Grand-Am President Roger
While in Mexico City for this past
weekend's Champ Car/Grand-Am doubleheader, we caught up with Roger Edmondson,
President of Grand-Am to talk about the growth of the series, their formula for
long-term growth, he addresses the lack of spectators in the grandstands, he
answers the question of why ALMS and Grand-Am can't be united, and he dismisses
the notion that the France family would ever be behind a divide and conquer
strategy to keep NASCAR light years ahead of the competition in the USA
Roger has been the President of Grand-Am,
the brainchild of Jim France, since
the beginning, 1999.
Also with us in the room was Adam
Saal, Director of Communications for Grand-Am.
AutoRacing1: We see a car count in the Grand-Am that has
been non-stop growth. What is the secret to you being able to grow this
series and get the kind of car count we're seeing?
ROGER EDMONDSON: Well, I think the secret is in our concept of controlling the
technology and making sure that everything that's used in our race cars is
available to every competitor. So it starts with the fact that people who sign on
to the Grand-Am concept believe that they have a chance, if they do everything
right, they have an equal chance to win the race, as compared to some programs
where there's things they simply can't buy. We require that everything used be
We started that process in 2003. The growth has been pretty spectacular
now. We anticipate continued growth.
AutoRacing1: How is the model working? The purses as of right now are
not real large, correct?
EDMONDSON: That's correct.
AutoRacing1: So most of the revenue for the teams is coming in through
the sponsorship that they have or their personal finances?
EDMONDSON: Yeah. I would say that our purses are comparable to all other
sports car purses around the world, to the best of my knowledge. I think that the
purse for a typical Grand-Am event in the United States is very similar to a
typical ALMS event. When we run our Daytona 24-hour race, the purse is four times the normal. I
think when ALMS runs the 12-hours of Sebring, which is a much better-supported event,
their purses are much larger.
But by and large, the financing comes from the resources of the teams or their
sponsors, not ours.
Edmondson addresses why Grand-Am cars are not very good looking
AutoRacing1: So the cost then apparently is not -- without getting purse money, the cost to
compete is not high. What is the average team budget, would you say,
for the Prototypes?
EDMONDSON: I think a typical Daytona Prototype single-car team probably is
in the $1.2 to 1.5 million range. I think we have some that are doing it for as low as
$800K. I think we have some that are spending $2 or 3 million. But the point is that
the $3 million budget, the team doesn't have any better equipment than the
$800,000 team as far as what they can put on the racetrack. They may be able to
stay in better hotels, they may be able to hire more talented drivers, or
better engineers, but not as
far as the equipment goes.
AutoRacing1: The teams are not able to do much development on the cars, is that correct?
EDMONDSON: No. The cars they buy should be pretty well developed by the
constructor. They certainly have certain areas of freedom in the suspension and
setup. But as far as developing the car itself, there's no need to develop the car
because the rules are pretty well spelled out on what the car is. We require that
we be in a position to approve the car before it's produced and so we know what
everybody's getting. It's pretty easy to decide if what they have is legal or not.
AutoRacing1: Let's say a team buys a car from a certain manufacturer, then they're not
competitive. Is the manufacturer able to make any upgrades to their cars or
is that aspect of the rules
EDMONDSON: We have selectively allowed changes that rectified some of the
errors that the constructors made at the beginning. You know, I look at a typical
sanctioning body rule book that maybe starts out at 10 pages, and in three years
is 15 pages, and that's because nobody is perfect enough to anticipate everything
when they wrote the first book.
The same thing is true in designing the car. Our goal is to create racing,
competitive racing, not to make one brand be perceived as the top brand. We've
seen the inequities in the original designs, given it time to work itself out. We
now have started to take some of the cars that weren't quite as successful and
allowed them to make some changes that will bring them up. But the basic car is
still in place, it's just a small change.
AutoRacing1: Very similar to the NASCAR model in that regard, where, at least until they had
body templates, they would allow a manufacturer to make changes to catch up if
they were behind.
EDMONDSON: It is similar in that regard. I think that's similar in all forms
of racing. If we look at the ACO models, they've allowed some cars bigger air
restrictors and others, so forth, for that very reason. It's a balancing act and
you don't know whether you've got the balance just right until you see the cars
out on the racetrack.
If we have a team that's
running a given car and they're not successful, that doesn't tell us that
the car is bad. If we have 10 teams running a car, and none of them can be
successful, then there's probably something that car needs.
Unfortunately, when you put them on the racetrack, if that's your only measure,
you also kind of have to factor in the talent of the drivers, the decisions made
by the team captain on when to pit. There's a lot of things that are involved in
results that have nothing to do with whether the equipment is as good as the other
If we have a team that's running a given car and they're not successful, that
doesn't tell us that the car is bad. If we have 10 teams running a car, and none
of them can be successful, then there's probably something that car needs.
