The car business had given me new powers! I now knew how to sell myself. I knew how to project my ideas to any listener. I knew how to sway a potential client to my intentions and I now knew how to persuade that client that what I had to sell him or her was going to have a long term benefit, not that owning a Porsche or Volkswagen would have any other effect on them than drain their bank account. I also learned that the sale was everythingÃ¢â‚¬Â¦that is until I sold my own Mother an Austin Marina! That thoughtless act and my failure to protect my Mother from financial ruin through the endless sinkhole that car represented left great rifts between us until I eventually bought her a decent car to make amends. Unfortunately the new Toyotas of the day were not the best choice either! It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t until I got her a new Honda Civic that she was happy that is until not one, but both front fenders, fell off due to rust. These two delightful incidents happened within about twenty miles of each other! She was really pissed at me and promptly went out and bought a brand spanking new Dodge Omni! She liked the colour. She eventually rolled it over north of Newmarket in a snowstorm and spent some time in the hospital. This actually brought us closer together as I spent a lot of time visiting and listening to the whining about cars and weather and every other thing that generally put her off. My son, my girlfriend, my Mother and I all lived in a nice little home in JacksonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Point on Lake Simcoe. Unbeknownst to me, my Mother and my girlfriend did not get along at all, but both kept me in the dark about their problems. My brother wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t talking to me for some reason and I later found out my Mother was sharing her experiences with him which pissed him off. No explaining family dynamics at times.
While I continued with the $100 a week draw against commission at Pfaff Motors in Newmarket I prepared for the upcoming racing season. Fortunately Hans Pfaff was a marketing genius and knew racing and Porsches went hand-in-hand. His Porsches adorned the driverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s parades at Mosport for years. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d provide the cars for the parade to Mosport in exchange for an advertisement in the program and tickets to the track. Naturally he would contact his chosen customers and invite them to Mosport for any event and never had a refusal. Of this he was very proud. At the track, as in the office, he would strut like a commandant with his cigarette held between his thumb and two fingers with the flame upright in typical German fashion. His steel grey hair and wire rimmed glasses brought images of other times, but Mr. Pfaff was a gentleman of rare poise and charm. We did not talk racing, but he hung one of my portraits of Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood in a Brumos Porsche proudly in his office for all to see. I quietly sold my services to customers as I outfitted them with a new or used Beetle. I even sold a young emerging musical group of very talented brothers a VW van to haul around their stuff. The Good Brothers went on to fame in both Canada, the States and Europe and continue to turn up now an again. My hair at the time was short, but I related to these guys.
March slid in with the excitement of the new F1 season in full swing. Jackie and Francois of course were both leaving large holes in the personality of the top echelon of racing. The third race of the season was at Kyalami in South Africa. The racing would again grind to a sudden halt during an open practice session. Another of the young driverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on the rise would suffer the grim realities of the dangerous sport that both we and they loved. While hurtling through Bar-B-Que Bend a suspension failure threw the new UOP Shadow of Peter Revson from the track with fatal results to the fine young man who turned heads wherever he passed. PeterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s love of life and racing was well known. His movie-star good looks kept the fairer sex a constant in his life. His gentle nature and respect for all others won him many friends and admirers from all walks of life. His loss touched all in the racing fraternity and the many fans.
