been published, but that was not to happen until 1999, when Popular Hot Rodding featured a review of my work in an article (cover mention, too) called Man with the X-ray Eyes, which I thought was pretty cool.

“The fun part sometimes comes later, as I supplied my reference photos from the shoot of the car in Michigan for the recent restoration of the car. I always love to help out with things like that when possible, and to have a Jungle car authenticated with my 40-plus-year-old images is pretty neat."

“This is just an amazing piece that I did for Car Craft, and I like because of the complexity," said West.

“If you wanted to ever see an impressive car, this Allison-powered Mustang Funny Car of Tex Collins would be it. Known as the Hollywood Badman for a couple of reasons (I will not go into here), Collins had a series of Allison-engined cars, but Car Craft featured this one. It was a beautifully-done car, and a complete brute when it did the burnouts. One impression of it was looking up into the starting line stands at Lions after those 12 left-bank headers had vibrated the thing as it slowly churned by melting the tires and seeing everyone with that wide-eyes look like someone just goosed them ... never saw such a group reaction to anything at the drags like that.

“I shot this car at Collins shop/film studio in the San Fernando Valley, where I gather he was doing some early adult film projects, using his Rolls-Royce as a recruiting device driving around the valley. I, of course, did not know this at the time, so finished the shoot on the Hollywood Badman, and headed down Interstate 5 to get to Mickey Thompson's shop to do a shoot for an illustration of the monocoque Mustang, the first time I had tried to detail two cars on the same day. Unfortunately, I got caught in a horrific traffic jam as a water main broke in Griffith Park, depositing a goodly amount of one of the hillsides across the freeway about a mile in front of me. I finally got off the freeway to call Thompson and made it down there with them waiting for me on that Saturday afternoon.

“Drawing this particular car, which appeared in the March, 1971 issue of Car Craft, was still done using me early enlargement technique. Most professionals had a ‘Lucie’ or some other enlarger device that could be used to trace the overall details, but I didn't. I used to print the photos out as 8x10, then draw a 1/8-inch grid on the different layers of the detail photos, and then create a 2 or 3 inch grid upon which I drew the piece, thus ending up with the size that I wanted. Unfortunately, you had to really be careful to make sure which series of grids you used on the page, as I draw with sort of a deli slicer method ... the first things you draw are the nearest to the viewer, and you just step back into the car with these layers. In the case of the Mustang, those headers from the Allison were done right after the body, and I picked them up 10 grid spaces out of position, which would have moved the engine forward probably two feet in the car. They were really looking good before I realized that there were sitting in completely the wrong place in the car, and had to be removed and redrawn, a fairly time consuming task with something like that. Definitely taught me to pay better attention, and to figure out another way to do this stuff."

OK gang, that's the first installment of these wonderful illustrations. I hope you took the time to click on the individual images to look at them in finer detail. They provide a wonderful and rarely seen view of the mechanical marvels that we've watched for so many years. I'll have part 2 next week and beyond that still more see-through photos as submitted by the readers here.

A quick housekeeping note: The response to both the Reyes staged photos and these see-through pics has been gratifyingly spectacular, and it's apparent that many of you  feel as I do about these early treasures and the need to share them with newer fans, but for me, it's equally as important to give the credit due. I did not have a lot of information on the creators of the see-through photos, but fortunately for me, veteran motorsports talent Rick Voegelin does, and he helped fill in some of the blanks from last week's column. I've gone back and added his comments to give due credit.

"Unfortunately in the Internet age, it's all too common for images to be appropriated without credit to their creators," he wrote. " As a self-appointed historian of drag racing journalism in general and Car Craft Magazine in particular, I thought I would try to set the record straight.

"What's amazing is that all of these artworks were done more than 40 years ago by hand, either in a camera, in a darkroom, or on a drawing board — no computers, no Photoshop, no digital-illustration aids. They were works of imagination that helped us to see what was invisible."

Amen, brother.

Posted by: Phil Burgess

Continuing our theme of trick photo shoots, I found a collection of great photos online somewhere (exactly where escapes my already-in-Englishtown brain) that are best described as see-throughs. Also called cutaways and double exposures by those in the biz, they were very popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s and are still used today. What they portray is an X-ray-type effect showing what’s under the body (usually of a Funny Car) while still giving a hint of what the body is. Today, I could probably whip up one of these in about a minute with Photoshop, but “back then,” it took a lot more skill, planning, and patience.