AutoRacing1: With the engines you do the same thing, you selectively or randomly check
EDMONDSON: We check more than horsepower. We check horsepower and torque. I
think one of the things that makes us unique is that we have a base engine, which
is the Porsche 3.6 liter flat 6, and we know what its torque curve is, we know
what its horsepower curve is. What we've attempted to do is bring other
powerplants in and then specify their air restrictor or their rpms or their cam or
other things that will give them a torque curve as similar as possible to the
Porsche. It's the least capable of the bunch. That's our baseline. That's it.
AutoRacing1: Interesting. I heard the car count could be up to 35
or 40 cars next year?
EDMONDSON: I'm anticipating at the 24-hour that we could have as many as 40
or 42 Prototypes.
AutoRacing1: That's a lot.
EDMONDSON: It is a lot. But we have to recognize that the 24-hour is unique
in our environment just much the same way as the Indy 500 may be unique in the
open-wheel environment, and that is that you have teams that run that event only
and then you don't see them the rest of the season. I think probably the best example is George
Robinson, who has been around sports car racing for a long time, but he gets all
he needs from the 24-hour. That's the only time we see him.
To say we'll have 42 at Daytona does not imply I anticipate 42 at Phoenix or
Laguna Seca, for example.
AutoRacing1: As we know in America, NASCAR is king of the hill. They
have the majority of the race fans, sponsorship and TV ratings. When you mention to the average
person on the street auto racing, they think NASCAR. As I observe
today, I don't see a big turnout in attendance at the Grand-Am races.
Sports car racing has
struggled for a long time to get a large fan base. Is that a goal of the series?
EDMONDSON: Well, let's first off remember that in terms of comparing road
racing to NASCAR racing, most of them actually in many ways got started in the
late '40s. Bill France formed NASCAR around 1948. It was around that same time
that some of the GIs coming back from World War II started racing in California or
at Watkins Glen.
NASCAR's form of racing, whether it be because of the stock body cars they started
with or whatever, the stewardship of Bill France Sr., I don't know, all of it
together, created what became a business that was poised to break out and did just
a few years ago. NASCAR hasn't always been this successful.
AutoRacing1: About 10 years, since the IRL was created that split the
then king-of-the-hill, Indy Car Racing, and directly led to its
EDMONDSON: In the hands of others, road racing has had very many peaks and
valleys. I think there were probably times when had just the right set of
circumstances or the right alignment of the stars occurred, perhaps road racing in
this country could have achieved the same level of success as NASCAR, but it did
not for reasons I don't know. I was doing motorcycles back in those days.
When we started Grand-Am,
we started Grand-Am with the idea we would try to learn from the mistakes
we'd seen from road racing in the past and also try to learn from the
success generated at NASCAR and try to avoid making the same old mistakes
and at the same time bring only those things we thought were appropriate
from the NASCAR model into road racing.
When we started Grand-Am, we started Grand-Am with the idea we would try to learn
from the mistakes we'd seen from road racing in the past and also try to learn
from the success generated at NASCAR and try to avoid making the same old mistakes
and at the same time bring only those things we thought were appropriate from the
NASCAR model into road racing. Our goal was to eliminate the peaks and valleys.
We started out at ground zero. We have had growth, but it has never been
our concern as to whether the growth from year one to year two was 50% or a
hundred percent as long as there was growth. Growth is measured in more than just car
count. It's measured in our sponsorship, it's measured in membership, it's
measured in a number of promoters who want to hold our events, it's measured in
the number of tickets they're selling, it's measured in TV ratings. I mean, there
are a lot of indicators that show growth. And right now Grand-Am has got growth in
every single area, including the spectator side.
The difference here, though, is we look at NASCAR as having a 50- to 60-year
background, we're only in year six. When you look at things with a long view, we
feel very, very strong before where we are and where we're going. If you expected
us to have immediate success and immediate public acceptance by a large percentage
of the population, you're probably going to be disappointed where we are at this
AutoRacing1: Part of NASCAR's success is that the manufacturers are in it to compete, and they
use NASCAR for marketing purposes. Is that the same model for Grand-Am?
EDMONDSON: The model is a little different in our program in this regard. We
welcome manufacturer participation -- our model is not so different from NASCAR as it is from
ALMS, for example. In our program, we welcome manufacture participation, but we're
not dependent upon it. In other words, if a manufacturer wants to come to
Grand-Am, they're welcome and they'll find us to be cooperative partners, but
they're going to do it our way and they're going to abide by our regulations and
fit in with all the other people who are in the program and not become dominant or
become the major source of our underpinning.