By the end of May when the Grand Prix Circus reached Monaco, there had already been five races. An early January start to the season spread the fifteen races from January to October. With no live coverage on television you had to rely on a sportscaster’s interest in racing to even get a report. Newspapers were not much better until later. Monaco was almost always reported as it was the crown jewel of racing. On the Sunday news and sports program from the CBC I tuned in to get the results. I do remember that Ronnie Peterson won the race, but that is not what was important to me that night. It was a commercial during the broadcast. I had consumed a couple of beers after dinner and was lounging sleeply waiting for the GP report when Leslie Neilson, famous for his Airport and Police Academy movies along with a string of other films came on and simply said Ã¢â‚¬ËœIf youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got a dream, see the Bank of MontrealÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Did I have a dream? You bet! I was still impatiently waiting for a call from the National Sport and Recreation Center about the sponsor they were going to get me on my Ã¢â‚¬ËœdreamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ of a gallery of Canadian athletes I wanted displayed at the Montreal Olympics. Did I have a dream! The next morning I dug up the bankÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s corporate number in Toronto and got put straight through to the VP involved with marketing. His name was Ray Morgan. It was easy to get him on the line. All I asked was quite simple. “When is the bank making a decision on their Olympic program?” The other thing I said was that I had something that would take their breath away. His answer was simple as well. He said that they were in meeting during that week on their Olympic direction, but added that he would not be able to see me until late the following week. I decided it could be too late if they were already in the process. I thanked him and said IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d see him next week. The next morning I walked into his office on Queen Street. He was already in one of the Olympic meetings. His secretary told me it would be impossible to see him. I said I was going to just sit in his reception area and wait just in case he might return to his office. I also showed her a portrait of Jackie Stewart. I asked her to let me know if he came in as I didn’t know what he looked like. She agreed. To my surprise and hers as well, Mr. Morgan walked into his office in less than twenty minutes. She nodded and I stood up. I simply said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Mr. Morgan, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m Allan de la Plante. We talked about the bankÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Olympic program yesterday.Ã¢â‚¬Â Before he had a chance to say anything I pulled out the portrait of Jackie Stewart and held it in front of me. I then quickly put it back in my portfolio case. He asked to see it again. I suggested it was better to see all I had to show and would be glad to wait until he had a few minutes. He smiled and told me to stay right where I was. His secretary was beaming. I was ready to piss my pants! In less than two minutes he returned with another man and asked me to come to his office. He sat in his chair after making his introductions. I asked if they would both mind looking out the window while I set up my portraits around the room. He looked a little annoyed, but here I was with not one, but two senior men from the bank looking out the window as I arranged my images on various chairs and furniture around the room. When they turned around they stood stock still without saying a word. I began to panic. Relief flooded over me when the man with Mr. Morgan just said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Damn!Ã¢â‚¬Â I took that to mean he was impressed. They asked a few questions, but I was so excited I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t remember what they were. They asked for a card which I did not have! Ray Morgan wrote my name and phone numbers on his day blotter and just said weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be in touch. For the next week I fretted about the meeting. On Monday morning the following week I got a call from his secretary asking if I could be in Montreal the following Thursday. It was just three days away! Naturally I said yes and took down the information on the meeting. My next call was to Ottawa and Carol Erb the curator of the National Sport Art Collection. It took a bit of work to jog her memory of my meeting with her the previous fall. I said I needed some window dressing from her organization and a confirmation that they indeed were interested in taking on a collection of my work. She was surprised at the bankÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interest in my sponsorship. She said they would meet me in the foyer of bank just before the meeting. I now had to arrange a day off to get to Montreal. I told Mr. Pfaff I had a Porsche 2.0 litre buyer on the go and wanted to take a new demo to show them on Thursday. He agreed. He knew I could hustle, but I doubt he knew I was hustling him! The next two days flew by. I was hardly sleeping. On the Wednesday night I took the Porsche home and packed my portfolio in the small trunk. I drove to Montreal and fitfully slept in the car outside St. JosephÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Oratory. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know if I chose the location for any particular reason, but maybe I got a little blessing. True to her word, Carol was in the lobby of the bank when I walked in the door. With her was her boss, Dan Puglaise and to my surprise, Ron Stewart the football star. On the way up in the elevator they asked what I needed. I just said sit back and let me put the proposal to whoever was there. They agreed and in we went. Everything was on time. Ray Morgan met us at the elevator and ushered us into a nice office that actually felt crowded when we all got in it. I realized the office would cramp the effect of my display and asked if we could use a boardroom. They said I could and I asked for a minute or two to set up my display. Mr. Morgan took me to the boardroom while Carol, Ron and Dan entertained Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe Big GuyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ who happened to be a football and Ron Stewart fan. When we all walked into the boardroom again there was no talking. The Big Guy was the senior VP of Communications, George Blackburn. He was the decision maker. He said little other than Ã¢â‚¬Å“I like it. Tell me more.Ã¢â‚¬Â I proceeded to reveal my dream and how the bankÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s advertising and Leslie Neilson had brought me to their door. He laugh and asked how many I planned to do and how much would it cost them. I had no idea how many or how much! I pulled two figures out of the air. I said I planned on sixty portraits and a conservative estimate of $175,000.00! I added I needed to upgrade my gear and suggested a mobile bank billboard in a motor home with the bankÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s logo and gallery title on the side. I could hear someone hyperventilating behind me. It turned out to be Carol. She expected me to ask for about $25,000.00. Mr. Blackburn simply said it sounded good. He turned to Carol and asked how long the National Sport and Recreation Center would hang the collection and I beat her to the punch. I said Ã¢â‚¬Å“in perpetuity.Ã¢â‚¬Â He smiled and said Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re in. Get me a full budget and weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll get things underway on our end.Ã¢â‚¬Â My knees almost buckled! We shook hands and headed out. In the elevator I started to shake and Ron just said that was one of the greatest pitches he had ever heard. I hardly remember a thing. For some reason I took Highway 17 to Ottawa and Highway 7 towards home on Lake Simcoe. Just outside Rockland I got pulled over at a road block. My right foot was down far enough the front bumper was being misshapen. I am not really sure on the speed, but I believe it was in the 130mph+ range. They had chased me with an airplane! Somehow they let me drive away behind the wheel with a demand to appear at a later date. Interestingly enough when I did appear they were not ready to deal with my case. The judge asked if I had driven all the way from JacksonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Point for the appearance. When I told him I did he dismissed the case immediately. Bullshit luck again!
