Forging Ahead, Chapter 7: Upshift

Rainer Schlegelmilch/Motorsport Images

Forging Ahead, Chapter 7: Upshift


Forging Ahead, Chapter 7: Upshift


As we continue to celebrate the 30th anniversary of RACER magazine and the 25th anniversary of, please indulge me as I share Chapter 7 in RACER’s unlikely origin story and pre-history with a focus on the epic year of 1977, when American racers took on the world – and won.

In 1977, I was already five years into my 50-year career journey in the racing media business. In hindsight, it is now clear that I was originally more motivated by my burning desire to race more than my enduring media ambitions.

From the beginning, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by some of the best and the brightest — both in media and in racing. So, I have zero excuses for failing to achieve total world domination in either field.

Clearly, I could have been Formula 1 world champion, or perhaps Indy’s first five-time winner, if not for the absence of a deep trust fund or my chronic deficiencies in judgement and discipline.

Certainly my once-in-a-generation-talent (for aggrandizing my racing exploits), is something I should be proud of and take comfort in. But, I prefer instead to blame my friend and mentor Mike Hull for failing to shape me into the next Scott Dixon before the actual Scott Dixon was born.

However, I am grateful to Mike for setting me up with a ride in the Mexican Formula Ford series where I promptly earned my lifelong nickname, ‘Raoule Piffanner’ — which gave new meaning to my racing career going south.  OK, I’m admittedly slow to get a clue, but 45 years later it has finally occurred to me that Mike may have been giving me a subtle early hint that I should focus on the media business at the same moment he was beginning to focus on race team management.

Mike Hull, future Chip Ganassi Racing Managing Director, was a Formula Ford racer and mentor to Paul Pfanner from the beginning of his racing journey. Image by Steve Schnabel

Beyond helping you understand how delusional this author is, I do hope you appreciate that my long journey to now was inspired by racers.

For me, remarkable people like Jim Clark, Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti, Mark Donohue, A.J. Foyt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Skip Barber, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Gilles Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal, David Loring, Janet Guthrie, Rick Mears, Danny Ongais, Willy T. Ribbs, Ayrton Senna and Jeff Krosnoff represent the essence of the uncommon talent, self-belief, courage and commitment required to make impossible dreams possible.

By doing so, all these great racers helped me find the courage and commitment to launch RACER in 1992 with my friend and co-conspirator Jeff Zwart along with my teammate and founding publisher, Bill Sparks.

Although I failed to make my mark as a racing driver, I was fortunate to know and work with some of the best in the business. So, I have no regrets about dedicating my life to sharing the inspiring stories of racers in the magazines and websites we publish.

I’m also very fortunate to work with the current RACER team led by our Editor-in-Chief Laurence Foster and Editor Mark Glendenning. For me, every issue of RACER is a dream come true and every morning my racing passion is reignited by the terrific content created by brilliant people with a deep passion for racing and racers.

For the record, the 30th Anniversary issue of RACER is the 316th we’ve published for you. We never forget that you are the reason we do what we do.

Also for the record, I must point out that in my first five Formula Ford races, I scored three top 10 finishes and 2 DNFs but I did lead a race for 0.7 seconds… before crashing.

Paul Pfanner in the Titan Mk-6A Formula Ford he rented for $500 in the fall of 1977 to race in Mexico City. Image by Paul Webb

In retrospect, that was nothing compared to the uncomfortable debrief with team manager Mike Hull that followed that race. This unfortunate encounter forever damaged my world-class excuse-making skills.

Speaking of damage, I’m still paying for the crash damage from my Formula Ford misadventures so could you help me out by subscribing to RACER.

Tell them Raoule sent you.

Watch Forging Ahead, Chapter 7 below, or click here.

Catch up on previous episodes below.