We're set up to do business from now until the end of time without
manufacturer direct involvement as is NASCAR. NASCAR at one point in
time in its history was very close to the manufacturers in
their dependency. They found out they couldn't survive with that because
companies would come and go based on their marketing strategy. Sports
car people have never seemed to learn that lesson. If you followed road
racing for years, you've seen people come in and obliterate the rest of
the competition. When their marketing goes off, they have left and sent
the series down the tubes.
We're not about to let that happen. Our regulations, again, they open the door to
manufacturers, but they do not give them a position to take the upper hand.
AutoRacing1: Do all the engines have to be badged with the manufacturer badging?
EDMONDSON: On the cars themselves?
EDMONDSON: Yes. The engine first has to be approved because we want to make
sure any engine we allow in the cars is going to be a competitive engine, not an
overachiever, not an underachiever. If that engine is in the car, we want to make
sure that people know that's what's powering the car. There's a requirement, we're
talking Prototypes now, there's a requirement that the engine manufacturer's name
or the word "powered by" then the name be on the windshield in at least six-inch
AutoRacing1: Does it have to be a passenger car manufacturer name or can it be
a Cosworth or a John Judd?
EDMONDSON: We've only accepted engines for approval from manufacturers of
passenger cars. We have not accepted any pure racing engines. We have a couple of
automobile manufacturers who don't have an engine of the right size who have asked
if we would be willing to consider using a racing engine they have that is the
right size. And after due consideration, we've had to decline.
ADAM SAAL: I believe we do have restrictions that it has to be available for
commercial purchase by anyone, the components used, if you have a five-liter
Pontiac, small block.
AutoRacing1: That's kind of the same model the IRL used when they first went into business.
Then they changed. Now it seems they're in big trouble.
EDMONDSON: We try to learn the lessons from what we see out there. I don't
see us changing.
AutoRacing1: It's interesting. Jim France said when the Grand-Am
was first started that he wasn't sure there was a market for sports car
racing, but they, you, would give it their best shot. How do you
measure success? What is the model? Is it a case that as long as there's teams and there's cars,
and the teams
are healthy, that you'll just continue even though the spectators aren't there? Do
you have to at some point in time say, well, look, we're not getting the
spectators, this is not really a spectator sport, it's club racing, which a lot of
people have accused sports car racing of being, is there some point in time you say
we tried but it's not what we wanted?
EDMONDSON: No, I think that the goal of any sanctioning body would be to
have the same sort of success that NASCAR has, whether it be a function of time or
whether it be a function of luck or good management. So we are certainly desirous
of having all the trappings of success, but we're going to earn them. Our belief
was that the best way to have a long-term fan base, a large fan base, was to make
sure that the entertainment product we put on the track was consistently and
We don't have any enemies
with the ALMS. We're all in motorsports. Anything any of us do to raise the
perception of motorsports is good for all the others.
If you look back at our races over the last three years, they have gotten better
and better and better. I think there's probably only been one or two that have
been stale in any way, shape or form. It's always a question about who's going to
win a Grand-Am race, right down to the last five minutes in most cases. We're
comfortable now that we have a product that is appealing to not only dedicated
motorsports fans, but to casual motorsports fans. And I don't think that we need
to separate whether they are NASCAR fans or IRL fans or Champ Car fans or any of
those other things. I think the church has done a bad job with the Methodists,
Catholics and Baptists deciding who is right about little tiny things, when in
fact they've got a much bigger message. We've got the same situation here. We
don't have to go in the IRL Champ Car fight. We don't have any enemies with the
ALMS. We're all in motorsports. Anything any of us do to raise the perception of
motorsports is good for all the others.
AutoRacing1: Have you already passed a point where you think it's going to work? Or do you
have some point in time where you're going to sit down and say, "Hey, we tried
this. Is it something we think is going to work?"
EDMONDSON: It's already working. Let me say this, I think this is probably
why I went ahead and took the job. I came to this job after having just won a
multi-million dollar lawsuit with the AMA. I didn't need a job. I came because of
my respect for the Frances and the excitement that the opportunity offered me. And
I knew this was the one thing I knew, there wasn't going to be any quit, and that
there would be a long-term view.
When you have committed people, and I've known Jim France to keep every commitment
he ever made, and I've known the whole France family, and I've never seen them
break a commitment. When you have that comfort level, you can then make your plans
for the long-term and you don't have to put out short-term fires. That's the
I have known, I have known
from the day I agreed to do it, that Grand-Am was going to be successful.
Now, there are many people out there who haven't come to that realization
yet. Maybe we aren't in the minds of some at certain milestones. But
Grand-Am is without question going to continue long after I'm gone and
that's all there is to it. So it's not an open issue to me any more.
I have known, I have known from the day I agreed to do it, that Grand-Am was going
to be successful. Now, there are many people out there who haven't come to that
realization yet. Maybe we aren't in the minds of some at certain milestones. But
Grand-Am is without question going to continue long after I'm gone and that's all
there is to it. So it's not an open issue to me any more.
