In the spring of 1968 my wife and son and I moved to the real world away from the mountains and skiing. We chose Toronto. Jobs as now are often found through family and friends. This again proved to be true. Through the same man who got me the Dunlop job I applied for a job as a recreation councilor at the Ontario Crippled Children Center. I really had little qualifications other than I was a man, which was difficult for them to find one interested in working with kids, and I had a sports background. The kids turned out to be a wonderful addition to my life. Many had challenges they would never overcome. Many were results of serious accidents or in the case of the Thalidomide children, the result of a drug that had not been properly tested and prescribed by doctors to suppress morning sickness in pregnant Mothers. I was excited and wanted to involve them in experiences they would never have if left to their own devices or families. I contacted the Don Valley Ski Center in Don Mills and got them to donate rental equipment and facilities to introduce the kids to skiing. We took them to events in a beat up shit-box Chevy van that should not have been on the road, but without it we would not be going anywhere. One of the things I introduced them to was auto racing. The first event we took them to was at Harewood Acres near Hamilton. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t remember what event it was, but we camped out and cooked out and were just a small group of enthusiasts that was just a little different from the rest of the fans. To move and tend to a group like this volunteers would be needed. Surprisingly enough we had several nurses to administer medications and a strong group to lift some of the wheelchairs we needed to get the kids around. Two of these volunteers in particular come to mind. Both had a love of the kids and motor racing. Paul Bryan was also the head of the Cub/Scout program at the center. Paul is still a marshal at Mosport along with his son Bill. PaulÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s late Father and son Bill have stood at the ready to aid many errant drivers at Canadian racing events from regional to Formula One for almost 40 years! The other man of note was businessman Ralph Bishop whose generosity would cause my creative life to make a sharp upward turn. Ralph now lives in Hong Kong and flew to Taiwan recently to have dinner with my wife and I while we were in Asia on a speaking engagement. More on Ralph later. We got the kids out to the races several times in 1969. On one solo run to a race in Watkins Glen I noticed a small stand in the infield selling souvenirs to race fans. This was long before the garish jackets and patches and models that are available now. The fare consisted of inexpensive items that you could take home to your kids like pennants and flags. One thing caught my eye. It was a brass dash plaque that celebrated the event. The seller had been producing a small supply of these plaques mostly for regional events. They seem to be selling well. My mind began to churn. Maybe here was a way to earn a bit of extra cash. I was earning a whopping $8,750 a year with the kids, so any addition would be welcomed. I was still shooting pictures of the cars and the people involved in racing. I was enjoying the process of learning about panning and depth of field. The exposure of colour film of the time was difficult, but I eventually found the secret. I had little money so I learned to be patient and shoot only what I wanted. I had no motor drive on my camera so I had to learn to anticipate my subjects.
When I returned home, I sat down and designed a plaque I thought would sell at the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport in the fall. It consisted of the shape of the track intertwined with Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ1969 Canadian Grand PrixÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. It looked okay, but I knew I could not just turn up at the track and start selling it. At the time I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think there were any concession stands other than for food at the track. Even the programs were sold by individual vendors that walked among the cars entering the grounds. I located in the phone book the Mosport offices in Toronto and just walked in the front door. There was no waiting around. I was ushered into the office of a small man with a large head of hair of the fashion of the times. The man was Harvey Hudes. Harvey was the accountant for Mosport at the time. He was receptive and the twinkle in his eye made me feel I might have something special to sell. Before I left the office he presented me with four 8 x 10s of Formula One cars at full song. He suggested I blow them up to promote my little stand. He also said I could blow a few up to add to my inventory. I asked where I could set up my stand and he said he had lots of ideas, but I could choose anywhere I wanted other than the paddock. At this time anyone could get into the paddock for free. I choose a bottle-neck inside the track between Turn One and Turn Two. Just past the twin tunnels the road forked into three directions. Anyone coming inside the track at this point would have to pass our stand. I decided to blow up two of the 8 x 10s to 4 x 8 feet. I had them mounted and placed them facing the traffic coming out of the tunnel. We set it up on the Friday morning and waited for them to come in. It did not take long to see the fans up real close! Our stand was always packed. The weekend went well with the 200 posters that I had blown up from the 8 x 10s selling out, but the dash plaques were heavily overshadowed by the fans desire for images of their heroes. On several occasions I snuck up to track-side to shoot my camera. In the race Jackie Ickx survived a collision with Jackie Stewart, already the 1969 World Champion, to take the chequered flag followed by Jack Brabham and Jochen Rindt. There were three Canadians in this event; Bill Brack was in the third BRM; my old friend from North Bay, John Cordts in a Brabham; and Al Pease was in an Eagle-Climax. It was quite a weekend.
I ventured off two weeks later to see the USGP in Watkins Glen. Getting images was actually quite easy as the garage was set in the infield and the drivers drove the cars right through the crowd and down to the old pits on the short straight before the Esses. Jochen Rindt won the race with Piers Courage and John Surtees rounding out the top three. The only Canadian in the race was TorontoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s George Eaton. The race would see a terrible accident involving Graham Hill in his Lotus. After discovering he had a rear tire going flat after he had pulled off the track, Hill drove the Lotus past the pits indicating a problem with a rear wheel. Near the end of the long back straight the rear wheel came off the rim and the car somersaulted through the grass at the side of the track. Hill had not been able to re-fasten his seat belts when he had pulled off earlier to inspect the car. He was thrown from the tumbling Lotus and severely injured. He would return to Formula One, but not in any competitive form. The year before when I was in Watkins Glen I had come face-to-face with Hill. It was as I was standing in line for the outdoor Ã¢â‚¬ËœJohnny-on-the-spotÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. The occupant before me came out and cheerily said Ã¢â‚¬ËœShe warm!Ã¢â‚¬â„¢. It was Graham Hill. Whenever I thought about a Grand Prix driver I always envisioned Graham Hill with his pencil thin mustache and distinctive helmet which is still to this day my favourite.
After I returned to Toronto I called Harvey Hudes to chat about next year. The weekend of the Canadian race I went to the tower to see Harvey to settle up for his percentage of sales. Unknown to me he had seen my setup and commented that he did not expect me to do the blow ups, but admitted it was a good idea. There was some concern about the posters sold, but he did not press it. Copywrite was not an issue as it is today. Harvey told me to invest the track percentage in more posters and he thought the dash plaques were a nice idea, but not worth the effort. I may have priced them too high at $2 each. He gave me the rights for all posters at the next years events and wanted me to move up into the paddock near the restaurant. Harvey mentioned he had seen me track-side and asked how I had gotten so close to the track without a press pass. I admitted to having made my own after seeing the pass on a photographer. He asked me to return with my pictures. When he saw they were in colour he told me to call him and there would be a proper pass at any of the next events. It was my first real move into the big world of auto racing.
Read more of Allan De La Plante’s Shutter Speed series