Drag Illustrated Issue 173, December 2021 - Page 32

Dirt

RICHARD SHUTE
We did all the national events . Dave Kommel [ who retired ahead of the 2014 season ] would mail out the proofs and work with the customers , and I would print the photos . During that time , we shot for Popular Hot Rodding , Super Stock & Drag Illustrated , Car Craft , Hot Rod . It was great .
What did your family think about you making a career of drag racing photography ?
There was disappointment ; they thought I was a lost soul . Obviously , your parents hope that you ’ ll aspire to do better than they did . My father didn ’ t recognize the passion I had for drag racing until later in life . He lived in Walnut , California , and would fly out of Ontario for business quite often . He frequently flew up front with [ then- NHRA Vice President of Facilities Operation and Development ] Wayne McMurtry , and one day McMurtry explained what part I played in NHRA drag racing . My father called me after one of these trips and told me how proud he was . That was full circle for me , from his disappointment to finally being proud .
Would you say there was one pivotal moment in your career ?
Jim Kelly [ AHRA ’ s former Drag World magazine photographer and photo editor ] taught me
about picking my backgrounds and things like that , but he also taught me that yes , the racer would give me a t-shirt for a photo he liked – and he ’ d also give me a $ 10 bill . Jim Kelly is the one that taught me to treat it like a business , and if I did that , I could do this for a living . It was an important moment when I realized that people were willing to pay me to do what I loved . I ’ d have done it for free , that ’ s why I was there , but when you walk up to someone like James Warren or “ Jungle ” Jim and show them an 8x10 and they pull a $ 5 bill out of their pocket , it ’ s like , “ Wow . They think that much of me that they ’ re willing to pay for it .” I went from a wannabe to what I hope at this point is a respected photographer .
Auto Imagery is closely associated with NHRA . Was that a natural relationship ?
I was extremely fortunate that Leslie Lovett , NHRA ’ s first photo editor , and Wally Parks , the founder of NHRA , helped me formulate a way for Auto Imagery to exist in a world where commercial photography hadn ’ t previously been welcomed . We weren ’ t recognized as “ media ,” but we found a niche . They allowed me to shoot commercially as long as I agreed to be the backup for the NHRA photo department in 1979 , and that changed everything . Les Welch , another photographer , was allowed to do the same thing , so there were checks and balances .
After more than five decades shooting drag racing , what ’ s next for you ?
Slowing down . When I started , we had eight national events , then 13 , then 20 , then 23 , 24 . I ’ m going to slow down , settle in , and do things with my wife , Liz .
But Auto Imagery will carry on ?
The last 10 years or so , I ’ ve been trying to teach others what I know . It was through the efforts of others that I learned , and I would like to think that I ’ ve been able to provide the same . I ’ ve had some incredible people come along , and they do a great job . My theory is that if you die with knowledge you haven ’ t shared , it was a waste . DI
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