Racing community pays tribute to Don Panoz

Image by Michael Levitt/LAT

Racing community pays tribute to Don Panoz

IMSA

Racing community pays tribute to Don Panoz

Tributes from throughout the racing world for Dr. Don Panoz, who passed away today at the age of 83:

GALLERY: Significant Panoz race cars

Roger Penske: “Don, to me, was someone who came into the sport with passion. He certainly had a mind of his own and pushed the establishment on what he wanted to do with vehicles that carried his own name. You look at what he did at Road Atlanta and certainly with Scott Atherton with the American Le Mans Series. And then he was smart to combine it with the boys at Daytona. We had a wonderful win with Gil De Ferran in 2003 with his chassis at the Indianapolis 500, and the support we got from them was amazing. I’m sure sorry to see his loss. He was a businessman, someone committed to motor racing, and he was a good friend. I respected him a lot, and in so many ways.”

Gerard Neveu, CEO, World Endurance Championship: “We’re all sad to learn about the passing of Don Panoz, a huge figure in U.S. endurance racing. I’ve never met a bigger fan of sportscar racing and more importantly he was a genuinely good person. We will really miss him and send all condolences his family. Respect Don.”

Tommy Milner, who drive for Don via Multimatic, and whose father Tom runs the PWC Avezzano GT4 program:

“My first real interaction with Don was around 2000 with my dad, and that point, my dad been helping a little bit on the LMP side as a manager,. We walked through the Chateau Elan while Don was having dinner, my dad wanted to say hello and give him a hard time–say something funny–and I remember vividly Don turned around, saw me, my dad said I was in go karts and had been through one of the Panoz driving schools, and being shy, I didn’t speak, but Don reached in his pocket, gave my dad 20 bucks, and said here’s this for Tommy’s first contract because he’s going to drive for me one day. I ended up driving for him in 2006 with Multimatic, and I’ll never forget that first meeting.

“He loved to laugh and tell jokes, and for me, driving for him and all he did for my dad, was so important in our careers. I can point to that year as being so instrumental in my career with all the people I met and have gone on to race with. In more modern times, my dad always told Don the truth when others were just towing the line. It made him hate my dad at times, but he also respected him for it. And when you look at where sports car racing is today, it’s immeasurable to see what he’s contributed to the U.S. and around the world. Without a strong series like the ALMS to support the efforts of manufacturers who wanted to go sports car racing here, who knows what the landscape would look like today without all that he’s done.”

Andy Meyrick, DeltaWing: “I drove for Don for a number of years and I’m not afraid to say that he was the best boss of my career.

“He looked after us all, let us get on with the job, however tough the task, but then made it fun.

“He’s a simply huge loss, not just for those of us on his own teams, but for the whole racing community – There are so many people that I know will feel that they owe him a massive vote of thanks for his contribution.

“One final moment — I got an email from Don just 11 days ago asking how I was doing (after his accident at the Spa 24). I knew he was unwell, and for him to do that while he, himself, was battling is the mark of the man.”

Katherine Legge, DeltaWing: “Don was an integral part of my career. When everything was going wrong, he plucked me from obscurity and breathed life into it. He was a legend and he was a really good man. He always had little magic tricks and stories to tell to keep us entertained. He captivated us. I’m devastated by his loss, really. I thought he’d live forever. There haven’t been that many people who’ve had that big of an impact on so many lives. He will be missed, but won’t ever be forgotten.”

Sebastien Bourdais: “He was ecstatic when we won with his car at Sebring in 2006. He always liked those projects that were different. He loved racing and did a lot of things with his own programs, his tracks, and so many things that made an impact. He had a vision, and in racing, the big issue is you are often trying to make things happen against people who have different visions. It was a troubled time for sports car racing here, it was going a separate way from Europe, and his passion and drive brought global sports car racing together again. He was a spectacular person. He let his passion lead the way and never held back. He was a pure racer.”

Wayne Taylor: “It’s a very sad day. I did a lot with him over the years that I can vividly remember, starting with the day we met, and we instantly bonded. I’ll never forget 1998 when he announced the inaugural Petit Le Mans. I was in my pit when I was with the Ferrari team, and he drove down and asked, ‘Where’s Wayne? The guys fetched me, and Don pointed at our race car and said, ‘Wayne, you have the engine in the wrong place.’ At that point, I thought, ‘What is this guy thinking,’ but from that point we became good friends.

