Now that the four in a row on the NHRA Mello Yello “big show” stage is history — with a week off before the three-in-a-row Western Swing — I get a brief chance to catch my breath after a busy month. Norwalk was great fun, as it always is. It rained every day but never enough or at the “right” time to put a dent in the show, and against all forecaster odds, we got out of there on Monday.
Thursday was the Fourth of July, and we were in town a day early to save costs — it costs a ton more to fly on the Fourth than the 3rd — so we had a rare “day off” and went into Cleveland to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then tried to catch a fireworks shows later that night by freeloading on the Cedar Point show from the opposite shore, but it was a bust. The Bader family fireworks show Friday night at the track was about a 100 times better, and we didn’t have to fend off dime-sized spiders (that’s a whole other story).
It’s not uncommon while I’m at the races to run into a resident of the Insider Nation — thanks to all for the appreciation; I love to hear your thoughts and ideas — but on Sunday, I got the chance to meet reader and sometime contributor Mark Whitmer, who was having a pretty good day himself. He was picked as the winner in Ford’s Mustang 5.0 Fever drawing — he entered last year at Indy — and won a sweet new Mustang (black). He got the royal treatment at the event from the Ford and Motorcraft folks, and even though the pre-race ceremony was canceled due to threatening weather, NHRA officials were able to acknowledge him as he rode down the return road in his shiny new ride with Ford Funny Car driver Bob Tasca III at the wheel before he was handed the keys.
He had sent me an email before the event asking for a meet up, and I was only too happy to help make his special day a little more special. As you can see in the photo, he was enjoying life. He also wanted to show me his pride and joy — tucked away safely in the trunk — Darrel Kimble’s cutaway drawing of Kenny Bernstein’s 1984 Budweiser King Tempo Funny Car, which dovetailed with the recent X-ray art I’ve been showing. Whitmer had gotten it from a local Ford dealership parts department, and it’s become “a family treasure.”
I didn’t get a chance to shoot a pic of it, but, coincidentally, a few days before the racer, reader Mike Currie had turned me on to his image of the same drawing (above) that’s super cool and a bit different in that, as you can see in the blowup at right, it also offers a view of inside the cylinder head — you probably can’t see it so well here in this version, but click on the photo to get a bigger view — showing parts of the valvetrain and even a piston. Pretty cool.
“I know that it came from a centerspread and that it must have been around 1984, but I'm not sure what magazine or anything else related to a possible article to go with the drawing,” he wrote. “I do remember taking a great deal of care when cutting the drawing out of the rest of the page as it has always bothered me when someone in a magazine ‘art department’ would do a hack job of trimming a subject car from the rest of a photo, resulting in a distorted image, usually around the tire/wheelwell area and corresponding shadows. I mounted my cutout cutaway to a piece of foam core and still enjoy it very much. I know David Kimble has done many other similar cutaway drawings — Corvettes, Ferraris and other types of race cars — but this is the only drag car I have ever seen done by him.”
Currie also included the image at left above, which was the cover of the September 1972 issue of Drag Racing USA
, showing a huge wheelstand by “Flash Gordon” Mineo (photo by Gary Densford) and was one of a handful of images sold within each issue of DRUSA
through Newport Productions, but somewhere in the production process, as you can see in the photo at right, a hand was added to the poster, flashing the ‘V for Victory’ symbol so popular then.
This, of course, was pre-PhotoShop but certainly within the skills of any capable art director but is a very curious addition. The poster version also is cropped more loosely and reveals the venue to be Orange County Int’l Raceway, but I also saw something that Currie didn’t (or at least that he didn’t mention): a considerable amount of smoke seems to have been added surrounding the rear tires for the magazine cover. And it’s clear from visual background references that the car hasn’t moved yet the smoke in the cover photo looks so real. Hmmmmm.
So, this whole thing got the ol’ brain whirring (a dangerous thing, as you all know), and I dug a bit deeper into the story. According to our good pal Steve Reyes (two of whose photos were among those sold by Newport), Newport Productions was owned by — guess who? — Gary Densford.
And I hate to burst anyone’s bubble — especially mine! — but it turns out that the entire photo is a fake. (then again, that’s why you come here, right, for “the stories behind the stories?”)
According to Reyes, “Mineo and Densford propped up an engineless Funny Car with taped-on headers. A hose was run into the exhaust pipe of a piece of junk car that Densford drove to the shoot. With the car running, Gary had Ann Mineo pour oil into the carb, producing billows of smoke. Gary hits the shutter on his camera as the oil smoke covers the starting line. Gary got his photo and cover, and Mineo got a cover without firing or having an engine in his car.”