Steve Reyes explained his procedure: “This process is a double exposure on one piece of film. I used my Hasselblad 500cm, which had a removable back/film holder. You pose the car with camera on tripod. Next you have the car put up on jack stands; this prevents the car from sinking when the body is placed on the chassis. If the car sinks just the slightest, the photo will be ruined. Then you shoot it either with the body on or off. You take one exposure and pull the back off the camera, wind the film back, and place the back on the camera and shoot your second exposure on the same piece of film. When exposing the film, I opened up the lens about a half a stop so the exposure would balance out and not be underexposed.”

It’s a very cool way to illustrate how chassis, suspensions, engines, and cockpits were arranged and how things have changed throughout the years. I’ll present them in a rough approximate chronological order. (I don’t have photo credits for some of these, so if you know who (or if you) took it, please let me know, and I will add proper credit.)

From 1966 comes this interesting portrayal of Jack Chrisman’s Kendall GT-1 Mercury Comet roadster. It looks as if the body (or at least the lettering) is a drawing that was superimposed on a photo of the chassis doing a burnout. Something just doesn’t look “real,” but it does look cool. You can see the Moon-style fuel tank mounted in front of the 427 SOHC engine and the front suspension. Update: According to Rick Voegelin, this image originally appeared on the cover of the July 1966 Car Craft. It is a compilation of photography and illustration. Petersen Publishing's Pat Brollier shot the underlying chassis photo, and artist William A. Moore did the body illustration overlay.

Chester Kirk shot this photo of Doug Nash’s unique and unforgettable Bronco Buster small-block 289-powered Ford Bronco that ran in 1966-67. It was built with light weight in mind and reportedly tipped the scales at less than 1,400 pounds thanks to an aluminum frame that later was banned for safety reasons at about the same time that NHRA outlawed the use of truck and Jeep bodies. This photo was the centerspread for the February 1967 issue of Drag Strip, and also used as an inset on the cover.
Dragster ace Maynard Rupp made a couple of attempts at the Funny Car wars in the mid-1960s, first with the rear-engine Chevoom and later this machine, the STP-sponsored Cougar Country Mercury Cougar in 1967. He sold the car to Gerry Schwartz, who named it Ratty Cat and perished in it during a nasty midtrack collision with Pat Foster at the 1969 Springnationals in Dallas. As per the contract, Rupp and partner Roy Steffey returned the car to STP at the end of the season. Again, according to Voegelin, this was the cover car on the August 1967 Car Craft. The photo was credited to Ford Photographic and was supported by a six-page article (two color pages plus color centerspread) and a cutaway illustration by William A. Moore.
This is Nelson Carter's Imperial Kustoms 1968 Dodge Charger, aka The Super Chief (a name chosen by fans that celebrates Carter’s Native American heritage). The pretty Dodge was painted an eye-catching green and gold by Ron Perau at his Imperial Kustoms paint emporium, and Perau was actually the first driver before being replaced by Steve Bovan and later Dave Beebe. "This image was on the cover of the June 1968 issue of Car Craft (beginning to see a pattern here?)," writes Voegelin. "The cover shot is the naked chassis (cover blurb: Nelson Carter – Ron Perau – Keith Black $25,000 Funny Car), and the composite ghost illustration with transparent body appears in the accompanying feature, "Match Race Masterpiece." Car Craft Photo Editor Bob Swaim gets the credit for this one.
“Big John” Mazmanian had a number of Plymouth Barracuda-bodied floppers in the late 1960s – almost always driven by his nephew, Rich Siroonian – and it’s a little difficult to tell which one this is, but judging by its weed-burner headers, I’d say this was the 1968 model. Note also the larger fuel tank mounted up front by the axles – better than lead ballast! What I really like about these last three photos is that you can see the Logghe-style square roll cages that were prevalent in the day but scary compared to today’s form-fitting and heavily padded cockpits and the pre-butterfly round steering wheels. Mazmanian's car was the cover car and the subject of a Car Craft Cut-A-Way in the January 1969 issue. The "Switcheroonian" feature chronicled Mazmanian's change from the Gas Supercharged to nitro Funny Car ranks. Car Craft Photo Editor Bob Swaim was behind the camera for this one as well.
Another 1968 car is the Dodge Dart of “the All-American Boy,” Charlie Allen, who, of course, went on to fame as a track owner at Orange County Int’l Raceway and Firebird Int’l Raceway. This was Allen’s first flip-top machine after campaigning a series of A/FXers beginning in 1965. Looks like this one was shot on the starting line in Pomona.
There’s a lot to like about this photo of what I’m pretty sure is Mickey Thompson’s 1971 Mustang. You can clearly see the 429 Ford powerplant they were using and the fire bottles mounted on the sides of the rounded roll cage. I blew up the original photo as large as I could, and the helmet appears to read “Dale,” which might make it Dale Pulde, who – to the best of my knowledge – never drove this car as he had his hands full with Thompson’s titanium-frame (and somewhat combustible) Pinto. Dick Bourgeois, Mike Van Sant, and (most famously) Henry Harrison were the drivers, but the versatile Pulde might have been enlisted as a stunt model for this shoot.
How about another Boss 429-powered ’71 Mustang? This is Tommy Grove’s machine, although it’s very clear that this is an illustration rather than a photo. Note that Grove’s roll cage, though of the modern variety, still has some squared corners and how he’s still running the smaller-style fuel tank. More Voegelin: "This one was done by Shusei Nagaoka of Design Maru for the centerspread in June 1971 Car Craft to illustrate a Logghe Stamping chassis. He also did thumbnail cutaways of Pete Everett's Demon (Don Long chassis), Kelly Chadwick's Camaro (Don Hardy chassis), Don Prudhomme's Barracuda (John Buttera chassis), and Tom Hoover's Charger (Race Car Engineering chassis). These were the first color cutaway Funny Car illustrations to appear in Car Craft. Nagaoka also drew black-and-white cutaways of the new generation of Pro Stocks in April 1972: Bill Jenkins' Vega, Wally Booth's Gremlin, Don Nicholson's Pinto, and Sox & Martin's Duster."
Obviously another illustration, but a pretty cool one (I believe it’s a Kenny Youngblood work of art) for a car that wasn’t around that long. The story has been told here many times, but I’ll tell it again: When Intercontinental Bakeries decided to sponsor a Funny Car in the early 1970s through its Wonder Bread brand, it wanted drivers Kelly Brown and Glenn Way to use Vega wagons to simulate bread-delivery wagons, but the cars (like most Vega wagons) handled horribly. I don’t know the whole story, but the Wonder deal of course ended up with Don Schumacher and led to the fabulous and aero-trick Wonder Wagon Vega coupes of 1973 and 1974.
Nice aerial view here of the Braskett & Burgin Vega Funny Car shot by Jere Alhadeff that ended up on the cover of the April 1972 issue of Drag Racing USA. It was in this car that Burgin set the national record at 6.72 at Lions Drag Strip’s Grand Premiere in January 1972. With but a few exceptions (including those single-wall headers), the layout then has a real semblance to a modern-day Funny Car.
Another Youngblood illustration, this time of Tom McEwen’s 1974 English Leather/Navy Duster, recognizable by its side-window louvers and the front-fender bubbles that were becoming all the rage.
Reyes himself shot this one of Kenny Bernstein’s Budweiser King Dodge Omni in 1981. Not a lot of people remember this car because it followed the Bud King Arrow that began the famous lineage and was followed by a Mercury LN-7 that won the Shootout specialty race and the U.S. Nationals and set the national speed record at 256.41 mph all on the same weekend.

