The winter of 1973 came and went without much fanfare. I continued to work in the car business with Ashley Motors until mid-summer when a minor incident had me looking for another employer. I turned up about ten minutes late for a sales meeting and was promptly shown the door by the assistant sales manager who was holding down the fort for the big boss while he was on vacation in Florida. When he got back he called and said I should approach Gorries Golden Mile Chevrolet. There was a job waiting for me when I applied. My release at Ashley was a strange one. It was the end of the month and I was the lead in sales with 22 down the road. The next salesman had 8. Go figure! Jumping from British sizzle to Detroit iron was difficult for me. I did not like the product and the Corvette scared the shit out of me. It rattled and banged and handled like a truck! I remember trying to get a young kid of about 17 to think about something less extreme than the 455 LT1. I figured he’d get himself in enough trouble with a ‘B’, but there was no telling him or his Mother who was going to co-sign for him. The Vette and he died one night less than a month later. It reminded me of a kid that had come into Ashleys with Mom in tow. She bought him an E-type. I was sure he would end up on a slab and I was right except he took two friends with him. The turn in the 401 east-bound at Kingston Road was incomplete. The Jag left the end of a bridge much like the end of the bridge in the movie ‘Speed’ if you happen to see it. No explanation of why the barriers were down came to light, but three young boys died. The Mother came into Ashleys not long after and I took quite a verbal beating. I did not reminder her of my suggestion of the less potent vehicle. It probably wouldn’t have mattered what he was driving.
The first big event at Mosport brought out the beautiful Porsche 917-30 in the hands of Mark Donahue. It would dominate the Can Am that year and start a slide that would see most of the rest of the field just showing up for second place. Mark won 8 of 10 races that year. I went to the race in June with a fellow saleman from Ashleys. Adrian Hines was a transplanted Englishman who loved racing as much as I did. We left the girls at home and camped out at the track. He had never been there before and was delighted with the countryside. Adrian had a remarkable resemblance to Ronnie Peterson. He created quite a stir when we walked through the pits. When we went trackside no one questioned him. He even signed an autograph for some marshal. It made me laugh and still does thinking someone out there has this one-of-a-kind autograph. In the early evening we decided to walk the track like many others. We started near Turn Two where our camp was. We wound down through five and started the long climb up the back straight. Well before the top of the hill we heard a loud party on the outside of the track in a deep gully. We looked over the guardrail to see a good sized camp with quite a number of loud partiers around a campfire. We waved and moved on. Within seconds a number of the group came over the guardrail just in front of us. I was on my back without warning with a guy pounding the shit out of me. I looked over at Adrian who was on his belly with a guy on his back. He had Adrian’s hair in his hands and was smashing his face into the pavement. There was a lot of yelling then it all seemed to be over. We were left lying in the center of the track. We made our way to the tower and the medical unit. It stayed open all night to deal with any mishaps and there were generally a few to look after. Adrian was in rough shape with a broken nose and damage to both cheekbones. I got away with a black eye and some bruises. It was not what I expected when we left for the track on Friday. On race day Charlie Kemp would win with Mark Donahue in the 917-30 in seventh, but Donahue had the fastest lap almost two seconds faster than George Folmer in a Porsche 917-10. A little worse for wear, I got one of my best shots of Can Am cars from the outside of Turn Five shooting up the hill into the corner. It shows Hurley Haywood behind Steve Durst and Tom Dutton in close quarters as they negotiate the very difficult turn. I call it ‘Traffic’. It was a very dangerous place to shoot as they come to the left side of the track right up against the guardrail in some cases to set the car up to take the apex at optimum speed. I was right behind that guardrail with my back turned the cars as they came down the hill. I was less than five feet from them. Not the brightest situation to be in, but the shot is beautiful.
I was now making friends with a number of the photographers and journalists that frequented race tracks. Many were at only one race, some followed the major events wherever they were held. All were characters with their own stories. Dale Von Trebra of California wandered North America in his ‘bath tub Porsche’; Hans Gulde was from the Toronto newspaper scene; Bill Murenbeeld was a Dutchman who seemed more German and always out of film; Rick Morris who actually worked for Cannon; and Tom Kneebone of Chicago who always carried the longest lens anyone had ever seen and produced massive images in black and white that just blew everyone away. Every time a woman walked by a twinkle would appear in Tom’s eyes and the lens would rise. Dale loved to laugh and tease the girls. Hans was a Swiss transplant with a keen eye for detail. Bill was, as I said, often borrowing film. We decided to have some fun with him and produced a roll of film with nothing but my arse mooning the camera. Mooning was acceptable in those days. I carried that roll with me for most of the season and sure enough at Mid-Ohio Bill complained of being out of film. I said I might have a roll of 35 in my bag and produced the re-wound film. I was shooting 2 x 4 film at the time. He proceeded to double expose the film with Can Am cars. I never did hear what the result was, but he apparently stopped borrowing film from any of us. Rick was an exceptional shooter who always had the latest that Cannon had to offer. I used him on a later project as his skills with the long lens helped to solve a major problem for me. More on that later. Tommy was a real eccentric character. He’d start out from Chicago and drive all night long pulling on his beard to keep him awake. Dale and I visited him one time on our way to California. As we got nearer to the house Dale said, “Open the window.” I did. It was like driving alongside a bass-speaker-laden car! I could hear music from almost half a block away from his house! We walked up the front walk and didn’t even knock. Tom would