By Andy Clark
Swatting away a swarm of pesky summertime mosquitoes, I walked down a quiet country road shaded by rows of elderly trees. You could say, it was any ordinary rural road except for one thing. Parked amongst the trees was a collection of battle-scared and brightly colored stock cars. All tethered onto trailers and pulled behind pickup trucks, the collection of road warriors and their owners waited patiently for the gates to open for another Saturday night at Agassiz Speedway.
Built in 1970 the speedway is a quarter mile oval track nestled into the side of Agassiz Mountain about 90 minutes drive east of Vancouver, British Columbia. Owned and operated by the non-profit Kent Raceway Society the track hosts about 12 races a season beginning in April and running through to late October.
I have always enjoyed car racing. I spent, though a few said mis-spent, some of my formative teenage youth on darkened summer highways north of Toronto in the late 1960s, riding in muscle cars and drag racing until either the wee hours of the morning or the cops chased us away. Though I witnessed a horrendous accident one night while racing I still look back on those times with fond memories.
Once the gates open for competitors at 3 o’clock sharp, the empty grass and graveled infield pits filled up and sprang to life as everybody got to work preparing their cars for the evenings races. The air is soon filled with the sound of high torque power ratchets and revving engines followed soon after by the first warm ups on the track. There was so much activity going on that at first I didn’t know where to turn my attention or camera. I quickly realized that photographically I was just spinning my wheels (excuse the pun) so during a break I crossed to the outside of the track and spent about an hour just observing. The sunlight at that time of day was horrible as it always is so it was not time wasted. I have always felt any feature shooting between 11:00am and 4:00pm on any cloudless sunny day in summer is a waste of film or in today’s terms a waste of pixels.
Just after dusk with qualifying over, now began the racing. I had been warned ahead of time, by the track photographer, that though there were plenty of lights around the course, they were not very bright and I soon found out how true that was. The old photo term “available darkness” certainly held true. Without a doubt if it were not for today’s digital cameras and their high tolerance to low light there is little chance I could have done any decent pictures at all. Any attempt to shoot this story even on high ISO film 15 or so years ago would have been futile. An interesting sidebar story, was many of the overhead lights had been donated, to the speedway, by the police. Seems the lights had been used by those running illegal indoor marijuana grow-ops and had been confiscated after the operations had been busted or raided by the police.