When Don Smyle worked at his first NASCAR event with World Sports Enterprises (WSE) in 1995, he experienced a “career-altering moment” after an encounter with his hero and three-time Daytona 500 champion, Bobby Allison.
Smyle desired a career in television and was hired by WSE in 1994. The company, which aided TNN Motor Sports with its NASCAR broadcasts in the 1990s, was a perfect match for him being a racing fan already.
Then an intern, Smyle was instructed to find the legendary Allison, who was at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a Legends car race before the Coca-Cola 600 and tell him to dress in his firesuit for an interview.
“I was working with a producer, and my job was to do whatever she asked me to do, so she told me to go find Bobby Allison and tell him to put his driver suit on,” Smyle told POPULAR SPEED. “Bobby Allison was someone I idolized, and I thought, ‘Here is this amazing legend of racing and they want me to go get this guy and tell him to put his suit on and come to this interview.’ So I obviously was incredibly awestruck, but I got to know Bobby that day.”
In conversation, Allison gave Smyle a brief history lesson of the sport through storytelling. Since that day, Smyle has made it his mission to protect the rare, vintage images that photographers took from the 1950s through the 1980s.
“Ultimately, my goal first and foremost is to preserve the history of auto racing,” Smyle said. “Not just NASCAR, but all forms of motorsports. There were very few people going to the races every weekend capturing photography.”
With the negatives and slide images from the early days destined for deterioration if not properly maintained, Smyle became a stern advocate for digitizing
His photograph database, SmyleMedia.com, has more than 2 million pictures from the motorsport industry and licenses images for media outlets throughout the sporting world, including Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NBC Sports, and even some race teams.
Today, Smyle doesn’t attend races on a regular basis like he once did. Instead, he works diligently at collecting old photos because of knowing their fate if he doesn’t.
“Now, you have 25 people at the racetrack every weekend taking photographs,” Smyle said. “Back in the day, there were a handful of people that did this with any regularity. Their work is extremely important.
“Not only do I want to preserve their work for future generations, but I want them to be recognized for the sacrifices and the time they put into it.”
Because of motorsport historians like Smyle, racing fans can enjoy the past through photography and reminisce about NASCAR’s grassroots.
It all started 69 years ago with moonshiners racing on dirt in the Southeast United States. Today, it’s a billion-dollar industry enjoyed by millions throughout the world.
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