Paul Pfanner's memories of MCB
Perhaps the strongest memories I have of Michael are among my first and last. I got to know Michael C. Brown (affectionately known as "MCB") as we were preparing to launch RACER and he played a pivotal role in March of 1992, when we were putting the final touches on our inaugural issue. We were in the last few days of production and still didn't have a cover image. In our minds, everything depended on this cover since first impressions usually make or break you in the media business.
Our cover feature was the Chevy vs. Ford IndyCar engine war and we had some excellent photographers in Surfers Paradise, Australia for the first CART PPG IndyCar World Series event of the season. Several of them immediately came to our office upon returning to Los Angeles with freshly processed slides (remember those?). Digital publishing was in the early stages then and although we were embracing the new technology, we chose cover images by using a small slide projector and a cover mock-up in our darkened conference room.
The mood was tense – we didn't have the shot we needed and when Michael came in the room, all eyes were on him. This was going to be it... we had no other options.
We began projecting his artful images against the blank cover mock-up and in a matter of minutes our lives changed forever. Every image was beautiful, fresh and unique, but a powerful image of Emerson Fittipaldi's Marlboro Penske PC-21 Chevy that had won that first IndyCar race of 1992 was projected and it simply looked right. I remember turning to Michael and saying, “That's the one,” and he smiled and nodded his head in agreement. The look in his eyes was one of quiet pride and deep passion that will stay with me for the rest of my life. There was a collective sigh of relief from our team. RACER magazine now finally had “a face.” We were ready for the world and a great adventure was about to begin.
My last time spent with Michael came in late September of 2012 when we both ventured out to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana to support Jeremy Shaw and his RRDC-supported Team USA initiative. On tap was an on-track shootout between the very talented young nominees.
After more than a decade of retirement from motorsport, MCB had kindly volunteered his considerable talents to capture the day's activities. Joining MCB was his teenaged son Seth who, like Michael, was an avid and accomplished kart racer. I drove them to the various corners of Auto Club Speedway's internal road course to shoot the action and enjoyed seeing how close this father and son were.
At one point, near the end, we found ourselves parked at the inside of the speedway's steeply banked Turn 2 and we realized we were near the spot where young Greg Moore had lost his life in October 1999. Seth was far too young to have any memory of this tragedy but after a brief and somber discussion, I was reminded of all the pain that engulfed the sport of IndyCar racing during the tragic and destructive period when Michael's talent was in full bloom. Somehow MCB still found the beauty in it all and his brilliant work still moves me.
I saw Michael for the final time last November in the paddock at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin during the USGP weekend. Like the MCB of legend, he was in the moment, intensely focused and shooting his magic camera so that all of us could see the beauty only he saw. Young Seth was by his side and he was in his natural element and full of life. Upon seeing me, MCB's eyes flashed that same quiet pride and deep passion that I had seen on that March morning in 1992.
Paul F. Pfanner
President, CEO and Executive Publisher
RACER Media & Marketing