So, obviously, the extra smoke in the cover version is from an alternate take with the immobile car. Awesome. The arm in the window is either Mineo's after he climbed up into the car or a fake arm (maybe Willie Borsch's arm, no?)
According to Reyes, Densford now is the president of North Carolina-based ice-racing sanction body ICE/International Championship Events.
Reyes also offered some behind-the-scenes commentary on the cover image from that final issue of Drag Racing USA, as he was (big surprise) in on the shoot.
“It took place about a mile from where I was living in Playa Del Rey,” he recalled. “Jeff Tinsley was staying with me and needed a place to shoot his cover of Dennis Fowler’s AA/FC, so I took him over the hill in Playa Del Rey where all the houses were torn down. Playa Del Rey had about half of the city torn down because it was on the landing path of LAX. All the streets were there and light fixtures with sidewalks, just no houses. And yes, it was kinda fenced off from the public — at least most of it.
"We found a large fence opening and pushed the Funny Car in and waited for the sun to set. Tinsley then started to rapid fire his Nikon. He got his cover in about 20 minutes, and we got the heck outta Dodge. They did have an airport police patrol car come by after we had finished, but since we were on the correct side of the fence, they couldn’t do anything — another fun photo shoot.”
Having grown up in that area, I'm very familiar with the place Reyes is talking about. It was definitely an eerie place, something right out of The Twilight Zone, and a place where some young, car-crazy, would-be filmmaker and aspiring journalist I know might have — and I stress might have — found the urge to get together with some of his hypothetical friends to film some questionable automotive acrobatics on a "closed course," as the commercials say. Alas, had this happened it would have been shot on Super 8 movie film in the pre-YouTube days but since converted to DVD for use as a purely instructional video for the next generation to learn from
my his misdeeds. Hypothetically, of course.
One of my Norwalk disappointments was a missed connection with Frank Mazi, the genius (?) behind the idea to let me drive his short-wheelbased supercharged Opel way back in 1984 for a story that still gets mentioned almost every time my name does. He was only at the track on Saturday, and, due largely in part of the poor cellphone reception at the track, we traded missed phone calls and never met up.
As I wrote two weeks ago, Mazi is finally back behind the wheel of a race car, Rudy Tomsich's Expensive Noise Arias Hemi-head Chevrolet-powered A/Fuel Dragster, and made his first run, a half-track shutoff pass, in Thompson, Ohio, last Wednesday. Daughter Dawn and her husband, Mark Hovsepian, naturally were on hand to capture the great (and somewhat emotional first pass) with their video cameras, including an onboard view, as you can see here.
“It was thrilling to experience a Mazi-controlled throttle once again,” Mark wrote me, “and an amazing and stark contrast from the Opel. Long wheelbase vs. short, injected vs. blown, nitro vs. gas, digger vs. door car, etc. He was 'Prudhomme cool’ through the day.”
He looks right at home in this video, even though he did tell me — on a short phone call once we did catch up — that Dawn’s editing made him look better than he was.
Simply sweet; that's Cory Lee at the wheel
And finally, check out this great gallery of photos sent to me by photographer Jim White of the Vel’s/Parnelli Jones Mustang Funny Car that’s currently housed at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by AAA. White shot the car last week for an upcoming article in Drag Racer
magazine on cars of the NHRA Museum and, noting the recent thread here, included an X-ray version for our enjoyment.
“We took the body off for the first time since the '70s; the car is completely untouched, even the inspection tags said 1975 on them and also a lot of fire damage, too,” he said. “They just parked the car. My buddy Cory Lee and my artist bud Dave Peters were there in 102-degree heat to be stuck in the car, and we even did a fantasy shot of the old girl running again."
The "fantasy" shot is really something to see; it's the last image in the gallery and a tribute to the kind of artistry that one can accomplish in this digital age, even without a carburetor full of oil.
“The whole point in doing this was to promote the museum and the cars in it through the magazine and tell the story of the cars and people who drove them," White added. "Because this car has such a history not only as Danny Ongias’ last ride but also as the last Mazmanian Funny Car, I chose this one first. We are going to do Mike Mitchell's 'Vette Gasser next.”
Great stuff, Jim, thanks for thinking of us. I’m sure the readers here will really dig the photos and the feature once it hits print.
That’s it for this installment; thanks for reading and, as always, for your contributions.
