Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Shortly after deciding that freelancing was the life for me (luckily, I love peanutbutter and jelly), fate threw me a spitball in the form of an opportunity to ply my craft locally. Kevin Shahalami had captained a fleet of high end fashion magazines before being drafted to transform the fledgling Goodguys Gazzette from a desktop newsletter into a slick large-format monthly. After savoring a couple years of that success, he moved the family to southern Oregon to live the simple life. But Kevin apparently missed the excitement of deadline pressure, dealing with millionaire sized egos, and the associated migraines and ulcers. Kevin also missed the hot rod life. He had a great car magazine concept in his head that craved freedom, but Kevin and wife Fawnda were now parents and home owners. They had also established a thriving graphic arts business that gobbled up all of their time and energy.

That’s when I came in. I believe it was 2005. When I met Kevin and he explained his magazine idea to me, I wanted in desperately. So did a few others, so we all teamed up for a series of brainstorming sessions and found a way to bring Kevin’s vision into focus. Today, I still believe the concept to be brilliant.

It would actually be two magazines in one: Half would be Northwest Hot Rods. Then, if you turned it upside-down and flipped it over, the other half was Northwest Bikes, capitalizing on the popularity of the custom Harley scene. Each title had dedicated editorial and advertising staffs – the latter being key to ad sales, covering the cost of printing. The jumbo sized glossy would be distributed by a regional parts wholesaler to its network of retail clients for free, in exchange for ad space.

Within three months of the first meeting, the distribution deal was locked in, ads were selling, and both editorial departments were piling up feature material. Kevin was the Publisher, and Graphic Artist Roberta Great (well known in the biz as "Bert") handled layout and design. I was appointed Editor of the Hot Rods side, with a staff of part time photographers and copy writers. We hit the road right at Christmas time, mapping out an initial coverage area from Mt. Shasta to Mt. Rainier. We spread the word as we went, selling ads and gathering feature stories all the way. Below are some samples of what we came up with for our first issue.

An out take from the cover shoot, with local crazies Mark Daley and Ronnie Mankins, both strutting their latest stuff in gloss black - a ballsy move that showcased our willingness to experiment, combined with daredevil photography. Black is hard to shoot, as my rookie snapshot illustrates. The final cover image was spectacular, hastening ad sales admirably.

A closer look at Ronnie’s sinister street/strip ’55 Chevy – an absolute sadist, armed with a 406 inch assassin’s bullet. It ran nines at the track.

You can’t put these two on the same stretch of asphalt without this happening. It’s a given. They may have been encouraged somewhat by bystanders…

Most of us on the staff were already regular customers at Spec Rite Torque Converters in Redding, so this was a natural.

While in Redding, we swung by Dave Tuttle’s top secret chassis shop on the outskirts of town. Dave was very patient as he educated us doorslammer types on the finer points of dragster design. The blue car is Kin Bates’ Nostalgia Top Fueler, just before shipping out.

This was too easy – right here in town. When we heard of the hot rod and motorcycle art exhibition at Ignition Gallery, we covered the Grand Opening, stuffing our pockets with as many free snacks as possible. Best day ever!

Art Morrison Enterprises (in Tacoma) hosted us like long-lost relatives, but offered no food whatsoever. This northern trip was made during an ice storm that tailed us like toilet paper until we returned home. Slow going.

In Portland, we snooped around at my old employers, Steve’s Auto Restorations. Our northern correspondent Tim Holt worked there then, getting us the hot skinny poop on all things fast and loud in the Rose City. And Tim took us to lunch! That name again: Tim Holt, hot rod God. Enjoy this retro peek at some famous cars, before they were famous.

Just outside of Portland is Marty Strode’s vintage tin skunkworks. Unfortunately, the Marty images have inexplicably vanished into a digital black hole. I offer the following shot of Marty in his element as penance.

Next stop: B&B Speed Shop in Albany, Oregon. The Brenneman family alerted the local gearhead populace of our visit and they welcomed us like royalty on a bone chilling December Monday evening. The ice storm followed us into town, but nobody left! HARDCORE. They ate all the food while waiting for us though. That’s patriarch Mike Brenneman, modeling the coveralls.

We committed to covering every behind-the-scenes detail of the buildup and a full season of competition for a series called, "What it Takes", following Ron Austin’s grassroots crew from initial design sketch to Championship trophy presentation. Another bold concept that I was particularly proud of. Austin followed the script and took the crown. Amazing.

Alas, Kevin was soon forced to choose between the magazine and his business, as there wasn’t time enough for both. The magazine drew the short straw. The staff scrambled to keep the momentum going, but without a publisher, it quickly dwindled to nothing. I learned some valuable skills that year that still serve me well. The magazine wasn’t meant to be, for reasons that are none of my business. Perhaps some motivated reader will take the idea and run with it. I can only hope so, for the sake of grassroots level hot rod photo journalism – when allowed to flourish, it takes hotrodding along for the ride. I’ve seen it happen before and it’s beautiful.