Over the 1974 season I made many new friends in racing among the drivers, the crews, the marshals and the other journalists. There was one other prize I had spotted several years ago and this I wanted. It was the red armband of either the European Racing Press Association(ERPA) or the American Racing Press Association (ARPA). I applied to both. I got a reply from ARPA and was accepted into this exclusive organization. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get a reply from ERPA. The ARPA application I found out later nearly did not make the cut. I catered mostly to the drivers and the sponsors. I did not work for any particular magazine or newspaper. I did a number of covers and the odd story, but it was the sponsors who paid the big bucks and it was them I geared up for. The letter of acceptance from ARPA was a big day for me. The package arrived with a red leather armband with gold embossed letters and my photograph neatly tucked inside a small window for all to see. I stood in front of the mirror just looking at it on my left arm. At the track I wore it off my belt as it was tight on my arm. I had arrived!
Watkins Glen was the last race of the season. Emmerson Fittipaldi won his second championship in his McLaren after a season long fight to stay in the lead. It came down to the autum race at Watkins Glen. I did two major portraits at this race. One was of Emmerson Fittipaldi, the new World Champion. I produced a 30 x 40 copy of the image and put it on front of the fridge in my motor home. The second was of Mark Donahue in Roger Penske’s First National City Travelers Checks Penske-Ford. I delivered the finished portrait to the bank’s head office in New York City. That trip alone is worth a blog installment! The USGP was again marred by tragedy when the young Austrian Helmuth Koinigg was killed on the 10th lap after what is thought to have been a deflating tire or failed brakes that sent him straight on at a very tight right-hander on the new section of the track. There were no signs of braking before the impact. The guardrail took the full force of the car head-on and separated as the nose of the Surtees got under one of sections. The bottom rail gave way. The top one did not. Koinigg was killed instantly. It was another end to a tragic year in Formula One with the deaths of Koinigg and Peter Revson.
The final racing event I attended that year was the annual Canadian Racing Driver’s Association (CRDA) convention held in Ottawa. Harvey Hudes rented a large suite to display my work. It was an exciting event for me as I got to chat first hand with drivers and sponsors without a race weekend’s distraction.
During the winter of 1975 I followed Bob Beaties Benson and Hedges Professional Ski-racing tour. The format was dual slalom with massive jumps. A principal site on the tour was in downtown Montreal at the small ski hill at the University of Montreal. I again went after the sponsors first and the athletes second. I did portraits of Alain Penz of France and Spider Sabich of the USA. Spider would unfortunately be shot to death in his home in Aspen by his girlfriend Claudine Longet, the former wife of singing star Andy Williams. As the sponser’s photographer I got a few perks one of which was a beautiful ski suit. I know this will sound a bit daft, but it was bright yellow with wonderful accents to tone it down. Everyone wanted one and I got it! I wonder if they only said they wanted one? Two years later that suit would get a drastic colour change, but that story will be in a later installment.
The summer racing scene included Can Am, Trans Am, and Formula Atlantic of which I tried to get to each race. A couple of things got in the way. I had to continue with my project with the Bank of Montreal and I was also invited to photograph the Montreal ’75 pre-Olympic trial run of facilities for the 1976 Olympics to be held in Montreal. I hoped to get a chance to shoot the 76 games and wanted to make my presence felt at Montreal 75 events. There were lots of crazy events in racing that year. The ones I enjoyed most happened off the track. During a race weekend at Ste. Jovite the usual race took place, but it was after the race that the excitment occured. Everyone was packing up, but there was buzz that there was a T-shirt contest going to happen behind the pits. Now Atlantic drivers are the young lions coming up and most don’t worry too much about sponsors once the weekend race is over. We all ambled behind the pits and there on top of one of the transporters were a number of drivers and several young ladies. Sure enough the water was going on the T-shirts! Naturally a fairly large crowd gathered to cheer everyone on. The party went on well into the night! At the Atlantic race in Nova Scotia, Gilles rolled his car over Steve Salene in Corner One. Both ended up off the track in a heap. When Gilles was walking back into the pits a journalist pushed a mike into his face and asked how he was. “I am fine, but the car she is fuck-e-ded.” That great French accent went right out over the public adress system. That kind of thing happened a lot in racing where adrenalyn fueled answers came out before the brain got in gear. Gilles name is still painted on the apex of Turn One where he and Salene got together. David Hobbs had his comments light up the crowd at Watkins Glen when Chris Economaki asked him what he thought of Monique Proulx’s sponsor, New Freedom. Her sponsor was a woman’s femine product. David didn’t miss a beat, “I’m only worried it will rain and the damn car will swell and not get between the guardrails!” The public got treated to his candor and still does on Speedvision. I had a personal part in an event at Mosport during a spring event. Harvey had come to me and asked me for a shot which he could use as a center-fold in the program. We bounced around some ideas. Some were just plain goofy, but the one that everyone liked went something like this. Harvey told Gary Magwood, who ran the Mosport driver’s school that we were going to do a shot with one of his school cars. I told Gary what the idea was and he jumped right in. I was on the road quite a bit at this point so I only had a race weekend to shoot the image. Right