Sports Illustrated’s Racing Covers
As a non-traditional sports fan, I’ve always thought Sports Illustrated had a difficult relationship with sports that aren’t Football, Baseball, Basketball. But these covers from the 50s and 60s show that auto racing was once a cherished pillar in the temple of sportsmen. In recent years, there has been occasional NASCAR covers, and a Danica Patrick cover, but I think it’s fair to say that the “auto racing isn’t a sport” crowd are winning out on the editorial staff of SI.
Part of that isn’t the magazine’s fault, it’s the path that auto racing has taken. In early American sportscar racing, the driver was the key component. This was particularly true in the early days, when most drivers were competing in cars that were essentially off-the-shelf product. Pick it up at the dealership on Friday, race it on Saturday.
Today, the real muscle behind a successful racing enterprise isn’t so singular. It’s true that drivers get the bulk of the attention, but if the changing teams of Formula 1 have taught us anything, it’s that the best driver isn’t always the winning driver. What has happened is that, in broad strokes, racing has shifted from being an individual sport to a team sport. Sports Illustrated, as much as anyone else, knows that you aren’t going to sell a lot of magazines to the mass market with photos of aerodynamicists on the cover. And so it has struggled to figure out how to showcase racing on her cover pages.
This wasn’t always the case of course, so let’s check out some great covers from the magazine’s past coverage of our sport. Enough has been said about the decaying state of magazine design, so I won’t comment other than to to say, isn’t it nice to see powerful illustration and photography not have to compete with 25 article callouts. We’ve turned magazine covers from covers to photographic table of contents pages.