OK, that's all I have right now -- although I know there are a ton more to be discovered -- so put away your X-ray glasses (you know, the ones you bought out of the back of those comic books in the 1960s) for a while. I have a related follow-up next week where you can pretend to use them again, but in a much different way. Until then, I'll see you (but not through you) later.



2013 Nitro Alumni Auction: The NHRA Motorsports Museum California Hot Rod Reunion presented by Automobile Club of Southern California, long established as the premier nostalgia drag racing and social event, will again play host to the Nitro Alumni silent auction, benefiting the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California. The Nitro Alumni is a group of independent enthusiast donors whose efforts are focused on the preservation of their mutual hot rod heritage through their support of the museum. More than 100 items were donated for the 2012 silent auction, and bidders generated more than $26,000 for the museum.

The Nitro Alumni is seeking items for the Oct. 19 auction, which can range from historic artifacts to contemporary racing equipment and other appropriate merchandise. Among the many significant items already pledged for this year's auction are a handcrafted butterfly steering wheel signed, numbered, and donated by legendary chassis builder Kent Fuller; a unique sculpture of "the Surfers" by Eddie Buck; a complete Vintage Air SureFit street rod air-conditioning system donated by Jack Chisenhall; a vintage-style polished Hilborn injector scoop donated by Fuel Injection Engineering; a full-size replica 15X World Champ helmet signed by John Force; and several classic race trophies donated by Jess VanDeventer.

