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ME ‘N RICK

ME ‘N RICK
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Let’s see, I first an across E. Rick Mann at the salt flats, must have been that first year of l949. From that time until he went over the hill we always remained friends, and for him, I was always the Boy Lieutenant and sometimes T Texas. For me, he was always Rick, or E. Rick. 

 Eric Rickman was a photographer, the kind who journeyed in the background and made sure we editor types had exactly what we needed. He knew, because he was a Car Guy. But he didn’t waste film, or anyone’s time, by just pointing and shooting. I never was a good photographer, but Rick taught me an invaluable secret of his trade: Get In, Get The Photo, Get Out! Sweet and to the point, a credo that has served me well all these years, especially with nothing to do about photographs.

Rick was working for a camera shop in the Bay Area of Northern California after a stint in the navy. And, he confided to me one time, his profession as a lens man led him down some strange alleyways of life. I shall disclose nothing else. Still, it was this intimacy with photos that wove seamlessly with an interest in things automotive, he took photos at circle track races in the Bay Area,  thus his serving at Petersen Publishing would seem no accident. At PPC, he ended up working in the photo lab, and from that he ended doing yeoman work for Hot Rod Magazine. Through HRM he worked for Wally Parks, and through that he ended on tour with the first Drag Safari.

You will recall the Drag Safari was a team that Wally concocted to tour the nation in l954, with MobilOil sponsorship (which was puny, at best). It was a group consisting of The Matinee Idol (Bud Coons), King Farouk (Bud Evans), Chicky (Chick Cannon) and E. Rick Mann (Rickman). They had a Plymouth station wagon and a Viking two-wheel trailer used to haul all the paraphernalia required to set up and run a drag race. Spartan it all was. Underfunded it definitely was. Successful, it was wildly so. Rick’s job was to take photos of that initial foray into the uncharted wilds of American hot rodding and relay them to Wally at Hot Rod Magazine. A weekly report that became enmeshed with HRM legacy. 

In l955, the tour name was changed to Safety Safari, because much of the effort was to meet hot rod clubs enroute, give safety talks to interested civic officials and clubs, in short, be the vanguard of the new sport of drag racing that NHRA was championing.

I was in the Air Force at the time, becoming a fighter pilot, so it wasn’t impossible for me to finagle flights around the country and meet the drag crew.  Memphis area, Illinois, the Dakotas, Texas, etc. We would arrive at a town, do some PR work, check out the abandoned airstrip on a Saturday and string about ten miles of timing equipment wire and drive stakes in the ground for colored ribbon to “restrain” the spectators. Set up traffic cones, a few signs, and figure out what would serve as an announcers “tower”.  Coons was the boss, Evans was the announcer, Cannon directed the classification and safety scanning (where I helped, and I have to admit we did most everything on the fly because in those days we had precious little experience to go on), and Rickman was the general everything else. Plus photographer.

Through the years Rick and I travelled the nation many times, sometimes doing NHRA gigs, most often digging through all the trash cans that litter the backroads of hot rodding and general automobile racing. We got in, and we got out! One time, in Mexico, we almost didn’t get out. Some other time about that event.

And Rick went everywhere the Hot Rod Magazine staff might imagine good story material may lurk. A superb photographer, with his ear always to the ground for the information we would need. Every weekday morning at 10am, the HRM staff would meet in managing editor Bob Greene’s office, and it was there that Rick would tell us about his discoveries of Southland car-dom. But he was a horrible writer. He tried, but it just didn’t come natural. Yet, along with his good images on film, he took excellent notes. It was from those notes that I fashioned a pen persona for him. And he eventually believed what he believed he had written, to the point of becoming a passable journalist. Just the facts, mam, just the facts!

As HRM grew and expanded it’s reach (and influence) Rick wandered in that old scruffy semi-flying jacket, a base ball type cap festooned with press credentials. He was on the Mexican Road Race, at Pike’s Peak, doing the Indy 500, soaking it all up with future legends. We did the birth and growth of karting, ditto with Drag Boats, a fling with racing airplanes, skin diving and surfing, even big game hunting with our boss, Pete Petersen.

Eric Rickman wore out a string of ever newer and better cameras, but he never capitulated to the erroneous stutter “Take lots of pictures—film is cheap!” Film was not cheap, nor was the processing, nor the care afterwards. With Rick I would expect a handful of pictures from a mega event…each photo prime, and I would get succinct notes with only information I needed. A bit of editing of the picture margins, same with the written info for both photo captions and body copy, and the story was ready.

Off work, which was woefully seldom, Rick could frolic with the best of them. If you ever meet up with his son Mikey, ask for some examples. The stuff of legend.The same with his personal drive-everywhere work vehicles. First, there was a 1954 Corvette that had every kind of gadget imaginable, stuff he ran across in the normal workday. That car never had the folding roof up, it usually crisscrossed southern California traffic at warp speed, and his missing pointing finger meant he was wont to salute intruding drivers with the universal salute.  When some kind of interesting new Detroit car came along, he would select something from which to make a RickMobile. But only if he could get a good discount from the dealer. Rick always kept his cars, and motorcycles, tidy. Mine were always a disgrace to the industry. 

 Interestingly, Rickman never took his photos home with him. That is, he believed that what he did on Pete’s time was Pete’s stuff. Accordingly they disappeared into the maw of the famous “Petersen Archives”, a massive black hole to nowhere. Bits and pieces survive, but not even a fraction of what this tireless photographer produced. What books those missing images would make. I even have a title: The Book Of E. Rick Man”.  I’m privileged we were often roomies……………