never have heard us. The speakers stood almost six feet high in corners of the living room. He was playing the organ music of J.S Bach used in one of the Phantom of the Opera films. The other odd thing was strips of exposed 35mm negs hung everywhere. Tom had one image that was the most remarkable I have ever seen. It made the cover of Time and was used by some camera company in it’s advertising. Tom had stood for hours in a Florida swamp in water over his waist to get an image of a small bird flying just above the water with it’s lower beak immersed while picking up it’s dinner. It was astounding! Another member of this cast of characters was Ed Smith. Known to everyone as Spanky he had a hobbit appearance about him. Long white hair with long sideburns. He worked for Corning Glass just south of Watkins Glen. Spanky had the only mobile museum around at the time in the form of a small Winnebago. Drivers, crew and journalists often visited Spanky’s motor home even if he was out shooting. There were pictures everywhere with autographs on everything and anyone from all walks of racing life. On the bathroom door was a sign that simply read ‘Through this door some of the fastest asses on the planet have passed’. My first real recollection of Spanky’s guests was sitting in the motor home while it was raining. We were in Watkins Glen. Right across the table from me was Michael Turner whose paintings grace the walls of many collectors and drivers around the world. In the movie Grand Prix his work were on the walls of Sarti’s apartment and the walls of Scott Stoddard’s brother’s trophy room. He is the best. I had a chance to buy an original of Graham Hill that day for about $250. It was a drawing. He, I guess, needed a little extra cash. I didn’t have enough. What would that be worth now! Also sitting with us was photographer David Phipps. He was the star I longed to be. He spent his year following the Grand Prix circuit and was in the Glen to cover the six-hour race. He was well over six feet and his stature made his legend even larger. It was not unusual to walk in and find Mark Donahue, Peter Revson, Sam Posey or David Hobbs sitting there.
I had long realized that if I restricted myself to just auto racing I would fall short of what I had dreamed of. I started to branch out. I was naturally drawn to other sport. I knew the Olympics were coming to Montreal in 1976. I needed to find a way to get involved. I also was taken by the winning ways of Sandy Hawley in horse racing. I wangled an assignment from the Toronto Star to shoot Hawley at Greenwood in Toronto. My double image portrait style soon graced the cover of their weekend magazine. This was serious exposure! Through Sandy I met Willy Shoemaker and other great riders of whom I did portraits. Trott magazine hired me to shoot a cover of Ron Fagen of standard racing fame. They used high gloss paper for the cover and it was beautiful. I also met a woman by the name of Yvonne Saunders. She was a world-classed sprinter. I tried a double exposure of her in action. She was a beautiful black woman and the second image fell into place beautifully. I was broadening the base of my portfolio. I decided I wanted to produce a gallery of Canadian athletes that could be shown leading up to and during the Olympics. By now I had moved to Jackson’s Point north of Toronto and was working for Hans Pfaff at his Volkswagen/Porsche dealership in Newmarket. I made an appointment to meet the curator of the Canadian Sport Art Collection in Ottawa and drove my demo Beetle on my day off to meet her. Her name was Carol Erb. I showed her my portfolio and idea and she introduced me to the head of the organization, Dan Pugliase and their legal arm Ron Stewart a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. They were impressed, I was excited and they said they would find me a sponsor. I could have floated home in that Beetle! I would wait until the following spring, while I made $100 a week with Pfaff, before the project would take an exciting turn.
The Grand Prix of Trois Rivieres would display some great racing with a young man winning the Formula Ford event to clinch the Quebec FF Championship after he dominated the series. I had first laid eyes on Gilles Villeneuve in a support race at Mosport. I was standing with the medical crew at the tower in Turn Ten and it was all about this French kid from Quebec that seemed to have the car sideways a tremendous amount of the time. It was wondered how long it would be before they would see him up close. He kept it on the track and did quite well for himself. He became the one to watch in that series as his style was very exciting. The Canadian Grand prix held a Mosport would see Ronnie Peterson take the pole in a Lotus, Peter Revson win in a McLaren and the first use of a safety car in Formula One. The Grand Prix circus moved on to Watkins Glen.
Ronnie Peterson won an exciting battle with James Hunt, but the celebrations were tempered by the death of Francois Cevert who was killed in practice on Saturday. Jackie Stewart had won his third World Driver’s Championship by the time the circus got to the Glen. It was the final race of the year. Stewart had decided earlier in the year to retire at Watkins Glen. Only he and Ken Tyrrell knew what his intentions were. Tyrrell was going to make Cevert the number one in the team for 1974. Cevert did not know of Stewart and Tyrrell’s intentions. Tragically, fate would intervene. With little left of the morning qualifying session the track went silent. At the time I was shooting on the inside of the Ninety at the end of the pit straight. To my back, across the valley, I could see a cloud of smoke near the rise just in front of the Paddock Club. People were rushing to the fence. Something was terribly wrong. I stood there for some time then went with one of the other photographers down the old pit straight and up the hill into the Esses leading to the back straight. I stayed on the right side of the track. Several drivers had stopped their cars to see if they could help. All turned away and left the scene. Cevert had apparently experienced difficulty as he went up the hill into the Esses. He rode the curb on his left and was thrown into the guardrail on the right side of the track. The spinning Tyrrell spun back across the track at almost 150mph. The car mounted the guardrail and was totally destroyed taking the life of the charming Frenchman. It was the second horrendous accident in Grand prix racing in 1973 with the death of Roger Williamson in the Dutch Grand Prix in July. The sour note that ended the racing year would continue into 1974.
Next: A new direction!