At The Finish Line - James Drew

Boy, has it really been over 20 years since I first met James Drew? He was a chain smoker then and when all of the rest of the photogs suggested it, he quit. James was not your regular Joe. Even among photographers, who are sometimes a bit “out there” he was unique. And he probably was one of the hardest working photographers in drag racing.

Everybody knew James.

He kinda side-stepped most of the rules no matter whose rules they were. He and NHRA have had an on-again/off-again relationship. But the guy was one of the most talented to pick up a camera in our sport. 

He has always turned in top-notch photography from day one with fairly mediocre equipment. He was self taught, both photography and the computer.

He is not just a friend but we were in business for a period of 7-plus years until his health started to go down hill. James was a severe diabetic and -- of course -- never listened to his doctor or his girlfriend, Eileen, about saving his feet. He lost a couple of toes due to bone infection that would not heal. For the last three or four years he spent a great deal of his time in VA hospitals or quick care facilities. He took a little time off to heal, but could never stay away from the racetrack.

Even in a wheelchair with an infected foot, James was in a good mood at the races.

His spirits seemed to perk up getting ready to travel to Bakersfield, but judging from the photos he posted on his Facebook page, he had no business being out on the Famoso asphalt for five days at the March Meet.

Jamie Shores and I noticed that he was not doing well on Sunday afternoon, so I told him I'd shoot the winners circle for NHRA and that seemed OK with him. Sure enough, though, he could not just sit and relax, and he shot photos of both the NFC Champ, James Day, and the TF Champ, Tony Bartone.

On Sunday night Eileen heard from James and he seemed confused, but he managed to make it home to Long Beach to check on his aging parents who also have their share of health issues. His mother found him on the floor in his bedroom and helped him back to bed, but when she checked on him about 4 a.m., he was gone.

James was only 55 but his body just gave out. His best friend Mark Westfall was first to post the bad news, and even though James has had major health issues all year long, it didn't seem possible. I had the bad job of telling his girlfriend of the past five-plus years that he had passed away. Both our hearts were instantly hurting.

Even though I did not always see eye to eye with James, if he was your friend, you were a friend for life. 

A couple of things not known about James were that in the service he was a helicopter mechanic, and Airborne, but a parachute failure ended his military career after seven years. Later James found out that he had cancer, and managed to beat that but in the meantime his wife left him and he raised his only daughter on his own.

I really don't think James realized how many friends and admirers he had in this sport. DRO’s Casey Araiza and James’s daughter Jessica have set up a funeral fund since -- typical James, he had no real play on that issue. Send contributions to his Pay Pal account under

Yes, at least James got to go to one more big drag race before it was his time to go meet fellow photographers Rich Enos, Les Welch, Leslie Lovett, and friends like Gordie Bonin.

You will be missed, James Drew, as strange and different as you were. The Long Beach, Californian who lived and breathed for the sport truly gave his life to Drag Racing.

James, yes, I will miss you even though you always got in everyone’s photos. Only Gary Brown had a “crop James Drew tool” on his computer. RIP, James.