Pioneering team owner Dede Rogers dies at 64

Lesley Ann Miller/Motorsport Images

Pioneering team owner Dede Rogers dies at 64

Road to Indy

Pioneering team owner Dede Rogers dies at 64

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Her personality filled the paddocks where her teams raced, and her benevolence helped to fulfill the dreams of drivers who went on the win the Indianapolis 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans, and all manner of races after developing their craft at DSTP Motorsports.

Dede Rogers (main image, left), one of three key women to own championship-winning Road To Indy teams in the 1990s and 2000s, died over the weekend in Texas at the age of 64. With her loss, Rogers joins the late Jacky Doty, half of the Lynx Racing ownership duo with Peggy Haas who provided technical support to DSTP, who passed last August.

Fitting her boisterous ways, Rogers came up with the playful DSTP name in deference to the wealth she was born into; ‘Don’t Spend The Principal’ was coined as a reminder to only use the interest from the fortune to fund her racing programs.

Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, where her father served as the mayor, the Rogers family founded Bank of the West, known today as WestStar Bank, and with investments of her own in real estate and other businesses, she was blessed with the means to follow her interests in life.

It was a collision of joy and sorrow that led to the formation of DSTP. Rogers’ interest in the sport was sparked after taking a course at the Skip Barber Racing School, and with the death of her 27-year-old brother Mac, she decided it was time to break free from living a normal life and went forward with a new and high-energy direction involving motorsports.

Like Doty and Haas, Rogers used her team as a scholastic endeavor where talented young drivers were selected to race for DTSP without the need to bring funding. With Lynx firmly established in the Toyota Atlantic Championship, DSTP began as an affiliate program that utilized support from Lynx and served as a feeder operation that groomed talent in the U.S. F2000 National Championship for Doty and Haas.

Relying on the organizational and operations skills of Pam Griffith as her team manager, Rogers also hired Griffith’s husband Jim to serve as DSTP’s technical director. Rogers’ primary cars would bear the No. 27 in honor of her brother Mac.

Starting out in 1995, Rogers gave karting prodigy Memo Gidley his first significant shot in open-wheel racing. They’d finish second in the championship and earn Rookie of the Year honors before Gidley stepped up to Atlantics with Lynx.

Rogers (far right) with Jackie Doty, Vicki O’Connor, Peggy Haas and Pam Griffith

Alex Barron, a future CART IndyCar hire by Roger Penske, would follow with DSTP in 1996 and go on to win the Toyota Atlantic Championship the next year with Lynx. Future Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice was selected to race for the DTSP U.S. F2000 team in 1997, and Bobby Oergel, owner of the PR1/Mathiasen IMSA LMP2 team, along with Ian Lacy, continued the tradition afterwards.

It was Rogers’ decision to go head-to-head with Lynx and move of DSTP to Atlantics, where her highest-profile achievements were recorded. With Rice, DSTP earned the Atlantic championship on debut in 2000 and in 2001, Joey Hand was hired and earned third in the standings along with Rookie of the Year as the yellow and purple livery continued to be a familiar presence at the front of the grid. DSTP closed the doors on its Ohio-based team at the end of the 2003 season.

Heartbroken to learn of Rogers’ death, Hand was forthright in positioning her impact on his life.

“It hit me yesterday as I was driving by myself, and I was like, man, this life that I have, which is a pretty damn good one, where I live on a nice three-acre property with my wife and kids, there’s a lot of people that helped me in my life, and I would have to say that the opportunity that Dede gave me is why I have a racing career,” he told RACER.

Building on his strong opening season in Atlantics with DSTP, Hand suffered a monumental crash in 2002 that ruined his chances of capturing the title and could have derailed his future in the sport as he was sidelined with a broken back and leg. Rogers made sure that wasn’t the case.

“I got the drive after they did a shootout in Buttonwillow,” the Californian said of his home state road course. “And after that, they said we needed to move to Ohio. And my wife Natalie and I – we weren’t married at the time – packed everything up and we moved there. I left my karting school here behind, and Dede basically paid me as a mechanic to work there in the shop. Jim and Pam Griffiths ended up leaving a little while later, and Natalie ended up being the team manager, doing logistics, ran the front office, helped Dede with all the finances. So we became very close, very quick.

