George Follmer Main

Look into the Eyes – Driver Retrospective Photo Gallery

The saying the eyes are the window to the soul is particularly apt when peering into the eyes of racing car drivers. Depending upon the events at hand, the eyes show a range of emotions, from focus and determination about the impending race to jubilation or disappointment about the results to exhaustion from a grueling day on the track.

From Formula One at Long Beach to Can-Am at Mid-Ohio, motorsports photographer Dennis Gray has fixed his lens upon the eyes of many of the greatest drivers of the last forty years. While Gray’s photos have been featured on Sports Car Digest before, they have been of race cars and not the expressions of the brave souls that piloted the cars.

Gray remarks, “The eyes of the driver is a target of my portraits. I try to get the intensity of the driver, the intensity of the moment. The strongest example is the George Follmer image with the exhaustion of John Morton a close second. Al Holbert is certainly looking into his lap to come and Milt Minter is another exhausted driver. Ed Leslie just looks disgusted and Carlos Reutemann needs better numbers from the notes.”

The following photo retrospective features images of race car drivers as they prepare to battle on the track, including Niki Lauda, John Watson, Emerson Fittipaldi, George Follmer, Rick Mears and many others.

Look into the Eyes – Driver Retrospective Photo Gallery (Photos and captions by Dennis Gray)

Rick Mears stepped out of Champ Cars to pilot Dick Barbour's 935/77A Porsche to 4th place of the 1979 Sebring 12 Hours with co-drivers Barbour and Rolf Stommelen.

James Hunt at the 1977 United States Grand Prix West in Long Beach. Hunt finished 7th in his McLaren M23.

Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 312 T2 sits in the pits just before the track opens for qualifying in the 1977 United States Grand Prix West at Long Beach. Lauda qualified first in front of Mario Andretti's Lotus and Jodi Scheckter's Wolf. He would finish 2nd to Andretti in the race.

Niki Lauda during Friday practice for the F1 U.S. Grand Prix West at Long Beach in 1977. Note how clean Niki's facemask is compared to qualifying above.

John Watson listens to Gordon Murray preceding the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix West at Long Beach in 1978. Watson’s Alfa Romeo-powered Brabham BT46 retired with gearbox issues.


  1. says

    These are great shots and Dennis is a courageous fellow. The shot of George Follmer particularly is expressive and the picture of Ed Leslie is also worthy of framing. Good stuff.


  2. says

    I can feel the tension, the disgust, the laser focus of the subjects. Dennis caught these people in their reality rather than the images that many wanted to project. Frazzled and drained look in Milt Minter’s eyes, George Follmer’s nasty glare, John Morton, with a sense of innocence, proud, spent but happy, Ed Leslie with curled lip of slight disgust. Great revealing shots.

  3. Kelly Gause says

    You can see a whole world reflecting out from these eyes. I like that in the last photo you can see the photographer in the helmet- nice, subtle touch.

  4. says

    Dennis is the master! In the car realm, we are continually blasted with images of metal, glass and wheels. While they are truly beautiful and I’ll never get enough of them, it’s the humans story behind it all that adds life and vibrance…it’s amazing that the small area of a driver’s face that is exposed while wearing a helmet, is the very part of him that is responsible for his life while he commands the vehicle. I see in these drivers the eyes of logic, tactic, determination and survival.

  5. Bob says

    Great, intimate photographs at critical times. You have to be that close to get that-without intruding in an obviously meaningful moment. I’d like to see more.

  6. Dan Gentile says


    This is an excellent collection of great drivers that have graced some of the best racing cars in our time. It would also be an excellent display for the art show at Club Auto Sport.


  7. Ted R says

    Great portraiture, man and machine are welded into one. The grit both literally and figuratively are shown on the faces of these icons.

  8. Paul says

    Fascinating! The images creatively take us to the human side of auto racing, we can only imagine what is going on behind those eyes, and many of us will imagine different things, it was a fun journey. Thanks Dennis, keep up the great work.

  9. Dan McGee says

    Love these shots. Apparently Dennis and I were standing close together at Laguna Seca’s Turn 9 during the Can-Am race. That’s when John Surtees was driving a dog of a Chaparral.
    I’ll never forget looking into the eyes of Surtees as he ripped past me, probably no more than five feet away. There was a wall there and the flag station was on the outside of the corner in the old pits.
    It is great to see these shots as I’ve watched everyone of these guys race at one time or another. Brought memories of my days as a SCCA corner worker/turn marshal for the San Francisco Region.
    Thanks for posting these.
    Dan McGee – Daily Sparks Tribune

  10. says

    Amazing shots. I don’t know much about racing but I admire how Dennis captures the intensity of the drivers in such a real moment experience. I cannot imagine how he did it. But he is a master. The drivers seemed to be willing to give him their trust which is hard to ackomplish.

  11. Bob Dompe says

    It’s good to remember that most of the time it’s the Driver and not just the Car. For me – it’s usually the Car, but they’re not very animated without the marvels of the Driver!

  12. Peter Darley says

    Just two little observations.

    ROLF Stommelen

    It is not Mauro Forghieri with Reutemann

    Peter Darley
    Jim Clark – Life at Team Lotus

  13. says

    I’ll stand by my ID of Mauro Forghieri. Mauro personally ran Carlos Reutemann’s team car at Long Beach and would have been the person to show timing notes to his driver. Many thanks for taking the time to really look at the images then send in a comment. And we corrected the spelling.

    • Peter Darley says

      We beg to differ ! Based on the facts that Mauro did not wear gold framed glasses, he wore heavier, dark framed ones, and that the hair is the wrong colour.
      Somwhere I have photos of the guy I think it is. He was on the race car engineering side, and usually wore a light suede jacket with knitted cuffs.

