What turned Roger Gorringe onto Drag Racing occurred in 1965 when the film Bikini Beach was shown in his local cinema. The rather cringe-worthy movie showed just a few minutes of drag racing with glimpses of Don Garlits and Tommy Ivo. Roger was blown away and the experience impacted the rest of his life. He delivered newspapers before school and in the newsagent found Hot Rod magazine which he bought each month, then subscribed to for many years. It was not until 1968 that he first saw drag racing in the flesh at Santa Pod Raceway. There were many Jaguar-powered Altereds and some US V8-engined vehicles. He remembers waiting all day just to witness a handful of Dragsters running 7-second to 9-second passes, thinking to himself, what an experience!
Eventually getting trackside at Santa Pod in 1972, Roger snapped transparencies of the action with a 35mm Zenith camera and a Soligor 400mm lens. Some shots were used by a photo agency, although he never received proof of their use. In 1974 his name first appeared in print alongside his black and white photos used in Drag Racing News, a monthly publication delivered to all members of the British Drag Racing & Hot Rod Association. Naturally, he was chuffed to bits. Roger bought and took over this publication in 1978 as publisher and editor when Track Manager and Editor Dave Watts retired. Having had absolutely no experience in that world, he struggled through, typing the content for it to be made into copy, then cut and pasted onto layout sheets ready for the printer to work his magic. The magazine ran under his ownership until closing in 1989 when costs were getting too high. After this, he freelanced for Fire Up, European Dragster and Drag Racing UK magazines, among others.
Considering himself lucky to have travelled across Europe and Scandinavia, Roger made his first visit to the USA in 1979 with long-time friend and former Fuel Bike (Pegasus) racer, Ian Messenger, attending the NHRA World Finals at Ontario Motor Speedway, California, with both receiving media passes. It gave him the chance to produce the first colour front page in his publication, Drag Racing News. It featured Billy Meyer’s Arrow Funny Car. His next US visit was with Ian and both their families in 1982, attending the NHRA World Finals at Orange County Raceway, again with full credentials. Travelling to racetracks began in earnest in 2001 covering the European FIA championships, but also managing to visit the US for the first three NHRA events, then the final two along with the Bakersfield nostalgia event and the immense SEMA Show, to end each year with a suntan and a season-ending sniff of nitro.
All this travel took place with one his best friends, fellow photojournalist Andy Willsheer, who has now surpassed Roger’s record 50 years trackside by a year. What Andy doesn’t know about where to go, whom to see, is not worth knowing. There were many great adventures, a few scrapes and many laughs. Occasionally Roger managed to prize Andy away between events or car shoots with attractive female models to visit National Parks and see awe-inspiring vistas such as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Death Valley, and Zion and Bryce Canyons. At US racetracks he was able to work alongside, and become friends with, some of his photojournalist heroes: Jon Asher, Steve Reyes, Bob McClurg and Richard Brady. By this time, Roger was regularly writing and supplying photos for several international publications and websites, including NHRA’s National Dragster (USA), Motoring News/Motorsport News (UK), BikeSport News (UK), New Zealand Hot Rod Magazine, V8 Magazine (Finland) and Santa Pod event programmes, which he was asked to edit in 1999. He ended up compiling and editing them for more than 20 years along with a great support team that included another good friend, Steve Moxley – sadly now deceased – who provided bike articles and photographs throughout that time. Steve himself, notched up over thirty years as a Drag Racing photojournalist before his untimely death.
Crazy Horses was a book published by Brian Taylor in 2009 and Roger was asked to supply many photos, beginning at around 100 but ending up at many times that number. His faithful Nikon scanner decided to give up the ghost soon after starting the job, which cost some £750 for a replacement to complete the scans. Nevertheless, Roger was very proud of his involvement in the project. In addition, several websites sought his work, including CompetitionPlus.com, DragRaceCanada.com, DragRacingEdge.com, Eurodragster.com and TheAccelerationArchive.co.uk. Over the years he has also been published in Finland, Sweden, France, Germany, The Netherlands, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Middle East and Far East. Although he was paid modest amounts for some of the text and photographic work, it was never enough to produce any kind of living. Hence, Roger continued his design engineering job to make ends meet.
Times on track? Yes, he has spent some time on track, good and bad: sometimes driving the track’s old fire/rescue vehicles back to their end-of-event parking; helping occasionally to clean up oil or fluid spills; taking scene-of-accident photos for authorities – not a pleasant task. Bob Phelps once asked him to take head-on parachute shots of the enormous Scorpion Jet Dragster, telling Roger he had to stand in the middle of track in the shutdown area after clearing it with Race Control. He remembers the jet charging towards him, the ‘chute deploying… He fired a burst of shots then ran for his life to the edge of the track as Scorpion shot past, it’s huge parachute whirling in its wake. Never again, thank you! And to conclude that scary experience – the shots were out of focus! His first real time on track came at the end of a Press Day in September 1999 when asked if he wanted a passenger ride. Yes please! But no spare firesuit was available, so he wore his Barbour wax jacket and a helmet. Spencer Tramm took him on a 10.46sec/128.63mph ride in Spencer’s Quantum Leap Super Gas Ford Sierra. Roger also drove on his own in Ford street cars during an NHRA Media Race at Firebird International Raceway, Arizona, in 2012 but was soundly beaten each time. His best on-track figures were 8.806/153.14 in 2014, once again at Firebird sitting next to renowned Funny Car pilot Jack Beckman in a two-seater dragster after being strapped in by none other than Frank Hawley. Roger got on well with Jack with lots of kidding about the different ways of pronunciation between the US and the Brits – aluminum/aluminium and his observation that all Brits seem to say ‘brilliant’ a lot. When asked what he thought of the ride, Roger obviously had to say, ‘BRILLIANT’.
Roger has been honoured with several awards over his 50-year drag racing career: 1983 Drag Racing Personality, 1998 John Woolfe Racing Ltd. Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2005 SPRC Alex Brachtvogel Memorial Trophy for Outstanding Service to Drag Racing. He was stunned on each occasion, believing only racers deserved awards. In 2008 he gained third place (Mickey Naylor’s 1978 vertical wheelie) in the Les Lovett Memorial Photo Contest, becoming the first non-US resident to be chosen. In 2018, he and Andy Willsheer together received the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame Lucas Oil Media Award for a Lifetime in Drag Racing Photojournalism. Now comes the ultimate accolade, Membership of the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame. Roger feels he has witnessed the sport’s best years, a fact fellow colleagues wholeheartedly agree with in these tough times. There are memories of full fields of European Big Show two-and four-wheeled vehicles, each providing wonderful action. It has afforded him the enviable opportunity to photograph, write and publish their antics and results all over the world of drag racing, earning precious publicity for racers, teams, sponsors and racetracks. Roger’s dream would be to have been involved in some of the late 1950s and early 1960s Drag Racing, cruising and beach life in Southern California – but he would not have been quite old enough then!
In 2021, amid the awful Covid pandemic, Roger chalked up 50 years as a trackside photojournalist, (possibly then, the longest serving in Europe) although with the Covid crisis and the internet, many print publications had disappeared. However, he continued supplying Drag Racing Edge, DragRaceCanada and New Zealand Hot Rod Magazine among others.
It is for this unparalleled lifetime of service and dedication to the sport and for the catalogue of achievements in presenting it to audiences and readerships across the world that Roger Gorringe is hereby inducted into Membership of the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
At the BDRHoF Gala Dinner presentation ceremony, Roger dedicated his award to the memory of the late Steve Moxley, in honour of his very good, loyal and much missed fellow photojournalist friend.
Profile Edited By The BDRHoF