Interested donors of auction items can contact Steve Gibbs, stevegibbs20@gmail.com; Cindy Gibbs, cinderjean@gmail.com; or John Ewald, ewaldpic@aol.com. The value of donated items may be eligible for tax deduction, within the IRS guidelines. A wide range of items are being sought after, including vintage racing apparel, framed artwork, new and used racing parts, jewelry, classic trophies, and all other forms of racing memorabilia. All accepted items will be listed and illustrated on a special auction website, and donors will be recognized.

Auction items will be displayed at the Nitro Alumni tent at the California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield. Bidding will start Friday, Oct. 18, and will be open for written bids until 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19. Net monetary proceeds from auction sales will be presented as a donation to the NHRA Motorsports Museum.

For more information, contact Steve Gibbs by email or phone, 951-317-8274.

Posted by: Phil Burgess

Welcome to Part 2 of Location, Location, Location, a fun look at the stories behind some of the most memorable magazine photo shoots from the early 1970s, as told and illustrated by Steve Reyes. In our first installment, Reyes talked about the challenges of setting up the actual location for the shoots; today, he shares a little more about the other challenges of shooting and getting the images published.


Dave Hough and the Nanook fuel altered were two of Reyes’ favorite subjects and featured in two of his more memorable shoots, both of which ended up on covers. “Dave Hough was wonderful to work with,” he recalled. “If I would have told him, ‘Hough, we’re having a shoot with the devil in hell,’ he would ask me what time he needed to be there. I had already shot the earlier Nanook among the cactus at the Saguaro National Park out near Tucson [Ariz.], and he had gotten some real nice exposure in a couple of magazines for that, so he was always ready to go.

“So I got the idea to take the car to the snow; the whole Eskimo-Nanook thing in the snow, right? So we trailer the car way up into the San Bernardino Mountains up near Big Bear Lake and stopped when we found the first snow. We unloaded the car and pushed it into the snow, then built snow around it, then had to smooth out the footprints to make it look nice. I had him sit on the ice, and even though he was wearing a firesuit, he about froze his butt off; I don’t think he was wearing much under the suit. That one ended up on the cover of Drag Racing USA [April 1973].

“The other shoot I did for him ended up way different than I planned. I wanted to shoot a photo of the car going down the street in Redondo Beach [Calif.] with the parachute out. You have to picture this: On either side of the street, we have people lined up watching us – the mayor of Redondo Beach is there. We’ve arranged so that two traffic lights are going to be red to cross traffic. He’s supposed to drive down to where I am with the chute out and stop, right?

"Well, apparently, Hough thinks it’s the final round of the Nationals, and he has to set low e.t. and top speed. He just hammers it, and he’s boiling the tires and sideways. The chute comes out but because his wife, Lynn, forgot to put the bolt in that connects the chute to the car, it just falls to the ground.

“So Hough’s sideways, and I’m diving out of the way between parked cars, but the people on the sidewalks are loving it. He flies through both intersections and is barreling down to the third intersection, and it is NOT red for the cross traffic. He goes through the intersection and disappears – four wheels off the ground – over this hill, and I know that just over that hill is the Pacific Coast Highway, and then – unless you can make a pretty radical right turn --- the ocean. I figure, ‘Well, Hough’s in the Pacific; he’s done,’ so we jump in the car and chase him down, and, sure enough, he had made the turn.

"We find him stopped in a turnout about a quarter-mile down the road. ‘Well, did you get the photo?’ he asks me. We did not get a photo, and we weren’t going to try it again, so we parked the car at the curb and got a Redondo Beach cop to act like he was giving him a ticket. It ended up on the [September 1973] cover of Popular Hot Rodding, but I never put another fuel altered on the street after that!”

Reyes shot this photo of Billy Holt’s wild and short-lived rear-engine Vega Funny Car, the Wayne Mahaffey-driven Alabamian, outside the Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park near Atlanta. Holt had told him the new car was coming, and knowing that the car would be worth shooting, Reyes gambled that he’d be able to sell the feature and booked himself a round-trip flight to Atlanta and met the boys there. Recalled Reyes, “Billy had suggested I call the Six Flags PR people because he knew they were trying to promote the place. It was raining, so the place was closed, but they let us shoot there anyway. Again, really nice people. I shoot the deal, fly back home, get the film processed, and get it to Doherty, and the next thing I know, the car is destroyed in an accident after like three runs. Even though the car didn’t exist anymore, Doherty still decided to run the photos, which was nice of him. I also was able to sell some photos to Billy and to Wayne, but with the airfare, I probably only broke even.”
Shooting Harry Lehman’s American Way streamliner in front of two destroyers at a U.S. naval base in Virginia was not an easy task. “The War Department or someone had to OK the photos before I could run them,” said Reyes. “They were very nice – they trusted me to send them the photos, and I trusted them to get them back to me – but they wanted to make sure that there was nothing in the photos they didn’t want to be seen. I remember I had one photo where there was black diesel smoke coming from one of them, and they told me, ‘You do not run that photo.’ Harry had some sort of tie-in with the Navy – you can see the decals on the car – and he got me the names of the people I had to call to make it happen. It took a bunch of phone calls up the chain of command to get it done.”
Reyes’ 1984 photo shoot with Kenny Bernstein’s Budweiser King Tempo and the Clydesdale horses and Bud beer wagon on the beach in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was another memorable occasion.