It’s a crazy time of the year for those of us who follow the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, with a stretch of four races in four weekends that just reached its midpoint last weekend with the inaugural event at New England Dragway. I was thrilled to be at the first race, and the venue is amazing. With no large VIP tower and just a small two-story announcing/timing tower, it looked like a very large match race from the '70s when the floppers came rolling around the bend and stacked up behind one another with their bodies up.
I get a pass this weekend while the rest of the ND troops are off to Chicago, but next week, I’m headed to my annual visit to Norwalk for the “big show” there, and if anyone knows anything about the Baders, they know that they know how to put on a big show. We’ll actually be traveling Wednesday (Thursday is the Fourth of July) and get a rare day on the road without race responsibilities, but it makes for a short week because we also have to finish National Dragster a day earlier than normal due to the holiday.
Anyway, the reason for this preamble is to warn that there might not be a column next Friday (depending on the situation) and to kick off this column, which I think will wrap up the photography thread that has been so much fun the last month. I’ve been accumulating bits and pieces along the way and thought I would blow them out here before moving on to fresh territory.
And away we go …
Much love was heaped on Steve Reyes for his submissions of location-based photography and on the genre as a whole. Regular Insider contributor "Chicago Jon” Hofmann sent the funny-caption photo above left from Drag Racing USA that shows four of the greatest photographers from the '70s, from left, Reyes, Jon Asher, Tim Marshall, and Jim Kelly. If you read DRUSA back in the day, you know that Editor Mike Doherty helped make household names out of these guys by regularly talking/joking about them in the pages of his magazine. The group always seemed to hang together during their assignments and obviously had a good time doing it.
“I had lots of fun on tour with my buddies Asher and Kelly,” recalls Reyes. “I remember being told by Asher that when Kelly saw some of my early stuff, he told the other photographers in SoCal, 'I hope that kid never discovers color film.’ For me, that was the nicest thing a photographer like Kelly could say about me.”
Another of their traveling band of talented characters was Jere Alhadeff, who sent the clever photo above right, shot at Arizona’s Beeline Dragway during the 1973 AHRA Winternationals. “It’s a fish-eye shot and shows ‘Big Steve’ in comparison to the smaller-looking cars. I'm not sure if Reyes has ever seen this photo.”
Speaking of Alhadeff, who has also been very kind about sending photos and otherwise allowing me use of his images, he has agreed to send some of his location-based stuff (everyone remembers his shot of high school student Jeb Allen and his Top Fueler posed outside of his school that graced the cover of the July 1972 issue of DRUSA) for a future column.
Reyes also was kind enough to send the photo above, showing the famous Alan Earman photo shoot of Tom McEwen’s Hot Wheels dragster surrounded by cheetahs at Southern California’s Lion Country Safari. (You’d never know it, but because Reyes’ scanner was on the fritz, it’s a photo of the magazine spread, from the June 1972 issue of DRUSA.) Reyes has said that this photo was the inspiration for his photo of the Rat Trap Funny Car surrounded by elephants at the same venue that I ran here a few weeks ago.
The whole setup is quite a funny story, as McEwen related in his book, Mongoose: The Life and Times of Tom McEwen. The car was built by Don Garlits, and McEwen was thrilled to have it. Immediately, “the Mongoose’s” ever-promotionally-minded wheels started spinning, and he put his head together with Earman, “searching for that special hook that would ensure us a fat feature in [DRUSA].”
“Our first thought was getting a bunch of real mongooses running around the car,” wrote McEwen. “Alan hooked up with the PR guy at Lion Country Safari, John Foxem, to see what we could work out. He thought it would make great press for the park and agreed to work with us. Unfortunately, they were fresh out of mongooses; I guess a field full of ugly rat-like critters wasn’t a big crowd-pleaser. Foxem suggested taking advantage of the park’s pride of cheetahs, the fastest animal – pure genius. Now how do we pull it off?”
Early one morning, before the park opened, they rolled the dragster out of the trailer into the midst of about a dozen cheetahs, who weren’t overly impressed or interested in the new addition to their environment and just sat there licking and scratching and dozing. The embarrassed animal keepers resorted to Plan B.
“Out came a couple of chopped-up sides of beef, tossed close to the car; it was like chumming for sharks,” recalled McEwen. “Suddenly, the atmosphere was charged with tension; these tabbies were fast returning to their true nature, all teeth and claws, guttural growls and snarls. We had quickly turned from curiosities to potential happy meals.
