Forging Ahead, Chapter 8: American Racer - The 1978 season and the birth of a dream

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Forging Ahead, Chapter 8: American Racer - The 1978 season and the birth of a dream


Forging Ahead, Chapter 8: American Racer - The 1978 season and the birth of a dream


Hindsight is 20/20 but in the case of our “Forging Ahead” video series, hindsight is 78/22 during RACER’s 30th Anniversary year as we look back on the epic 1978 season that was pivotal for the sport and when the dream of creating something like RACER magazine began.

In 1978 American racer Mario Andretti realized his dream of earning the Formula 1 World Championship for himself and his adoptive nation driving Colin Chapman’s game-changing Lotus Type 78 and Type 79 Fords that revolutionized racing car design. Mario’s crowning moment came at Monza on September 10, 1978 amid eerily similar circumstances exactly 17 years to the day after fellow American racer Phil Hill had clinched the title for Ferrari on the same hallowed ground in 1961. Both men are now forever intertwined in a destiny of triumph, tragedy, and bittersweet irony.

Mario Andretti in 1978. Ercole Colombo / Studio Colombo

This was the same year that the Indianapolis 500 and the USAC-sanctioned National Championship entered a perilous period with profoundly negative consequences that echo to this day. Yet, despite IndyCar racing’s gathering political storm, two of the sport’s greatest legends delivered a unique achievement that will never be duplicated. That same season, a future Indy 500 legend first showed his true potential while substituting for Mario Andretti when the latter was chasing his F1 destiny.

During this turbulent period, my dream was to race so I was using my still-developing media skills as the art director for SCCA’s SportsCar magazine to get myself into a competitive Formula Ford any way I could. But, as you will see, it was fortunate that I had a Plan B to fall back on because my meager resources were not getting it done … or was it just me not getting it done? Anyhow, this failure to launch my racing career certainly wasn’t for lack of helping hands or proper guidance because I had some of the best people in the sport giving me advice — such as ace Formula Ford racers Mike Hull, Richard Shirey and the late David Loring along with the help of Automotive Development (and future Swift Race Cars) co-founder, the late Paul White.

So, the truth is that I have zero excuses — which is a shame since I’ve been told I am pretty good at making excuses — and telling stories, especially the tale of when the initial idea that eventually became RACER was first discussed between myself and my talented photographer friend, Jeff Zwart, 14 years before RACER became a reality. I’ve been working on my excuse for this embarrassing executional throttle-lag for about 30-years…

There is so much to unpack from this pivotal year so I hope you will forgive me for the longest “Forging Ahead” chapter so far. Thankfully, most of it is about people who deserve your attention and who don’t make excuses. I hope you will find this chapter as interesting as it was for me to have experienced this amazing era for our sport and such an inspiring moment for American racers. Now that I’ve survived in the motorsports media business for 50 years, my sincere hope is that I live long enough to see America’s third Formula 1 World Champion.

From all of us who have worked to feed your racing passion during the past 30 years and 317 issues of RACER magazine and during the 25 years since went live, we say thank you for your support of our media platforms and for your encouragement over the years. Rest assured that we never forget that your devotion to the sport we all love is why we all do what we do.

Watch Forging Ahead, Chapter 8 below, or click here.

Catch up on previous episodes below.

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