“It was the first time that a Budweiser-sponsored race vehicle was going to be photographed with the horses and the wagon, so it was an important deal,” he recalled. “I think the horses were there for some spring-break deal, and there were some Bud executives there. Anyway, Kenny asked me to come to Myrtle Beach – I was just driving around the country from race to race and had some open time, so why not? – and I go to his hotel room, and he’s sitting there with the mayor of Myrtle Beach, and I remember Bernstein was telling him that I was shooting for all of these wonderful magazines.

“So, the mayor arranges for the city workers to take down all of the K-rails on this street bordering the beach, and they bulldoze an area so that we can get the race car and the beer wagon on the beach because there normally was no access for vehicles. They’ve got all of these security guards – remember, this was spring break, and people were on the beach – keeping people out of the shot. I think we spent three hours positioning the car and the horses, but it was a lot of fun. Kenny was happy, the Bud people were happy, the mayor was happy, and I was especially happy because I was the first one to shoot it and because I felt like Mr. High-Fashion Photographer with all of these ‘assistants’ keeping people back for me. Usually it was just yelling at people to get out of my shot. It was a first-class deal; that was the way that Kenny always did things.”

Reyes shot these photos of Funny Car racer Malcolm Durham – nicknamed “the D.C. Lip” for his continual banter. Reyes and pal Jeff Tinsley thought that Washington, D.C., was the natural place to shoot Durham’s Strip Blazer Camaro.

“The deal with Durham was my idea with Tinsley’s help,” Reyes recalled. “Tinsley lived in Silver Springs, Md., just a stone’s throw from D.C. We spoke to Durham at an IHRA race at Rockingham, N.C., and got him lined up for the shoot in D.C. the following week. Just prior to the race weekend, Jeff called someone he knew in the D.C. Parks Department to start the ball rolling. The whole thing almost was scrubbed at Rockingham when Durham had a chute failure and spun his car out in the shutdown area. His car only had minor damage, so it was full steam ahead for the photo shoot. The Monday after Rockingham, Tinsley was on the phone almost all day obtaining the 13 permits we needed to do the shoot. Tinsley and I also added one more photographer to the fun: Bob McClurg (left). The Parks Department was very nice to us and Durham and supplied park police to keep people away from the Funny Car and out of our way. It was about a three-hour shoot, and we got our pix, and Durham was very happy. He and his Funny Car were splashed in Drag Racing USA magazine, Super Stock magazine, and Cars magazine. (P.S.: The other driver in the photo with Durham is Lee Jones, who drove Durham’s other team Funny Car.)”

Reyes put Robert Contorelli’s wild rear-engine Mustang Funny Car on the starting line at fabled Lions Drag Strip for this photo. “Robert was a nice guy, a real Southern California flower-child kind of guy, but I think he ran out of money just building this car and didn’t run it much,” said Reyes.

“It was an SPE chassis, but I think he pretty much built everything himself. It came out real nice, so I asked [Lions manager] C.J. Hart if I could shoot the car on the starting line with fireworks and stuff, and he said it was OK – in typical C.J. fashion, he said, ‘Just don’t burn the place down’ – so we stuck Roman candles down the header pipes and put a 55-gallon drum behind the car and tossed in one of those cone fireworks.

“I shot a lot of time exposures, and one of them ended up on the cover of Drag Racing USA (right). I had shot for so many years at Lions that I had a real good handle on the light there. Doherty really liked the shot because we had the windshield hatch open, and he thought Contorelli looked like Punxsutawney Phil coming out of his hole.”

