Car racing once had mainstream appeal, and magazines were once capable of selling millions of copies without turning their covers into word soup. These classic Sports Illustrated covers perfectly embody that golden age.
Both racing and magazines have suffered at the altar of commercialization. Racing is no longer a noble, at-any-cost pursuit of speed, no more than Sports Illustrated is an in-depth visual journey into the world of sports. The art has been replaced with business, the artists with accountants.
It's funny, because that's exactly the reason both are in huge trouble. No one watches mainstream road racing because it's woefully boring, a pastime about as exciting as watching carbon-fiber bake in an autoclave. Magazine readership is down for a lot of reasons — the Internet being chief among them — but you can't deny that a large part of is because print publications aren't the beautiful, tactile labor of love they once were.
As you walk through the following images, pay attention to the personality, glamour, and passion in these covers. That's what we want to see from both worlds.
February, 1968: Curtis Turner. This was the first time a NASCAR driver appeared on the cover of a national magazine. SI called Turner "the Babe Ruth of Stock Car Racing."
November, 1959: Daytona 1000 km. The first ever sports-car race at the brand new Daytona International Speedway. The race was actually 800 km long because the circuit had yet to be completed. Porsche RSKs placed first and second, followed by a Jaguar D-Type. The average speed of the winning Porsche was 93 mph.
May, 1963: Dan Gurney at the Indianapolis 500. Pictured in his Lotus 29, Gurney finished seventh due to mechanical issues. The race forever altered the face of Indy, with rear-engined Formula One-style cars replacing the race's traditional front-engine roadsters.
August, 1971: Steve McQueen. The actor was on top of the world in '71, the year that the film Le Mans was released. Now able to make the films he wanted and spend his time pursuing his hobbies, McQueen spent most of his time behind the wheel of a fast car or on a dirt bike. The magazine rode through the Mojave desert with the legend and his son Chad for the cover feature.
September, 1974: Evel Knievel. Just six days after this issue was released, Knievel would fail to complete the most publicized jump of his career: Snake River Canyon. It's believed that he passed out during the launch, accidentally triggering the parachute on his rocket bike prematurely.
July, 1995: NASCAR. The year the series released its first website was full of excitement with upstart Jeff Gordon rivaling champ Dale Earnhardt.
September, 1985: Bill Elliott. In 1985, Elliott won the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 and the Southern 500, earning the Winston Million. He placed second in the championship despite winning 11 of 28 races.
May, 1959: Indy 500. The first year in which metal roll bars and inspected helmets were required to enter the race.
December 1973: Jackie Stewart. Entering the 1973 season, the Flying Scot had already decided to retire, but that didn't stop him from winning six races in his Tyrell, taking his third championship in the process.
May, 1981: AJ Foyt. Foyt started racing Champ cars in 1957, winning the Indy 500 four times in a career that lasted until 1993. This cover story recounts the tale of how he lost his cool while teaching the female writer how to drive her Ferrari 250 GT in high heels.
October, 1960: Jack Brabham. Brabham was an Australian Air Force mechanic before first going racing in 1948. He won the F1 championship three times. 1960 was his second.
September, 1954: Sports-Car Racing. In 1954, American sports car racing had moved off the roads and onto courses mostly built around airfields. This was the year that Ferrari began racing in America, quickly dominating the sport.
May, 1963: Indy 500. Jim Clark was already a Formula One champion when he and his Lotus became Indy rookies. He placed second in the race that year.
March, 1956: Ferrari. Pictured is "Gentleman" Jim Kimberly, who made his fortune with Kleenex before becoming a professional racer.
March, 1957: Carroll Shelby. Driving a V-8-powered Maserati, Shelby spun out on the first lap of a 100-mile race at Riverside. He recovered and won, lapping the field in the process.