“I remember him asking me one day to just hang around after a race weekend. We had breakfast and he asked if I wanted to come to the best restaurant at the winery. I didn’t realize you had to wear a coat, so I called and told him I didn’t bring one. Don said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll bring you one.’ It turned out to be this loud, blue-and-yellow coat, the worst thing I’d seen in my life. But I took it from him and put it on and he said he absolutely loved it, he wanted me to have it.

“He asked me many times if I was interested in running his program over the years, which didn’t come to be for one reason or another, but we were always good friends. There might have been things I didn’t agree with him on at ALMS, but I think ultimately he did more for sportscars than anybody. When he announced the ‘For the Fans’ tagline, I thought that was the best thing anybody’s ever come up with for our sport. And then he merged with Jim France and that made it all a huge success. It’s a very sad day for me.”

Max Angelelli: “I only worked directly with Don when he entrusted me in 1999, gaving me the opportunity to drive in the Le Mans 24-hour in a Panoz LMP1 Prototype. That was an unbelievable opportunity that opened a big door for me, and I’ve been grateful ever since for that trust in me. Then, what he did for our beloved sportscar world in the States was never before seen, unheard of. He did so much in the way of personal commitments, financial commitments, promotional commitments, in his vision to get sportscar racing where it is today. It’s safe to say IMSA is the best sportscar racing in the world and he had a tremendous impact on how that has come about. I’m grateful for the opportunity he gave me at Le Mans and grateful for the opportunity to participate in sportscar racing at the highest levels thanks to him. He was the spark that started this fire.”

David Brabham: “I am deeply saddened to hear the news that my old friend and team boss Don Panoz has passed away. When I think about Don I always have a smile, why, because what a character he was, his drive and passion for what he believed in was incredible, who would of thought of building a front-engine sportscar in 1997… ! I was honoured to drive the Panoz Roadsters on the racetracks around the world and we sure shook the establishment by beating the likes of Audi and BMW with his little team from Brasleton Georgia. Without Don Panoz sportscars would not be what it is today, his commitment to bring in the manufacturers, privateers and align with the ACO was a stroke of genius and it paved the way for some of the best racing the USA had ever seen with his American Le Mans Series, a series for the fans.

“To Nancy, Danny and the rest of the family, my thoughts and prayers are with you all, Don will be sorely missed by so many people.”

Justin Bell: “Sad to hear that Dr. Panoz just passed away. I always have a chuckle when I think of him smoking as we walked through the new buildings at Sebring as he told me that they were all non smoking buildings! Everyone that loves IMSA sports car racing owes him a huge debt of gratitude.”

Sean Rayhall, who Panoz hired to race full-time in 2016, the final season for Don’s DeltaWing:

“Don Panoz was one of the most eccentric racers, but also one of the truest. I remember on my first drive for him in the DeltaWing at Daytona. He pulled us all into the motor coach and said, ‘Here’s a bowl of $100 bills. If any of you wreck my car, use one of those $100 bills to get your ass home because I don’t want to see you!’ He had a heart of gold. He gave me a shot, believed in me, and believed in American talent. I’m so proud to have driven for Don Panoz. I cant thank him enough for how good he was to me.”

Richard Dean, who drove the LMP Roadster in a few ALMS races, won in the Roadster in the 2001 ELMS race at Vallelunga (Lanesra racing with Gary Formato) and won in GT2 at the 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours with Lawrence Tomlinson and Tom Kimber Smith for Team LNT:

“What a character, and what a legacy, a real innovator and a visionary. A man who truly invested in the sport, in his series, his circuits and his cars. The American Le Mans Series showed the way — it is still my favorite race series.

“There are so many that owe their careers in this sport to the opportunities that Don’s investments and projects provided.

“At Le Mans, it seemed coming into the race that everything was against us, engine issues at the test, we were allocated Garage 13, but his enthusiasm never wavered — he tried for 10 years to get the win and was just ecstatic when we did it. And he was given the Spirit of Le Mans award by the ACO that same weekend!

