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Time of race: 3:17:16
Average speed: 154.687 mph
Pole speed: 195.111 mph

Suicide.

Formula One racing.

They both have had profound affects on my life as a man and as a photographer.

You see, my childhood best friend Joe Halverson was the person to get me jazzed about the race car circuits and the stars who played upon the stage of race car driving.

My super heroes weren’t Batman, Superman or Spider-man; they were Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Dan Gurney and Paul Newman. “Among the most fascinating sequences is a chronicle of how, in 1983, Newman began working with Carl Haas, an owner on the Can-Am circuit with whom he'd never been very friendly. The men buried the hatchet to form Newman-Haas Racing and hired Mario Andretti to drive for them.” - Amy Longsdorf -

I grew up in what is called the “Inland Empire” in Southern California. I was surrounded by race-car tracks.

Ontario Motor Speedway, The Riverside Raceway, San Bernardino Nascar Raceway, Long Beach Grand Prix and the Winternationals at the Los Angeles Fairgrounds.

During the Winternational Drag races, I could stand on my front porch and hear the drag cars jet off to their finish lines, I could hear the burning rubber tires and smell the nitro in the air. I was miles away, but it was still thrilling.

My childhood buddy; Joe Halverson loved everything race-car oriented.

Revell was a plastic model kit manufacturer and I remember hanging out with Joe in his bedroom sanctuary listening to “The Who Quadrophenia” which came out in 1973 and helping him build the McLaren race-car orange Can Am car. Joe used black thread to imitate spark plug wires, he was really into the details. That’s also about the time we discovered smoking weed.

Halverson and I got our drivers learning permits in 1972 and then our drivers’ licenses. In 1975 Joe’s parents bought him a shiny bright red Vega hatchback with a Cosworth engine, small nimble and fast.

We now had real freedom, the freedom to go to every race and to drive fast, scary fast.

Joe was a maniac behind the wheel, sometimes blowing down Mt. Baldy Road, a well know Southern Califonia Mountain location, at 80 MPH. As Halverson’s passenger I was always terrified.

So, with transportation ready we began to stalk the race circuits and the drivers. The first was Dan Gurney. We knew Gurneys Can Am team was going to be doing trials at a Can Am race at Riverside Raceway so we found Gurney and cattle called him until he surrendered. Gurney bought us each a coca cola and we were thrilled.

Time went on and we hit all the tracks and tried to meet all the famous - driver -owner -heroes. The biggest and best place was the local Ontario Motor Speedway built in and opened August 1970.

Joe was there right on the corner when the horrific crash happened.

He reached through the fence and fetched a piece of the shattered wheel, a souvenir as it were, he showed it to me proudly days later.

Well, time girls and work took its toll on our relationship. Halverson married, I married and divorced, and we eventually drifted apart and lost track of each other.

When I started working for the Ontario Daily Report in the late 1970s early 1980s as a news photographer I was given the opportunity to continue to pursue my love of the racing scene. It was big here. I even took a photo of a crash at Ontario that got picked up by the Associated Press news service and was broadcast worldwide from the Ontario Motor Speedway, race and photography was strong in my blood. I didn’t go to the race that day.

Studying art photography in college and working fulltime as a photo journalist gave me a lot of freedom to pursue both passions.

On a scouting day September 3rd, 1977, I was at the Ontario Motor Speedway, I was enjoying lunch at the Tracks “Winner Circle” restaurant. I was approached by a ruggedly handsome, wavy haired Italian driver who later became a friend, Mario Andretti. Andretti was always curious about the media and saw I had two cameras around my neck and wondered who I worked for, we chatted for a long while and from that moment on we became friends. Every time I was at the track on assignment or on my own attempting to do my art-documentary work Andretti would look for me ask how I was doing and what was I working on. It was great to be alive.

September 3rd, 1977 I was working on my personal race day art project. I wanted to hang in the garages, pits and concessions at the Ontario Motor Speedway and document behind the scenes. The next day was the official California 500 open wheel (Formula One cars).

