I was asked to photograph the New England Hot Rod Reunion a couple of months ago. I was thrilled. My passion for Drag Racing goes back decades. When I found out that Al Segrini was the Grand Marshal of the event, I could not help but smile.
Let’s go back to 1976; I had just gotten my driver's license. The first place I needed to go was a small drag strip in New York called Lebanon Valley Dragway. They were having an 8 Funny Car show on a Sunday. So there I was. . .with my little Minolta camera, total sensory overload.
One of the first funny cars I saw go down the strip was driven by a man named Al Segrini. After the round, I was over by the cars, snapping away, when Al Segrini commented, "That's some big camera." I told him it was my first race ever and someday I wanted to take pictures of race cars. He took me aside and told me to follow my dreams. He said he'd be back later that year and he wanted to see my pictures. Later that summer I returned and showed Al my photos; he was amazed. "These are fantastic!" "You got it kid!"
This is myself with Al Segrini looking at some of the latest photographs I had taken….in 1978.
He signed the one I had taken of him at the now defunct NEW YORK NATIONAL SPEEDWAY.
Al would always take a few moments to look at my work and tell me his honest opinion.
He told me, "I'll can be your best friend, or I can be your best critic….but I can't always be both."
Over the next couple of years I became a huge fan of Al Segrini. With each race I would bring him my photos and he was always full of praise and encouragement. I NEVER forgot his kindness. The last time I saw Al was 1984 in the ‘SUPER BRUT’ funny car. I was thinking, how do I thank him, how do I let him know what an incredibly positive influence he had been on my life. I decided to create a montage of all the photographs I had taken of Al so many years ago.
Last week I made the montage, printed it on canvas and framed it. Now, how would I get it to him? When I got to the track on Friday, I asked around about any special events that might be planned for Al Segrini. I was told there was a special induction ceremony for him and a number of other honorees that would take place the following day. I asked the event organizer about the possibility of giving the montage to Al at some point during the ceremony and showed her the piece I had made. She was blown away and asked me if I would be willing to give it to him as part of the ceremony. I enthusiastically agreed. She told me it would be in the white tent. I knew what she was talking about; I had seen the chairs set up for fans to meet the inductees earlier. She said it would be at 2:00 pm.
The Canvas piece I created for Al Segrini - When I was assigned to photograph the New England Hot Rod Reunion, I found out that Al Segrini was the GRAND MARSHALL. When I first started my career of photographing motorsports, Al Segrini was one of my biggest supporters. Every event I attended with Al, I would bring examples of my work, many of him driving. He was absolutely instrumental in his critiques of my work and always encouraging. I had made this for Al, using all of the original images I had taken from 1976 to 1984. A small way of saying Thank You and acknowledging that he was a mentor to me, and that I would never forget or be able to repay his kindness.
Saturday dawned another beautiful sunny day and I was off. Two o’clock could not come quick enough. I was a little confused when I arrived at the white tent a couple of minutes early and it was completely empty. I asked around and was told it was the BIG white tent. When I walked into the BIG white tent it looked like there were 300 people there. The MC of the event was the legendary Bob Frey, who has been an announcer for as long as I can remember at national events all over the country, and is also one of the funniest guys I have ever met.
But now I’m in panic mode! I thought I was going to hand this to Al and shake his hand. . . in the small tent; but now I’m in a crowd of drag racing elite with Bob Frey as MC and Steve Gibbs handing out the awards. I was a wreck!
When the time came, Bob Frey introduced me and I walked up on stage with my canvas piece. Everything after that is a blur. . .I was so nervous I can’t remember a thing! I tried to thank Al for all he had done for me and hand him the piece, he looked like he was going to cry. I thought he must think the picture is really terrible. . . then he shook my hand and embraced me with a warm, "THANK YOU so much, Keith." Everyone was applauding and we stood for a couple of minutes while, for a change, the photographers shot me with Al.
NHRA's legendary announcer Bob Frey holds up my artwork as I shake hands with Funny Car driver Al Segrini at the New England Hot Rod Reunion. I must admit…this was pretty cool! photograph by NATIONAL DRAGSTER photographer - Randy Anderson.
Keith Hudak and Al Segrini
Later, in speaking to his family, I was told that Al was deeply moved by my words and gift. My fear was that I would fall short in letting him know just what he meant to me. In the end, maybe that was not true. It was a moment in my life I will treasure forever.
As I left the track late Sunday afternoon, I looked over and walking a couple of feet away was none other than Al Segrini. I said to him, “I don’t know if our paths will ever cross again, but I will never forget you or that moment on Saturday." He politely thanked me once again and said goodbye.
Looking back, I realize that the photographs I had taken as a kid were probably nothing special, it was Al, who is genuinely a kind man, that made a big deal out of some photographs that were most likely pretty amateurish. The world needs more Al Segrinis! I have had an incredible life as a motorsports photographer, and have been paid to travel all over the world. I honestly believe that had it not been for Al Segrini that would not have happened.
To everyone that made this possible, New England Dragway, the NHRA, Steve Gibbs, Bob Frey, the most heartfelt of "Thank You." Also, "THANK YOU" Mike McCarthy for sharing your photos of the event!
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - By Keith Hudak; Photos courtesy of Mike McCarthy and Randy Anderson