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Photographer’s Diary – Portraits Of The 1970’s

Niki Lauda in the March at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in 1972. [photo by Jack Webster]

Jackie Stewart confers with team owner Ken Tyrrell at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1973.  [photo by Jack Webster]

Jackie Stewart confers with team owner Ken Tyrrell at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1973. [photo by Jack Webster]

Francois Cevert ready to go at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1973.  [photo by Jack Webster]

Francois Cevert ready to go at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1973. [photo by Jack Webster]

It was my first Grand Prix – the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in 1971. I took off for upstate New York, where I had never been before, in my Fiat 850 Spyder with no tickets, no hotel room and a minimal amount of cash.

I had recently upgraded my camera equipment to include the then state of the art Minolta SRT-101 and Minolta Rokkor 85mm 1.7 lens. That is the combination I used to make all of the photos pictured here. That lens became my favorite piece of glass all throughout the 1970’s.

Once at Watkins Glen, which was to become one of my favorite places on the planet, I secured a very plain and inexpensive cabin right outside of town and made my way to the track, bought a ticket and was exposed to the world of Formula One.

Now, back in those days you could pretty much figure a way to get anywhere you wanted in the race paddock and it didn’t take me very long to determine that I wanted to be in the race pits. Cameras hanging around my neck and trying my best to look like the other photographers I saw, I waltzed into the pits with the Tyrrell mechanics with no problem and took in the scene before me. Everywhere were my heroes, who I had only read about in the pages of Road & Track in the excellent Rob Walker Formula One race reports. There was Jackie Stewart, Jo Siffert, David Hobbs, Jo Bonnier, Mario Andretti and even the aforementioned Rob Walker!

A pensive Derek Bell thinking about the upcoming session at the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport in 1974.  [photo by Jack Webster]

A pensive Derek Bell thinking about the upcoming session at the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport in 1974. [photo by Jack Webster]

Peter Revson in the pits at the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport in 1973.  [photo by Jack Webster]

Peter Revson in the pits at the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport in 1973. [photo by Jack Webster]

It was a shooter’s paradise, with so many things to focus on. The really nice thing about the 85mm lens was that you could get a nice portrait without being too obtrusive with your subject and could open the aperture and isolate your subject while throwing the background and foreground out of focus. You had to really think about your craft back in those days, as you set the exposure manually on the camera, manually focused the lens and then even manually advanced the film after the shot, as I didn’t have a motor driven camera. Sometimes I really long for the old days, when you had to really think about photography, not just blast away with an auto focus, auto exposure, auto everything digital camera that shoots frames as fast as a movie camera.

Jo Bonnier at the US Grand Prix in 1971.  [photo by Jack Webster]

Jo Bonnier at the US Grand Prix in 1971. [photo by Jack Webster]

Emerson Fittipaldi at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1972.  [photo by Jack Webster]

Emerson Fittipaldi at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1972. [photo by Jack Webster]

It was a great time, a great era, marred only by the fact that we were losing so many of our heroes back in those days. I returned to Watkins Glen many times over the years, and also to Mosport for the Canadian Grand Prix. September and October of every year in the 1970’s were a time to look forward to, as that is when Formula One came within driving distance of me.

After that initial naive trip in 1971, I got a bit more sophisticated in preparations for future trips – making hotel reservations in advance and most importantly, securing photo credentials so that I had legitimate access and didn’t have to sneak in with the mechanics any longer.

I hope you enjoy these photos of moments in time, frozen forever.

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Jack Webster has been shooting motorsports since the early 1970’s, covering Formula One, CanAm, F5000, TransAm, GrandAm and American Le Mans races, among others. In addition to his photography, he has also worked on racing teams, both in IMSA and IndyCar, so has a complete knowledge of the inner workings of motorsport. Both his photography and writing can be seen here on racingnation.com