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By Doug Stokes
Just two pages into this new racing image book and you are either looking for a place to just sit, undisturbed, all by yourself so you can just fall eyes first, into Sprint Car racing in the seventies. Or you’ve pushed it aside. Zero interest.
That first choice was the way it was here. I had work to do, but that didn’t keep me from a 10-minutes of hot laps through this album of classic racing memories.
Mike Arthur, one of west coast motor racing’s most respected veteran “shooters” has (finally) issued a book that shows precisely why he is thought of that way by so many. His 300 plus razor-sharp photos of the cars and the people who drove them so well during the years of 1971 – 1977 encompass 72 pages.
Remember, when these pictures were taken, a photog had only 36 bullets in the single-lens reflex revolver, not an unlimited number of electronic images in a camera that gives an instant notification that the picture-taker has either got it or not. Not one of these shots ever was seen by Arthur until he unloaded his cameras and spent a few hours breathing Dektol in the darkroom—seeing his images for the first time well after all the track action was long over.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s always something about truly great action photography that has nothing to do with the equipment and everything to do with the camera operator, but there is also something about the sort of in-their-time adventure that these photos represent. And that adventure is (particularly if you’re a fan of down and dirty sprint car racing) fully palpable in this book.
The bulk of Arthur’s shots are from the left end of the country—indelible motor-battlegrounds like Ascot, Imperial, Phoenix, Clovis, Speedway 605, El Cajon and Manzanita. But there’s also a nice selection of super action shots from the classic Eastern tracks like Knoxville and Terre Haute.
Perhaps one of the best parts of this intimate book are the two or three pages dedicated to Mike’s very personal portraits (he’d probably prefer the more prosaic: “head shots”) of many of the driving heroes of the day. Legends like Ronnie Shuman, Bubby Jones, Jan Opperman, and Sammy Swindell are all there. They’re all young, smiling, eager, and full of piss and vinegar. Some almost seem unsure of why a photographer wanted to take their photo when they weren’t in a race car.
If you’re of a mind to find out what it really looked like out there, going at it wheel-to-wheel on the dirt ovals of the seventies, here’s a real insider’s look at that wild show and the stalwart people who put it on. It’s a very special portrait of an era, a special portfolio of the day.
– Doug Stokes
The good news here announced in the above title: “Volume 1” which means (and yes, we have it on good authority) that a “Volume 2” is planned. Hopefully, it will be every bit as nostalgia-packed as the first … Arthur sure was there, I saw him!
Old School Volume 1 is available directly from the author at $49.95 plus shipping. Author Arthur will personalize books on request—a nice touch. While you’re at it, ask him to have his better half Nan sign your book too. I know that she must have been more than half of the horsepower it took for this long-overdue collection of classic era photos to be published!
Contact the author at 619-561-2602 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for PayPal information.