Carroll Shelby was just a boy from red-dirt Texas, but all those years when he was racing for patron John Edgar and Aston Martin's John Wyer had taught him about the finer things in life. I remember a great dinner with Shelby at the Hotel Moderne at Le Mans in 1966 when we were joined by John Holman from Holman & Moody, the NASCAR outfit that had prepared three cars that year. It was pretty interesting to hear Shelby and Holman telling wild stories at a table in France. All these years later, the credit for the Ford program at Le Mans has been properly distributed to people like Leo Beebe and Roy Lunn, but we all believed at the time that it was really Shelby's ambition that drove the program forward and made it work.
By 1966 I had been in Europe for a dozen years, and I was ready to come home to America. I had improved as a photographer, but I wasn't quite sure what I had to show for all of it. I had lots of black-and-white film of old racing cars, but there didn't seem to be much future in that, because everyone wanted color pictures of new racing cars.
Then something happened while I was at Le Mans in 1966. I was taking pictures of the Gurney/Grant GT40 MkII, and I noticed another photographer in the frame. It was Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most famous art photographers in the world. His 1952 book, "The Decisive Moment," had made spontaneous snapshots with the 35mm camera an art form and had been very influential in my own work. He was notoriously shy about being photographed, and I took his picture so quickly that I forgot to focus.
It was important to me that Cartier-Bresson was photographing the same subject that I was. Like me, Cartier-Bresson believed he had found one of those decisive moments, which he defined as "the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression."
Like me, Cartier-Bresson had found such a moment in motorsport. When Ford came to Le Mans, it had proven that American sports cars and American drivers could compete at the top level of racing. At last we knew that we were just as good as they were. And whenever I see a Cobra Daytona coupe or a Ford GT40 today, I still get the same feeling.
*Chris Amon, Bruce McLaren, Ken Miles, Denis Hulme, Le Mans '66: The McLaren/Amon MkII has been unexpectedly declared the winner because it traveled 20 meters farther from its starting position than the Miles/Hulme MkII, but the drivers simply seem relieved that it's all over.
*Chris Amon, Bruce McLaren, Ken Miles, Denis Hulme, Le Mans '66: The McLaren/Amon MkII has
*Ronnie Bucknum, GT40 MkII, Le Mans '66: Holman-Moody, famous in NASCAR, comes to a little country road in France as one of Ford's official teams.
*Ronnie Bucknum, GT40 MkII, Le Mans '66: Holman-Moody, famous in NASCAR, comes to a little
*Cobra garage, Le Mans '65: This picture is a favorite of mine because it illustrates the meeting of cultures, the sleek American racing car as seen by a local French workman and a neighborhood boy. Le Mans might be a race, but we've all agreed on the fiction that these are street-legal automobiles, so there must be a proper license plate.
*Cobra garage, Le Mans '65: This picture is a favorite of mine because it illustrates the