Sunday, July 28, 2013, 02:27 PM
Posted by Administrator
There was a time when sitting in the stands was everything I thought it could be. I was able to see the rails and the stockers and once in awhile we were lucky enough to get a wisp of nitromethane and rubber smoke if the wind was blowing just right.
I began to attend pre-med classes at Michigan State University in 1966 and my goal in life was to become a doctor, so my mind was wrapped around things like microbiology, organic chemistry and anatomy. Cars were kool but I couldn't see the advantage or importance of turning wrenches instead of saving lives.
My roomate was a journalism major and he used to entertain us all with stories about the places and things he'd seen...places reserved for reporters and law enforcement. It was sexy and enticing, the old forbidden fruit syndrome.
The Detroit News had a marginal interest in auto racing which is surprising considering the fact that Motown was the center of the universe for all things automotive.
My roomate had made a commitment to the News in late 1966 which involved him taking pictures at a big event at Detroit Dragway one Saturday. He said there were going to be "funny cars" there. After a very convincing period of begging, I agreed to take his place even though I knew NOTHING about photography. I wanted to do him a favor because he was sick or so he said. After a very short session of instruction, I knew everything I needed to know, which wasn't surprising since his camera was a Kodak 126 Instamatic, the one that used the little blue flashbulbs.
Things then were so simple. With just an honest face and assurances that I was a real NEWS photographer, I received permission to shoot on the starting line. In those days you really were on the starting line...the one without a k-wall or any barrier to hide behind if something exploded or someone went sideways.
By the end of the evening, I had had enough. Nicholson was using hydrazene, which was a popular addition to the usual concoction of methyl alcohol and nitro. I had a headache for days following my first sojourn into the advanced world of starting line photography. Funny thing though, it was pretty neat being so close to the action. Now I was able to tell interesting stories like my roomate, only mine were about cars instead of car accidents and dog shows.
All of that was 47 years ago but one thing has never changed. The excitement and the exclusivity of being able to go where few tread has never lost its appeal and its likely it never will. Everytime I go out to a wall at a NASCAR or IndyCar race or brave the walls at a NHRA event I remember how lucky I am to be there. I look up to the crowded stands and know most, if not all, would give alot to be where I am.

J.R. Andres/SM Magazine
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