Cycle News East associate editor Gary Van Voorhis was up against it. He was covering the AMA Grand National Short Track at the Santa Fe Speedway in a suburb of Chicago. Action was hot and heavy with riders swapping the lead nearly every lap. Gary V, as friends like to call him, had a Nikon camera in one hand, another one hanging around his neck and a notepad a pen the other. Like the riders on the track Gary V was establishing a rhythm – shoot with one camera one lap for Cycle News East, scribble a couple of quick notes and then grab the other camera to click off some frames for Cycle News West. Gary V had all of 16 seconds to execute and repeat this process, the time it took for the riders to complete a lap around Santa Fe.
After the checkered flag he was on a trot to the podium to get quotes from the top three. On his way back out to his rental car maybe he had just enough time to get a few quotes from guys who dropped out early. Then it was a mad dash off to the O’Hara International to find the local DHL office to overnight ship the film off to the Cycle News offices, then back to the hotel to start hammering out the story.
Such was the life of Gary V nearly every weekend of the racing season when he worked at Cycle News East from 1972 to 1985. During his time there, Van Voorhis earned the respect of nearly all the riders, mechanics and team owners he did stories on over the years. Also in his role of coordinating coverage of dozens of races per week, Van Voorhis gave many aspiring race reporters their first chance at covering races. He also helped mentor many of these young reporters by giving theme valuable advice on the best ways to go about their jobs of getting the story on print and on film.
Van Voorhis grew up in rural upstate New York. Motorcycles weren’t a part of his life until he was in the Air Force. “I was stationed in Belgium and there was a motocross track nearby and I started attending races. It was at that point when I first became interested in the sport.”
Back home in the States, Van Voorhis had friends who raced and he began going to local flat track races at the half-mile track located in nearby Middletown, NY.
I bought a camera and started taking photos at the races,” Van Voorhis recalls. “I started selling prints and making some money, so I thought, what the hell, let’s keep doing this.”
During this period Van Voorhis’ photos also began being published in the local weekly newspaper. It was his first taste of being a photojournalist. He then went down to Daytona for the first time to watch one of his buddies race and was further bitten by the racing bug.
The big break for Van Voorhis came when Cycle News East posted an ad looking for photographers’ best racing shots.
I sent in a half-dozen or so photos and they published them all on a page,” Van Voorhis remembers. “That led to a phone call with them saying they’d like to talk to me. We talked at Daytona, they hired me and it went from there.”
That was in 1972 when Cycle News East was still located in Avon, Ohio. After a year or so Van Voorhis made the move with the paper to Tucker, Georgia. With Cycle News Van Voorhis covered it all. From motocross, to road racing and flat track and everything in between. At the nationals he was covering the event for Cycle News West as well and that required Van Voorhis to carry two cameras so he could shoot film for both East and West.
Covering a race like that, most times solo, was the ultimate test of multitasking.
“It was fun, the adrenaline was pumping,” Gary remembers. “You were running around looking like somebody with their pants on fire, moving so fast. You’d try to pick out a place where you could shoot your photos and still get back to victory lane. I guess I worked out a technique, but it came naturally.
“And you think running around at the track trying to get your photos and story was bad, sometimes getting to the airport after the race was worse. Somehow we managed to do get it done the vast majority of the time.”
Van Voorhis earned the respected of the riders, mechanics and team owners of all the various championships he covered. Gary thinks he had such a good rapport with the racing fraternity because, “They knew I wasn’t going to burn them.”
Gary also watched some riders go from rank beginners to world champions.
“Gary could do it all,” said Racer X Illustrated’s Davey Coombs. “He was a role model to me because he shot great photos and wrote excellent race reports, and he was always friendly and accessible to aspiring journalists like me. And later, when he went to work at Daytona International Speedway, he helped me get a credential for the Daytona Supercross on more than one occasion — and that was no easy feat back when I was just getting my newspaper started. He also sent me a lot of his photo contact sheets from the seventies, and not a week goes by when we aren’t digging through his archive, just amazed at what he could capture in four or five rolls of 35mm film.”
Of all the races he covered, Van Voorhis looks back on the 1975 Indy Mile as perhaps the most memorable – the famous race where Kenny Roberts won with a last-second draft pass on Harley’s Corky Keener while riding the infamous Yamaha TZ750-based flat tracker.
“That one will always stick in my mind,” Van Voorhis says. “More so for the fact of Keener saying, ‘I heard that screaming s.o.b. and I knew it was all over.’
“That was one race where I wanted to put down my camera and notepad and just watch it. And then Roberts shaking his head afterwards and saying, ‘They don’t pay me enough to ride the thing.’ It was great.”
For a time after Cycle News, Van Voorhis gained experience on the TV side working for weekly show MotoWorld. He then went to work for Daytona International Speedway in 1989 and was that track’s resident motorcycle expert until he retired in the mid-2000s. In retirement Gary spent summers working as an interpretive tour guide for the National Park Service.
Today Gary is enjoying retirement in Florida. He occasionally goes to Daytona to catch up with his friends from all forms of motorsports. He’s also is sharing his vast photo collection today and you’ll see his excellent work featured in magazines and websites, such as this image.