This is the 20th installment in RACER’s ongoing 25th anniversary celebration during which we share the 25 most important issues from our first quarter century.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” was a fair summary of the period in which RACER’s 200th issue came into being. The gratification felt by the staff at reaching this milestone was tempered by the weight of the challenges everyone was facing in December 2008. The depths of the Great Recession included particularly hard hits to the U.S. automotive industry and so, inevitably, to professional motorsports – and to the media entities that covered them.
Underscoring how much the racing world had changed over the course of our 200 issues, the cover story of the issue detailed the 100 most significant moments in racing since the magazine’s launch in May 1992 – and 100 more moments we wanted to happen in the years ahead. How’d we do? Like with all such wish lists, there were some good predictions, some bad.
A best of times/worst of times scenario also was in play for Tony Stewart at the end of 2008. Tom Jensen related how the then two-time NASCAR Cup champion had walked away from the Joe Gibbs Racing he had helped build into a powerhouse to take up co-ownership of Gene Haas’ team, which had previously failed to muster much of a challenge. But Stewart would prove the long-term wisdom of his decision by winning a third title with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2011, and helping put in place the ingredients to keep the team a regular contender after he had retired from the cockpit.
For Target Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of ’08, it was more a case of going from strength to strength. Having just cleaned up in the IRL with Scott Dixon, the team doubled up for 2009 by recruiting Dario Franchitti – who had preceded Dixon as winner of both the Indianapolis 500 and series title – from Michael Andretti’s team. Jeff Olson related how the instant rapport between the two aces helped create an IndyCar superteam before it even turned a wheel.
The flip side of all the uncertainty facing racing at the end of 2008 was that the ultimate owners of the sport – the fans – were more in control than ever before, as we related in our annual look at the sources of power and influence in the sport. While motorsports sponsorship was coming under increasing pressure from corporate belt-tightening, the expansion of TV options and the first glimmerings of internet streaming were making more racing available to more people to view and choose from. That presented both promise and peril to all the interested parties, as Andrew Crask detailed in “Changing Times”
RACER, of course, was feeling the effects of these changes too, which would lead to some significant new twists and turns in the years ahead.