This is the 22nd installment in RACER’s ongoing 25th anniversary celebration during which we share the 25 most important issues from our first quarter century.
It’s been said you can’t go home again, but RACER founders Paul Pfanner and Bill Sparks had the opportunity to do just that when Haymarket Media offered them the chance to reacquire the company they had started twenty years earlier. The fateful call came in early December 2011, and the next 100 days saw a flurry of activity to make the improbable deal happen. Working secretively with RACER‘s editor-in-chief, Laurence Foster, Pfanner and Sparks put together a plan they named “RACER 3.0” and secured the backing of RACER-1.0 era investors Rob and Chris Dyson. Their goal was to relaunch the company with the 20th-anniversary edition of RACER magazine and then focus on rebooting RACER.com, in-house agency Racer Studio and reviving the flagging fortunes of RACER‘s sister title, SportsCar, which had been published by the company for the SCCA since 1984. The deal was finally done on March 18, 2012, and Pfanner and Sparks walked into the office late on the morning of March 19, 2012 to reassume control of the company.
The company they returned to was a faint shadow of what it once was commercially. RACER circulation was less than a third of what it had when the founders left the company in December 2005, but thankfully, RACER still had a world-class creative team in place. With barely a month before an all-new RACER was to be revealed to the world during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend, Laurence Foster, editor David Malsher, executive editor Andrew Crask and art director Rob French set to work on a totally revamped magazine that carried the theme “Game Changers.” The cover feature spotlighted the recently introduced DeltaWing Le Mans and ALMS prototype that was the striking vision of designer Ben Bowlby, ALMS entrant Duncan Dayton, the original game-changer Dan Gurney and serial entrepreneur and game-changer Don Panoz. An expansive In Focus photo section by Rick Graves gave RACER‘s readers full access to this radical sports car that polarized the racing world.
Beyond RACER‘s stunning redesign by French, the production quality of the magazine received a dramatic upgrade, with beautiful heavy white paper stock along with a larger page size and expanded page count. Some hard decisions were made to cut RACER‘s frequency from 12 issues to eight in light of the declining advertising market ,while the cost of a basic subscription price was nearly doubled. It was a big gamble, but it soon paid off as RACER‘s circulation and advertising support began to climb again after seven years of decline. The magazine had been off the newsstand for several years and would take several months to resolve, as would many other critical challenges facing the company.
Pfanner dedicated the 20th anniversary issue to his late friend Jeff Krosnoff and titled his column “Stay Hungry” to honor his spirit. His 20th anniversary message to RACER‘s readers laid out the mindset of the RACER 3.0 era:
“Racing is ultimately about driving and managing change faster and better than your competition. With RACER. RACER.com and other RACER-branded offerings we intend to do just that.”
The issue’s Game Changer theme was captured movingly by renowned technology, media and business innovator Diego Rodriguez, who declared: “Game changers are created by people who focus on disparate ideas, rather than on inventing new ones. The most impactful – Steve Jobs, Colin Chapman, Gordon Murray, Jim Downing – are magpies who collect the best ideas they can find from other people, companies and industries, and then synthesize them into breakthrough innovations.”
So it was for RACER‘s creative leader, Laurence Foster, (an aerodynamicist who forsook a career in Formula 1 to become an editor at Autosport) as he pulled together the content for Issue 241.
Following Foster’s Game Changer’s theme, brilliant racer and engineer Gil de Ferran examined the innovative mind of Chaparral creator Jim Hall. Indy 500 hero Dario Franchitti examined his own hero and mentor, Jackie Stewart, and how he changed the world of racing. Three-time world champion Niki Lauda revealed Bernie Ecclestone’s disruptor gene that made him the king of Formula 1. Cars are game-changers too, and Rick Graves’ beautiful images showcased the 1961 Cooper-Climax T-54 that altered the DNA of the Indy 500 and Colin Chapman’s pivotal 1978 Lotus 79, which redefined how racing cars interacted with the air flowing over and under them.
David Tremayne’s insightful feature “Get Back in Your Box” dove into the thorny subject of over-regulation in Formula 1. Honda Performance Development’s founding president Robert Clarke put forward a compelling argument for how racing should seize the opportunities present in the coming decade of change to mobility and society. Mark Hughes asked the question “What if?” regarding Gilles Villeneuve’s planned move to McLaren in 1983 that sadly never came to pass. RACER‘s favorite illustrator Paul Laguette even a created fantasy Tamiya model car box art to illustrate what could have been.
The Andretti family has been the heart of RACER since the beginning, and it was fitting that Mario and Marco were the subjects of the RACER Interview. Jeff Olson looked into the evaporation of ovals from the IndyCar schedule and Tom Jensen’s feature on NASCAR icon Jeff Gordon titled “Taking Stock” looked deep into the motivation and mindset of a man who has graced RACER‘s cover more times than anyone else. Todd Veney’s “Off the Record” confronted the reality of speed and ET records no longer being part of the NHRA drag racing’s narrative.
RACER‘s readers and advertisers were impressed with what they, saw but the battle to save RACER had only just begun. Like the magazine, RACER.com and RACER‘s social media platforms were in dire need of a total reboot, but that would need to wait a little while longer as Foster and his RACER creative team focused on making the next issues live up to the bold promises made in Issue 241, while Pfanner and Sparks soon grappled with much more serious business challenges than they encountered during RACER‘s original launch back in 1992.