1994 Du Quin Illinois, the street machine world converged in this small town each year on one of the best fairgrounds in the country. I was a young wanna be hot rod builder. Still working at a Chevy dealership and working late nights on my 54 Chevy pro street custom, with the dream that this thing would make the phone ring and I could build hot rods full time.
I first attended the Street Machine Nationals when I was 13 or 14. I knew it was a huge deal in my world that I wanted so bad to be a part of. I took my first build in 1991, a non pro street 64 Chevelle that received an award but no press as big tire builds where ruling the world at that time. I worked my butt off to build a mix of pro street and custom car, my two loves. As we rolled into the Nats that summer in 1994, as a 23 year old, I felt like I belonged.
In the years prior, while cruising the grounds, I always seen and heard stories of the back corner, where photographers from around the world would ask you to take your hot rods back there for a photo shoot, that is if they thought the magazine would like to run the pictures and do a feature on your car.
Well that year, my dreams came true, our car was a hit, and quite a few photographers asked to shoot the car.
One of them was this funny sounding guy, David.
He came up and introduced himself as a photographer and writer for many magazines around the world and he wanted to shoot pictures of the car.
WOW, was this really happening? Oh, and gave us directions to that mysterious back corner of the fairgrounds. I pretended I knew how it worked and I had been there before.
As we drove to that corner of the 1600 acres, yes 1600 acres of rolling hills, we were so excited, but was thinking, “well he could change his mind when we get there”. Well, we pulled in around the slightly hidden corner, and it was like a feeling and sight I had only dreamed about. There was probably 7-8 different photographers all back there with a few cars each waiting to be photographed. This area has a wooden fence, a rolling hill, a lake, and gravel, all to be used for different backdrops so the photos would all look different.
David waved us over to his area, where he had his golf cart with his camera gear and equipment. He told us to hang out while he waited for the light to get “right”. I learned so much that afternoon watching all these photographers shoot these cars to be immortalized in the magazines.
As a kid living in farm country USA, I got a hold of all the car (and BMX) magazines I could and pretty much memorized them. Pouring myself into the pictures, stories and tech articles. Paying attention to every detail, not just the builders and car owners, but all the writers and photographers. My dream was to get something I built with my hands, to be featured in a magazine, just one feature, and I would be happy. I dreamed that would be my major jumpstart in the hot rod world, to build hot rods full time. Now, I knew actually no one that did this full time, yes I knew a lot of hot rodders than ran a body shop or mechanic shop, that did a few fill in hot rods or had one for themselves. But, I read about people doing this in the magazines.
When the light got ‘right” for the colors on our car, we were up next! He gave us directions to pull to the spot, and what seemed like hours of moving it over and inch, back two and up a foot, I was so nervous, I was shaking and thought my foot would slide off the brake pedal or hit the gas and slide into a fence, or him. Well, it was actually just a few minutes of moving to find the sweet spot. Then he got to work shooting the pictures. David was one of the few photographers that used all these colored, and tinted lenses on his cameras to get the sky and light how he wanted and created different looks and feels. He said different magazine liked different looks. I never asked until now, what magazine he was shooting for. He said he was a freelance shooter and sold and got them into many magazines around the world. I thought that was awesome, but how do I know what magazines and if I would ever see them? He said trust me, this car will get ink. He got done shooting and was changing his gear, then he said to move it over to another spot, so he could shoot a different run of pictures for a different magazine also. As we moved to that spot, he introduced us to another photographer, Anders Odelhom from Sweden, David looked at him and told him to shoot it for his magazine he worked with also…wait, what? Yes, David was so respected, that Anders said OK.
Fun time waiting between shoots and talking and watching them work. Anders mentioned something about seeing a snake over in the grass, David jumped and moved so fast I thought he might have been an Olympic runner or hurdler! He said, he was from Australia and you did NOT joke about snakes! We all laughed, he laughed less..LOL
That afternoon was one of the most amazing days at that time in my life. Actually getting a photoshoot for a magazine. David did two separate location shoots, and he got us another one with Anders. The next day a couple other photographers also asked and did a photoshoot. This was in an era that there were a lot of car magazines around the world, and sadly a lot have closed up shop since.
