NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Location, Location, Location, Part 2

24 May 2013
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

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!