The unusual world of Scandinavian super street drag racing

The unusual world of Scandinavian super street drag racing

In his 'Malmö Raceway' project, photographer Tomas Hein celebrates the art of drag racing and offers an unconventional portrayal of Scandinavian society.

Hailing from Argentina, Tomas Hein first became interested in photography after getting a digital camera in 2003 at age 17. After high school, he set off for Australia on a surfing trip and quickly became mesmerized by the possibilities of photography.

“It’s no coincidence that I was drawn to photography. My father is a chemist and my mother a painter, so I guess I landed right in between art and science,” says Hein.

With the demands of his career in fashion and advertising, Hein began to yearn for a personal project that could reignite the passion of his youth. After moving to Copenhagen in 2020, he was finally able to slow down and recharge.

“When life opened up again I yearned for connection,” says Hein. “Copenhagen can be very homogeneous and closed out to foreigners, so the camera is always a good tool to explore what is behind the veil. People open up, even the coldest Scandinavians. It’s magic.”

While walking the streets, Hein noticed a proliferation of SUVs and American muscle cars. Thinking of the environmental impact, Hein followed a lead that brought him to father and son mechanics Johnny and Jamie Rahbek, who welcomed him to their speedshop.

Hein took it all in, photographing the people he encountered and learning their stories, which brought him to Malmö Raceway in 2021. Fascinated by life at the track, Hein began chronicling its motley assortment of characters for his new book, Malmö Raceway.

“I found a lot of contradictions at the raceway: welcoming xenophobes, kind ex-gang members, conspiracy theorists, elderly caretakers and teenage girls racing in a testosterone fuelled environment,” says Hein.

Hein typically spends eight hours on a shoot, getting a front row view of the action as it unfolds. Adopting an intuitive approach, he works across various camera formats to capture the live energy and curiosities of raceway life. “It’s exhilarating! You can feel the explosions in your core,” Hein says.

“There's also a sense of calm and focus in the drivers while they’re waiting to race, and determination and sweat at the workshops while doing the final adjustments” he adds. “There's no room for error. They spend months preparing the cars for a race, which lasts between 5 to 10 seconds. It’s all about honour and fun. It’s admirable. The attention to detail in some of the cars both technically and aesthetically is immense, and to me the people working on them are artists.”

One day he arrived at the track and a group of pre-teen girls were getting ready to race top-fuel dragsters. He photographed them in their cars one by one. Then he met Holley [who is featured in the main image for this piece]. “She wouldn’t look at me; she had a fierce and focused look, and it surprised me. Here is someone special, I thought to myself,” says Hein.

“After her race I spoke to her parents and they explained that Holley is autistic. When she was nine, she tried racing and it helped her immensely, so they never looked back.”

Spreads from Tomas Hein's 'Malmö Raceway.'

Malmö Raceway by Tomas Hein is available now.

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