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Tue, 05 Nov 2019, 17:35 PM

Remembering Mike Bagnod
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2018 Steve Reyes

The goodbyes are getting harder and harder to write. Mike was a very influential part of my early career and came into my life when I had just turned twenty years old. Being a struggling young photographer, those weren't the best years of my career. At the time, Mike was a twenty-eight-year-old father and businessman in the Newark/Fremont area of Northern California. He and his then brother-in-law owned and ran a small topless beer bar named the Booby Hatch in Newark, California. This place was located about three blocks from my dumpy apartment. Probably the only reason I met Mike was that his little beer bar sponsored a race car that raced at Fremont every weekend. Having shot photos of the car, I headed over to the bar with the hopes of selling a few prints so I could pay bills and eat. I was still under age to get into the bar, but my goal was to sell photos. At, the door, I was met by a rather large smiling man, Mike. I asked to see the owner so I could show my photos and maybe I could eat that night. Mike introduced himself and then called his brother-in-law over and introduced him. I whipped out my photos and both men smiled. This was the first time they had seen the car in action. Yes, they purchased the photos and Mike was very interested in seeing the car run at the races. The next weekend we both attended the races at Fremont.

I took him out to the starting line for that up close and personal feel of drag racing and Mike was hooked. In the next few months, he and I became fast friends. At first, he wanted to shoot movies of drag racing. Then in 1969, Mike decided he wanted to learn still photography and the inter-workings of film processing and printing photographs. I was more then happy to teach my pal the basics of photography. Mike was an ex-Marine and he did nothing half-assed. It showed with his careful listening and learning. He stopped using my back-up 35mm and purchased his own shiny new Nikon motor drive. I pointed him in the right direction and away he went to rule the world.

In 1970, Mike helped me move to the Los Angeles area to pursue my career in Southern California. He returned to the Bay area and became a fixture at Fremont. Heck, he not only shot photos there but also helped clean-up the track and raced his Mopar. That is being "all in." Our paths crossed a lot in the early 1970s when I would return to Fremont for a large event or Mike would venture to Southern California for a large NHRA event. Whenever I could, I would try to get Mike a photo pass for any SoCal event. He was always good natured about getting a pass. If he couldn't get one, I advised him where to sit in the spectator stands to get the action on film.

How he maintained his home life, regular job, bar business and photo career still boggles my mind. I don't think he ever slept. I know back when I hung out at the bar, he and I would go have breakfast at 2:30 am and then a little after 3:30 am we would be on his driveway shooting hoops. Then I would go home and at 8:00 am he would be at work.

As I toured the USA for Argus Publishers in the mid-1970s, I lost contact with Mike. I was told he quit shooting drag racing after 1977. I picked up bits and pieces on Mike as he relocated to Weaverville, California. He had gotten divorced and started to photograph nature and scenics that he sold to tourists visiting California's Gold Country. During this time, he met his second wife, Barbara. Mike and Barbara were very involved with the Red Cross and last June would have been their 35th wedding anniversary. My last contact with Mike was a few years ago by email when out of the blue he sent me a message. It was like we had only been apart a couple of days not years. He thanked me for teaching him photography and talked about how well he had done with his nature photos. I got his address and sent him prints of him during our good old days at Fremont. The last I heard from him, he thanked me for the prints and said his kids would love them. Our mutual friend, Jamie Jackson, alerted me to Mike's passing on April 18th. He would have been 78 on September 4th. All I can say was that he was a great guy and I was very lucky to have him in my life, Semper Fi!

If you wish to purchase prints of the photos below or any others, they may be obtained by contacting us at Other photos for purchase may be viewed by following the links at

Here in 1973, Mike hung out with Car Craft's, Jon Asher. Mike was always wanting to learn more
about photographing race cars. In 1969, Mike was making a new friend in Jamie Jackson. Their friendship
grew strong in the 1970s and when Mike quit shooting drag racing, he gave Jamie his photo archives.

Besides shooting photos at Fremont, Mike could be found helping clean the track on the sweeper.
After cleaning the track, Mike would race his Mopar.

Mike and his former brother-in-law, owned and ran the Booby Hatch beer bar in Newark, California.
They sponsored a A/A Bantam. This is how I met Mike, when I brought action photos to the bar to sell.
The color shot is one of the first 35mm photos that Mike ever shot.

Yes, that is Mike out by the edge of the race track with the Winged Express heading his way.
Willie missed Mike, but in 1973, Mike was almost hit by Sush Matsubara in the Pisano & Matsubara
AA/FC. Again, he was standing way too close to the track at the finish line when the funny car
Became a 200 mph lawnmower. After his near miss, Mike was lectured by Jamie Jackson and
other photographers at Fremont about standing in the wrong areas to shoot photos.

Mike got pretty good with a 35mm so it was time to learn to use a medium format camera.
With a little help, Mike did fairly well as you can tell with his images of Boris Murray's top fuel
bike, the Ritter & Kinner AA/FD and Steve Wood's BB/GS Anglia.
These were all taken at Fremont in 1971.

Mike headed south to the 1972 NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, California. Mike was denied
a photo pass. No problem for Mike, he just headed up to the spectator grandstand with his
Nikon F motor drive. He caught some incredible images of the Herrera and Sons Opel destroying
itself on the Pomona guardrail. Mike's photos appeared in Hot Rod and many other
automotive magazines of that day.

Mike was there with his camera as Rich Guasco's first Pure Hell AA/FC burned to
the ground at Fremont, California.

Another trip to Southern California in 1974 produced this image of Jeff Courtie blowing the
body off at the 1974 Ontario NHRA Supernationals.

Again at the 1974 Supernationals Mike was at the right spot to capture Shirl Greer
lighting up his Chain Lightning AA/FC.

I shot this photo of Mike at OCIR in 1973. Mike got a color photo of Tom Prock doing the funny
car two step. Mike's image appeared in Drag Racing USA Magazine as a full-page action photo.

In July of 1974, Mike was at Fremont drag strip and caught the Beaver Hunter AA/FA taking an
off-road tour just before the finish line. When the dust cleared, the Beaver Hunter was bent
but the driver walked away. Ironically, the spot where the AA/FA left the race track is where
Mike had been standing the year before when the Pisano & Matsubara AA/FC almost hit Mike.
He must have listened to the guys when they told him to never stand there.

One of Mike's first "boom" photos was at Sacramento Raceway. Gary "Tango" Matranga and
his AA/FC was the subject of Mike's "boom" photo. A big thanks to Jamie Jackson for letting
me scan and use some of Mike's images for my story.

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