Vale: Photographer Tom Hnatiw

Photographer Tom Hnatiw. From his book "Through the Lens".
Photographer Tom Hnatiw. From his book “Through the Lens”. DFA

Racing lost photographer Tom Hnatiw to a sudden heart attack semi-recently.

A quiet and simple man, Hnatiw was ex-Military and became a person one expected to see at Laguna Seca and Sears Point every year, usually in the Corkscrew on race day. Like a lot of us he came from the film era and had a difficult transition to digital. Like most shooters who could use Kodachrome and Fujichrome to its fullest he didn’t like a lot of what he saw in early digital photos. It probably wasn’t until 2010-2011 that he found a combination with a digital camera he liked. But knowing Tom, I’m not sure he ever fully embraced digital.

Tom Hnatiw had a really good heart. I remember back in the late 1990s when Anthony Gobert was racing AMA Superbike/WSBK for Vance and Hines and had tested positive in both FIM and AMA competition for marijuana. He was banned from racing. Moreover, he had an AMA-mandated stint in a rehab clinic in California that he did want to do. Most feared he would not complete the punishment, and that he’d never race again.

This was, fully, in Anthony’s “rehab is for quitters” phase. Hence, he was not allowed to leave the rehab facility and certainly wasn’t doing very well inside. He was there for just a few days when he started talking about jumping the wall and finding a bar.

Hnatiw lived at least two hours (one way!) from the clinic Gobert was being semi-contained in, but Tom drove there every day after work and visited Anthony. Somehow, due to Tom’s forthright nature and I think his military ID, he convinced the clinic to release Anthony to him for an hour each day. They walked together on the beach; every time Anthony wanted to veer off into a club or strip bar (or Mexico) Tom talked him out of it and they kept walking.

Additionally there was a community service portion of the rehab program. Anthony’s first assignment was washing dishes in a food kitchen. This was a hurdle given Gobert had famously never touched a broom in his life and was, as they might say in the American south, “work shy”. Hnatiw went with him and did the community service with him, to make sure Anthony completed the program.

“Goey” wasn’t talking to anyone in the media at that point. When I heard that Hnatiw had daily contact with “Tony G”, I called him and started asking him questions. How’s Gobert doing? Will he complete the program? Is he still urinating “hot”? I pumped Tom for information.

Hnatiw was polite enough to answer a few of my questions, then abruptly said, “Look, Dean, I go down there because he needs a friend and someone to talk to and help him. I don’t think it’s right that I do that then tell you what he says or plans. I’m just trying to be his friend.”

Tom Hnatiw: good friend and a good man. He will be missed.

Yes, that does rather look like Slight's penmanship doesn't it? The infamous "note on the pole" at Laguna Seca 1998.
Yes, that does rather look like Slight’s penmanship doesn’t it? The infamous “note on the pole” at Laguna Seca 1998. It led the late Hnatiw to helping Anthony Gobert through an AMA-mandated stint in rehab.
Dean Adams


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