Meanwhile I kept going to the races I could get time off from work for. Overnight runs in a demo to Mid-Ohio, Ste. Jovite and several other tracks took a toll on the mileage counters of my demos. It was beginning to be noticed. In the Formula Atlantic arena, a change happened which would have a big influence on my direction regarding racing photography. Over the off season, Ian Coristine, a very talented driver from Quebec who had scratched his way into the front runners of the series then known as Formula B which was changed to Formula Atlantic. The series was taking hold in Europe and the organizers felt they would arrract more attention with the change. They were right with the numbers Europeans that came to race in this series. During the off season Coristine had come to a crossroads that most drivers come to…continue on into a financial abyss or pull back. He found the financial demands too great plus the entrance into his life of a young woman helped him make the tough decision to retire. This opened the door for a young Formula Ford driver who had taken the racing scene by the neck and wrung out a reputation as a wild one. In his fourth race for Kris Harrison’s Schweppes team he hit the right rear wheel of Dave Morris’ car with his left front wheel. The result was a hell-bent charge off the track and into the guard-rail. The resulting injury of a broken left leg didn’t stop him from from turning up at and racing at two more races that year. Of the six races he entered his best result was a third. His DNF record was four. He threw in a twenty-second for good measure. Gilles Villeneuve made his presence known in Formula Atlantic from his lifestyle in the paddock and his determination on the track. He was already a World Champion in the competive world of snowmobile racing. His confidence showed in his stride as he walked through the pits with his young family. His gypsy nature changed little as his racing career took off. His driving style continued as well. It would create his legend.
It took about a month to get all the paperwork in order and me on the payroll so I could get on with my dream. It is funny how when pursuing a dream like this there is a lot of fear when you realize that it is actually going to happen and you have to perform. I wondered if I could produce some portraits that they would want to hang in perpetuity. I kept my mouth shut at work and continued to head off to the race track to shoot my favourite subjectsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦racing drivers. I even kept it shut at the track. A tough job for me. The first big change was moving to Montreal to be near the bank and close to Ottawa. My girlfriendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s parents were also there so it made her happy. The next big change was my new cameras. I had put in the contract the purchase of a set of Hasselblads to replace the one I was returning to my friend Ralph Bishop. The black beauties as I called them were the state of the art in cameras for portrait photographers, but not what most would choose for action and sports photography. To me they were the best and I would take them as far as I could to produce the quality I wanted. My confidence in them paid off in the result of many of my images and the image they gave of me to my clients.
I appeared at the final race at Mosport in my new Ã¢â‚¬ËœsponsoredÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ motor home. I felt I had really made it. After the racing season ended I began to cut my teeth on a new type of athlete. I met and photographed Olympic diver Beverly Boys. She was the first portrait in my Olympic dream collection now called Ã¢â‚¬ËœThe First Canadian Gallery of AthletesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. I spent that winter traveling the country creating portraits of Canada’s best athletes.
Next: The continued brush with greatness.
Read the rest of the Shutter Speed series