RACER.com @25: How RACEWEEK begat RACER.com

RACER.com @25: How RACEWEEK begat RACER.com

This week marks the 25th Anniversary of RACER.com, which has had three distinct eras. Our site was created by publisher Bill Sparks in a process that began in the summer of 1996. In 2017, as part of a series relating key moments from RACER’s first 25 years, we produced three stories recounting the development and continuing evolution of RACER.com, starting with the origin story of the site as recounted by its founding editor, Bill King.

Around 1994, Gordon Kirby and RACER launched RACEWEEK, a precursor to the blog. The emphasis was right in Kirby’s wheelhouse – U.S. open wheel racing, primarily CART. At the time, RACEWEEK was one of two major subscription fax newsletters covering motorsports.

Two years later, I had just wrapped up a gig with Cotter Communications in Charlotte when Paul Pfanner asked me to open an East Coast office for RACER, which started life on my kitchen table. Paul and I had ties from my first stint at the SCCA in ’83 when he first landed the SportsCar contract, and I became the de facto national editor.

Later, during my six years with Goodyear Racing, Pfanner published an in-house organ for me – Eagle Performance Report – which covered the entire gamut of Goodyear’s vast racing activities from Formula 1 to World of Outlaws and most everything in between. That’s when “the Goodyear perspective” crept into Pfanner’s brain around the time he was seriously contemplating the launch of RACER magazine. Kirby was a linchpin in that project.

Bill King at RACER.com HQ in 1997.

I was tasked with providing a wider range of content for RACEWEEK, which soon had grown from four pages to 16, becoming both expensive and unwieldy in fax format. That’s when I planted the seed that we should look at launching a website – a fairly radical concept at the time for a magazine with less than 50,000 circulation monthly.

Pfanner is nothing if not a visionary and his right-hand man Bill Sparks can build anything. So RACER.com was launched on spec in May 1997 to see if we could build audience, attract advertisers and generally expand our media footprint.

We rented office space in the Smith Tower at Charlotte Motor Speedway and soon hired John Gardner, then Eric Mauk and finally John Davison. It was a shoestring operation, but we made the most of our resources: RACER.com looked good.

RACER.com also read good, covering Formula 1, IndyCar, sports cars, drag racing, short track, karting and industry business including television ratings. But it was costing an arm and a leg. All those factors would combine to yield the next big step…

Coming up next: The Speedvision era.