1972 had it’s ups and downs for me. The emotional effect of my marriage falling apart had taken me to a serious low. I decided to move back to Toronto to be near my son. Suddenly one day my wife appears and wants to give it another go. I was delighted! We moved into an apartment just north of the 401 near Bayview. I got a job at ‘The Bay’ selling cameras. It was a natural. I still had my Duker for transportation. Naturally three on a bike in this country is not accepted as it is in some other parts of the world, so riding with our son was not on the agenda. When I did ride with him I strapped him in a rig much like a parachute harness. He was strapped to my back with his little behind sitting on the seat. Helmet and all, he sat behind his old man through many a ride rain or shine. He generally just fell asleep. I began to notice many women pulling up beside me slowly and smiling. I liked that. It did not take long for my wife to decide again that this marriage was not for her and she departed. This time she left our son. Fortunately I had my Mother living close by and without her things would have been very difficult.
The month of May got my racing year off to an amazing start. I got a call from Pete Chapman who had a small paper in Mississauga called ‘WheelSpin News’. It covered all types of racing. He wanted me to go to Indianapolis to cover the 500! It was one wild day! We left Toronto early on the day of the race and flew to Indy. This was new to me. I was travelling in style! We got to the track about two hours before the race. I was blown away by the size of the place and the crowd just seemed to go on and on. My credentials were all in order so I ventured out onto the track just before the cars were being put on the grid by the mechanics. There were hundreds of us out there. The cars sat silently on the grid with over 300,000 fans wound up tighter than a drum. I wanted to get some headshots of the drivers who were now getting into their cars and sitting patiently for the whooplaw to get done. They wanted to get the show on the road. Midway down the grid I stood in front of one of the cars. My adrenalin was pumping. I knelt down and raised my camera to focus on the driver in the cockpit. As I adjusted the focus I was greeted by the face of a driver that displayed the unfortunate result of an incident involving a racing car and fire. I shot a few frames, the driver winked and I moved on. I was not expecting the wink. It began to happen again and again over my career. I had a Canadian flag just over the lens of my camera and later was told by a driver that it was a neat trick to get the driver to look directly at me. It never occurred that this was the case, but I got a lot of great eyes over the years. The noise at Indy was like little I had ever heard even from Can Am cars. The racing was exciting with Mark Donahue winning after leading only 13 laps.
At home I began to get as many races under my belt as possible. I also started to shoot motorcycle racing. I enjoyed the presence of Yvonne Duhamel and the way he dominated a field. I watched him come so close to a rider with a tri-angle on his back. It was the insignia of a new rider. I asked him why he came so close to them. He just replied, ‘I like to scare the shit out of them.’ I produced a triple image portrait of him that I traded to Kawasaki for a new bike. I tried both the 750 and the 350 and found the 350 easier to ride. It was smooth and had good excelleration. The 750 felt heavy and scared me silly. It was just too powerful. Kawasaki thought the price of the portrait was too much, so I guess that is why they gave me the bike in a crate. I rode it everywhere. With my son JP on my back I travelled to races in Ontario, Quebec, New York and Ohio. I strapped a small tent in front of me with my cameras and JP on the back when I could not get a babysitter to look after him. One early morning on our way to Watkins Glen we sped accross the lush farmland. I loved the winding rural roads where I could be racing on the Isle of Man in my head with my son sound asleep behind me. On a long left-hand turn I came upon a tractor about to enter the road I was thundering down. I had my headlight on and expected the driver to see me clearly. She did, but she had started to pull directly into my lane. She would block my path as she started to turn left accross line of my flying bike. She paniced and put on the brakes of the tractor. The load she was pulling kept moving. I found out later she was new to pulling a wagon-load of hay. Her husband was away on business and had called and asked her to pull in the wagon he had loaded the day before in one of their fields. She had difficulty connecting the yoke to the back of the tractor. She decided to pull the wagon with a chain. She had connected a chain about ten feet long between the yoke and the tractor. I was on the brakes expecting a direct hit when the chain dropped to the road as the wagon kept rolling toward the tractor now stopped in the middle of the road. I was still going about 50mph when I drove over the chain between the tractor and the wagon’s yoke. I got the bike stopped, gathered my wits about me and rode back to the woman who was in total shock and crying. There was no screaming. JP had slept through the whole thing! The farmer’s wife cooked us breakfast and sent us on our way. I soon sold the bike and began driving a new MGB from a new job!
As the fall approached I knew I was terribly bored with ‘The Bay’ and the money was far from enough to make life comfortable. I was about to have another adventure. I knew I lacked one important ingredient to success in photography. I needed to learn to sell myself. I saw an advertisement in the local paper and applied for a job as a salesman at Ashley Motors in Toronto. Ashley sold the one thing I had a great passion for and it was sports cars. The owners, Mike Hazeldine and Bill Billington stated it right up front…”we’ll give you a week to show us your stuff. If you have not sold anything by then we’ll have to let you go.” I had to make the decision to quit my job at ‘The Bay’ and take the chance, or stay where it was easy. I handed in my notice and started my week. The days quickly passed without a sale. On the Friday morning I got called into the office and told they could not invest anymore time in me. I told them they had said I could have a week. Saturday was part of that week. They agreed I could stay on until the end of the next day, but I could not take any ‘ups’ which is a term for someone walking on the lot to kick tires or buy. I went to one of the senior salesmen by the name of Bobby Leech. I asked what I needed to do to get a sale. He said I was doing everything right, but I needed to sit down and call every customer I had come in contact with during that week and get them back. Saturday was sunny and bright. I had spent Friday night calling those customers. The mushroom farm next door was in fine aroma. One of my contacts was waiting for me when I rode up on my Kawasaki. During that day I wrote up and sold seven deals! I got to stay on and enjoyed the car business to the fullest. My first demo was an Austin Marina. I soon graduated to a new Harvest Gold MGB!
