Passing away earlier this week from pancreatic cancer, Don Panoz, entrepreneur and racing innovator, leaves behind a great legacy in the racing community.
Don Panoz will be remembered as one of the most important figures in the history of sports car racing- Jim France
Panoz initially pursued a career in the pharmaceutical industry but, like most of us, ended up falling head over heels for the racing industry after his very first experience at a track event, specifically, the 24 Hours of Le Mans – and thank goodness he did! Since, he aimed to replicate its incredible atmosphere, but with some improvements in order to create a more fun, fan-friendly experience.
After multiple successes with his smaller organized events, he eventually ended up founding the American Le Mans series (ALMS), including events taking place throughout North America’s famous race tracks, including three he had owned; Sebring, Road Atlanta, and Mosport. Under his discretion, the ALMS was the first ever series to open the pre-race starting grid to fans and other attendees, allowing them to get first-hand experience with the drivers, among the race cars, and even on the track just minutes before the start of a race. To this day, this idea is replicated by other organizations, and is still of huge importance for IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championships and IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge races.
Panoz’ actions in creating this new IMSA series essentially helped shape America’s sports car racing as a whole. But, that wasn’t quite enough for him – at Daytona International Speedway in September of 2012, it was announced that Panoz had partnered with GRAND-AM Founder Jim France. From creating the first successful front-engine prototype race car in more than 30 years, to piloting hybrid technology in racing – He didn’t stop there.
Don loved the challenge that top-level motorsport represented. He loved to compete and was always looking to achieve success with game-changing innovation. -Scott Atherton
Next came the Panoz Esperante GT LM race car, which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Twelve Hours of Sebring back in its prime in 2006, before earning Panoz the legendary “Spirit of Le Mans” award. About 10 years ago, he aided the development of the innovative DeltaWing, weighing in at half the weight and half the horsepower of all the other prototype racecars, then continued with other business and vehicle advancements outside of the racing world until his death.
By reflecting on Panoz’ success stories, there are two things that are apparent; 1) he was not afraid to fail and, 2) not only was he just interested in the sport’s advancement, but he loved it. He greatly impacted this sport we all know and love, and his legacy in racing history will live on forever. There will be a celebration of his achievements at Road Atlanta’s Petit Le Mans event next month.