    • says

      Dennis . . . came across this article. Long time since I looked into your eyes (as a classmate at Brooks). Congrats on the article photos. Glad to see you picked a winner by sticking with the cars. Hang in there . . . gwwhite

  14. says

    Ok. Send me the image and I’ll correct the caption. You have more info on Mauro then I do and i’ll bow to your superior knowledge on the subject. Just understand that for forty years I have been identifying this guy as Mauro Forghieri and will be mighty embarrassed to find that I am wrong.
    If your ever in San Francisco or we meet at a track I’ll let you buy me a drink to make up for the embarrassment. Dennis

    • Peter Darley says


      Am sorting through a load of colour trannies at the moment and hope to come across the guy I mean. If not, back to the B + W negs !


    • Peter Darley says


      The guy has been identified as Sante Ghedini, who went on to become Ferrari Team Manager in 1992-93.

      Best wishes


  15. John Morton says

    Great unposed shots that really capture the intensity of the moment. Follmer looks as mean as he was and I look like a wimp, which I was after Tony and I wrestled that pig for 24 hours.

  16. Bob DuBois says

    Obviously, the “eyes” have it!!! Loved every photo. And,as every good photographer knows, when taking photos of people, you always focus on the eyes.

  17. Jim says

    I’ll add my thanks for the series. I’m reminded of an article I remember in Sports Illustrated in the early ’70’s. It was something like “The Old Young Men of Formula One” Same idea of focusing on the tense faces. The image that has always stuck in my mind was the shot of Jackie Stewart sitting in his Tyrrell, and looking about 70 years old.

  18. John says

    Great photos. Have these racing photos been collected in one central location/archive such as Watkins Glen? It would be great to have these available for viewing on-line.

  19. Bobalski says

    For sure, it is not Forghieri close to Reutemann, he was much more young at this time and black haired guy as an italian, NO doubt ! But great pictures overall !!

  20. says

    I have known Dennis for over 25 years and worked with him on a number of commercial photo shoots. I have been with him in the last couple of decades at No. Cal. tracks for car shoots, as well. He always gets incredible photos. His recent work is every bit as powerful, but I think this series shows his knowledge, expertise and incredible timing as a photographer. Kudos, DG!

  21. CD Mitchell says

    I was at the 1977 Long Beach Grand Prix and I remember seeing Chapman and other luminaries in pit lane. It’s great to see a master’s photos from the same day in the same place, of the same people. I was 17 then, carrying a Polaroid. Of course I never got any shots like these! I still regret not taking a picture of Chapman and Andretti in the pits during practice, when they were in a deep conversation, just ten feet in front of me! I like to imagine they were discussing the secrets of the downforce system on the Lotus.

  22. says

    Thanks for the kind words.
    One of my favorite images is a shot over Mario’s shoulder. Visible are Mario’s gloved hands holding a clip board with a set up sheet showing tire temps and pressures, lap times and other settings on his Lotus. A very long way from todays computers and still a ways ahead of the tear slips Mauro Forghieri is using to pass information to Carlos Reutemann in the Ferrari pits. Maybe I can get Jeremy to run this image in the near future. DG

  23. betsy hillman says

    These are all great shots. It is great to see the human emotions more along with all the hardware. Keep up the great work.

  24. Jesse DeGraff says

    I love the shot of Follmer! I was wondering if you might have any (or can point me to) pictures of his crash that year at Laguna? You see, not 5 minutes before the crash I was playing on the hillside where he landed. My Mom was one of the first people at the car, mainly because she thought I was UNDER it!

  25. Michel Aniel says

    I can’t recall if it was 1977 or 1978 anyway, I was at the Long Beach Grand Prix. I showed up one day before the race cause the gates were not up yet and security was lax so, I could just walk around the circuit and additionally have access to the Long Beach Convention Center which served as the pit area for the Formula 1 cars. Upon entering the Long Beach arena, I was three feet away from Jack Ickx, My Hero! (I’m originally from Belgium). I was in such awe of him…(two Belgians born in Brussels) that I couldn’t say one word to him for over twenty minutes as I was right next to him. After a while, he finally leaned on a stack of tires reading a newspaper while his car (Wolf) was being worked on. He and his mechanics even asked me if I could help them put the car on jacks which I did. There I was, shoulder to shoulder with Jacky and was speechless! Also, as I turned towards the Ferrari pit area, their mechanics were working on Niki Lauda’s Ferrari all the while smoking cigarettes surrounded by gasoline and other volatile combustibles. The Fire Marshall of Long Beach came by and told them to extinguish their cigarettes since smoking around all these combustibles might cause a fire to erupt. Once he left, they started smoking again while they were working on the Ferrari’s engine and suspension. Next day, after the race, as the spectators were leaving the confines of the Long Beach Grand Prix area, there was a guy driving a brown Pinto, wearing a baseball cap who kept on looking at my car (1969 Alfa 1750 GTV with Campagnolo wheels). I couldn’t understand why he kept on looking at my car as we were both exiting the parking lot (he was on my right) so, I started to take a closer look at the guy. It turned out to be Niki Lauda who won that year…wearing a baseball cap…driving a brown Pinto trying to get out of there, unseen, as fast as possible.
    PS – If anyone can tell Jacky that I NEED to meet him, please let him know, that I’d like to speak to him for a few minutes! Being in his presence in the 70’s for 20+ minutes and not saying one word to him has been a long time festering disappointment to me.
    Thanks! Michel Aniel

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