George and Iona Gollick are well known in Heber Overgaard and have made many friends since retiring here in 1996. Once upon a time in another life, they ran a photography business at Phoenix’s Manzanita Speedway, documenting a big part of Arizona racing history. Many of the photos from the 80s through the early 90s of Arizona racers were taken by GIG Photos – George and Iona Photos, that is.
George spent 20 years in the Air Force and upon his retirement went to work for Motorola. Iona supported her husband’s military career and did a career that for the most part, has become a part of Americana – she was, and probably still is, a housewife. The two will be married 59 years this December so they must be doing something right.
One weekend in 1982, George was with a racing buddy of his at 11 Mile Corner, a race track located on a three-way corner that is equal distance from Casa Grande, Eloy and Florence. His friend asked him if he’d come out on weekends and take pictures. Unbeknownst to George and Iona, that was the beginning of a new business venture that would last the next ten years.
Seems the racers loved to have the photos of their race cars on the track—especially of their wins. However, maybe their most favorite thing was to have a picture of their car at the beginning of the season. George said, “They’d call us and say, ‘Come get pictures before it gets wrecked!’”
George wasn’t a photographer at the time, but he soon got the bug as he learned on the job. George took the pictures and Iona catalogued the photos by the roll of film and picture order number. After a Friday night at the races, they would drop their film off at a Fotomat booth for development of all the negatives into 3X5 prints. A typical night was four rolls of 36 exposures each. Then Iona went through stamping and numbering each one so they were ready for Saturday at the track where she’d sell the proofs and take orders for duplicates and/or enlargements. George built his own dark room where he would make the duplicates and enlargements.
11 Mile Corner was run by Art Adams of A & A Materials at that time. Per George, “The track was open for a while, but when they ran out of money, then they’d close up.” Once closed, GIG Photos went to Firebird Raceway for a while before going on to Manzanita where they stayed for about the next ten years.
“We met so many great people,” Iona told me. “We had friendships with most of the drivers,” she said. “Even the racers that we didn’t know their names, you still felt like they were your friends, because we saw each other all of the time.”
George and Iona also became good friends with Windy McDonald, the announcer at Manzanita Speedway for 50 years. Windy passed away recently on October 11, 2016. He wrote three books on Manzanita and in the second book Manzanita Speedway’s Desert Thunder 1981-2005, the Gollick’s are mentioned by name. In the “About This Book”, Windy wrote, “George and Iona Gollick gave me their collection of pictures. George said he really had no one to leave them to and he wanted them put to use. When you see ‘GIG photo’ you will see that many of them have been used. George gave me 30 albums of pictures with at least 100 pictures in each. He also gave me 15 boxes of 8X10 photos.”
When taking his photos, George would stand on the track, in harm’s way, to get the shot. “I had one friend who’d hold on to me,” George explained, “But sometimes he’d hightail it out of the way as well. The drivers said I was crazy to stand out there, but I didn’t care – I wanted the shot.”
Since he used the old 35mm type of camera, another challenge was the flash as these were mostly night races. George tethered himself to a car battery to make sure he’d have enough power to get the fast shots, like a car that went into a roll. “Boy that flash would get really hot!” he told me.
In Heber-Overgaard there are some former drivers with ties to Manzanita: Chris Cross from PAS Automotive, Richard Griffin from Griffin Propane, Doug Porter who’s a part-time resident and Sue McCartney who used to work at NAPA. Some of the more well-known drivers that raced at Manzanita and, or in the World of Outlaws are Al Unser, Jr., JJ Yeley, Billy Boat, Leland McSpadden, Ron Shuman, Butch Beard, Roger McCluckey, Mario Andretti, Gary Bettenhausen and AJ Foyt.
The Gollicks left their racing life in 1992 as Iona was recuperating from a surgery and wasn’t able to help out. “We had so many friends that continued to keep in touch,” Iona shared. To the question, what do you miss the most, both answered, “The people. We were like family.”
George and Iona are part of the fabric of the Heber-Overgaard family and we so appreciate them taking the time to share their piece of Arizona history with us. The final race at Manzanita was held April 11, 2009, and the property was sold to developers—another piece of Arizona history covered over by the black top of progress. Thanks to GIG Photos for the memories!