Need for Speed Part 4

December 02, 2014  •  1 Comment

While I was in college, I worked for the school newspaper in the darkroom developing film and making prints for the college newspaper.  Needless to say the photo bug hit me hard.  I was torn between needing speed and needing a camera!  Life offers many choices and sometimes you need to compromise.  I wasn't ready to let go of the speed addiction but photography was letting me do things that I strived to do with sketching and painting, express my artistic self, more clearly.  One of my friends at Texas Tech lived in Houston and had a Formula Vee race car.  He invited me over to drive it some afternoon during the summer months.  Cindy and I drove over to meet him.  I fell in love with the FV.  Open wheeled, simple and elegantly designed.  It was a race car, full fledged but honestly about as ugly as home made soap.  Skinny VW wheels and tires (although they were slicks) and with the VW trailing arm suspension up front and the swing arms in the back: but it was a purpose built race car.  I climbed in and discovered one of the same big problems I had with the kart.  I was sort of tall.  For a person who was 6 feet tall in the 6th grade, fitting my now, 6-1, 185 pound body into that thing was nothing short of a miracle.  I wanted to drive it very badly and they had laid out a track on a new housing development that had gone under with only roads built (PERFECT!) so I drove the FV behind the others in a street car to the "track" and followed them around the course.  I made a few laps, getting up to good lap times as I was told, very quickly.  I have to admit that fitting my feet between the frame and NOT hitting the brake a clutch at the same time was a real challenge.  It was about this point that I realized that most of the great drivers I knew about were maybe 5-5 and 140 pounds.  Maybe I wasn't meant to race sports cars.  Maybe I was meant to photograph them or maybe work on them or better yet, do a movie about them.  I still wish I had a Formula Vee for Solo racing (a form of racing with only YOU on the track trying to establish a great lap time).  I just have too many things I would like to do and a shortage of both time and resources (OK, that means money) to get them all done.

 

We put together a fairly crude darkroom using our one and only apartment bathroom.  I needed to work in a darkroom!  Found an ad about a go kart race being run in Dallas.  We went just because I wanted to go and I wanted to take photos.  I bought a bunch of rolls of Tri-X and took my only camera and both lenses, 28mm and 200mm.  We spent all day Saturday at the track photographing practice and qualifying runs, raced back home and started developing film.  As soon as the film was dry, we started printing 8 X 10's.  I know we finished printing about 4 am and went to bed.  The next day we were at the track with races scheduled to start at 10 am.  It was pouring down rain.  I mentioned to the announcer that we had images from the day before for sale at $5 each for an 8 X 10.  The images were good with action shots of almost every driver.  We were swamped with people wanting to buy images of themselves.  I think we took in over $400 that day.  Expenses were almost $50 for everything except our time.  We netted about $375 that day.  My full time Engineering job was paying me $830 a month.  I thought, this is crazy!  I can make money with photography!  That was the kick start for selling images.  Those same negatives paid off handsomely 15 years later as you will find out.

 

With a new house purchased we were solid citizens in a quiet residential area of Dallas and we had bought our first sports car, a Morgan!  I wanted a darkroom.  We needed furniture.  Perplexing situation.  I was out riding my bike down the alley one evening and spied an empty box of Kodabromide B&W photo paper in the neighbors trash can.  A DARKROOM!  As I rode around to the front of the house, the owner was standing out in front of his house so I rode up and introduced myself.  Remember, I only had two loves at this point, racing and photography.  Henk deWit was the neighbors name.  I mentioned seeing the empty box in his trash can and asked if he had a darkroom.  He said sure!  Come on over and use it anytime.  WOW!  I felt lucky.  He asked about my job.  I told him I worked at Texas Instruments as an Engineer.  I asked what he did.  Henk replied, "I am the Director of Photography for CBS News in Dallas."  HOT DAMN!  BINGO!  WE HAVE A WINNER!  I was close to heaven.  Then Henk asked if I was the guy who owned the Morgan.  Most people have no clue what a Morgan is other than a horse.  I was impressed that he knew what it was.  He wanted to know what engine it had.  I told him, "A 1500cc, reverse flow Ford with a Lotus log Manifold and a Weber 40DCOE sidedraft carb."  What Henk said next started my head spinning; "That's the same engine I have in my race car."  I asked him to repeat that.  He did then led me into his garage to see the car he raced in SCCA racing in the SW Region.  I was not believing my luck.  Photography, racing, darkroom, neighbor.  We became very good friends.  I became his mechanic and went to races with Henk as his crew.  Every once in awhile he would hand me a 16mm movie camera from the TV station and let me shoot film.  I thought that was the life, wrenching for an SCCA team (we were sponsored by Cowsert Automotive)and taking movies as well as stills.  Just a mention of Cowsert Automotive.  Great place.  Specialized in exotic cars.  Saw several Ferrari's there as well as Lamborghini's and Maserati's, Jaguars, the odd Lotus and one very special McLaren from the endurance racing world.  Eventually Henk got tired of racing, sold the car, bought a sailboat and started racing it on White Rock Lake in Dallas.  I moved on but not before learning a ton about chassis set up with Koni adjustable shocks and spring rate changes as well as sway bar placement.  By the time Henk sold the car, we had added a dry sump, oil cooling system and forged crank, pistons and rods.  The little Ford 1500cc engine was redlined at 10,500 RPM!  A screamer for sure.  Shortly after Henk sold the car, there was a Pro Formula Ford race at a track in Fort Worth, Green Valley Raceway.  Henk and I went out there to shoot some film for the nightly news.  He was tired and handed me the camera, asking me to go shoot some footage.  When you walk around at a race track with your 35mm camera you get hustled away from the fences and told to go back to the spectator areas.  With a big 16mm camera resting on your shoulder plastered with CBS News stickers, the corner workers invite you out to the edge of the track with them.  I was out shooting when one of the regular cameramen from CBS showed up with an identical camera.  Of course, he asked me where I got the camera.  I explained about Henk being in my van asleep sending me out to shoot stuff.  When the race was over we went back to the van, had a beer and then Henk handed him my camera and said go process yours and his and pick about 7 minutes for tonights news.  Amazingly, they used my film.  Henk laughingly told me that the regular cameraman was embarrassed that my footage was way better than his.  Of course he asked Henk who I was and what I did. Henk told him I was an Engineer at Texas Instruments just playing around with film for the first time.  We both had a good laugh from that one.

 

My old Morgan was fun to drive and work on.  Fairly simple and an eye-catcher, it turned heads everywhere we went.  I had more people mention what I great job I did of restoring it.  It was not a restoration, they were built that way right from the factory in Malvern Link, Britain.  Peter Morgan had a way of making a classic car from new parts.  I got a new job in Denver and not wanting to drive it in the snow, I sold the Morgan, a move I regret to this day.  Photography came back to being my main passion.  Speed took a back seat unless you are talking about skis on the snow!

 

Watch for Need for Speed - Part 5 - We get back into kart racing in a big way!


Comments

Allen Crenshaw(non-registered)
Thanks Jim. I and I'm sure many others are thoroughly enjoying your biography of important points in your life. You've always possessed an easy, likable way with people from all walks of life. You have that rare talent for liking people and what those people are interested in. People like that, duh... Now that you're "retired" with a basement full of negatives and slides and hard drives packed to the gills, it's time to start seriously thinking about that book. Ranger would want you to do it.
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