With the benefit of hard-earned 2020 hindsight, it is possible for us to look back and realize that we have all had difficult years in our lives. This year certainly qualifies as one of the most challenging yet for nearly everyone amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought so much suffering and economic hardship. But we have seen dark times before – especially in the world of racing, where physical and economic dangers abound, and where risk and change are the only constants.
As fate would have it, 1973 was my first full year working inside the sport with my high school pal and talented co-conspirator, Mike Vannatter. It seemed that everything that could go wrong did go wrong in my teenaged life as well as auto racing, just as the sport reckons with a worldwide crisis today.
But racers embrace change and challenges as they face daunting danger with courage, passion, ingenuity and commitment. So it was with the 1.0 versions of Mike and I, because we were energized by those in the sport who inspired us and, in some cases, took time to nurture and mentor us. These remarkable people who invested their kindness, encouragement and wisdom in two wide-eyed miscreants are the reason why you are now reading this on RACER.com, so I guess you could say it all worked out.
Some of those whom you will see in “Forging Ahead – Chapter 3: Fire and Rain” will be familiar to you because they made it to the top of the sport from the humble beginnings we shared with them. But for me, the most inspiring person I met during that first full year of my career was the late Mark Donohue. This wasn’t simply because of Mark’s many accomplishments behind the wheel that season as he raced in five different series, or during the seasons before. Instead, it was because of Mark’s sincere personality, his humility and his intuitive sense of seeing passion and commitment in others. Even at that young age, we understood that he viewed himself from the unselfish perspective of being part of the team at Penske Racing with a common purpose and shared goals rather than being the racing superstar that he was. My pal Mike and I witnessed both Mark and Roger Penske personally engage in mundane tasks such as sweeping the garage floor or polishing wheels, which was a valuable leadership lesson for both of us at such a young age.
Out of the chaos of 1973, we somehow found a way to become a part of the launch of a new racing magazine and then became engaged in its fight for survival by doing whatever it took… which brings us forward to the eternal now that we all share.
As 2020 nears the finish line, we must continue to do what racers do as we look ahead to the next race. For sure there will be challenges in 2021, but based upon the lessons learned so long ago and this year, I still believe in our sport and our collective ability to succeed as a culture if we embrace the unique opportunities found in this turbulent moment, and forge ahead with total commitment.
In this unusual period, our sport is not only holding on to its audience better than most other sports, but it is also showing signs of being more competitive in attracting new audiences as we prepare for the restart of a lifetime.
As this is written, more that 5.91 million users have visited RACER.com so far in 2020 versus 4.17 million users during the same period in 2019 – a 41.87% improvement despite the pandemic. The fastest growing age group is 18-24, which is up 172.21% and, during the same period, the overall female audience has grown by 124.26% compared to 2019. You are proving that passion powers our sport.
My hope is that you enjoy Chapter 3 and that it helps you see beyond the challenges of this tragic year we are now living through. I started this project on March 28, 1971 at just 16 years of age when I decided to do whatever it took to find a way inside this darkly beautiful sport, and at the same time, share the experiences with my friends. With the gift of 2020 hindsight, I now realize that I’ve been doing this ever since so thank you for sharing this great adventure with me.
I believe that audience is the media in new media, so I submit that it is up to everyone who loves racing to share their love of the sport and continue to create and attract new racing fans with the powerful social media tools we have today. There is a reason why there were more than 460,000 shares of content from RACER.com in August 2020 when the Indy 500 was run without spectators. It seems you are already a lap ahead of me, so thank you for so effectively sharing your love of racing. Now, let’s build on that success together.