Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports
By Dick Wallen
Wallen’s films and books have gone a long way toward preserving much of auto racing’s history.
Likes Film: To this day, Wallen still prefers film to video, maintaining video ruined the film business.
My life has been complete because I was one of those lucky kids whose dreams did come true.
Back in 1947 when I was 12, the grandfather of a friend of mine said he’d pay me to fill in some ditches around his house, but instead of giving me money, he took me to the midget races at Orange Show Stadium in California. I was hooked, and all I could dream about was getting involved in racing.
I never missed a race at Orange Show from 1947 to 1955, seeing great drivers like Henry Banks, Walt Faulkner, Troy Ruttman and Bill Vukovich. I always carried my clipboard to obtain autographs.
In 1957, I borrowed a friend’s camera and traveled to Sacramento for the 100-mile Champ Car race. That was the start of my filming career. The next year, I met Fred Bailey, a professional cameraman. Fred needed 16mm footage, so I spent $300 on a camera (to earn $50 per event), and during my first undertaking for him at Riverside Raceway, I filmed Lance Reventlow and John van Neumann’s tangle that took out four or five cars. Bailey was impressed and asked me to film the 1959 Indy 500 with him.
I started filming every race I could. I sold quite a bit of footage and produced documentaries for the Firestone and Goodyear tire companies and Mobil and Gulf Oil to name a few.
When I was filming races, guys would come up to me and explain that they’d like to get involved with a professional cameraman like me. Soon, I had guys all over the country filming for me.
I’d place the cameramen at different locations around the track and obtain and edit their footage into a complete production. We didn’t have all modern, exotic technology like today, but we had in-car cameras. However, ours weighed 12 pounds and carried huge battery packs compared to the mini-units of today. Often the camera-carrying car would flip or be run into by another car, ruining my equipment.
I was making a nice living, but the real money from racing footage came from the Hollywood studios. As an example, my budget from Goodyear to cover the 1967 Indy 500 was only $35,000, whereas I’ve sold a single crash sequence to Hollywood producers for $25,000.
Besides the lucrative side of the business, the most rewarding aspect of racing was becoming close friends with some of the greatest drivers of all time — Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Johnny Rutherford. I loved being my own boss and seeing this great country as we traveled from event to event.
Parnelli was the main guy I traveled with, and one of our pastimes was to shoot cherry bombs out of the car as we drove down the road. We could shoot a cherry bomb over the heads of the farmers who were working in the fields along the way.
We only had one screw-up; one of us hit the corner of the car window and the cherry bomb bounced back inside Parnelli’s Pontiac. Neither of us could hear for two days.
There were troubled times also. I lost a close personal friend of mine, Bob Lockwood. Bob and his brother, Carl, filmed for me for many years. At the Springfield (Ill.) mile in 1966, I positioned Bob on top of the main grandstand, perched on a camera platform. There was a demonstration by the U.S. Army Green Berets, and they rigged a line from the platform to a tow truck in the infield and repelled down the line. The next day, someone moved the tow truck, which was still attached to the camera platform. The platform came crashing down. Bob fell to his death. It was one of the worst moments of my life.
I often thought about getting out because it wasn’t as much fun as previously described. However, with the encouragement and support of my loving wife, Lou Ann, I hung in the sport. The strength of USAC racing remained my main focus, but I honestly have to say that I never liked racing as much as those early years in the 1960s.
Eventually, I quit filming and began producing videos from my collection of raw footage. One thing led to another, and I branched out into the world of publishing racing books. I’ve published eight, including my latest, “Fifty Years of Speed and Glory,” commissioned by USAC, to commemorate its 50th anniversary.
My career has indeed been a dream come true.
(Original Print Date: May 9, 2007)