Our car, from that weekend received five full features around the world, David got two features with it and event coverages in I think 5 other magazines. And yes, when the car hit the magazines, the phone started ringing and it was enough to open our shop Strange Motion full time, over 27 years ago.
That weekend started a lifelong friendship with David. We would always see each other at many events we all attended. Hung out, went to dinner, and yes he shot pictures of most everything we built through the years. He also joked, he wanted to shoot everything I did, cause he thought eventually my career would be worth doing a book on. His photography and journalist work got our work out for the world to see. He got us ink in the US, Australia, Japan, Germany and a few others.
Later in his career he worked with Flowmaster mufflers in the marketing area. I do not remember where he lived when we first met, I assumed maybe still in Australia, but then he lived in Northern California, which is where Flowmaster was located then. I always used Flowmaster mufflers and he helped us get to know the people there. In 2001-2 we rebuilt that 54 Chevy he first shot for us, of course he did another photoshoot on the car and got more magazines to feature it again. But, he said he wanted to take a few pictures with me in the picture, for an Ad campaign with Flowmaster mufflers. This was so cool. We did some pics and laughed about me being a sad excuse for a male model..HA! Well that ad ran for about three years and was ran around the world! People still bring up that ad with the 54 and me. Well, that also turned into about three other cars and ad campaigns used around the world for many years. Yes Flowmaster has changed hands, but, I am still doing stuff with Flowmaster.
The car he first shot and the car he used in the first ads, is now on display in the National Rod & Custom Hall of Fame museum.
The hot rod industry is very cool, it has also brought me many close friends. One such friend is Zane Cullen from Cotati Speed shop in Northern California. Which David also did the same for Zane as he did for me. Through the years I had went out to help Zane on a couple projects. He also was friends with David. To my surprise, David lived just a couple towns over. So whenever I went out there, we always took time to see David. Sometimes David would come by the shop, or we would meet for dinner, or go hang out at his house.
One time while I was out there, I mentioned to him I was in talks to do a TV show, he instantly said, well you need some cool headshots? Again, we joked about me being a bad excuse for a male model, but he ran home to get his camera gear, and we drove around his town looking for cool places. I offered to pay him, he said , No charge for a friend. And, yes I used them for quite a few years. And yes, I did get the TV show I told him about. I did the Search and Restore TV show for two years.
When I saw him, we always talked about the years we knew each other and how we met. I always thanked him for believing in me and helping get me press, which opened so many doors, doors that still open because of those first photoshoots for a young builder. I bought many of his books that he photographed and wrote, and they are all amazing.
I got to see him the last two times I was in northern California, once he came by Zane’s shop and was all excited about starting a podcast, and he wanted to interview me. Sadly his health was getting bad and we didn’t get to do the interview and once we just went and hung out at his house, which if I remember right, it was his wife’s birthday. I also got to meet his cat. We never got to the book he always talked about.
I will be forever grateful for what David did my us and our shop, I would not be where I am without out him believing in me, taking time to shoot our work and using me in ad campaigns.
I got word from Zane Cullen that David was not doing well. A couple weeks before he passed, I sent him a message, thanking him for everything he had done for us, and telling him I would not be where I was without him, and most importantly thanked him for his friendship through the years, which is what meant the most.
The day I heard he passed, I stood in my hot rod shop, looked around and seen many photos and features of his work, I shed some tears for my friend and said Thanks buddy.
But I am just one of many he did the same for.
He helped so many people and shops.
He believed in this industry, and worked so hard to promote it in a positive and artistic way.
He wrote and put out some of the best books on hot rods, street machines and racing, and I am privileged to own many of them.
I will miss his drive and passion for the industry and the people in it.
I will miss seeing new work from him.
I will miss my friend.