I was excited to do my own personal work, but I hit a roadblock, I needed permission from the United States Auto Club also known as USAC. I didn't know who to approach so I spoke to Andretti.

Andretti is a funny nice man with a good sense of humor. Andretti spoke to the USAC officials and came back to me with the bad news and the good news (that's how he approached me with the news.)

The bad news was I needed a driver to sponsor me and he was already a sponsor. He stopped there for the longest and what I think he thought was funny, pause. I was floored and ready to pack up my gear, Then Andretti gave me a big smile and put his hand on my shoulder and said "Now the good news. Al Unser said he'd sponsor you." Andretti saved the day. After all you always mess with your friends right!




Now you must understand that back in the late 1970’s the top three race car drivers IN THE WORLD were Al Unser, Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt. I now had access to them, their crews the cars everything. I spent the day shooting roll after roll of B&W film. A dream comes true. But one thing was missing; it gnawed at me. I wanted to share my good luck with my childhood best friend Joe, but it had been several years I couldn’t find him.

I did a little detective work and I heard through the grapevine of old high school friends that Halverson’s dad and mom split up. Joe’s marriage was over, and he lost custody of his kid. Joe moved back into his dad’s house in Upland Califonia. I found him there. He was in trouble.

All of Joes dreams were smashed and he couldn’t get past it.

I remember visiting him at his dad’s house one afternoon. A big beautiful new home. His dad was a doctor and made decent money.

Joe and I were now both grown men, but somehow joe reverted to his 1970s childhood state of mind, completely. His new bedroom looked just like the one he lived in when he was a teen. He was back to building race car models and getting high, one of the things I gave up when I was 18.

Joe told me he had a brain issue and that he was having trouble concentrating. Joe also told me the Doctor had him on several prescriptions for the problem.

I told him about all the things I was doing and the race car photography and my marriage like his went bust and I wished him well and left. Joe was proud of me but when I left that day I never saw him again.

Years later I was attending a funeral of a high school chum, Tracy. Tracy was the local weed dealer back in the high school days and one of the mellowest people you could have ever known, but he got shot during a love triangle squabble. It was hard to believe but such is love.

I looked around and realized Joe wasn’t there. Joe should be there Joe and Tracy were part of our posse and good friends. I was surprised.

I asked one of the old high school buddies where Joe was. His pallor changed “You don’t know” he said. “Know what?” I said. “Joe recently committed suicide, he hung himself”

Shock set in.

I never went back to visit him after that last meeting we had. I am guessing life became unbearable to him and not knowing any better I figured it would all work out.

I wish I could have been there for him during his terrible trials, but we grew up and out.
So how are suicide and race car driving related?

To me the two are intertwined. I cannot think of one and not the other. So every time I see one of my photographs from that day back in 1977 it reminds me of my best friend.

I think of Joe often. You see Joe gave me the zeal for life. How much he loved the crazy suicidal race car drivers of that day. Through Joe I lived fast and hard.

Our theme song from The Who was “slip kid”

I dedicate this body of work to my best friend Joe Halverson.

Rest in Peace.

Photographs are the © copyrighted property of DAN CARROLL

Gilmore Racing Team Car 14 AJ Foyt Jr dressed in street clothes.

Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

I was given total access to the track and garages. One of the top three drivers in the world at the time were AJ Foyt Jr. Mario Andretti and Al Unser. AJ Foyt was the most serious driver I met that day at the 1977 Califonia 500 in Ontario Califonia. Foyt finished 2nd behind Al Unser On September 4th, 1977. Racing a Coyote Chassis with a Foyt TC engine for 200 laps. Foyt’s starting position was number 6. Foyt raced for the Gilmore racing team with a 38%-win rate.

American Racing Wheels Car 21 Al Unser walking out of garage #9

Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

Like the Quarterback on the NFL Football team Unser was the leader. He was always checking on the team, car, owners and his mom and bride to be. He still made time for me, which was amazing. That kind of old school courtesy is a lost art I’m afraid to say.