“After the feeding frenzy subsided, tensions eased up a bit, but the cats kept cruising around the car looking for any remaining tidbits. The keeper told me to start walking slowly to the car, which I did. The cheetahs were all around me, and one snarled low in his throat as I inched by. Getting to the car, I leaned against the slick. One of the cats just sat there, slowly tilting his head from side to side, sizing me up. It wasn’t a real comfortable feeling.
“Earman, also surrounded by cats, kept his cool, firing off several rolls of film. Fast wearing out our welcome, the keepers circled behind us and threw out more meat. The beasts quickly lost interest in our scrawny butts and headed for the newly present buffet. With our hearts finally returning to a fairly normal rhythm, we set the Olympic speed record for loading a race car!”
Former National Dragster Editor Bill Holland has been enjoying the location photography and dropped me an email to talk about how he and partner John Guedel had the chance to have their dragster photographed in a couple of scenic environments in the late 1960s.
“When our National Automotive Specialties car was featured in Drag Racing magazine, we dragged it all over the place, including Travel Town in Griffith Park,” he remembered. “But one unique setting we came up with was the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power building downtown and a most interesting fountain. The car had just been painted (1967) by legendary Kustom Kar guy Bill Cushenberry in pearl white and cerise. Don't know if he ever did any more race cars, but he's credited as being an inventor of the 'water blade.' I did the lettering -- likely one of the first uses of chrome Mylar on a race car. No computers, it was hand-cut (with black One-Shot outline). [Tim Marshall photo]
“The following year (below), we raced our Art Linkletter's House Party car in Hawaii and took the opportunity to take it down on the beach on the east end of Oahu (I think it was Kailua). The volcanic rock lends an interesting touch.”
Speaking of the late, great Drag Racing USA, Mike Goyda, from whom I recently purchased more than two dozen vintage copies, sent this interesting tidbit about the demise of the magazine, which closed without notice after the June 1975 issue.
“The June '75 issue was the last, but there were two editions,” said Goyda. “The one on the left went to the newsstands and subscribers. The one on the right was printed in an extremely small run for photographers, staff, etc. I have had this in my personal collection for many years, having bought it from Jeff Tinsley, whose photo appears on the cover. This is the only example I have ever seen. Pretty cool, huh? Sad at the time, but a cool piece of memorabilia now.”
I was just 15 at the time but an avid reader, and I couldn’t understand why the July issue never showed up in the magazine rack at the local store where I used to buy my copies. Even though it was the preeminent drag racing magazine of its time, I think we all knew that it was in troubled financial times. They had (gasp!) raised the per-cost issue from 75 cents to a dollar in the summer of 1973, and then early in 1974, the formerly all-glossy paper was replaced in sections of the magazine with cheaper paper that honestly felt (and looked) even a grade below a grocery bag. While the change in paper stock was recognized in print, there was never any written warning about the magazine's demise in that last issue, which even promoted stories in the next issue, which, sadly, never arrived.
During my trip to New England, I was thrilled to have dinner (seafood, of course) with my “little sister,” Dawn Mazi-Hovsepian, and her husband, Mark, who live near the track. Anyone who knows my history knows of my infamous exploits with the Mazi family – driving their blown Opel, learning to ski, and flying (and by that I mean crashing) a hang glider -- in the summer of 1984 and how close I was to the family. Dawn and Mark are two of the top photographers who follow the nostalgia scene and a few years ago augmented their still photography with great and innovative video that is showcased on YouTube on her Drag Strip Riot channel.
“I started this channel in March of ‘09 with digitized analog footage I had (tying it in with our photography business and Drag Strip Riot poster series),” she told me. “Then I purchased a Canon HD video camera ‘10 and have been having a ball growing the channel since. I now have two Canons and two Drift POV cameras to collect footage with. Our 2012 Gasser Reunion highlight video is the most-viewed video of the channel and still maintains nearly 1,000 views per day -- impressive numbers to me since it’s not a crash video and that nostalgia drag racing is a niche of a niche. While I try to provide a variety of classes, my subscriber base is biased toward most everything with gassers. Steve Crook, who owns the AA/GS Blew By You 1956 Chevy, is from Eastlake, and my dad helped him make the transition from a carbureted to a blown small-block Chevy in 2011. There are currently four videos of Steve in the top 30 in less than two years. His popularity has risen very quickly.”
Dawn also tells me that her father, Frank, one of the truly inspirational and supportive people in my life, is getting back behind the wheel very soon, taking the reins of a A/Fueler (pictured at right; alas, no blower), and that she’ll keep me informed of his progress. Even though he hasn’t driven a car for almost two decades, he has helped so many racers in the Cleveland area run their cars and mentored them in the sport. I haven’t seen Frank in, well, forever, but he’s supposed to be in Norwalk, and I plan to catch up with him there. I’m really looking forward to that reunion.
