Everyone has heard the saying: “A picture is worth 1000 words.” More than ever, with cameras in everyone’s pocket and a fast and easy way to share, those words ring true. Positive or negative, the exposure and sheer mobility that a single photograph can have is staggering. This has always been true for as long as we had photographs, some just stick with us. A first image of the earth taken from the moon, Freddie Mercury playing the sold-out stadium of Live Aid, Muhammad Ali standing over the fallen Heavyweight World Champion, Sonny Liston, protesters on the streets of Selma, AL in 1964 or in Minneapolis, MN last month- these images leave a lasting impression because they are indicative of a special, and often important moment in time. This significance helps us understand and see. The language of photographs is not limited to sports, politics, news, or any one thing or any single emotion that is why each image is worth 1,000 words.
Motorsports is no exception. Through the decades of sanctioned automobile racing, there are some images that stick out. Yes there are moments, people and amazing feats that tell longer stories- but as far as single images—these speak volumes and stand the test of time as being iconic in their own right.
High Speeds and High Tempers
1979 — Daytona 500, Daytona Motor Speedway, Photograph by Ric Feld.
Arguably the most famous fistfight in motorsports history, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison wrestle on national television the afternoon of February 18th, 1979. The high drama and high emotions of racecar drivers are familiar to those who consume the sport, but this particular brawl was pumped into hundreds of thousands of homes across America—live for the first time. Ever. According to the L.A. Times, that particular race had a 10.5 rating, or a little over 15 million people watching. Yarborough and brother, Donnie Allison’s, duel for the win was thrilling enough before taking each other out on the last lap. Yeah, Richard Petty ended up taking the checkers, but Allisons v. Yarborough hooked a whole new slew of fans and helped put NASCAR on the trajectory they took right to the bank.
1966 — German Grand Prix, Nurburging, Photographer unknown.
Sir Jackie Stewart (front) with Graham Hill (behind)
If the idea of one or two tires leaving the ground is scary to you, try all four. In a spindly Lotus. In the 60’s. At high speeds. Every lap. At the one of the most dangerous and deadly race courses ever in history. Look no further for evidence of big balls than these guys. If there was ever an image to reference in an argument about the bravery needed in this sport, this would be a good one. Besides the cars, drivers, era, and track being iconic in their own right, this image captured the imagination of fans all over the world.
1969 — Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, photographer unknown.
It has been called a Cinderella Story. Driver, Mario Andretti (right) was already stirring buzz as a talented newcomer to the sport of auto racing. Car owner and president of STP, Andy Granatelli (left) helped revolutionalize the sport with never-before-seen marketing and sponsorship strategy for the ages. Both would become legends. Year after arduous year, Andy Granatelli and brothers fielded cars without a win at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In the heat of victory, Granatelli’s overabundant excitement made him grab young Andretti’s face and kiss his cheek. This jubilation became immortalized in thousands of ads for Andy’s company and the car’s main sponsor, STP. Making sure that the image was available absolutely everywhere that money could buy for at least the following year, Granatelli did everything in his power to make STP and Mario a household name- both of which eventually happened. Andretti to this day admits that he is still embarrassed by that kiss, but he says it with a smile.
A Show of Force — 1966 LeMans 24 Hour Race, LeMans
It is an unbelievable story. Goliath vs. Goliath of the Ford Motor Company challenging the Ferrari for the crown of endurance racing in the 1960s. After a very dramatic battle, (one that has been recently depicted in the 2018 blockbuster Ford v Ferrari) Ford found themselves not only triumphant over the Ferrari team at the end of a grueling 24-hour race—but decisively so. Looking like a clear first-second-third victory, there was a request from a Ford executive for the team to cross the finish line together. This hammered in a very strong message to the motorsports world, saying ‘we are here, and we mean business.’ Cora Veltman
Photo by Ron Lahr. Taken years and years ago at a Southern California dragstrip. This famous photo is on display at the NHRA Museum in Pamona, California. Ron was not a professional photographer. Ed Gilbert