“I grabbed a Panoz flag from someone on my way to the podium — I see that picture every day in my gym. Without Don that wouldn’t have been possible — a simply huge part of my career.

“Thoughts are with Danny and the rest of the family.”

Paul Pfanner, CEO Racer Media & Marketing:  “Don Panoz was one of the most inspiring and determined people I’ve ever known. Don’s passion was infectious and his imagination boundless so it is no surprise he accomplished so much in his life. It was truly an honor to work with Don and American Le Mans President Scott Atherton on the positioning, branding and advertising for the series from 2006-2009. I will be forever grateful to Don for his wonderful friendship and it is safe to say RACER and RACER.com would not exist today without the faith and commitment of Don and his great team at the ALMS. Our RACER team offers our sincerest condolences to the Panoz family and his many friends who have lost a very special man who was truly one of a kind.”

Greg Gill (President/CEO of WC Vision and Pirelli World Challenge): “We are deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Don Panoz. He and his organization did more for sports car racing than any other. His Panoz Avezzano GT4 sports car won 13 GTS/GTSA races in the past two years in the Pirelli World Challenge and the Panoz Company captured the 2018 GTS Manufacturers Championship in GTS, a tremendous achievement. Don always had fresh insight alongside a warm sense of humor about our industry and the sport. He will be sorely missed.

IMSA statement: The IMSA community is profoundly saddened by the news that its Vice Chairman, Don Panoz, passed away from cancer at the age of 83.

A lifelong entrepreneur, the charismatic Panoz is best known to race fans as the founder of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and creator of the famously loud and uniquely styled front-engined Panoz LMP1 racecars.

Panoz fell in love with the unique atmosphere at the 24 Hours of Le Mans after experiencing it himself for the first time. Panoz aimed to replicate the spirit of Le Mans, its unique rules and regulations while adding his own fan-friendly atmosphere, first through the creation of a “one-off” event at Road Atlanta, the 10-hour or 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans, which debuted on Oct. 11, 1998. The overall winners of that inaugural race were co-drivers Eric van de Poele, Emmanuel Collard and WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion team owner Wayne Taylor.

Buoyed by the success of Petit Le Mans, Panoz founded the ALMS, a series of races throughout North America on world-class racetracks, including three that he owned: Sebring International Raceway, Road Atlanta, and Mosport – what today is known as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Panoz became a driving force for sports car racing in North America at a time when the sport was badly in need of direction, vision and leadership.

Under Panoz’s watchful eye, the ALMS was the first motorsports sanctioning bodies to open the pre-race starting grid to race fans, enabling them to walk among the cars and drivers on the racetrack minutes before the start of each race. It’s a practice that is still a part of every IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race – and has been replicated by many racing organizations around the world.

In 2012, Panoz recognized that to truly achieve the type of success he envisioned for sports car racing in North America, a merger between the ALMS and the GRAND-AM Road Racing Association was needed. He joined forces with GRAND-AM Founder Jim France – and together with their respective CEOs, Scott Atherton with ALMS and Ed Bennett with GRAND-AM – and the historic merger was announced at Daytona International Speedway on Sept. 5, 2012.

“Don Panoz will be remembered as a one of the most important figures in the history of sports car racing,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO and IMSA Chairman Jim France said. “Don was a true gentleman who deeply cared about our sport. That was obvious to all who are involved with sports car racing. He became a great friend and partner, and we shared the pride of combining GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series and re-establishing the IMSA brand, bringing sports car racing together again. Don was a true innovator whose work touched many lives.”

With France as Chairman, Panoz became Vice Chairman of the new organization, which took on the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) moniker. Panoz had acquired the rights to use the IMSA name years earlier for his own sanctioning body, extending the lineage of the highly respected organization founded in 1969 by Bill France Sr. and John and Peggy Bishop.

“It is difficult to find the right words to express my sadness with the news of Don’s passing,” said Atherton, who became president of the new IMSA. “He was a very special guy – the most visionary and creative person I have ever worked with. He was a serial entrepreneur of the highest order. Don was the consummate ‘idea guy’ – not all of them good mind you – but he came up with several that were truly brilliant that transformed entire industries.