OK, that’s it for now. As I said earlier, next week’s column is subject to travel and weather and about a billion other things out of my control, so if you don’t see a new entry next Friday, at least you know why. If you’re an NHRA Member, you can check out the nostalgic photos today in the My Favorite Fuelers column on NationalDragster.net, which (in a nod to this weekend’s event in Chicago) takes a look at some of the legendary racers who have called the Windy City home, and next week’s column there, which will focus on Ohio’s nitro racing history as we head to the Buckeye State.
Have a safe and sane Fourth of July.
If this X-ray thread continues much further, I’m going to have to hand out lead-filled vests to the readers who continue to increase the read-iation factor with a series of submissions of their favorite see-through photos and drawings, presented below. Their transparent plans for five minutes of Insider fame have come to fruition.
You've been suitably warned; continue at your own peril.
What became apparent very quickly is that the X-ray/see-through photo was a popular choice for the editors of Hot Rod
magazine in the early 1970s, according to the book Hot Rod Magazine: All The Covers,
which had a lot more examples.
The earliest I could find was in 1966, with a top-down look at the wild Hurst Hairy Olds for the May 1966 issue. The text in the book reads, “In the days before digital photography and PhotoShop, a see-through photo (or, as Hot Rod called it, a ‘phantom’ shot) was a complex, painstaking, and time-intensive piece of work.”
It took a few more years for them to go “phantom” crazy, and fortunately for us, it almost always seemed to involve drag racing cars, including twice in 1971.
Good buddy and longtime photog Tom Schiltz clued me in on the Mike Brenner-shot image above right, which appeared on the cover of the March 1971 issue of Hot Rod. It shows the Huff & Sanders Vega Funny Car appearing to leave the starting line. “I think it was actually a triple exposure,” he wrote. “One of the body, one of the chassis, and one where the engine was running and the car was pulled backwards, so the final shot looked like the car was moving forward.”
Rick Voegelin reminded me that Jack Chrisman’s rear-engine sidewinder also was on the cover that year (November). You may remember I covered the mysterious story of this car — which ultimately became John Force’s first Funny Car, the Night Stalker — in the rear-engine Funny Car thread back in December 2011 (Stalking the Night Stalker). I’m not sure who took the cover photo — my guess would be Brenner — but Insider regulars say that Brenner for sure shot this phantom of Don Schumacher’s ultra-trick Wonder Wagon that appeared on the Hot Rod cover two years later, November 1973.
Maybe it was just a passing fad for the editors, or maybe their bosses told them enough was enough or no one wanted to see an X-ray photo of a van, but I didn’t see another phantom photo in the book after that, which covered through 2009. You would think that as it got easier (relatively, as you will see) with digital photography and PhotoShop they might be able to use it more but nope.
Ken Hamer sent in this X-ray pic he found of the Condit Brothers Plymouth Arrow Funny Car that they ran in the late 1970s. No photo credit was available.
Ed O’Connell sent in this photo of Whit Bazemore’s Fast Orange Funny Car that appeared in the debut issue of short-lived American Drag Racing back in 1994. Photo credit to Dick Bryant.
And the multi-talented Bazemore was on the other end of the camera for this great shot of Dale Pulde's '82 War Eagle Trans Am that was used as the team's handout. It was sent in by Dave Ferrin.
David Dunlevy submitted this image he took of Steve Fox’s Florida-based Top Alcohol Funny Car back in 1990 when he was the crew chief and official photographer for the team. “We had little time before we were chased away from this pristine site,” he remembered. “This is one of two double-exposure images made that day. First image, body on/body off. Second image, body off/body on. I don't recall which image this was, but it was the better of the two. Technical details are somewhat fuzzy at this point except this was done with my Nikon F3 tripod mounted, of course.”
Chris Stinson sent in this PhotoShopped pic of his McLaws Motorsports Top Alcohol Funny Car, photographed in 2008. He also passed along this link
to even more X-ray drawings and photos, including some you’ve seen here.
Drag photog Dave Milcarek, who has generously sent along photos for our use here before, shared a couple of his X-ray works with me, photos he created out of his love for the old imagery we’re sharing here.
“I loved the X-ray pix that the forefather photographers of my youth did,” he wrote. “Those photos as well as the imagination that went in to doing car features back in those days were all part of that culture that made me as a young racing fan go to the newsstand every month to see the cars I watched at the track in some great magazine spreads, and trust me, I still have all of them.
