This is the 21st installment in RACER’s ongoing 25th anniversary celebration during which we share the 25 most important issues from our first quarter century.
A shadow of sadness and doubt fell over the sport and RACER in the last months of 2011. Dan Wheldon’s shocking death on October 16, 2011 during the opening laps of the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway defined the issue and hit the RACER team hard on a personal level. Wheldon had been a cheeky but welcome presence in our lives since he came to America, and Robin Miller’s moving tribute stirred our emotions but made us grateful we’d been fortunate enough to know him.
On the day of Wheldon’s death, the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series lost Rick Huseman, so there was little to brighten our mood as we rolled onward to 2012. But racers carry on, and there were still champions to be celebrated.
John Oreovicz profiled Dario Franchitti’s impressive IndyCar title conquest for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. RACER editor David Malsher’s feature on newly crowned Firestone Indy Lights Champion Josef Newgarden revealed a rising star with a big personality and even bigger potential. Tony Di Zinno’s story of Dyson Racing’s American Le Mans Series championship-winning effort underscored the fighting spirit of one of the foundational teams in American racing. Little did we know that that Dyson fighting spirit would soon be part of RACER‘s story of survival and rebirth as we approached our 20th anniversary.
Edd Straw profiled the unusual path Bruno Senna took to Formula 1 and how he overcame unusual challenges presented by his famous uncle’s legacy. Tom Jensen explored the fuel mileage battle that was changing the nature of NASCAR competition. Todd Veney examined Matt Hagan’s NHRA Funny Car “déjà vu” championship ambitions for Don Schumacher Racing.
On the business side, RACER was also going through a difficult period. The ravages of the 2008 global economic crisis had taken a grave toll on parent company Haymarket Media and by the end of 2011, RACER‘s hardworking American publisher Greg Gill left the company to seek fresh challenges in motorsport. Thankfully, he would soon find the project of his dreams. With Gill’s departure, the future of RACER was very much up in the air as Haymarket’s management teams in New York and London grappled with their limited options.
As fate would have it, one of those options had moved into the frame on October 15, 2011, when RACER founder Paul Pfanner joined the RACER staff and Haymarket USA’s CEO Lee Maniscalco for dinner in Las Vegas the night before the tragic running of the IndyCar World Championship race. The friendly conversation that began that night between Maniscalco and Pfanner led to a suggestion from editor-in-chief Laurence Foster that saw the Haymarket boss call RACER’s founder in early December with an amazing proposition: “Do you want your company back?”
An intense effort began by Pfanner and RACER‘s founding publisher Bill Sparks to bring RACER‘s original cornerstone investors, Rob and Chris Dyson, into the plan to save the RACER brand and reboot its potential in print, digital media and agency services. Time was short, but through Foster’s heroic and stealthy efforts there was real hope of pulling off the big save as 2011 drew to a close. The RACER story was far from over…