At the back of Linda and Gary Carlson's closet, slides they had taken at grands prix gone by sat untouched for 20 years.
The West Ellicott residents got caught up with their lives and fell out of love with Formula 1, the motorsport they had followed religiously in the 1970s and early 1980s. Photos they had taken at nearly 30 grands prix from Watkins Glen to Brands Hatch, England, were forgotten until 2006, when Mrs. Carlson dug them out of the closet.
She realized their pictures were quite good and posted some on Autosport.com in the nostalgia forum, receiving positive responses. Mrs. Carlson also learned British writer Christopher Hilton had begun work on a book, "Grand Prix Battlegrounds: A Comprehensive Guide to All Formula 1 Circuits Since 1950."
A Renault is pictured on track at Brands Hatch, England, during the British Grand Prix Weekend in 1978. The photo was featured in “Grand Prix Battlegrounds.”
Photo by Linda Carlson
In one of those chance moments that leads to great friendships, she emailed him some of their photos.
"He was immediately interested," Mrs. Carlson said. "He asked me if I would write something on Watkins Glen. I can write, but it's not something that comes easy for me. I put it off until the last minute."
After receiving her account, Hilton wrote Mrs. Carlson, telling her she had submitted exactly what he wanted. He then asked her to write about their trips to the grands prix at Mosport, Ontario, and later, Brands Hatch.
"He even told me he was sorry I hadn't become a writer," said Mrs. Carlson, a former travel agent and current librarian for The Post-Journal.
When "Grand Prix Battlegrounds" hit shelves in 2010, Mrs. Carlson's accounts, and photos from Watkins Glen, Montreal, Mosport, Long Beach and Brands Hatch were included. Her photo of a rain-soaked Watkins Glen the day after the 1974 U.S. Grand Prix made the back cover.
Hilton shipped Mrs. Carlson an autographed copy of the book across the Atlantic.
"We became friends from this experience," Mrs. Carlson said. "We emailed each other almost daily. That was a great thing that came out of this for me."
Hilton asked Mrs. Carlson for input on another of his books: "How Hitler Hijacked World Sport," in which he mentions his cross-Atlantic friend.
He helped get the Carlsons' photos published in the January 2011 edition of Motor Sport magazine.
Hilton contacted editor Damien Smith who spread photos by Linda and Gary Carlson across a five-page layout.
The story accompanying the photos reads, in part: "The shots you see here, originally taken on slide transparencies by both Linda and Gary, sat at the back of a closet for 20 years and have never been published - until now. We're grateful to the Carlsons for sharing their personal archive."
Days before the magazine came out, Hilton died of an apparent heart attack.
"Chris was so excited to see it," Mrs. Carlson said. "He died that Sunday; it came out that Thursday."
Growing up in Indiana, Mrs. Carlson followed the Indianapolis 500, but never had the chance to attend the race until she went to college at the University of Evansville, Indiana. Her roommate's father worked for Ford and got them tickets.
After moving to Western New York, Mrs. Carlson became interested in Formula 1 and the U.S. Grand Prix at nearby Watkins Glen. She went to the race for the first time with her parents in 1968.
"When we moved here, I couldn't believe I was so lucky ... that it was so close," Mrs. Carlson said. "It was such an adrenaline rush."
In 1971, she and her husband went to the U.S. Grand Prix together for the first time. They went every year until the race moved after 1980.
The international appeal of Formula 1 kept Mrs. Carlson interested.
"You could hear a Brazilian driver talking to an Italian team manager," she said. "I really liked that aspect of it."
The Carlsons attended several grands prix in Canada, other locations in the U.S. and a few at the aforementioned Brands Hatch, England. The sport's technology and the sensory experiences that came with it continued to impress Mrs. Carlson.
"It's an extremely expensive sport," she said. "A steering wheel alone probably costs more than my house. (The cars) can change directions so fast. You think there's no possible way they could make the corner, but they do somehow.
"With F1, the fans are attracted to the noise. It's that really high-pitched shriek that sort of rips your ears. We love that. When you're sitting in the grandstands at the start, the seat underneath you vibrates. The air around you vibrates. It's awesome."
GETTING THE PHOTOS
While attending grands prix, the Carlsons didn't find it too difficult to position themselves for photo opportunities.
They had at one time considered becoming photojournalists. However, Mrs. Carlson had jobs at Unigard Insurance and as a travel agent, and her husband worked at Crescent Tool, Ellison Bronze and eventually at Cummins.
"We didn't want to risk it," Mrs. Carlson said. "We both had good jobs. We didn't think what we were doing was that special."
Although they attended the races as fans, the Carlsons looked professional enough to get up close to drivers, cars and crew members, resulting in many of the photos printed in Motor Sport magazine and "Grand Prix Battlegrounds." Mrs. Carlson's photos include action shots of mechanics doing everything from rolling cars through the pits to riding skateboards on the course.
"A lot of times, during practice, we would just walk into the pits," Mrs. Carlson said. "We had all this camera equipment. We just snuck in. Fans, photographers, journalists, mechanics ... it was - especially back in those days - sort of a close-knit community. You could befriend a driver or mechanics and become a real part of it.''
Describing the photos she took back in those days, ''I was trying to show people what I saw: how colorful, how exciting it was."
In 1987, the Carlsons attended what would be their last grand prix for 24 years in Detroit. They took their then 2-year-old daughter Tracy with them.
As they focused on raising their daughter, the Carlsons remained Formula 1 fans, watching races on TV until the new millennium, when they lost touch with the sport. They rekindled their interest after finding their photos, however.
The couple planned to attend the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis in recent years, but never made it before the race was discontinued.
For the first time since their visit to Detroit, the Carlsons attended a Formula 1 race in 2011: the Canadian Grand Prix. The couple returned to the grand prix this year.
"One of the things I missed about it more than anything was the sound," Mrs. Carlson said. "You can't appreciate the sound unless you're there in person."
The Carlsons catch the rest of the grands prix on TV, watching many of them live. For the overseas races that start at 2 a.m. EST, however, they use some technology of their own, firing up the DVR and staying in bed.