During one of my trips to Mosport to shoot, my friend Ralph Bishop accompanied me. In the parking lot he turned to me and said “come to the car. I’ve something I want to give you.” When he opened up his trunk there sat a silver case about the size of a briefcase, but thicker. He opened it. “This is just on loan until you can afford one of your own. I can’t justify it. You can take it to it’s limits.” It was a Hasselblad! It had three lenses and just gleamed in the sunlight streaming into the trunk. I picked it up and cocked the shutter. A loud ‘Ka-thunk’ came from the camera when I fired it! It was the closest I have ever come to an orgasm with a mechanical instrument. I took it to the grid and began a love affair with a medium format camera and the attention it give you. Every one of the shooters looked at me like I was nuts. ‘It’s too big! It’s too heavy! You’ll have to get too close!’ They were right about the too close, but the images were amazing for the time. I blew them up bigger than I had ever done. They were crisper, but there were many that hit the darkroom floor as I learned to handle the camera. When Paul Cooke saw me with it he mentioned the jeans again. “You’ll now be too expensive for everyone.” He then just smiled. Fortunately he was wrong. I now gave off the impression that I could produce the best and would be expensive. I didn’t change my prices and now that I was learning to sell I found business was picking up nicely.
On the Formula One front Emmerson Fittipaldi stunned the racing world with a nine win season to take his first championship. He had won his first Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in only his fourth race since taking over the Lotus seat after the death of Jochen Rindt at Monza. There were now eleven teams in Formula One with most running two cars. Several ran three and BRM a whopping five at some races. Rental seats were available as the present Super License was not required. If you had the dough and some talent, you had a seat. There was now a demand for drivers. Many new faces from Formula Two and American road racing began to appear on the grid. Emerson’s brother Wilson joined Carlos Reutemann at Brabham, Carlos Pace, also from Brazil joined Williams while Niki Lauda drove for March with Ronnie Peterson. Denny Hulme still led the Can Am and Formula One efforts for McLaren. He was joined by the personable Peter Revson. His movie star good looks made women swoon in the pits. Brian Redman and Jody Scheckter also drove races for McLaren. Mike ‘The Bike’ Hailwood took over the number one at Team Surtees when John Surtees retired to run the team. Clay Reggazoni, Jackie Ickx and Mario Andretti stayed with Ferrari while Jackie Stewart and francois Cevert stayed with Tyrrell. Chris Amon moved to Matra while Graham Hill drove the ‘Lobster Claw’ at Brabham.
The season became a fight between Stewart and Fittipaldi. Monaco turned out to be a water-skipping derby with cars spinning off in all directions. Jean Pierre Beltoise came home the winner after leading from the first turn. It was his only GP win. Stewart and Fittipaldi won two apiece by the time that the Grand Prix circus got to Brands Hatch. Ickx put the Ferrari on the pole with Fittipaldi beside him. Stewart was in third. From the start Ickx led while Stewart and Fittipaldi swapped positions until Fittipaldi broke away and pulled in the Ferrari which was leaking oil. When Ickx retired the Ferrari, Stewart was right up the Lotus tail-pipes. Fittipaldi didn’t succumb to the relentless pressure of the master and gave his sponsor a dream win: a John Player Lotus winning the John Player Grand Prix. Fittipaldi’s victory count rose to four with a win in Austria. A win at Monza would give him the championship.
Two chicanes had been installed on the blisteringly fast Monza circuit at the driver’s insistence. This addition to the circuit would almost eliminate the flat-out slip streaming which characterized Monza. Stewart was out on the first lap. Fittipaldi found himself chasing the two Ferrari of Ickz and Reggazoni. The two Ferrari were running away until they came up upon Carlos Pace. Ickx got by, but Reggazoni hit Pace soundly and they both spun off the circuit. Fittipaldi could not catch the flying Ferrari of Ickx until the 46th lap when the Ferrari slowed dramatically heading into the Parabolica. The engine was history and Fittipaldi, now in the lead was to make some history of his own. He won the race, the championship and became the youngest driver to win the big prize. He was 25 years old.
On the Canadian scene the race at Three-Rivieres held a number of classic battles with a lesser known driver by the name of Gilles Villeneuve turning up in a Formula Ford Titan. He finished 8th. He had driven a Titan the previous year with a DNF. It was the same finish he had when he started the 1970 sedan race in an Alfa Romeo. We’ll hear more of him later.
Next: The death of two young drivers and the emergence of a new star.
Read the rest of the Shutter Speed series