“PhotoShop has made it so much easier to do the X-ray, as well as everything else, but the image still brings back the memories of seeing the stars of the sport in a way I couldn’t at the track. These samples show how I still try to emulate the masters like [Steve] Reyes with some of the nostalgia FCs around here.
“These pix are all digital, but like the days of film, it still takes two exposures,” he explained. “I put the camera on a tripod and shoot the chassis with three flashes, then put the body on and move the flashes around to get a different look in the lighting to have a contrast in the body vs. chassis to make them standout from each other.
"Then I shoot the shot with the body on, overlap the two images, and slowly erase to the desired effect — simmered in with some great stories and just a touch of tequila is my recopy for X-ray nirvana.”
Another frequent Insider contributor, artist John Bell, took on the X-ray challenge without a camera with these two great drawings he did as a teenager.
“Seeing the cutaways/X-ray images reminded me how blown away I was when I saw them in magazines when I was young. I thought, 'I've gotta give one of these a shot.' I'm sharing two of several 'cutaways' I did as a teenager. John Luna was done when I was 15 and Al Hanna's car when I was 16. They were fun, but a bear to sort them out, drawing from memory and whatever photos I could find in magazines. Even though I had to hand-draw the ellipses for the wheels and use magic markers and colored pencils, they were good enough that the drivers bought them. Maybe they felt some pity for all of my efforts. At a Funny Car reunion in Englishtown back in 2003, a guy came up to me holding the Hanna drawing! It survived all of those years. I was tipped over. He had me sign it for him. Pretty nutty.”
And finally (so far), there’s this cutaway drawing of Joe Amato’s Top Fueler, which graced the cover of his 1994 press kit. Longtime alcohol and nitro crewman Terry Morrow, who was a part of the magical career of Pat Austin back in the mid-1980s and early 1990s and today does engine- and fuel-system tech and sales for Alan Johnson Performance Engineering, sent it in.
All of the trips down the Photography Memory Lane inspired me to begin to resurrect my collection of Drag Racing USA magazines from the early 1970s. I had them all (or most of them), but for one reason or another, only a few followed me from my childhood home through a series of apartments and into adulthood. Seeing the great Reyes pics had me pining to relive those days, so I began my search at the most logical place, the awesome memorabilia collection of Mike Goyda.
Mike was able to hook me up with more than two dozens of those issues and had them to my door almost before I could finish writing the check. Yeah, I got nothing else done that day after they arrived. I'm still well short of a complete collection, but Mike will keep a lookout for me to fill the gaps. It's already been the best birthday present I've ever given myself.
Speaking of Mike Goyda, he could use the help of the collective brain and collections of the Insider Nation.
“I am working on an article regarding the 1970 and 1971 NHRA [souvenir] programs, or lack thereof,” he wrote. “I’m wondering if any of your readers could provide a photo of the 1970 Gatornationals and Springnationals entry lists or an actual program from 1971 for the Winters, Gators, Spring, Summer, and Nationals? I am sure the entry lists exist but am doubtful about the ‘71 programs themselves. Even though I have been told all of them exist, no one can provide an example.”
How ‘bout it readers?
OK, that's it for this week. I'm actually in New Hampshire today for the inaugural NHRA national event at New England Dragway (if you're an NHRA Member, check out the collection of New England-based cars in my weekly NationalDragster.net column, My Favorite Fuelers), but I'll be eagerly checking my mail from there to see what the gang here comes up with.
Welcome to Part 2 of our look at the “X-ray” art of Tom West. In Part 1 last Friday, West told about his introduction to the art form with which he has become synonymous and showed off five of his earliest efforts. Today, he’s back with an additional half-dozen and has offered to share even more if you’re interested. I know I am!
Anyway, without further ado, go West, young man! (As last time, clicking on any image below will spawn a larger version for you to ogle.)
"I think this was the first car that I drew where I got the first shot at doing the article with it, for the October 1971 issue of Drag Racing USA
, and it was one of my all-time favorites from that point on. I started with a complete photo shoot of the Damn Yankee as it was still being completed by Pat Foster at Woody Gilmore's shop. We could not take it out for some reason, so I shot it from up high just to be able to get back from it a bit ... and it turned out to be one of my favorite angles for a cutaway. As I was still working on that, the car was being prepped for its first time out at OCIR, which was to be on a Friday. I made arrangements with everyone at the GM plant in Van Nuys [Calif.] where I worked to have that day off, but my immediate boss decided that he was going to mess with me and canceled it on Thursday afternoon with a long list of stuff that needed to be done the next day. I got him to agree that I would finish the list and was then heading out, which I did. Still got there in time to see the first burnout and squirt with the car, although the brake calipers shifted, rubbed the inside of the wheels, and broke the brake plates, so not exactly running it down the track the way they wanted.
