There are a number of phrases or words I hear in life that make me smile instantly. But it’s only RACER‘s founder, Paul Pfanner, who can say a particular one of my favorites. It was initially delivered after poking his head around the partitions in the cramped RACER offices in Tustin, Calif., or later his office door into the editorial area of the vastly more spacious HQ on Irvine. Wherever it was: “Andy… Have you got a minute?” got the heart racing.
What followed would be a breathless stream and exchange of thought, ideas and creativity that would largely shape the pattern and content of future RACER issues. It was never a minute, but always something I learned from, thrived on and enjoyed immensely in my times at RACER as editor from 2001.
I was aware of RACER and Paul right from the magazine’s launch in May 1992. The first copy landed on my desk in Haymarket’s offices that April, in Teddington, West London, England. I was two months into my new position of editor at Autosport magazine, finding my feet still, but remember seeing the front cover (photo taken by my former Autosport colleague, the much-missed Michael C. Brown) stopping me in my tracks. Its beautiful presentation, great use of photography and insightful features was exactly what I loved. But for our topical, weekly magazine full of news and race reports, it was not an option.
By 1994, my role had spread to run Autosport‘s Special Projects dept. Haymarket was growing internationally, too, with the launch of its monthly magazine F1 Racing in 1996, and that its format bore a more than passing resemblance to RACER might just be because I was editor of the preview issue used for its foundation…
In December 2000 I was called by Haymarket boss Tony Schulp and sworn to secrecy. “We are talking with Paul Pfanner about purchasing RACER magazine,” he said. “And we’d like you to go over to America for Haymarket.” Just 18 days later, I was packed and moving to America. On New Year’s Day, 2001, what Paul describes today as RACER version 2.0 began.
Initially, my role was to bring Autosport/Haymarket-style production techniques and values to RACER, without changing the fundamental core of what made it so successful in the first place and retaining all staff. I’ll admit that the pace of production was incredibly difficult to get my head around. In the middle of January, they were putting to bed the March edition, when I had been used to seeing a CART race on a Sunday night in London, and holding a printed Autosport with report and color photos three days later.
Six weeks in, I was still absorbing the processes, and having helped the RACER team finish the April issue, on Friday Feb 16, 2001 I boarded a flight to Daytona for my first NASCAR race. News doesn’t get much bigger than the loss of one of motorsport’s biggest stars, and “Stop Press!” was all I could think of when the news of Dale Earnhardt’s death was confirmed that Sunday night. I called Paul at home, and as instinct said we should change the cover, and add in additional pages of tribute..
Gifted writer Ben Blake turned around a story overnight that was rich and reverent, photos were researched on site (pre-digital days, remember) and within 48 hours of the accident. The RACER staff had all got stuck in and, adrenaline pumping, new and revised pages were sent for what had become an expanded and updated April 2001 issue. It was a wonderfully gratifying moment when those copies arrived in the office after the hard work the whole team had put in to make the impossible happen.
There was precious little time to draw breath, though. May is, of course traditionally RACER‘s anniversary and, with new owners, the issue we were already working on was having a major facelift. As the dust settled and the “Earnhardt issue” was in our hands, I got that Pfanner call: “Andy…. Have you got a minute?”
He asked if I was willing to become editor full-time, just the second in its nine-year history following in the steps of John Zimmermann, who was to have a wider reaching role. While being editor was never in my plan when the year-long placement was offered, I’d already enjoyed working with Paul and the team. It was a dream chance, and a dream job.
The new, bigger, brighter RACER opened a lot of doors and with key members of the board at Haymarket fully behind us, we were allowed to take on the world, speed up production and printing – and ruffle a few feathers along the way. It was a huge learning curve for me – including living on a new continent – but a brilliant one.
