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... Worth Many Words

How a Photograph Connected a Driver and Child

  • Althea Brown, 4, giggles as driver Doug Boucher lifts her in the air after letting her sit on his car before the start of Friday’s event at Canaan Dirt Speedway. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Althea Brown, 4, giggles as driver Doug Boucher lifts her in the air after letting her sit on his car before the start of Friday’s event at Canaan Dirt Speedway. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • The snapshot that connected a driver and a young fan: Athea Brown, of Hartford, offers racing advice to Doug Boucher, 19, of Grafton, N.H., after Boucher posed for victory lane photos at Canaan Dirt Speedway on July 5. Boucher finished third in a feature race for Canaan’s Super Street division. (Tina Bryan photograph)

    The snapshot that connected a driver and a young fan: Athea Brown, of Hartford, offers racing advice to Doug Boucher, 19, of Grafton, N.H., after Boucher posed for victory lane photos at Canaan Dirt Speedway on July 5. Boucher finished third in a feature race for Canaan’s Super Street division. (Tina Bryan photograph)

  • Doug Boucher backs his car into a spot after arriving for the Friday night races at Canaan Dirt Speedway. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Doug Boucher backs his car into a spot after arriving for the Friday night races at Canaan Dirt Speedway. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Althea Brown, 4, giggles as driver Doug Boucher lifts her in the air after letting her sit on his car before the start of Friday’s event at Canaan Dirt Speedway. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • The snapshot that connected a driver and a young fan: Athea Brown, of Hartford, offers racing advice to Doug Boucher, 19, of Grafton, N.H., after Boucher posed for victory lane photos at Canaan Dirt Speedway on July 5. Boucher finished third in a feature race for Canaan’s Super Street division. (Tina Bryan photograph)
  • Doug Boucher backs his car into a spot after arriving for the Friday night races at Canaan Dirt Speedway. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

At first glance, the racetrack doesn’t much resemble the road. There are the turns, the lights or signs that tell the drivers when to go and when to slow, but the intersections only become apparent to those paying attention.

Tina Bryan is learning to photograph auto races. Having gotten her first taste of it in the past couple of years, Bryan — through the good graces of Canaan Dirt Speedway’s management — practices her skills on a weekly basis, so long as it doesn’t conflict with the work of the track’s official picture-takers.

She tends to hover on the perimeter, but the night of July 5 found her on the infield, killing a little time as Super Street driver Doug Boucher paused for a post-race award. Waiting for his turn in the spotlight, the Grafton, N.H., teenager heard a voice.

Four-year-old Althea Brown was up against the frontstretch fence, trying to get his attention. She did. Bryan, looking through the lens of her digital camera, caught it as well.

Delving into the details, it’s a photograph that marks the intersection of everything that makes small-track racing what it is: fans, family, fun, friendships, going fast.

To Boucher, 19, the photograph represents connections — of fan to driver, of two families deep into their time at the track.

“After I got my first top-three, because it was a double feature, she asked me to come to the fence,” Boucher described. “ ‘Did you win?’ ‘No, I got top three.’ ‘No, you won.’ So I said, ‘All right.’

‘If you didn’t win, you have to go faster next time.’ ‘All right.’ ”

Racing is something of a family business for Boucher. His father and grandfather, both named Armand, drive race cars, so it was no surprise when the teenager and his younger brother, Matt, eventually followed.

Dougie — as the Brown family calls him — is hooked now. Super Streets, Canaan’s eight-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive division, are his priority, but he owns a Bomber (“It’s whatever you can buy”) for Canaan as well as a Mini Stock (“a beefed-up four-cylinder”) for dirt races at Rumney’s Legion Speedway. He’s already planning for next season, even as he competes in the current.

“I love the sport, the thrill, the exhilaration,” said Boucher, a one-time student at Mascoma Valley Regional High School. “I’ve mainly grown up around it. I just can’t get enough of it. It’s what we do every week. I haven’t missed a race in six years at three tracks.”

That little Althea should draw his post-race attention is also no surprise. Boucher knows the family through two older Brown girls, Ashlie and Brittnee, with whom he sometimes works at Canaan.

