Scott Atherton, former president of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), was honored by the Road Racing Drivers Club with the 2021 Phil Hill Award. The 2019 award recipient, RRDC President Bobby Rahal (pictured at right, above, with Atherton), made the presentation at the annual RRDC members’ dinner on January 26 prior to the running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the season opener of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The Phil Hill Award has been presented annually since 1993 to the person who the RRDC feels has rendered outstanding service to road racing. The recipient may be a driver, entrant or outstanding member of a sanctioning body.
It is named in honor of America’s first Formula 1 world champion (in 1961), and is not only a tribute to his masterful accomplishments on the racetrack, it also recognizes his contributions as a great ambassador for the sport. Hill passed away in 2008.
Born and raised in Seattle, Atherton was best described by the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, Bob Varsha, as “a four-decade veteran of motorsports with a unique perspective on the entirety of road racing: as a race car driver, track general manager, CEO at Panoz Motor Sports Group overseeing the creation of championship-winning race cars, building the American Le Mans Series, spending two decades as president of IMSA and so much more.”
The “so much more” includes racing go-karts and Formula Fords, working with Tom Gloy’s three-car Formula Atlantic team, and taking on CART team and event title sponsorship responsibilities for Domino’s Pizza, “where I first met Bobby Rahal, among others, in 1985,” he said.
“I spent a total of nine years with Domino’s Pizza, but my real passion was not the pizza business, it was road racing,” Atherton said. He soon became president and general manager of Laguna Seca Raceway until “Roger Penske called and I left to become president/general manager of Nazareth Speedway, a part of Penske Motorsports, and eventually ended up as president of California Speedway in Fontana.”
Penske Motorsports Inc. was soon acquired by International Speedway Corporation. “After Penske Motorsports was acquired by ISC I left California Speedway in 2000 to join Don Panoz.” Atherton added. He became president and CEO of Panoz Motor Sports Group, which consisted of IMSA, the American Le Mans Series, Road Atlanta, Sebring Raceway, Mosport, GForce (an IRL constructor), Van Diemen, Elan Composites and Elan Power.
“The ALMS became the premier professional sports car racing championship in North America, the tracks thrived and we earned multiple Indy 500 wins and IRL Championships with Chip Ganassi, Rahal Letterman and Team Penske.
“In 2012 I worked directly with Jim France and Ed Bennett to negotiate the sale of Panoz Motor Sports Group to NASCAR, merging the ALMS and Grand-Am Series into the IMSA Tudor (now WeatherTech) SportsCar Championship. It was the most difficult process I’ve ever experienced, but it was the catalyst that enabled sports car racing to be where it is today – stronger than ever.”
Finally, after 38 years in professional motorsports and 20 years as president of IMSA, Atherton retired in 2019. He remains on the Board of Directors of IMSA, is on the Board of Directors of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, and has a motorsports consulting business currently involved in several projects. He lives in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, with Nancy, his wife of 35 years.
“I can’t put into words how thrilled I am to have been chosen to receive the Phil Hill Award,” he said. “I was literally shaking when Bobby called me with the news. While I consider myself a race fan across many genres, road racing has always been at my core and my only true passion. And to be recognized by my peers for making a contribution to the betterment of road racing is truly a dream come true for me.”
“When you think of class and of accomplishment, you think of Phil Hill. He was a fantastic person who gave a lot back to the sport we love,” said Rahal. “I don’t know how many trophies you have in your cabinet, Scott, but they’re going to be second to this one. This is the coolest award going.
“When we discussed who’s really deserving of this award, it really became clear to us that Scott was the guy. We’ve been friends since the early ’80s. He went to work at Nazareth for Roger (Penske), then he went to Fontana to work for Roger, and then he came here with ALMS. Every step of the way he’s had tremendous positions of responsibility, and he did a great job.
“Scott, this is a very well-deserved award. I thank you for all you’ve done.”
Past RRDC Phil Hill Award winners include:
1993 John Bishop
1994 Juan Manuel Fangio II
1995 Leo Mehl
1996 Charlie Slater
1997 Danny Sullivan
1998 Rob Dyson
1999 Bob Fergus
2000 Elliott Forbes Robinson
2001 Bill France
2002 Jim Downing
2003 Derek Bell
2004 Brian Redman
2005 Jim France
2006 Roger Werner
2007 Skip Barber
2008 Roger Penske
2009 Bob Bondurant
2010 Nick Craw
2011 Rick Mears
2012 George Follmer
2013 Peter Brock
2014 Hurley Haywood
2015 Vic Elford
2016 Scott Pruett
2017 Chip Ganassi
2018 David Hobbs
2019 Bobby Rahal
2020 Jack Roush