Forging Ahead – A film about RACER’s unlikely origin story

Paul Pfanner

Forging Ahead – A film about RACER’s unlikely origin story

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Forging Ahead – A film about RACER’s unlikely origin story

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Someone once said it is important to remember where you came from. With that in mind, I’m pleased to debut a short film project that I started on March 28, 1971 with four of my high school pals, and that I finally completed on September 4, 2020 after “only” 18,059 days of development and production.

My defense for this apparent procrastination is I lost track of the most important elements of this project, which were the five rolls of Super 8 color movie film that were shot at the one-off Questor Grand Prix at Ontario Motor Speedway that featured a match race between Europe’s best drivers in Formula 1 cars and North America’s top racers driving stock-block-powered SCCA Formula 5000 cars. This event proved irresistible to 16-year-old-me, and it motivated me to create hand-painted faux credentials that allowed me and my miscreant teenage pals full access to the then most modern racetrack on the planet. Thankfully one of my co-conspirators recently discovered the five lost rolls of film stored in a safe in his family home, so this epic tale can finally be told now that the statute of limitations has expired.

I should add that Italian/American racing legend Mario Andretti was the only U.S. citizen driving an F1 car the Questor Grand Prix and, that car just happened to be the Ferrari 312B that he’d driven to his first F1 victory in the season-opening 1971 South African Grand Prix just three weeks earlier.

But this story really began 50 years ago on Sunday September 6, 1970 when my late father took me to Ontario Motor Speedway’s inaugural 500 mile USAC Championship race called the California 500. The reason I am sharing this now is that these two races at OMS played pivotal roles in determining my life’s direction. There would be no RACER magazine or RACER.com without the impact those two days had on me in intensifying my passion for the sport.

OMS was a modern replica of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway located in Ontario, California that was built in 1968-1970 at a then-staggering cost of $25.5 million dollars, and today would likely cost more than $350 million to replicate. In my opinion, Ontario Motor Speedway was simply magnificent, and a window into racing’s modern booming future in the 1990s. It was also the site of the first official 200 mph lap in 1972 set by Jerry Grant (to Bobby Unser’s chagrin) in Dan Gurney’s beautiful ’72 Eagle/Turbo Offenhauser.

Ontario Motor Speedway only operated for 11 financially-troubled seasons from 1970 through 1980 and was demolished in the fall of 1981 to make way for commercial real estate development. Sadly, it missed the 1980s cable TV revolution that transformed racing’s economics by only a few years. In addition to the Questor Grand Prix, OMS hosted eleven USAC and CART IndyCar 500 mile races, and I was thankfully present for all of them. It also hosted 10 NASCAR 500 mile events, 11 NHRA events as well as two IMSA events and one SCCA/USAC F5000 race, plus numerous AMA road races and two SCCA club racing weekends.

The start of the 1971 Questor QP at OMS. Motorsport Images

In 1997, destiny called and Pfanner Communications was chosen by Roger Penske as the creative agency of record for the launch of California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway) that was built within sight of where Ontario Motor Speedway once stood. Not long after the inaugural event at California Speedway in 1997 — also called the California 500 – our company became the creative agency for all of Penske Motorsport’s racetracks, which included Michigan International Speedway, Nazareth Speedway and North Carolina Speedway. As fate would have it, I personally oversaw the design of the credentials for California Speedway and made sure that they were very difficult to forge…

Ironically, Roger Penske was on the original board of directors for Ontario Motor Speedway, and today he owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that inspired its creation. Roger and his able team at Penske Entertainment are coping with the strangest year in the 111-year history of the storied facility, but with The Captain at the helm I am certain they have the vision, commitment and resources to turn any challenge into opportunity.

I’ll admit that I still have dreams about being at Ontario Motor Speedway and I am grateful to have experienced this remarkable facility during its all-too-brief existence. It truly was a preview of what was yet to come for the sport 35 years later. In light of the current moment of societal and business disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sad end to Ontario Motor Speedway is also a sobering reminder of how fragile our sport can be despite all the potential it still holds.

After viewing this film, I hope you ask yourself “where are all the 16-year-old kids trying to find a way into our sport today?” Thankfully, I am encouraged by the fact that the 18-24-year-old age segment is the fastest-growing age group on RACER.com in 2020, so there is real hope for our sport as long as we do our best to invite them in. That is something that all of us who love racing must remember as we forge ahead to a brighter future.

Oh, if anyone asks me who I work for, I tell them I work for a teenage kid who loves racing and I promised to never let him down. He also hopes you enjoy the film as much as he did creating it.

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