“He’s come a long ways,” said Allen Brown, of Hartford, Ashlie’s and Brittnee’s father and Althea’s grandfather. “He’s a hard worker on his car. He doesn’t just sit around; he works on it all the time. … I’ve seen him struggle, and he’s always working hard to do a good job.

“He’s a great guy as a person. He’s attentive to the kids. He calls my wife ‘Grammy Tammy.’ ”

To Allen Brown, Bryan’s photograph represents a friendship.

Where Boucher’s weekends revolve around the racing, Brown’s evenings cover the gamut of other track affairs. Brown is the flagger for both Canaan tracks, the man who controls the pace of the race; Tammy works in the ticket booth as well as other capacities. As grandparents and legal guardians, the Browns bring Althea and her 5-year-old brother, Jason, with them every race night they work.

“She’s just a little miss priss,” Brown joked about his granddaughter. “We’re at the track constantly, every weekend. I work three different tracks, and they are always with me. Dougie works the asphalt track on Saturdays (he drives Canaan’s jet-drying truck), and he’s close to both my grandson and granddaughter.

“He treats them like they’re a brother or sister. He’ll take them wherever and let them run around his trailer and do whatever when they’re working. He treats them like family. We’re all close family.”

While not as connected to the driving side of the sport, Brown has also been immersed in it. A Peabody, Mass., native, Brown’s father, Bruce, built NASCAR Busch North stock cars for driver Steve Poulin in the mid-1980s. A brother, Gordon, once raced in a division called Cyclones at Riverside Speedway in Groveton (N.H.). Ashlie Brown is a past Canaan competitor.

“The role of family is big,” Brown said. “If you didn’t have family in the racing, you probably wouldn’t be racing. In small-town communities, it’s always been family, whether it’s father-daughter, father-son. Usually, if the father grew up racing, they handed it down to their future generations. All the racing I’ve ever seen, that’s been the way.

“My family overall has been in racing — me, my siblings, my daughter, all of us. My grandson hopes to race go-karts eventually. It’s been an ongoing thing since I can remember.”

To Bryan, the photograph is about evolution.

Race photography is turning into a late-blooming interest for Bryan, who’d never considered it as a pastime until last year. She got her first taste of picture-taking in a film and photo class at Oxbow Union High School in 1989 — “I was not fabulous, but I loved it” — and the skills stayed shelved until an editor at a now-defunct Claremont newspaper persuaded her to go to Twin State Speedway last summer and give it a try.

“I loved seeing the people and the teams and how they would come together,” described Bryan, who lives in Ludlow, Vt. “I love doing racing photos, but I like the people part of it most. … I did asphalt last year, but dirt is a very different animal. I can’t use a flash, and you have dirt flying around everywhere. I’m trying to improve my skills, and Canaan lets me hang out when I’m not working.”

Like Boucher and the Browns, Bryan has a family racing history: Her father, Ron, once competed at Bear Ridge and Thunder Road. Even if it’s 35 years since he stopped, Bryan is “really surprised I would become so passionate about race photography,” she admitted. “It was off my radar for so long. I was too young to remember Thunder Road or Bear Ridge.”

Two days after capturing the image of Althea and Dougie at the fence, Bryan posted the photo — the quiet moment, the break in the Friday night dust storm — on her Facebook page with the following note: “You know how sometimes you can take a hundred photos and one stands out in your mind as your favorite?”

It is becoming just that for many people. Bryan accumulated three dozen likes over the past week, and she’s getting requests for copies.

“To me, it says — as a driver — how intense they are to the fans,” Allen Brown said. “If a fan has got something to say, they’ll sit there and listen and carry on a conversation. It just goes back to being intent on listening and trying to carry out what the fans want to see.”

“Life at the track is pretty much a lot more deeper than other people see it,” Boucher said. “It’s pretty much a way of life for some of us.”

“I love taking pics of racing and the cars,” Bryan wrote on Facebook, “but it’s the photos capturing moments like these that are what I really strive to get on ‘film.’ It’s where the magic is at the track.”

Through the lens or just around it, they all meet at the intersection eventually.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.