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It's a big deal when a racer is immortalized in paint by a top artist. Very few drag racers, especially motorcycle drag racers, will be accorded such an honor during their life time. It's rare in the extreme. Once a racer is blessed by being in a painting, that painting will last for all time -- it truly is being immortalized.
In the motorcycle drag racing world, the last legend to receive the honor was the late Elmer Trett, #50 on the NHRA's greatest drivers of all-time list. It was Kenny Youngblood who immortalized Elmer in 1995 with an amazing painting. That stunning piece of art work today currently resides with a member of the Trett family.
In June of 2016, Harley-Davidson drag racing legend Joe Smith was accorded the honor by famous artist David Uhl of Colorado, who chose Joe after reviewing many photos of Harley-Davidson NHRA drag racing greats.
David was called into action by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company to create this masterpiece for their current museum exhibit, "Drag Racing: America's Fast Time." The Milwaukee, Wisc., museum exhibit is open to the public from June through September 5, 2016.
David looked at photos of Elmer Trett on his double, Marion Owens, Ray Price, Pete Hill, Joe Thronson, and a host of others. The list of notable drag racers reviewed was very long really. He chose the shot of Joe Smith to work with for a number of reasons and it's the visual that draws in an artist in every time.
The photo David chose to work with was an old B&W shot not bigger than a post card from an old newspaper, but the content had everything David likes to work with when he creates one of his works of art.
First off, the motorcycle is a knucklehead-powered bike and its antique style and charm are something David was instantly drawn to. Add to that the visual of Joe holding the throttle wide open with one hand and reaching down to shift the bike with the other: this is just as old-school cool as it gets.
Armed with a series of enlarged B&W examples of the photo with varying degrees of contrast and details of the various elements of Joe's drag bike, David went to work on this in the spring of 2016. The results were unveiled at the Harley-Davidson Museum where David personally unwrapped the artwork and presented it to the public on June 9, 2016. The art work is entitled “Granddaddy” as a tribute to Granddaddy Joe Smith.
Smith, who made the photo available, had this to say about seeing his likeness in a painting, “I thought it was outstanding when I saw it. The amount of detail he created from a black and white scan of an old newspaper clipping is astounding. I feel very lucky and proud that he chose that picture to paint and unveil at the Harley-Davidson museum.”