This is the 13th installment in RACER’s ongoing 25th anniversary celebration during which we share the 25 most important issues from our first quarter century.
The May 2001 issue relaunched RACER with a dramatic new look and feel to supplement the magazine’s mission of incisive writing and evocative photography. Company founder Paul Pfanner and new majority owners Haymarket Media collaborated on the planning of the new issue and format, which was executed by new editor Andy Hallbery and designer Allan Muir. Haymarket further demonstrated its commitment to the project by investing significant new resources in the magazine, including an increase in the number of pages and upgraded paper stock. The new-look issue was revealed at the RACER ninth Anniversary party in Long Beach, where Pfanner noted that Autosport – Haymarket’s signature UK-based racing magazine – had been the original inspiration for RACER, so it was a natural step for the two companies to have joined forces.
RACER’s relaunch came amid a challenging time for American motorsport, of course, as the shockwaves continued to reverberate from the death of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500. Ben Blake’s NASCAR feature for the issue spotlighted both the urgent questions over safety that hung over the sport as well as the uncertainty over how to move forward in a post-Earnhardt era.
Amid all the angst, though, NASCAR’s overall popularity didn’t seem to miss a beat. As had been the case for F1 after Ayrton Senna’s death, even the harshest mainstream attention in the wake of tragedy served to expose the sport to more people, resulting in another boost to attendance and TV audience. How far could it go?
A new beginning in IndyCar was underway for Team KOOL Green in CART, which had expanded to three cars with the addition of Michael Andretti in an affiliated team that would evolve into the Andretti Autosport squad that holds a predominant place in the sport today.
In 2001, of course, IndyCar racing was still in full Split mode, but David Phillips detailed in our cover story how the combined Andretti and Green teams would have a foot in both camps, with Andretti competing at Indy as well as CART while Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy continued to focus on the latter. It was interesting foreshadowing of the converging interests that would, if painfully slowly, bring American open-wheel racing back together. Andretti’s subsequent purchase of the team and its move to the IRL would prove a significant part of that process.
Another grandiose makeover was ongoing at McLaren, which was then trying to revive its fortunes in Formula 1 after Ferrari and Michael Schumacher had dethroned the team the year before. But the team’s spectacular new headquarters, while providing an awesome backdrop for Maurice Hamilton’s interview with team boss Ron Dennis, would prove a triumph of style rather than substance: The team slipped into a period of decline while Ferrari and Schumacher cemented a grip that would be maintained for five straight years.
Regardless of how its individual series contests played out, though, motorsports seemed well poised for a long period of ascendancy, and that confidence about the future was reflected in RACER’s grand redesign of May 2001. No one could have guessed that a terrible day loomed in September that would shake all assumptions and create new challenges to be overcome.