"We brought it back up and towed it down the track with the chute deployed for the photo series as I messed around shooting from the back of the pickup. Generated some pretty cool photos, as did the stills of the car down there in the pit area at the end of the OCIR track.
"Done, right? Not really, as I came to work Monday morning to find that my schmuck boss had tried to fire me on Friday for insubordination by leaving without checking with him ... as he hid by running in and out of the executive lunchroom for two hours, which would have been grounds for having him fired. He was given a few reasons why filling out my pink-slip paperwork was also going to require him filling out his own; I guess he really went wild. His approach was to now become buddy-buddy with me, telling me that all the stuff I was doing that was supposed to be so good didn't mean anything, as if I wasn't there, they would still get it done. That was really when I decided that I could not work for General Motors.
"So, this drawing is really a symbol for me personally starting to look elsewhere to figure out what I was going to do with my life ... and it was also my favorite illustration for many years."
"I had always done fuel altereds or Funny Cars or other drag cars where the body could be removed for my illustrations, with the last piece of my 'early phase' being the Don Schumacher Stardust car that I did for Marty Shorr at Cars
magazine in early 1973. I moved east to go into the model-kit business in March of 1973, living on Long Island for five years, then moving to Michigan to go with MPC as their marketing product manager. While I was there, I reconnected with Steve Reyes, who had become staff photo editor for the Argus group, and he got me over to the Popular Hot Rodding
Championships, where we talked about getting me an illustration project.
"That project turned out to be the Pro Stock terror of Richard Maskin and Andy Mannarino, the M&M Boys Firebird. This was for the December 1978 issue of PHR, and I had not done one of these things since early 1973 ... and you could not take the body off of this thing. Realizing that was a bit scary, as I am very literal and try to get everything that I can for my drawings in a set of base photos. Being very literal, I have to know exactly what something looks like to be able to draw it, so it felt like a real stretch for me to even do this piece. Felt like I was walking through a dark room sort of feeling my way along to get all of those 'hidden' details that could not be seen from my camera perspective, but I think it came out fairly well. I also felt like I had actually improved during my hiatus from the X-ray drawings, but I also had figured out that I could make photo prints to use for my base, and I could make them large enough that I had abandoned my earlier grid system of laying out the drawing, so while the process was much harder because of the hidden parts, the stuff that I could see in my photos made things much easier than before.
"Overall, a pretty decent piece by the time it was done ... personal opinion."
"After completing the M&M Firebird Pro Stock while I lived in Michigan, family and work commitments kept me away from the board until I moved back to California in 1984 as director of marketing at Revell. After some corporate things happened, the company was sold to an investor group and was being merged into Monogram in Chicago, but I was helping to get everything going to complete our product line to turn over to them at the end of 1986. As part of that process, I made the trip to Ocala [Fla.] to do the research package on the Swamp Rat XXX, which was about to win its third straight Top Fuel title. This was a full-day shoot, and I worked in my photos that I needed for the illustration that you see here.
"Because I was leaving Revell (I chose not to move back to the Midwest), I was still doing some follow-up work for the line, which included a trip to Gainesville to shoot the new graphics, which were to appear on the model kit. I was working a bit on the drawing, but not pushing, until I met Dr. Bob Post, who was setting up the arrangements to get the car into the Smithsonian Institution. He said it would really be great to be able to include the cutaway in the display material that went with the car, so I hustled to complete it, and the print was displayed in the very front of the first display, and the layout of the permanent display panels was built around a backlit negative of the car that I had provided.
"It was interesting that Bob called after I had sent the piece back there to ask me to reverse the type on the Swamp Rat, as the artist who was laying it out had liked the drawing reversed and arranged the entire layout with it backwards. I told him that I could do what he asked, but that when you look at the car, it will be wrong from front to back, with the front-axle offset going the wrong way, the interior controls being completely backward, the engine being wrong, and all of that. I told him I didn't have the time to make all those corrections, and I did not think that he wanted to display something like this with the short fix that he had requested. He called me back later that afternoon and said that they had completely redesigned that big backing panel to fit with the drawing as it was. It gave me a great deal of respect for Post and for the authenticity that they try to bring to the displays in the Smithsonian.