In the wake of his father’s death, Dale Jr. was thrust into the spotlight that summer, and he was our cover story for the Sept issue. Our brief to legendary photographer Tony Di Zinno was simple: “Make him look like a rock star.” He pulled off some wonderful shots that day, but it was the last frame of the day that was the winner. A snarky comment from Jr’.s assistant Jade Gurss about his driver’s choice of road car drew a ‘single digit’ gesture response. Flash! Bang! And there was our full page.
I was not prepared for the outcry from offended readers threatening to cancel subscriptions, (“He wouldn’t have got away with that behavior if his daddy were still here,” wrote one, forgetting we had a filing cabinet full of photos of his daddy offering the bird, while racing…!)
If my first year at RACER had started with a big tragedy, two significant events later in 2001 – within days of each other – had far reaching resonance both globally and in the racing world. First came 9/11, and for me waking up in California to live pictures from New York is a thought that still sends shivers through me. While still reeling from that devastating act of terrorism, the CART series, on a two-race European tour, chose to honor the fallen by renaming their race at Germany’s Lausitzring The American Memorial. Sadly, that was the day that Alex Zanardi crashed and lost his legs. Both events hit RACER hard emotionally – and 9/11 financially too. Zanardi’s fight to stay alive – and what a wonderful life the now gold medal paralympian has forged – is a message for us all in racing and in general. We must never give up.
The following couple of years were also, lest we forget, the time of the ludicrous CART vs IRL war, a battle that was never going to have a winner. RACER‘s roots were firmly in the CART camp, but with new owners it was time, we felt, to put politics aside and support racing and reach out to the IRL, embrace its teams, and partners and introduce them to the “new” RACER. I recall brazenly walking into the IRL paddock with a pile of fresh RACERs to introduce myself, and meeting team owner Eddie Cheever, who took a copy, flicked through, handed it back and muttered, “Ahh RACER, the mouthpiece of CART.” Yes, nice to meet you too.
By the end of 2002 his comment was close to true – though of course not about the magazine itself; RACER Communications won the contract to supply CART’s media service, which included the rebranding of the CART FedEx Championship, with logos and delivering the content for its website. I began the 2003 season running that, alongside my editor role at RACER. When Haymarket in London secured a TV channel’s Formula 1 website, I was lured back to the UK and ran that alongside the editorial of the CART site from London, so handing the RACER reigns to Steve Nickless. Shortly thereafter my former Autosport colleague Laurence Foster took on the Editor in Chief role.
CART, of course, soon imploded but RACER continued to grow, and its own special projects department was bringing in more new business, not least work with Toyota, as it was about to enter NASCAR.
Laurence and I went back a long way and, now with a magazine for the merged and growing IndyCar Series, plus Toyota work and more on the books, he suggested that perhaps I’d like to again “forget the London weather, the boredom of Formula 1, and return to California.” So in December 2004, I did!
My second stint was in their new offices, and a new/old face. My former boss from when I began at Autosport, Peter Foubister, was now based there permanently, and with Pfanner I had without doubt the two biggest mentors of my career in the same office at the same time. Add in the mind of Laurence and it was a magically creative time, and momentum was high – all produced in the RACER spirit and mindset.
I finally left the House of RACER in 2008, when it was still in Haymarket’s hands. I loved my time there, and the many friends I made in that period. I am extremely proud of what we produced. I used many of the lessons learned independently producing a Kickstarter-funded book I did with Dario Franchitti in 2013 called “Romance of Racing.” Last year with Jeff Olson (another ex-RACER scribe), I co-wrote, edited and produced “Lionheart – Remembering Dan Wheldon.” You will see that in both books the importance and use of good photography, certainly a hallmark of any RACER product, is firmly alive and kicking.
I could not have been more delighted when I heard the news in 2012 that the magazine – and company – was going back into the hands of original founders Paul Pfanner and Bill Sparks, and with Foster still there waving his magic wand of madness, it’s a magazine I look forward to arriving in the mail. You can see with RACER version 3.0, the current team is still in the realm of two fantastically gifted and creative people.
In fact, no. They are not just people; they are RACERs in every sense of the word.