072017-top-10-mary-grothe-1970s-superbike-photos

Be a Facebook hater if you must, but if you’re involved in any sort of information-gathering work, FB is amazing. Case in point, somebody turned me onto the 1970’s Motorcycle Road Racing page on FB, where I stumbled onto some great old images I’d never seen before.

Mary Grothe’s father was a professional writer who hated writing and loved photography.

“If you love photography so much,” she asked him, “why not do it professionally and quit writing?”

“Because it’s too easy for people to steal your photos.”

Some things never change. But the seed had been planted in Mary’s young noggin, and fear of non-compensation isn’t going to stop us from making 10 of her photos this week’s Top 10. Disclaimer: All these aren’t necessarily Mary’s favorites because nobody has time for her to sort through all the boxes and pick 10. But they’re all definite keepers.

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Mary’s brother Scotty Seegers became an AMA Expert racer back in the ’70s (that’s Mary taking Scotty’s picture), and her husband was an amateur club racer. At some point she began to bring her camera along to the races, and by 1968 she was shooting for Cycle News, Australian Motorcycle News, Cycle World, and many of the biggies – a thing she kept doing until 1981, when the arrival of children on the scene began to curtail her Loudon-trotting activities. Also Danville, Daytona, Atlanta, Charlotte, Pocono, Summit Point, Bridgehampton, Indianapolis (not the 500 track), and maybe one or two more she’s forgotten.

A house fire burned up most of her collection a few years ago, but a recent call from another magazine to do some posters had her digging into what was left for some Wes Cooley images, whereupon she realized she still had quite a trove, and began sharing some of it on Facebook. (She says there’s an 1980s page too. I haven’t even gone there yet…)

Those were the days, says Mary, when you could get up close to the action with your motor-drive Nikon F2 and 500mm Nikkor lens. Sometimes she’d work the corners where there should’ve been cornerworkers but weren’t, snapping away while keeping an eye out.

“The camaraderie was great, it was a really special community of people. Loudon was my favorite, there were all different angles to shoot from. It was a fairly tight course and always tight racing. We’d camp out, and I always had a good time wherever I went there. I had a Bultaco trials bike to ride from turn to turn…”

Mary’s lived in Buckland, Virginia since 1978, where she’s been helping put on the Art at the Mill fine art show in Millwood, VA, for a number of years, shooting the occasional horse event, raising her brood. “We’re very prolific”, she says. In fact, Mary’s now expecting her sixth, wait for it, great grandchild. Time flies.

  • Rachel Renee Grothe

    Hello there. This is Mary Grothe’s daughter, Rachel Renee Grothe. I am the younger of her two daughters and was born in 1973. What my mother may not tell you is that while she was working the road races, she still had my sister and I in tow. I was just a toddler, maybe 3 or so, and my sister not much older than myself. Back then, women who worked were delegated to more traditional roles, and then generally retired to become a housewife when they became pregnant. Not my mother. She would enter into the pits with my sister and I at her heels. (My father would be there, but racing.) Initially, it was not uncommon for her to be intercepted by pure-hearted work crews looking out for her safety. With good intentions, they would try to redirect her to where the rest of the racing fans awaited–until she would explain to them that she was a motorsports photographer and she was there to work. With a combination of shock and awe, they would let the odd trio of us in. (Of course, my sister and I would be situated in a safer area.) I remember watching my mother running dangerously in front of the motorcycles for that special shot. Years later she told me how her own father (my grandpa, Papa Seegers), taught her to “….shoot when you see the whites of their eyes.” And boy, she did. Many of her photos capture the expressions of the racers. The feeling of the moment…the urgency, the anxiety, the agony…as well as the mischief, the glee, and the glory. Her photos are great. Her photos are real–all without the benefit of modern day digital cameras and all without the artificiality of photo editing software. And she did this as the only professional woman in the industry (that I know of) with two babes at her side to boot. Perhaps that is most amazing of all. Later, I seem to recall reading an old 70’s article in a prominent racing periodical saying how my mother was “the greatest motorsports photographer in the country.” However, my mother, who has always preferred to be behind the camera instead of in the lime light, will insist with vehement modesty, this is not the case. Well, my mother may deny the greatness of her talent, but one thing that cannot be denied is her cultural contribution. She contributed to the Women’s Movement as a spectacular role-model in a [dangerous] male-dominated industry; she contributed valuable historical documentation to the early world of motorsports; and finally, but perhaps most importantly, she keeps the memories of those pioneering motorcycle racers alive.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Very well written and informative story, Rachel.

    • john burns

      I am glad to have stumbled upon her photos, and grateful to your mom for allowing me to share them with MO’s readers. Many of these shots are GP and F1 bikes. When Mary saw “Superbikes” in the headline, she wrote:

      If I had known you were focusing on Superbike racing I would have given you shots of the first AMA SB race in 1976 with McLauglin BMW, Pridmore BMW, & Nielson Duc, 1st, 2nd, & 3rd. Pridmore is directly behind McLaughlin. Fisher broke. Butler & Smith allegedly spent 100 grand in their campaign for the win and the racing was this tight to the end…Battle of the Boxers. Cook was amazing to keep up with the R90’s!

      So, sounds like more to come! Thank you, Rachel, thank you Mary!

  • Kamohelo Mohudi

    These pics show what true knee-dragging is, no pucks or anything,
    Great pics

  • Starmag

    Whoa. Set the wayback machine Sherman. Thanks for sharing this JB. I was 15 and just getting into racing and Cook was my hero when superbike started. Great photos and captions. Thanks for the follow up background Rachel. I need to see more.

  • Russ Schaeffer

    Great photos but they are not all Superbikes from the 70s, much less the top 10 Superbike pictures.

    • Rachel Renee Grothe

      If you read the follow-up comment posted by John Burns, you’ll discover that my mother did not realize his request was for superbike photos. Also, my impression is that she had only about 24 hours to dig up photos for him. And given that she was having to select from a massive chaotic heap left over from a house fire, this was the best she could come up with on short notice. My mother is aware that these are not her best and is already self-conscious about it, but given more time, she may be able to come up with better–it all depends on what she is able to recover from the house fire. There is still the possibility a part II of this article may come out in the future. In the mean time, I encourage you to read both the article and comments. You’ll be able to glean a lot more information there.

    • DickRuble

      You’re the only one who noticed.. Hence my vote. Burns wouldn’t know a Superbike if it ran him over.