Shooting for magazines can be a grind, but it also has its perks. Popular Hot Rodding sent Reyes and the late Pete Pesterre to Hawaii in 1980 to shoot the street-car scene there, but, of course, Reyes also had to get his drag racing fix. Ron Uemura, a 50th-state speed-shop legend, had what at the time was the island’s only Funny Car (and an attractive female companion), so Reyes dragged them all down to the Oahu seaside for this photo. “Ron had a nice spot picked out for us, and we shot this one a lot of different ways with different costumes,” he remembered. “Ron was another guy who was really into a nice presentation and wanted it to look really good, so we had a good time. I think this ended up as a center spread in Popular Hot Rodding.”
Reyes accompanied Argus Publishing executive George Elliott to El Centro, Calif., the winter base for the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, where Elliott had scored himself a ride with the premier exhibition flying team. Longtime SoCal racer George “the Bushmaster” Schreiber brought his StarJet jet dragster to the airfield to also try to wangle his way into a joyride, and Reyes seized on the unique opportunity to create this memorable photo. “We got them to tow one of the jets out for us and put Schreiber’s jet alongside it; it’s not really that close to it; I used a telephoto lens to make it look that way. I had to check the wind to make sure we weren’t going to set their precious jet on fire and told Schreiber, ‘OK, George … fire show!’ The Blue Angels guys thought it was pretty cool, and Schreiber eventually got his ride-along.”
Things didn’t always go so well for Reyes, though. In 1971, he was excited to shoot "Wild Willie” Borsch’s new Winged Express fuel altered with the new Goodyear blimp in Carson, Calif., at one of its bases not far from Lions Drag Strip, but the blimp was grounded in San Diego because of high winds. “I still shot the AA/FA by the airship pad but sans blimp. And that really sucked,” he noted.
Perhaps one of Reyes’ greatest disappointments arose from this episode. Reyes arranged to do a picturesque photo shoot with the late Dennis Geisler and his and Frank Graf’s fuel altered on a jetty on the Pacific Coast Highway.

“I had found the place by accident and thought it would be a great location, but it was really hard to get that car out there, but I thought it would be worth it because of the pretty background,” Reyes said. “For some reason, no one bought the feature. I still don’t understand it. At the time, it was one of the best-running fuel altereds in the country, and it looked good, too, and the photos were great, but everyone passed. To this day, every time I see Frank, I apologize to him. All they got out of it was some prints from me. It left a real bitter taste in my mouth, and this was probably one of the last times I busted my ass like that for a photo shoot.”

OK, that’s it for Part 2. I’ll have some other location-based stuff to share next week to (maybe) wrap up what has been a really fun subject.
See ya there!

Location, Location, LocationFriday, May 17, 2013
Posted by: Phil Burgess
Steve Reyes

Growing up as a young drag racing fan in the early 1970s, I couldn’t get enough of the monthly drag racing magazines that carried me to far-off dragstrips that I knew I’d never visit and introduced me to the latest cars and stars of the sport. The beacon of our sport then was Drag Racing USA, which always seemed to draw the finest photographers from the merry band of wanderers who crisscrossed the country, following the scent of nitro to whichever dragstrip regardless of sanctioning flag (or lack thereof!) had the hottest action.

The car features were always a treat, multiple color spreads of cars so new that the paint was almost still wet. Sometimes the cars were shot in parking lots or pit areas, but many had photos that bordered on art, with exotic locations that were car-appropriate or just weird enough to catch the fancy of Mike Doherty, DRUSA editor/publisher. Our good friend of the Insider, Steve Reyes, was among a group that included guys like Jere Alhadeff, Jon Asher, Jim Kelly, Alan Earman, and Tim Marshall, and he agreed to share the stories behind the stories of some of his more memorable photo shoots.

The band of gypsy photographers that traveled the same road had a friendly camaraderie “on tour” – which often included shared cars, motels, and meals – that was valued by all, but each still had to earn his own way.

“I made a pretty good living doing that, but it was all on speculation, and I paid all of my own expenses,” recalled Reyes. “For the car features, I just picked them, or guys would call me to tell me about their new cars – I knew all of the owners and drivers and sometimes went on tour with them – and I’d drive or fly wherever and bust my ass to make it a nice shoot, but there was no calling a magazine and saying, ‘Hey, I need $600 to go to Tulsa, Okla.,’ to shoot a car or a race. You’d come in with your best photos, and the best material got purchased. If you came in with crap, you went home with crap. I didn’t want to leave with crap; I wanted something unique.

Jon Asher, left, and Reyes at the 1973 Gatornationals. Would you let these guys shoot your car? Of course you would!

“I certainly wasn’t the first to do it,” he admitted. “I remember seeing the Allen family – whose cars were named Stinger and Wasp – dressed up in beekeeper suits – on the cover of a magazine. Ralph Gudahl Jr. shot the Walton & Allen car in front of an old train in Griffith Park, and Tim Marshall shot the Creitz-Greer car in front of the fountains at Caesars Palace. I thought that I’d like to do that kind of stuff; I wanted something different, something eye-catching, something majestic, and Mike liked that kind of stuff. Doherty really liked the eye candy; he cared more about the shot than he did the significance of the car in the photo.”