Mario Andretti with Gold Medallion.
Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

Mario Andretti was my friend. I met him while scouting the Ontario Motor Speedway in Ontario Califonia in 1977. I was eating a quick lunch at the Winners Circle Restaurant at the course. Andretti approached me inquisitive because I had two camera bodies slung over my neck and a big black bag. Ever since that meeting and anytime we were both at the track he would search me out, ask how I was and really listen.
Here is Andretti on Sept 3rd, 1977 a day before he placed 4th at Ontario but is one of the top racer car drivers in the world. I’m proud to have been able to call him my friend.

Ontario Motor Speedway 1977 Califonia 500 Kid on a Schwinn Stingray bike.

Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

This was a typical teenager back in 1977. Long Hair, shades and the classic Schwinn Stingray.
This bike looked just like the one I made from parts back in high school that got stolen right off the High School bike rack. They left my friend Joe Halverson’s new bike and took my Schwinn.

Ontario Motor Speedway 1977 three car poll position line up.
Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll
Qualifications were over, and the cars set up in their perspective poll positions
Left to Right:
Al Unser
Mario Andretti
Johnny Rutherford.
Ontario Motor Speedway 1978
Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

Salt Walther and Phil Threshie Crash on turn one.
1978 Califonia 500 the following year. I was on assignment when I captured this image which was picked up by the Associated Press and sent to newspapers worldwide. I got paid $25.00



Ontario Motor Speedway 1977 Fuelers Looking at Danny Ognais.

Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

One of the hardest and most dangerous jobs in the race car industry is the job of fueler. Think of bomb squad. The Indy cars burn pure methanol (a.k.a. wood alcohol, CH3OH). That fuel is invisible when on fire. This is a very dangerous job and their fire suits are just barely protective.
One terrible accident where the Indy fuel Methanol was involved was Swede Savage who was killed at Ontario.
Ontario Motor Speedway 1977 working on engine on table wiping runny nose.
Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll
What I love about this photo is that I captured a universal action done by anyone who has worked on cars or motorcycle. You see your hands are greasy so if your nose runs you wipe it on the back of your hand then wipe your hand onto your jeans. It’s a classic move.

Ontario Motor Speedway 1977 James McElreath Car 26 from above.
Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll
Shooting in B& W like my art photography mentors I was always looking for shape, light and tone. I found this bridge that connected the track with the garage paddocks. I fell in love with the multiple grays tones of the floor and when McElreath’s white and gray car 26 was being towed underneath it was the perfect photo tri-fecta for me. This image makes a beautiful print.

/Ontario Motor Speedway 1977 Old Guy with tires.

Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

Ontario Motor Speedway 1977 Danny Ognais getting prepared
Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll
Danny Ongais
Interscope Racing
8th Place
One of my favorite images. The seriousness on his brow tell the whole story.
Danny Ongais was a six-time IndyCar race winner who added a certain glamour to the sport. He also started four Grands Prix, raced at Le Mans and won the Daytona 24 Hours.

Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

Ontario Motor Speedway 1977 Pre-Race Prayer Johnny Rutherford Team McLaren.
Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

Ontario Motor Speedway 1977 Califonia 500 Car 77 On racks being worked on.
Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll
Salt Walthers McLaren DGS engine being worked on. People always imagined gleaming garages, new fancy jacks and tools and mechanics lean like athletes dressed in spotless overalls looking like Paul Newman, but the reality is that the million-dollar cars were jacked onto metal boxes and rusted and chipped jacks used to raise the cars onto their temporary positions. The mechanics all various sizes and often chomping a cigar while draining the oil pans. The smell of motor oil, gasoline and tobacco was everywhere. Heaven


USAC Group.
Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll
Permission was granted by this group of USAC officials for me to have 100% access to the race grounds including the garages. Mario Andretti was instrumental in getting me the green light and Al Unser was my sponsor.

Wall of auto memorabilia
Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll.

Copyright 1977-2018 Danny Carroll

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