in the middle of a race weekend we put the wife of one of the drivers in one of Gary’s school cars. She got into the car in one of the garages at the far end of the pits near the entrance to turn one. I needed to get above the car to take the shot. Gary and a couple of guys pushed the car along the paddock between the garages and the pit boxes. There were people everywhere. It was just a race car getting pushed to the grid…so they thought! I walked beside the car. I climbed the tower to get above the car and took the shots for the center-fold. After I was done, all about two minutes, we turned the car around and headed back to the safety of the garage. On the way back we were passed by a group of about five young guys. They walked right past the car. About ten feet after we past them one of them stopped and blurted out, “Holy shit! The driver’s naked in that car!” His buddies told him he was nuts and dragged him on. We just kept pushing the car into the garage where we politely put a towel around her and helped her from the car. Unfortunately the image never made the program and Gary, I understand, let them hit the trash just a few years ago. I spent almost two weeks with Dale Von Trebra and Jimmy Mollet of Montreal shooting the excitement of Montreal ’75. It was a thrill to expand my experience shooting athletes. Over the winter I had done portraits of Betsy Clifford and Kathy Kriener of the National Ski Team and the wonderfully flamboyant Toller Cranston. I had criss-crossed Canada in my home on wheels. It was party central! One of the athletes I shot during the summer was World Water Skiing Champion George Athans. We met on a small chanel of the St. Lawrence River off Boucherville. We became very good friends. George would soon change my photographic direction again. Dale and I headed to California in his Porsche for another event being staged before the big event was to come to town. As in many sports when a new event is introduced to a facility an event of a support series is staged to test the facilities. In this case it was a Formula 5000 race in Long Beach to test the track before the Formula One circus came to town in the spring of 1976. We drove straight through with a short pit stop in Chicago. We swapped driving chores with Dale winning our event with two tickets to my none. How you get a speeding ticket in Nevada I don’t know, but he did it! About the only thing I remember of the weekend was a taco and chilli party put on by the Unser team. When we walked in the front door a beautiful blonde or ‘gal’ as Dale would call her, handed me a large glass that looked like a martini glass. “What’s this?” I asked. “A Margarita,” was the reply. Damn it was good! It was so good I think I had seven of them. Now you have to remember I’m just a kid from North Bay and drinks like these are foreign to me. I made love to the porcelin for the next few days before I got on the plane back east. When I got home it was off to the Glen for the GP. The Canadian race was cancelled for another scrap between Bernie and the race organizers. Money I heard…! Little has changed!
Formula One would see Niki Lauda tear through the year to win the championship with five wins in only his fourth year in Formula One. Ferrari were again back on top! Death again visited the F1 family at the Austrian Grand Prix. Mark Donahue in Roger Penske’s Formual One effort left the track in a fast right-hander, mowed down the catch-fencing and flew over the guardrail where it hit two marshalls and a billboard. Donahue was unconscious when the rescue crews arrived, but soon came around with what seemed like just a severe headache. Unfortunately, on his way to hospital for a check-up, he lost consciousness. He died two days later after an unsuccessful brain operation. One of the marshalls also succumbed to his injuries.
In late November I got a call from Bill Brack, who had won his third Canadian driving championship. He and Doug Crosty, his trusty right hand man, were going with Bill’s team to Calgary for the annual CRDA convention. He said they were going to go to Banff to ski for a couple of days before heading back to Calgary for the convention party. I was heading across country on more of my Bank of Montreal project which was nearing completion. I met them in Banff where we stayed at the Mount Royal Hotel. If I told you the rest of that story we might be getting a call from the hotel! After a quick exit from Banff we all pulled into Calgary where Bill got a large suite at the convention hotel and the party began. Unfortunately when we got to lunch on Saturday the room was buzzing. It was like a dark cloud had decended on everyone. The news of an accident in England shook everyone who loved racing and Formula One in particular. Six members of the Embassy-Hill team had been wiped out in the crash of a small plane which came in too low on approach and hit a tree on a golf course near the Elstree airport. The airfield and golf course were shrouded in fog. At the controls was the man I envisioned when I thought of a Grand Prix driver, Graham Hill. His young protege Tony Brise was beside him. The mechanics with them took out the whole team which never turned a wheel again. Hill had won the World Championship twice, the Indy 500 and Le Mans once a piece to be the only driver to this date to accomplish this feat. Another accident in Formula One also a great effect on me. At the Spanish Grand Prix, Rolf Stommelen was at the wheel of one of the Embassy-Hill cars when the upright holding the rear wing let go. The total lack of downforce at the rear of the car threw it into the barriers on the left side. It bounced back across the track, glancing off Carlos Pace’s car and flying over the guard-rails on the right side, where it cartwheeled and came to rest in a crowd. Four people were killed instantly by the rolling car. One of those killed was photographer Mario De Roia from Toronto. Stommelen was critical, but would recover. Being behind the guardrail is certainly not safe. When something goes wrong the second person to know it is often a course marshall or a photographer. Hopefully this carnage will stop soon.
Next: A big year!
Read the rest of the Shutter Speed series