Reyes admits that half the battle was securing access to shoot at the location – he always succeeded, except at Disneyland – with a promise that the business or whatever would end up in national magazines. His late ex-wife, Barbara, often succeeded where he couldn’t. “She could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo,” he remembers fondly. “She got my foot in the door at a lot of places that were not keen on the idea at first. She’d tell them about all of the national exposure they get and so on.”

And it turns out that the guy best known for being in the right place at the right time when bad things happened to good cars on the dragstrip was also very good at capturing the images when they were standing still. In that golden era, from roughly 1971 to 1974 before he joined Argus Publishing and shot exclusively for its magazines (Popular Hot Rodding, Super Chevy, et al), Reyes shot scores of these car features that ended up in various magazines, usually accompanied by a cover photo, and the tales that accompany the images are almost as good as the photos themselves.

This is the first of two parts. Enjoy!

From a logistical standpoint, Reyes’ photo shoot with Dennis Fowler’s Rat Trap Funny Car, the blue and gold Satellite surrounded by elephants, was among the more dicey that he handled. Photographed at Lion Country Safari, a large, drive-thru tourist attraction across the 405 Freeway from Orange County Int’l Raceway (if you turned west off the Moulton Parkway exit, you went to Lion Country Safari to see lions and elephants; turning east took you to OCIR to see Mustangs and Barracudas). A cartoon elephant chasing a rat on the side of Fowler’s car was part of Reyes’ inspiration; the other part came from fellow pro Earman’s photo shoot there with Tom McEwen’s Funny Car surrounded by cheetahs (as hilariously recounted by McEwen in his book, Mongoose: The Life and Times of Tom McEwen).

“Because Earman had already done this, it wasn’t hard to also get to shoot there, but that was the easy part. We unloaded the car, and the trainers spread hay all around it to attract the elephants. At one point, though, the largest bull elephant came towards the car and raised its foot like it wanted to stomp on the front of the car; I don’t know if it was a threat to him or he didn’t like the color or what. This 120-pound trainer ran over and started to beat the elephant with a large bamboo stick. I figure I’m going to end up instead with a photo for the National Enquirer of this guy getting turned into a pizza: Man Dies From Elephant Wounds. But, sure enough, the elephant turned and scurried away.

“The other problem I had was that we had to shoot it while the park was open to the public, so cars were driving by on the road behind the elephants. We were in the middle of the compound shooting out towards the road. Today, we would just Photoshop the cars out, but we didn’t have anything like that back in the 1970s, so I was ducking and weaving and trying to use the elephants and the car to block out the cars. I had to try to time it just right, but you can barely see a car in the shot above [between the nose of the car and the elephant's leg].”

For a period of time, one of Reyes’ favorite spots was a parcel of undeveloped land along California’s Long Beach Harbor across from the Queen Mary luxury liner’s mooring. The area was destined to become condos and already had paved streets leading to it that were perfect for trailering a car right to the location. Among the cars that Reyes shot there was Robert Andersen’s Top Fueler, Shirley Muldowney’s Satellite Funny Car, Dave Bowman’s rear-engine Vega panel Funny Car, the L.A. Hooker, and Stone, Woods & Cook. The Long Beach police would drop by to check out the goings-on but usually just ended up ogling the cars, remembers Reyes.

One photo shoot there that didn’t go so easily was for the nighttime photo of Andersen’s dragster, shown above. “This was tough from a technical standpoint because of the lighting and because of the setup,” Reyes recalled. “Tom West would help me with the lighting. Usually, it was just me and the driver; we’d take the car out and set up the shoot, but Tom would help me with the strobes and the metering. Then, because the ship was all the way across the harbor, I had to use a telephoto lens to visually pull the ship closer.

“Then, midway through the shoot, a Coast Guard helicopter shows up to investigate what we were doing because we were firing off the strobes and someone had reported them as gunshots or explosions. They had their spotlights on us and yelling at us, ‘What are you guys doing down there?’ We hadn’t asked for permission, and we had no permits, but once they saw we were only shooting photos, they left us. They didn’t send SWAT to come get us or anything, so that was good. I remember shooting a huge fire burnout with Herm Petersen one year at Pomona that someone reported as a plane crash. The next thing we know, all of this fire apparatus is rolling up on us. We had to do some fast talking to get out of that one.”


