Sprint cars with "wings" and airplanes: CameraDan, yeah, that was me!

12:22 PM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

If you had looked deep into turn one at any of the Central California speedways back in the very early 1980s on many summer Saturday nights, you might have seen a guy that looked a whole lot like Av8rdan. He would have been holding a worn Minolta camera and would have been standing so close to the apex of the turn, he'd be scaring the hell out of the ambulance drivers.

If it was Madera Speedway, it was the SMRA's offset super modifieds, and if it was Kings Speedway, it would be either the local yokels, or the World of Outlaws ripping the clay to shreds in winged sprint cars. Now of course you might be asking what this has to do with aviation? Well, absolutely nothing. But it has to do with yours truly, and I thought now would be a great time to connected the dots for some of my readers.

A recent email out of left field asked me if I was the same guy who used to shoot racing pictures at Kings Speedway in Hanford, California. I replied that yes, "CameraDan" as I was known in those days, and "Av8rdan" as I am known today were in fact the same person: 

Along about 1978, I was working as a quasi-pit crew member for a guy who raced "super modifieds" at Madera, California's lightning quick one-third mile paved oval. One night, they asked me to being my camera and take a couple of pictures, so I did. I talked myself into the infield, and waltzed up to the edge of the track in the apex between turns one and two. I was about 10 feet from the left front tire of cars speeding by at maybe 100 mph. There, I shot several rolls of film, and the images I caught were the classic "stopped race car whizzing past the blurred background" shots. I got lucky, let's face it.

Everyone got so excited about these pics, they almost FORCED me to send them into a small paper called Western Racing News, so I did. Guess what? Yep, they printed a bunch of them, and in a heartbeat, my phone was ringing from the paper to shoot more. They even sent me a press pass to get into any track in the area - how cool was that?

A few of the published action images I shot from
Hanford, CA's Kings Speedway.
One thing led to another, and soon that summer, I was sending in the photos with what I thought to just be nicely crafted cutlines to describe the scene. I have always had a way with words, and soon they started printing the descriptions as articles! By the end of that first summer and into the next year, I had secured press passes from every major West Coast racing paper, along with a couple of national publications such as National Speed Sport News and Circle Track Magazine. With all these passes in my worn old Lowe Pro bag, I could get into the infield of any track in the country: 

I spent the next 10 years of my life as one of the West's more well-known racing photojournalists. I would shoot at night, race home to a improvised darkroom in a closet, and develop and print whole sets of the best shots from that night's crash and go. I'd then pound out a bunch of gibberish as copy, stuff it all into about 12 manilas and shoot it into the FedEx system. Back in the day, had I invested about $20,000 in a serious Nikon film system, the same long lenses the football shooters were using, and a bad-ass portable flash system, I could have become a well-known national figure in auto racing photography...I was that close to the top. But the foolish financial decisions of a twentysomething kept me in medium-quality equipment and I was never able to "break into" the big time.

Somewhere along the way, I lost my ambition to shoot auto racing. Maybe it was all the racers that owned me money, but in the mid 90s, airplanes replaced race cars in my soul, and I have never looked back. I could not be happier with my current career as ad agency owner, writer and photographer, and I still can somehow capture things in my lens to satisfy those who pay me well to do it. If you go here, you can glimpse a collection of images I have produced, just to get an idea of what Camera Dan version 2.0 is doing these days.

So where, you ask, are all those old shots of Everett Edlund, Steve Kinser, Rick Mears and all the other dudes I used to stop at 1/500th of a second? Sorry to say, those old negatives are stuffed into archival binder sleeves and stashed in boxes under my stairs. Way back when, I swore I would get a film scanner and convert them all to digital stills. But then I realized this: Who really wants to see Anthony Simone flipping over Wally Pankratz at Mesa Marin Speedway these days? IS there a reason to spend 1,000s of hours finding those grand old shots of "Slammin' Sammy Swindell, Jac "Wild Child" Haudenschild and Doug Wolfgang blasting three abreast into the dark monster (turn one) at the legendary Ascot Park Speedway in Gardena?

That was then, this is now. These days, I get excited when shooting an old Antonov AN-2, crawling all over the inside of a Pilatus PC-12, or getting in clean and tight on a perfectly-restored Wright Whirlwind at Oshkosh. Yes, the former CameraDan is alive and well, he's just hiding up in the forest in Oregon, about as far away from turn one as he can possibly get.

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