November 25, 2016
Photography by Greg Autry*
August 17th through the 19th, 2016, was the Fiftieth Anniversary, celebrating the revolutionary Canadian-American Challenge Cup, with the historic `Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion’ race, at the Mazda Laguna Seca Racetrack in Monterey, California. Fifty years earlier, I attended the first ever `Can-Am Races,’ at Riverside International and then Laguna Seca race tracks. Riverside is long gone, relagated to housing tracts. Thankfully Laguna Seca is still going strong, thanks to Mazda.
Over Seventy-Thousand spectators attended the celebration this year, watching iconic cars on one of the most iconic race tracks in the nation. There were over 550 race cars, historically authentic and period correct, competing in the weekend events and races.
My photos herein represent a small portion of what was to be seen over the historic weekend. There were events and displays all around the track, none more beautiful that the display representing the 100th anniversary of BMW.
The iconic road course is now comported in eleven turns at about two-and-a-quarter miles long. Mazda Laguna Seca is one of the most beautiful race tracks in motor sports with the elevation changes and off-camber between hills turns, it provide thrills for drivers and spectator alike. It a challenging course to drive and spectators get full views from this hillsides watching as the drivers pick their line. It makes for gorgeous pictures which I’m also grateful for.
In 1966, Andy Hoekstra, Mike Brooks, and I were the `Three Musketeers,’ typical young guys into cars and girls. At my first race I took along a little Kodak Instamatic to take pictures of our adventure. The roar of the engines, the smell of the fuel, and not to mention all the pretty girls, captured our imagination like nothing had before. We were hooked, and would go to every Can-Am Race we could make it to for the next few years.
When I recently heard that the now named,` Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway’ was holding a Historic Race celebrating the Fiftieth (50!) Anniversary of the Can-Am Series, I had to go. Just thinking back to those wonderful carefree days brought back a flood of memories.
Andy’s Dad, and my Dad, both had pickup Trucks and after that first race, we needed a better vantage point to watch the races from. Subsequently we borrowed one of our dad’s trucks, and the day before the race we would build a wood platform on top of the truck bed. Confiscating lumber from nearby freeway construction sites, the first year about 8 foot high, and rising over the years to 12 foot above the truck bed at our last race. `The Rack’ was wobbly, had no guard rails and Jimmy Brooks, Mike’s Brother, fell off backwards that last year. He wasn’t hurt, that we could tell.
Every year and every race became an adventure and all our friends wanted to go with us. It was quite the Coup to sit with us, high above the track. But in later years, we were banned from building “our Rack,” as the “Track” declared it was unsafe [which it was.] It was also around this time that I got the `photography bug’ and began taking pictures more seriously. Working summers, I bought my first real camera, a Mamiya/Sekor 500dtl, Single Lens Reflex film camera. I remember it had a `spot meter,’ and a standard (50mm) lens. Not ideal for taking pictures of the cars on the race track. It was however, perfect for taking pictures of “the girls” all around the track.
The first time I went to Laguna Seca I was mesmerized with all the hills, and all the angles the cars and the people could be photographed at. While walking though the crowd that day, I spotted a girl standing atop the cab of an old washed out blue ’53 Ford F150. She had on a white tank top, and blue denim short shorts and I instinctively snapped a picture looking up at her.
Later I would submit the photo of `that girl’ to a Contest I saw advertised in the Official Laguna Seca Race Program. They say you never forget your first, and I remember that was the first image I ever submitted in a contest. To my surprise, I won First Place in the `People’ category and the photo was published in a subsequent race program. I was thrilled, and I was hooked on what would become a lifetime journey exploring my creativity in images. Sadly I know NOT what became of that picture, and I’d sure like to find one of those old programs.
I was truly excited about the prospects of shooting the Fifty Year Can-Am Reunion at the track I so loved. The thrilling aspect of the Can-Am series when it first started was its unrestricted nature . Technically, the cars had to be two-seaters with enclosed wheels. Otherwise it permitted unlimited engine size, turbos and blowers were allowed, and body modification allowed for the first ever “wings” and “airfoils” creating ground effects in cars. To this end I became enamored of Jim Hall’s `Chaparral.’ I remember one of my favorite pictures as the sun glistened off of the `Wing’ sitting high atop the rear deck, as the Chaparral scorched the track coming through the turns.
So many other amazing cars and drivers took part in the Can Am series, and I was thrilled to be amongst them once again. This year I found an old favorite spot to shoot from, overlooking the Corkscrew, and another sitting down low against the rails, shooting the cars as they came out of the Rainey Curve.
In the early years I shot pictures in the paddock, all around the track, in the pits, and on the Start/Finish lines at the beginnings of races. I always had a couple of cameras hung around my neck, with a bag full of gear, so I must have looked the part as no one ever asked me for credentials. I wasn’t actually aware, back then, that I wasn’t supposed to be in these places. I just marched in like I owned the place.
`Back-in-the-day’ I took pictures of Porsches, McLarens, Lolas, the Shadow, and always, the Chaparral. I sat around and talked with guys who were drivers, not having any idea at the time that I was in the presence of greatness. Famed drivers like Bruce McLaren, Mark Donohue, George Follmer, Denny Hulme, and so many others I can’t even name. I photographed them all, sitting in the paddocks, and sitting in their cars as races were about to start.
This year I was delighted to have photographed Bob Bondurant and his beautiful wife Pat, and also Dan Davis a former race car driver and now Chairman of `Victory Lane’ the vintage and historic racing news magazine.
I remember what may have been my last Can-Am race, at Laguna Seca. Jim Hall’s Chaparral was what we called `The Vacuum Cleaner.’ It had a couple of small engines powering fans to the side and rear of the car, with movable side skirts that when dropped to the ground created a vacuum effect, virtually gluing the car to the ground as it went through turns. When it worked it was incredibly fast, unfortunately it just would not hold up to the rigors of racing.
On this particular occasion, I was in the pits shooting when the `Vacuum Cleaner’ came in to pit row. I was standing next to Jim Hall as he peered down into the car, the driver got out, and the crew swarmed about. What I remember is Hall saying, `someone get in and take it back to the garage.’ Mind you I was very young, and for a split second as I actually started to jump into the driver’s seat, all I could imaging was driving the Chaparral. One of the crew jumped in, ahead of me. In the ignorance of my youth, I now shudder to think what might have happened had I actually succeeded in getting into the driver’s seat. In those days however, I believed I could do anything.
The `Vacuum’ was outlawed subsequently as rules crept into the Can-Am series. 1974 was the last year of original series. Other iterations came afterwards, but for me never really matched the unbridled energy of the original series. Time went on, with Andy going to Cal Poly Sun Luis where he would graduate in Mechanical Engineering, Mike went into the Air Force, and later I graduated from Cal State Long Beach, to begin my family and start my businesses.
The Historic Races at the Mazda Laguna Seca racetrack rekindled that energy and excitement of so many years ago. The cars as beautiful as ever, the smell of the fuel, the roar of the engines as the cars appear over rises and from behind the hills coming through the turns. I’ll definitely be back in August of 2017, meeting new people, taking more photos, and sometime just sitting quietly enjoying it all. In the meantime, I am looking through boxes of old pictures, trying to find some of those long-ago memories to be published with my next article. And maybe, just maybe, the Chararral will be there next year.
*Photography copyright 2016 Greg Autry ALL RIGHTS RESERVED