“And you know, when I broke my back at Milwaukee, the deal wasn’t supposed to go to a third year. Nobody knows that. So I came in 2001, we had a really good year, and things were looking even better in 2002; we were on a roll, but I end up breaking my back and Dede was going to be done after 2002. But because of my how it all went sideways for me, she decided to put up the money and do another year in 2003, just for me, and against the better judgment of everybody. Monetarily, it was not a smart thing for her to do, but she did it for me.”

DSTP’s 2003 swansong would not go according to plan; A.J. Allmendinger ran away with the championship as Hand placed seventh. He didn’t know it at the time, but his three-year run with Rogers’ team, including his fight to return from injury, caught the attention of an auto manufacturer that would reward all of her personal and financial investments in Hand.

Hand, pictured in Atlantics in 2001, says Rogers’ support was instrumental in establishing his professional career. Phil Abbott/Motorsport Images

“And that ended up turning into the opportunity to move on to BMW where it took me around the world, we won championships together in the ALMS, I went and raced in the DTM, and then Ford came calling and a whole bunch of new opportunities came from there,” he said. “Dede gave me the chance to make something of myself and kept me going after I badly injured myself, and the only thing that I’ve continued to try and do is repay her with success.”

Rogers’ playful side, which was often the only side on display, involved constant slaps to the behind and a variety of penis-themed gags, including squirting anyone in sight with penis-shaped water guns and the throwing of confetti formed in phallic shapes… Racing for DSTP meant accepting that everything before and after the race was fair game for hijinks led by the woman in charge of the operation, and if you opted in, nothing but loyalty was returned.

“After my crash, I was in the hospital for four days there and Dede asked who the best person was to get me fixed up, no matter what it cost, and that was Dr. [Terry] Trammell in Indy,” Hand said. “So Dede decides we’re leaving, but they wouldn’t transport me in an ambulance to Indy.”

Get ready for a classic Dede Rogers story.

“So she rented a stretch limo for me!” he continued. “And they laid me on the long stretched-out couch part of the limo to do like four hours from Milwaukee to Indianapolis. And Dede and Natalie are in the back, I had a full upper body cast to keep my back straight, had a cast on my left leg, laying there looking like a mummy in the weirdest limo ride of your life.

“So we get there, late afternoon, early evening, and we couldn’t get into see Doc Trammell until the next day. And so Dede decides to get us a nice room, but figures we’re only going to be there for maybe eight hours so we’ll just share a room with two queen beds. I’m in there, all jacked up, trying to get comfortable in these casts with Natalie, and Dede, she has this breathing apparatus thing that’s hooked onto her face in her bed.

“Well, she could be severely diabetic sometimes, and she ends up having a diabetic moment where she gets really low on her blood sugar from the whole day of travel. It was a bad one so we call 911. We couldn’t get her to come back out of it. So, the paramedics show up, firemen show up knocking on the door. We open up, I’m in pajamas with a half body cast on, with my crutches, Dede’s in her pajamas with this big mask and hose on her face and they walk in and here like, ‘What is the hell is going on here!’

Evidence of Rogers’ fondness for a prank at Cleveland in 2003. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

“I guess it looked kinda’ suspect to them, like something weird was going on? You know? Why does this lady have a mask on? What are you doing to her? Why are you in a body cast? We talked and laughed about that story for years afterwards, because in the moment it was scary, but then when she came around, she was totally fine. They seriously thought some weird stuff was going on in that room. But that pretty much sums up a day in the life of rolling with Dede. If she wasn’t smacking you in the ass or getting doused with water from one of her penis squirt guns, it was something else.”

In her time as a team owner, Rogers earned great respect from her rivals, including Indy 500-winning team owner Michael Shank, who competed against DSTP with his Atlantic operation.

“She was an OG of women-owned racing teams,” he said. “Dede wanted to win more than I did! A really sad loss for our sport.”

Along with Rice, who would go on to win the 2004 Indy 500, and Gidley, who would drive for Chip Ganassi Racing and continues to race professionally into his early 50s, and other prime graduates of DSTP, Hand is filled with gratitude for all that Rogers gave him on and off the track.

“I’ll say it again that I really do owe my career to her, but the career is only one thing she gave me,” he said. “But her outlook on life, where she really decided to live life to the fullest after her brother Mac died, meant that meeting her and being around her came with so many life lessons. She always said that life was an adventure and she lived that adventure and so did so many of us who were along for the ride with her.”

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