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I went to my first drag race in 1970 at Surfers Paradise and saw Steve Carbone in the “Soapy Sales” front engine dragster. In 1974 I went to the Australian Nationals at the old Castlereagh track and a friend of mine lent me a Nikon F2 camera with a 135mm lens. He told me “put it on a 1/1000th and keep the needle in the middle by rotating the aperture ring”. I had seen the action shots in Drag Racing USA so I went down the bottom end and captured the image of John Lumb in his Torana funny car having the roof cave in. I entered the image in the Car Craft Photo contest and promptly won.
I went to the States in 1977 and met John Asher, editor of Car Craft and went to the Last Irwindale Race. He taught me the “flash pan” technique and I purchased an old Nikon F motor from photo- great Steve Reyes. I also went to the Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway and stayed with Dave Kommel of Auto Imagery fame. I saw that he used a Pentax 6x7 Pentax and I ended up buying one though now I use a Canon EOS system. I did a two year trade photography course at the Sydney School of Graphic Arts at that time.
I freelanced for ten years before landing a permanent position with Dragster Australia where I stayed for five years. I have been in publishing ever since and am now the Advertising Director of Chevron Publishing in Sydney. Over the years I have also edited my own magazines down under and have had hundreds of stories and thousands of photos published in the USA, England, Europe and New Zealand. I have also published three books – Traction Action – Classic Drag Racing, The Boss – The Brett Stevens Story and the History of the Summernats.
These days it is a lot easier for the average Joe to obtain excellent drag racing photos using digital cameras and lenses. We are very lucky down here to have the Stuart Bishop Racing drag racing photo contest that I was lucky enough to win a couple of weeks ago – it has some $25,000 worth of prizes. In closing, some 35 years later I still get as big a kick from a cackling nitro engine as I did as a pimply kid and I hope to keep photographing drag racing for many years to come.
Jon Van Daal / 2009 / June / ANDRA Winternationals in Queensland