Muldowney’s new Satellite was fresh out of the paint shop when Reyes shot it across from the Queen Mary, and Reyes had earned the hard-won trust of the First Lady of Drag Racing with a shoot of her Mustang. Painter Don Kirby and Kenny Youngblood both had vouched for Reyes, which opened the door to his first shoot with her, which ended up on a cover, so the next one was easier. Muldowney still was based out of Michigan but had a base in Los Angeles while waiting for the car to be finished. In this photo, she’s actually wearing an outfit borrowed from Barb Reyes.

When Muldowney had her first Top Fueler built (which surprised a lot of people), Reyes was her first call, and they shot it at a park in Southern California’s Playa del Rey area, near where both were living, and it, too, ended up on the cover of Drag Racing USA, in May 1974. Because Reyes was supposed to be working exclusively for PHR by then (and because the statute of limitations has probably run out), he admits that he submitted the photos (and many more afterward) to DRUSA with photo credit to Barb.

Reyes shot this memorable photo of the Taco Time Vega Funny Car of Joe Colello and Gary Cromwell at one of the Taco Time restaurants while he was in Seattle for the Seafair Funny Car event in 1971. Colello was a successful grocery store owner and well-known businessman in the area and had secured the Taco Time deal, and he called a local outlet to set it up.

“I was staying with Joe during the race, and he did all of the legwork to get us there,” said Reyes. “They welcomed us with open arms. I think it was a Friday night. The customers were really cool. We put the car in position, waited for the sun to go down, and no one bothered us. And they even fed us. After we were done, the customers all came over and checked out the car.”

I featured this car in 2009 when I was doing the letter C for the Misc. Files collection and noted that the Taco Time chain had grown from a single store in Eugene, Ore., in 1959 to more than 350 locations. I'm sure Reyes' photo helped. "I always thought that maybe if I shot a photo of a car in front of a Jack in the Box or something they might advertise in the magazine, too," said Reyes.

I don't know if that ever happened (kinda doubt it), but Reyes did shoot a couple of features at California Jack in the Box restaurants, where again he was greeted with open arms, even without a primary introduction. “People were always very cool; it was surprising how accommodating they could be," he marveled.

The memorable photo above (included in the Keeling & Clayton thread) was shot at a Northern California Jack in the Box and was the result of some rumbling stomachs. “Me and [Tom] Ferraro and one of their crew guys had already shot a feature on the car in a nearby soccer field, and we were hungry. Ferraro liked eating at Jack in the Box, so we pull in there, and I mention to Ferraro that this would make a nice photo. There was even a guy already there dressed up like Jack. We unloaded the car, and the manager thought we were the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

The photo of the twin-engine Syndicate Top Fueler in the drive-thru was shot at a Southern California location. “Same deal. I told them who I was, who I shot for, and what I wanted to do, and they told us we could come back when it was their slow time. So we show up at o’dark-thirty, they closed the drive-thru for us, and we shot it.

“The funny part of this story is that we were on deadline, so me and Tom West had to rush to the film processor’s place in Glendale, Calif., to get it in the mail to Doherty. I hand the bag of film to West to drop it into the night drop, but he accidentally dropped it into a U.S post office mailbox. It was midnight, and we had to go find the postmaster to get the film back. It took us two hours to find the guy, explain what was going on, show him our IDs, and convince him to open this mailbox for us. He was very cool and helped us out; Tom sheepishly walked over and made the correct drop, and the photo eventually ended up on a cover.”

Reyes and Dave Motta were in Northern California on their way to the beach in Santa Cruz to shoot a feature on the new Motta & Williamson rear-engine Hairy Canary Challenger Funny Car when Reyes spied something unusual off the side of the freeway.

“We’re rolling down the highway, and I look out my window, and I see some freaking dinosaurs! Whoa! We take the next off-ramp, make a loop, and head off down this bumpy little two-lane road, and here’s Joe Blow’s Dinosaur Land or something, just this display of about a dozen giant dinosaurs this guy had made. There were, maybe, one and a half customers there at the time. So I talk to the guy – a nice, older guy – and I told him I’d put his dinosaurs in a magazine, so we set the car up and had a really nice shoot. It made a nice center spread and later was made into a poster called Beware of the Bird. I sent the old guy some photos, too.”

OK, gang, that’s it for Part 1 of Location, Location, Location. I’ll have Part 2 next Friday, which includes memorable photo shoots with fuel altereds that were as wild as the machines themselves. Thanks again to Steve for his great stories of these wonderful and memorable photos that made magazine reading in the 1970s an adventure, too!

Previous Entries
Next Entries