“Many of us who make our living in motorsport owe him a debt of gratitude. He deserves full credit for putting professional sports car racing back on the map when it was at its lowest point. His acquisition of IMSA, Sebring International Raceway, Road Atlanta, Mosport and the creation of the American Le Mans Series are enduring monuments of his legacy.”

Panoz’s involvement in motorsport extended well beyond the ALMS and his racetracks, which all were part of his Panoz Motor Sports Group. His Panoz Esperante GTR-1, was the first successful front-engine prototype race car in more than 30 years. Following that, Panoz was a pioneer in the introduction of hybrid technology in sports car racing, bringing the car known as “sparky” into competition at the 1998 Petit Le Mans.

Another highlight was the Panoz Esperante GT LM, which won both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Twelve Hours of Sebring in 2006, which also earned Panoz the coveted “Spirit of Le Mans” award from the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, organizers of the annual 24-hour race in France.

In the early 2010s, Panoz was instrumental in the development of the revolutionary DeltaWing race car, which was half the weight and horsepower, but all the performance of other prototype race cars. The DeltaWing raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the ALMS and the WeatherTech Championship until the end of the 2016 season.

Beyond sports cars, the Panoz Motor Sports Group also included Van Diemen, which built successful chassis used in open-wheel and prototype development series; Élan Technologies, which built engines and chassis for a variety of race cars; and G-Force, which built IndyCar chassis that would win the Indianapolis 500 in 1997, 1998, 2003 and 2004. The organization also built the well-respected DP01 chassis used in the final season of the Champ Car World Series before its merger with IndyCar in 2008.

Most recently, the Panoz Avezzano race car won the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge GTS class Sprint/Sprint-X Manufacturers’ Championship.

“Don loved the challenge that top-level motorsport represented,” Atherton said. “He loved to compete and was always looking to achieve success with game-changing innovation and by doing things differently. Putting the engine in the front of a modern LMP1 racecar, introducing hybrid engine technology at Le Mans long before it was embraced by mainstream manufacturers and, of course, the DeltaWing are but a few of many, many examples.”

Panoz’s racing endeavors were made possible by his entrepreneurial success in other ventures. His career began in 1961 when he and friend Milan “Mike” Puskar, a fellow alum of West Virginia University who also served alongside Panoz in the Army, founded Milan Pharmaceuticals in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Panoz was the youngest president of a pharmaceutical company in the United States.

Milan eventually became Mylan, which now sells an estimated 1,300 products in more than 140 countries and territories worldwide.

In the 1970s, Panoz created Élan Corp. in Ireland, which became a leader in drug delivery products and technology. Panoz led a research team that created time-release medication through a transdermal patch, commonly used today as a nicotine patch. Élan Corp. was the first Irish company to be publicly listed on the U.S. stock exchange, and Panoz retained more than 300 pharmaceutical industry patents.

Panoz founded Élan Technologies, which includes Élan Composites, Élan Power, Élan Precision and Élan Fabrication; and the Panoz Institute at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, which houses the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. He also founded international resorts such as Chateau Élan in Georgia, The Vintage Golf Club in Australia, Diablo Grande Winery & Resort in California, and St. Andrews Bay Resort and Spa in Scotland.

Panoz earned several prestigious accolades throughout his life. He was the 29th inductee into the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in 2013, the Bob Russo Heritage Award recipient from the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2014, the La Bella Machina award winner at the 2015 Concorso Italiano in Monterey, California, and the 2015 recipient of the Women In The Winner’s Circle Leadership Award from racing pioneer Lyn St. James and the Women’s Sports Foundation.

That award was presented at the 2015 Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Panoz also is a member of the West Virginia University College of Business Hall of Fame.

“I had the honor and privilege of working side-by-side with Don for nearly 15 years – witnessing many of his landmark achievements in motorsports, hotels, golf resorts, residential real estate and much more, not just in America, but around the world,” Atherton concluded. “His drive, energy and work ethic were truly remarkable. Don ran on the rev limiter right to the end. But he was also a lot of fun to be around, always quick with a joke or a fascinating tale from his past. We have all lost a great man and many of us have lost a great friend and mentor.”

Panoz leaves behind his wife of 63 years Nancy; sons Danny and Chris; daughters Donna, Dena, Lisa and Andrea, along with many grandchildren and great grandchildren, and numerous longtime friends and business associates from around the world.

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