When artist Bob Peak was commissioned by SI to draw a comic strip with a story line built around the Indianapolis 500, he shifted gears between eagerness and apprehension. Although Peak had handled numerous assignments for us over the years, ranging from a safari with the Shah of Iran to the Super Bowl, he never before had tried a comic strip. That made us even. We never before had run one.
An admitted car freak ("Cars are my bag"), Peak went to Indy and came away with enough material for a whole comic book. But automotive abundance is the carburetor of Peak's life. His Greenwich, Conn. driveway is littered with the family's Lincoln, Mercedes and Toyota personal sedans, as we'll as his own favorite, a Ferrari Daytona. Over the years he has freely mixed grease with his oils, building and owning foreign race cars, spirited vehicles he drives not for high-speed kicks but for relaxing, the way a Formula I driver might take time off from crowding the ragged edge to paint a still life. "I use the cars to keep my sanity," explains Peak. "They help me get away from my work. I have an enormous sympathy for beautiful machinery, for the whole idea of the history and glamour of racing, for the mystique of cars like Ferrari and the sound of engines."
Peak grew up in Denver, Colo., pen in hand. While the other kids in the neighborhood were hooked on batting averages and Heisman Trophy winners, he looked to artistic rather than athletic fields for heroes, though he did dabble in competition as a sprinter for his high school track team.
It was Senior Editor Bob Ottum who first proposed the idea of comics and sports. "Several events came to mind," said Ottum, whose job it would be to concoct the characters and story line, but Indy seemed a natural. "It is shot through with Americana. You walk around breathing in pure fried chicken and—by squinting your eyes in just the right light—you can see these real-life people in comic-strip roles." The venue was a natural for Ottum, who quickly came up with a script.
Puzzled as how best to begin his first attempt at comic-strip art, Peak decided he would actually stage a scenario with editor Ottum's characters, hero Leroy Leadfoot, mechanic Sparky Downdraft, villain Rodney Evil (hiss) and heroine Bubbles LaFarge, the parts to be played variously by his son, Bobby, a girl friend of Bobby's and an attendant from the corner service station. The attendant, explained casting director Peak, was ideal because he "looked just like Jackie Stewart—long hair, little Dutch boy cap—and was always working on his Duster."
The troupe borrowed a Formula I car from a Ferrari dealer and spent three days photographing scenes. Then Peak sat down at his drawing board, started his engines and, with the roar of the crowd echoing in his ears, was off racing—this time to beat his deadline. He made it, spectacularly, we think.