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Holding on to History

Most of us Mopar guys are pack rats. We often own boxes of old parts, old magazines, old paperwork, and old photographs. This obsession with the material that made our cars famous is found throughout the old car hobby, and it is part of what makes us car ‘nuts.’

For me, the focus of this pursuit has turned more toward original color slides and negatives, primarily of drag racing. There are several of us nationwide who are looking for this material, led by Dick Towers on the west coast, whose Match Race Madness archive is by far the most extensive drag racing collection in private hands. Dick has literally thousands of images, both color and black-and-white, from some of the best names in the business – Jim Kelly (of Super Stock magazine and AHRA fame), deep south shooter Marty Johnson, mid-south photographer Eric Brooks, west coast guy Don Varian, and others. Dick and I have been collaborating on a book on Pro Stock 1971-72 that he will publish later this year under the Drag Sport Illustrators title that contains dozens of photos never seen before (he’s busy getting ready for the All-Hemi Reunion in Salem, Ohio August 22-23, so this project is on the back-burner for the moment).

My film consists of a much smaller grouping of nearly all-color material. I now own two identified archives beyond the photos I shot myself since 1987. One is the drag racing photos of Ray Mann, who published Racing Pictorial magazine and also supplied art to companies like STP for advertising. Following Ray’s death, his 200,000+ film library was used by new owner Dane Turner to supplement Racing Collectibles Price Guide magazine as well as publish several retrospective trading card sets at the height of the NASCAR memorabilia trade. I met Dane and wrote monthly for this magazine in the 1990s. After Dane moved to other business pursuits after the magazine folded up, the library remained in his possession until he located a buyer for it. I was given a chance to acquire a majority of the 500-image drag racing portion of the archive, much of which had not been published.

This was the basis for starting my own archive under the Quarter Milestones Publishing name; I had published a drag racing history magazine called Quarter Milestones during the 1992-1997 era before my editing responsibilities at IHRA’s Drag Review became overwhelming. Many of Ray’s best images are up on the quartermilestones.com website. This is the best vintage film I own, with many sharp images on both 35mm and larger 2.25 film shot with Nikon and Hasselblad equipment.

The second identified group came from the estate of the late Jon Steele, a Tulsa based photographer who did the images for the Fleer AHRA Drag Nationals cards, which I bought outright about six months ago. While I did not get all of the material he shot, my friend Mike Goyda was able to acquire what remained as well as the rights to use Mr. Steele’s name for me. Consisting of just over 400 frames, Jon had specialized in pro cars as well as portraits. I ended up with several funny cars I had never seen before, plus some great stuff on Don Garlits, Tom McEwen, Dick Harrell, and others. This material is still being scanned.

The quartermilestones.com archive also has several smaller unidentified collections and one larger one done by non-professional shooters, though none of this material has been uploaded to the site yet. The large one is being called the ‘Pit Slides Series’ with about 200 images that were kept out of the 720 purchased, mainly on Agfachrome and Kodachrome. Our photographer shot pit images from 1968 to 1971, including the Super Stock Nationals in 1968, Indy and the NHRA points race at St Thomas, Ont. in 1969, the Pop Hot Rod race and York Super Stock Nats in 1970, an unidentified funny car event at Cayuga, Ont. in 1970, and the PHR race (again at Martin MI) in 1971. There were a few action images but much of this was not usable for me. I was happy with the number of Mopars in this collection, which was a hard-fought eBay purchase made in six parts which unfortunately did not allow the film collection to remain intact. Still, lots of cool rare stuff…

There are also four smaller archives, mostly of just handfuls of images that I have called the Nitro Echoes Series. 15-year-old Phil Smith’s 1969 Bristol AHRA Springnationals film is on 126-size transparency film, shot with an Instamatic. There are two collections of West Coast races, a funny car event from Irwindale on 35mm and a 1970 negative collection of pit action on 110 film from Pomona or Bakersfield. There are also some mid-1970s east coast slides of funny cars as well. Unfortunately, much of this material is either too grainy or soft focused to go beyond a 5x7 size print.

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