Area podiatrist doubles as photographer

Special to the Tribune Chronicle Dr. Rudy Rouweyha prepares to shoot a day of National Hot Rod Association racing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of Saturday profiles of area residents and their stories. To suggest a Trumbull County resident, contact Features Editor Burton Cole at bcole@tribtoday.com.

AUSTINTOWN — When you hear the term drag racing, you may think of the iconic scenes in “American Graffiti” featuring two brightly-colored cars, one with Harrison Ford at the wheel daring Paul Le Mat in the other to see who can reach the end of the road first.

Or maybe it’s a couple of friends challenging each other on U.S. Route 422 to find out who can make it to the next traffic light the fastest.

For a local podiatrist, drag racing was what merged his two hobbies into a second profession — motorsports photography.

“It also allows me to document the race from a vantage point not available to most people,” said Howland High School graduate Dr. Rudy Rouweyha, who has medical offices in Warren and Hubbard.

His interest in cars began early.

“I got into Mustangs as a child. My uncle bought a 1966 Mustang brand new. I loved that car. I was 4 or 5 years old,” Rouweyha said.

His mother, Hoda Rouweyha, said she noticed his interest in cars when Rouweyha was in elementary school.

“We saw the movie ‘Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang.’ He was really impressed by the car in the movie,” she said.

The car in the 1968 film was inspired by racing cars from the 1920s.

Rouweyha’s fascination with 1960s and early ’70s muscle cars continued as he grew up.

“When my parents built their house, they put a two-car garage on either side of the house. One was for them and the one on the opposite side of the house leads directly into my bedroom. That way, I could work on my cars. I have a Mustang in that garage,” he said.

His interest in photography began as an educational tool.

“It was the late ’80s. I was in medical school going into my residency. I started taking pictures of surgeries before and after. I’ve been doing pictures like that ever since,” he said. “The patient’s face was not in the photo.”

The catalyst for his professional motorsports photography was a Mustang, the same vehicle style that piqued his interest as a child and resulted in trips to see drag races.

“In 1996, I bought a new Mustang Cobra from Marshall Ford West in Cleveland. My salesman found out that I was a drag racing fan. He said that he knew Bill Rader, the owner of Norwalk Raceway Park, and that he could get me tickets to attend a race there. I told him that I already go there but it would be great if he could get me a press pass to shoot photos there — which he did,” Rouweyha said.

The summer of 1996 was the first time that he took photos in the restricted media area. Three years later, he became a published professional motorsports photographer.

“I was introduced to the editor of Race Pages (the official magazine of the National Mustang Racers Association at the time),” Rouweyha said. “He offered to let me shoot for them at their NMRA race in Columbus.”

The editor liked his work and Rouweyha has continued to shoot for them as well as as for the National Muscle Car Association, which was launched in 2000.

“The two magazines, which are produced by Promedia Publishing, combined into one magazine, Fastest Street Car,” Rouweyha said.

He also shoots for a Mustang website, www.Mustangworks.com

Steve Baur, digital content manager of ProMedia Publishing, said, “Dr. Rudy has been doing this for a long time, so he doesn’t need much instruction from me when it comes to photographing race cars on the track. His interest in cars and racing runs deep.

“Sometimes, I might be looking for something in particular for a specific story and we simply get together, talk about what I am looking for and he delivers.”

The race season begins in late March and runs into October. Race days start early in the morning and can end 12 hours later. “I usually get to the track at 7 a.m. and qualifying races can run into the evening,” Rouweyha said.

He covers races in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan. Occasionally, he has photographed races in Georgia and Florida.

With races run in multiple seasons, weather can create challenges in getting the shot that he wants. Being a racing fan means he is familiar with the tracks and the cars, which helps him know how to shoot them according to weather, time of day, lighting and speed.

“You don’t have the luxury of putting the sun where you want it,” he said. “I’m shooting all day long. Sometimes I’m shooting with the sun, other times against the sun. I can’t move the track or the cars and reposition them. You have to know how to compensate for that and there are ways to do that with the camera.”

Rouweyha said he has seen changes in the field as he approaches 20 years of taking photos at drag races.

“I used regular film and slide film when I first started that had to be developed. I used to mail the film to the magazine for them to develop,” he said.

“I bought my first digital, a Nikon DSLR in 2001, 2002. At this point, the results of the races are almost instantaneous. I send the photos to ProMedia and they go up on the website because the racers ask who qualified and who they will race against tomorrow,” Rouweyha said.

Websites for the magazine are NMRADigital.com or NMCADigital.com.

He said he plans to be a familiar face with his camera in the restricted area as long as he can.

“I like shooting action sports, especially drag racing. I like the speed of the races. For me, drag racing, when you get to the NHRA (National Hotrod Association) level, they have the fastest accelerating cars on the planet,” he said. Speeds in some of the race classes exceed 300 mph from a stationary position.

Although he is busy with his medical practice and he is also in a band, his mother said she said she believes her son will remain a racing photographer.

“When he wants to pursue something, Rudy makes time for his hobbies,” she said.

Baur said, “With his experience as a fan of drag racing and the years spent behind the lens, photographing it, Dr. Rudy can anticipate when the great images are likely to take place.

“Couple that with having the patience and endurance to be outside shooting next to a noisy racetrack all day and he always gets that special photo.”

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