"This was now the second illustration that I had done since 1973, and it was going in one of the most prestigious museums in the world. I am still very proud to be able to say that one of my pieces was displayed in the Smithsonian for 15 years, or whatever it was."
"Here’s one of my favorite cars of all time ...
"I think that a large number of drag racing fans would claim the 1969 Chi-Town Hustler as one of their favorite cars in the history of the sport. It was known for doing the 'Chi-Town' burnouts that really made the whole Funny Car class come alive to take over the sport. I decided that I should do a cutaway on the car, and [Austin] Coil and the guys agreed to let me do my photos after a race one night at OCIR. We took the car back to the infamous Marco Polo motel and took the body off and all of that stuff while I shot from a second-floor balcony ... in complete dark. We could not put any light on it because it was like 3 in the morning. I set up my camera, which was an old Mamiya C3, which means nothing except that it was like focusing in a cave normally. In the dark, it was just a complete guess.
"I processed the film the next day, only to find that all of my base photos for the illustration were completely out of focus, so I was going to have to rely on the closer detail photos to make this thing correct.
"Selling a piece on this car at the end of 1969 was absolutely impossible, of course, since every drag racing publication had run images of the Chi-Town constantly since it first hit the track, so I just parked the photos, figuring that I would do that piece sometime down the road.
"That time finally came 24 years later when I actually got all of those fuzzy base photos and detail pics out and did this piece. It got published in PHR as part of that retrospective on "The Man with the X-Ray Vision."
"I can only imagine the reaction now if you asked one of the top teams in the sport if you could photograph their car like this after a race ..."
"No introduction needed for the Greer-Black-Prudhomme car, as this is one of the more notable cars in the sport. I wanted to be prepared to do a model-kit or diecast version but also figured that an illustration would be neat, so I convinced Steve Davis to let me shoot it for the cutaway. I just added a bunch of dimensions and other images specific to developing a replica of the car.
"I ended up doing the illustration and made a run of prints of it as part of the fundraiser at the California Hot Rod Reunion, so there seem to be a lot of guys who tell me that they have this piece up in their offices.
"The follow-up to this was the Tommy Ivo twin-Buick dragster, which ended up being part of the Standard 1320 auction to support Eric Fuller's kids after his untimely death. The effort put in by this ragtag group of online drag racing fans and the amazing results might have been one of the finest hours for any Internet group that I am aware of, and I am very proud that I could be involved. I even brought Ivo and [Kent] Fuller back together, as Ivo jumped at the chance to support this thing by sitting at the table with me to sign any of the prints that guys were buying. Fuller came over too, saying that he would sign if the tears did not prevent him from seeing what he was doing.
"Before you think this was a big ego trip for me, I was brought back to reality the next day when some guy came up cradling one of the prints. He said that he had these autographs and knew Ivo's and knew that Fuller built the car, but what was this other one? I said, 'That is my signature; I did the drawing.' He sort of apologized with a disappointed look and walked off. There is always something that makes you realize that you are dealing with a small 'client' base for all of this stuff that we are doing in drag racing.
"The third illustration in this series was a piece on the Magicar of Bill Pitts. I incorporated details from the different versions of the car, the first true Cackle car."
"This is one of the more modern pieces I have done. I had been wanting to illustrate a new-technology Funny Car for quite some time and never came up with an angle. When John Force had his massive crash and came back with the revised safety chassis, I knew that would have to be the one to do. Considering his significance in the history of the sport, I had never illustrated one of his cars, so this one seemed to be a fitting tribute to the fact that John was risking his competitive status to act as the test driver for this new design.
"I talked with him and was invited down to his shop after the Winternationals in 2008, where they pretty much took the car apart for me ... well, close to it. I got all the panels opened that I wanted and even got a look inside the super-secret timer box.
"For me, one of the most satisfying moments with one of these illustrations, or with a diecast car, is when you take it back to the team and get a reaction of, 'Damn, you even got XYZ in this thing.' I had a few of these on this illustration, which is by far the most detailed drag racing piece I have ever done. Having done some of the earlier cars, this was a revelation to me to see how much of the electronic technology was being applied for something that just had to work for about four seconds at a time.
"It’s all part of why I love the most brutal motorsport in the world."
OK, gang, that’s the Best of West so far. Like I said, he has more to share. Next week, we’ll kind of stay on the same track with more “X-ray” photographs sent by the Insider Nation as shown in magazines and other literature throughout the years. Keep the feedback and contributions coming, guys!