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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

"Emergency Fax from the Survey Department..."

A look inside the brain of a drag racing photographer

by Ron Dilley

The diggers are idling just out of the starting line beams. A quick practice pan to the area. I'll attempt to shoot Shelly in Blaine's heat wave, as he'll be at least one car length ahead by 300-330 feet down track. Now the brain's framing manager makes the calculation on the exact setting for the zoom lens to fit in the Western Auto rail. The surveyor takes notes on several landmarks just prior to the projected shooting arena. Mr. Johnson is pre-staged as an extended arm enters the eye's viewfinder. "Hey! Put yer arm down, dumb ass!" I cursed to myself as the brain mindlessly instructed the right thumb to check the camera power for the third time while the left foot ground the Dexter shoe into the dirt for a firm plant. Shelly pre-stages, the energy from a dozen donuts and two Mountain Dews is peaking and an emergency fax from the survey department prints out in the brain's telecommunications center.

Seems one of the peripheral spotters fell ill and is hurling through the nasal passages. His replacement from the butt watchers group needs a visual review of the shooting area, which is located just before the TNN camera crew at the cement fence. One landlocked missile has lit the stage bulb prompting the right foot to kick away gravel and get positioned by the chain link fence. All systems seem to be a go, tension is normal (high), thumb fidgetedly triple checks the film advancement (no auto winder for these nonunion helpers), all stage lights are glowing, the lungs shut down and head for the exit door to take a smoke break, dumb ass's arm is not visible at the moment. At this point the world has stopped, total silence, 51,733 people waiting for the starter to flip THE switch, just 16 pipes pumping those acrid fumes 23 feet into the calm spring air, the starter must be enjoying this, the longest 2 second lull in motorsports.

Finally the yellow bulbs illuminate, the heart rate increases, metallic butterflies snap horizontal, fingers gripping the camera body tighten, both diggers lurch forward 22 feet, eight inches in silence as the eye becomes the director of the camera scanning Shelly's car during the launch phase. Brain activity is at frenzy, with the exception of the Common Sense department's temp secretary giving herself a manicure. The heart skips one beat in anticipation of ... the deafening roar of dueling nitro abused engines finally invades the inner ear canal, reminding that certain forgetful member of the brain relaxing in the La-Z-Boy, "Hey! Ear plugs not installed!" Blaine and Shelly just passed the 60 foot timers, trigger finger poised to implode THE button -- 109 feet into the pass, still on for the Shelly shot, all systems operating normal, the Ear Division emailed the brain a failure to comply with OSHA requirements notice. 137 feet into the ruckus, the eye notices Blaine pulling ahead as planned, scheduling managers give the thumbs up as they embark for the Lobotomy Saloon. The eye receives a fax to continue the Shelly pan; it's a GO!

One of the peripheral spotters kicks the eye in the retina and points out that something appears amiss on the Travers Tools rail. "Mayday!" is aired over the emergency scanner, placing all employees on an alert that may involve plan changes. Medic! Gonna need 500 mg Chlorzoxazone in approximately 3 seconds... Even though the pan section is still operating on the Anderson docket, Johnson receives the eye's full attention when over the scanner comes the word, "ABORT! Switch to plan B, change pan to near lane, abort the Shelly pan, NOW!" Trouble in the near lane. The hands start bitching that panning is difficult when having to switch lanes and panning speeds with only a 0.17-second notice. The Focus Supervisor claims his setting will be off approximately 31 feet, fairly noticeable due to his ineptness at focusing on stationary objects. Complaint from the Ear Division is denied the form needed to be in triplicate.

At 167 feet, Blaine still has the lead with that something amiss becoming quite evident. Brain radioed the finger to inquire if the frame has been shot yet. No response. Brain fires up another Marlboro Light, kicks over the recycle bin. The other fingers firmly grasp the camera; should one slip, it gets to hold the nails on the next wood project. The brain held a vote and decided not to phone the right thumb to prepare to advance the film. It could throw everything off kilter IF the finger has not pushed the button. 220 feet and Blaine is still on the throttle with a worsening fuel leak. Ear Division blows a blood gasket, the eye observes Blaine's engine only, peripheral spotters have the mike keyed, a frantic call from the framing department: "Shoot now or Blaine's car will be cropped!"

The brain urgently demands the left hand to zoom out 15mm. Left hand's response: "Yo' mama." The right hand high fives the left hand's defiance. Suddenly Blaine's fuel lines disconnect while the fuel pumps are definitely functioning to the max. Countdown, we're 0.10 of a second from shooting. 0.10 - hold the pan steady, 0.09 - the brain clicks the programming switch allotting all control of the trigger finger to the eye, 0.07 - what the hell ... where is the ring girl with the 0.08 sign? (((CLICK))) What! Who the hell gave ... why ... jeez, did that huge flash fire occur before or after the shutter opened?

Blaine Johnson vs Shelly Anderson 1996 by Ron Dilley

Most agreed the shot was probably an okay exposure under the dire circumstances. Some of the clan relieved that this was over were cut & pasted to the Lobo Lounge for a shot or four where some already stoned plumbers were wobbling to the ear canals to repair leaks. The short-lived celebration was interrupted by cackling engines in the background. Positions everyone, break is over....

...The rest of the story: Later in 96 I had three copies of this shot enlarged (8x12) with the intention of having Blaine autograph one copy for me and also to give him one. This was planned for the Keystones, but Blaine died two weeks earlier. So in 97 at the Richmond race, I gave Everette Johnson this pic and he just stared at it for the longest time. I started feeling a little uncomfortable (more like uncouth). Then Everette finally looked up, smiled, and stated nothing was wrong with the fuel pumps!

RIP Champ.

Ron Dilley


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