RACER magazine is a celebration of racing and racing culture, and that begins with the vibrancy and dynamism of its covers. Whether it’s track action, personalities or specially commissioned art and illustrations, every cover is a stunning evocation of the sport we all love.
Issue No. 305 (July/Aug. 2020) exemplifies what makes every RACER cover so special: A stylized take on the speed and tradition of the Indianapolis 500, it’s a unique piece of art worthy of framing and hanging on a gallery wall.
We sat down with RACER’s in-house artist Paul Laguette to talk about how his ideas and style turned concept into vivid and memorable reality for the cover of RACER No. 305.
RACER: First off, wow! Love the artwork. With 304 RACER covers before this one, it still stands out as something we’ve never seen before. Was that something you had to consciously think about?
Paul Laguette: Thanks for the kind compliment. To answer your question, yes. I always think about what RACER has done before. I never want to copy anyone else, or repeat myself.
R: So how did you come up with the idea?
PL: Believe it or not, this was an idea I scribbled out on a piece of paper years ago. Back in 2014 I was commissioned by Indianapolis Motor Speedway to do its race program cover art. Not just for the Indy 500 program, but for its inaugural road race, too. While talking through ideas with the Indy staff we wanted to do two covers that had a similar look. One with the cars going clockwise for the road course cover, and one with the cars going counter-clockwise for the 500 cover past the pagoda. Back in 2014, I shelved this idea, because the difference wasn’t that obvious at first glance.
R: So in your opinion, why does it work now?
PL: It almost came to me as a subconscious thought. That’s kind of how my brain works. I was on a phone call with RACER editor-in-chief Laurence Foster. He asked me to do the cover. In his own words he said, ‘I have some flour and a few eggs but nothing ready to cook up.’ He knew he wanted to evoke the tradition of the Indy 500 and to include a current-day reference with the 2019 winner, Simon Pagenaud; but it was a blank canvas beyond that. My subconscious pushed forward this idea from years ago. I quickly explained it to Laurence – who loved the direction – and he sent me a bunch of reference material to work from.
The thing about Laurence is he’s great at visualizing things and translating my thoughts into a workable and doable solution, but he wants to be surprised and elated by where an artist or photographer takes his rough ideas or concepts. That makes for a great space for an artist to work in.
I quickly made a rough photoshop cover composition and sent it off to him – pagoda, bricks, car, the overall perspective. I wanted to make sure the composition worked for him and met all the requirements needed for a cover, too: the position of the RACER logo, headline text and the UPC code, that kind of stuff. I find it’s best to know these things first. That way you don’t have to fudge your finished art.
R: That’s interesting. You mentioned your two Indy covers. I’m familiar with them. The color palette is very different to the RACER cover. Was that going back to what you said earlier about not wanting to repeat yourself?
PL: Kind of. When I presented the cover comp to Laurence it was not drawn out yet. It was just a few photos cut and pasted together. I sent him a few travel posters from the middle of the last century. All of them had beautiful simple color palettes. I told Laurence I wanted to pay tribute to this era of art, and that’s what we both agreed on.
R: So at that point you were locked and loaded? After that, was it just, ‘Head down, make the magic, and send in the finished art’?
PL: Good question, and the short answer is, no. I don’t like working in a vacuum; I don’t like keeping people in the dark. I never want surprises coming back at me either …
In this case, I got the art to a comfortable level of execution where I still hadn’t spent a lot of time on it, but it was thought out enough to share with Laurence. I wanted to let him see where it was headed. I got the “thumbs up” and that’s when I went to town on it.
R: Is this your favorite of all the covers you’ve done for RACER?
PL: It is for now! I’ve actually had a few conversations with Laurence about the next issue and the next cover. That one! That one is going to be my favorite!
R: Can you give us a hint to what the subject matter is?
PL: No. I’ll just say this: It will look like nothing you’ve seen on the cover of RACER before!
R: Thanks for talking with us, Paul. It really is fun to get the behind-the-scenes details on what goes into making a cover.
Speaking of details, I’ve got a couple final questions. Firstly, what’s with the running order on the Pagoda? Who came up with that?
PL: Oh: I asked Laurence for a plausible top 10 – kind of mid race, no overt favoritism… He gave me one, but I goofed: P1 should have been No. 22, Pagenaud, but I put 28 for some reason. Still, I really can’t call it a typo since Ryan Hunter-Reay has just a good of a chance of winning it, too.
R: Final question: Artists sometimes hide things in their work. Do you do that? And, did you hide something for us to find in the cover art?
PL: You got me there. Yes I do, and yes I have in the past. Years ago, when RACER ran its “In Focus” series of race car studio shoots, I always did a cockpit illustration with numbered callouts of what all the knobs and switches were. I used to hide a simple happy face in every diagram. I also paid homage to my Southern California punk roots by hiding “Black Flag” logos in other artwork, too.
R: So, cover No. 305… Any hidden surprises?
PL: You need to buy the poster and check it out. I’ll just say this: the poster will give you a better chance of finding what I hid!
(Look for the hidden image and take advantage of an Indy 500 weekend special on the RACER #305 poster – just $23 and $29 for 12″x16″ and 18″x24″ respectively – by clicking HERE. Go to racermerch.com for information other RACER products including or featuring artwork by Paul Laguette.)