AutoRacing1: From the media's perspective, how do we measure it? We look at how many people
are in the grandstands. Most successful sports have spectators in the grandstands.
You can go to a Formula 3 race and see a big field of cars, but there's nobody
AutoRacing1: Was the early talk for Grand-Am that you were going to have big spectator crowds?
AutoRacing1: Or was it just to make the series successful financially?
EDMONDSON: The whole concept of the successful series to us is all of those
things. The question is, which ones do you do first?
First off, I think this idea that we don't have spectators is incorrect.
AutoRacing1: Not that they don't have any. Visually in the grandstands, I think you have
more of a camping crowd.
EDMONDSON: Let me say this to you. We run at Mid-Ohio. So does ALMS. You
need to ask Michelle Trueman what the relative size of the crowds were.
AutoRacing1: I'm not here to characterize that one (ALMS or Grand-Am) is bigger than the other. I don't know that
either one of them is doing well. There's other racing series that aren't having
EDMONDSON: I agree completely. You need to ask that question because I think
there's a perception that ALMS is knocking them dead at the turnstile.
AutoRacing1: Not in my perspective, no.
EDMONDSON: Now, everything we're doing is on the growth. If I can push a
magic button and you and I could both be up in the sky and see the Mid-Ohio crowd
10 years from now, you might say, "Look at that." If that crowd 10 years from now
is the same as it is today, then somebody's doing something wrong. But I don't
think that's going to be the case. It's not based on wishful thinking but based on
the progress we see being made. We have every reason to believe that next year
will be better than this year and the year after will be better than that.
It's not based on a hot ad
campaign or ticket giveaway or some kind of gimmick to get people to come
and see the naked lady jump off the tower into the burning vat of butter or
whatever. You know what I'm talk about? Humpy Wheeler is a great promoter.
That's not what this is about.
I hope I don't sound cocky or arrogant.
We're here at this facility for the first time. I have no idea what this spectator
crowd is going to be today, but I guarantee you it will be bigger next time we're
here. People who come and see this race are going to go home satisfied. The next time we
come to town, a high percentage of them will come back and they'll bring a friend.
That is a sort of fan building that will stand the test of time. It's not based on
a hot ad campaign or ticket giveaway or some kind of gimmick to get people to
come and see the naked lady jump off the tower into the burning vat of butter or
whatever. You know what I'm talk about? Humpy Wheeler is a great promoter. That's
not what this is about.
I hope I don't sound cocky or arrogant.
AutoRacing1: Not at all.
AutoRacing1: Do you feel there needs to be a consolidation in racing? Except for NASCAR,
from my perspective, not only in the United States but elsewhere, things
splintered and fractured that nobody can really succeed. They're all there, just
kind of making it, but nobody seems to be able to take off and start
gaining on NASCAR because it's just too splintered, not enough resources pooled
EDMONDSON: Well, I don't know that that's the reason. NASCAR has been,
again, very successful in the last 10 years and is now rivaling the NFL and some
other established major league sports. Maybe 10 years ago they would say that
could never happen, that football was going to be king forever. But as things
evolve and as the population base changes and people's interest change, things do
I don't think that motorsports itself needs one home office with one person that
has all the answers. I think there's room in America with 300 million people for
different people to follow their vision and their path.
What we're doing is what we think is the right idea. Our thinking our idea is
right doesn't mean we think the other guys are wrong or that we think they're bad.
We simply in a free enterprise system have invested our money, just like a guy
that opens a hardware store, maybe there's no need for two hardware stores in a
small town, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.
I think we're on the right path. I think seeing the growth we're seeing on the
spectator side now and on the TV side, I think this is the next big thing
AutoRacing1: This event is a pretty big event for you folks. Long Beach next year. Is the
plan to be back here as well next year?
EDMONDSON: We'll be back here in March (With NASCAR Busch).
AutoRacing1: When the schedule was originally released, I think that was still up in the
ADAM SAAL: That date was on there.
EDMONDSON: But that's not been confirmed.
ADAM SAAL: A formal announcement in the future will be made
with regard to our Mexico event in 2006.
EDMONDSON: Next year, we think we've got the best schedule in
motorsports frankly. If you look at all the places we go, events that we're
participating in, we pair up with IRL three times, we pair up with Champ Car once,
we pair up with NASCAR three times. That makes for seven races out of 14 where we
are paired up with people, and 7 where we're alone.
The beauty of pairing up with people is we have an opportunity to show our brand
of racing to an already-established audience and already-established sponsor base.
It's the best way to reach the largest number of people the quickest. It's much
more cost-effective than any ad campaign we could ever embark on.
AutoRacing1: Did you say 14 races total?
EDMONDSON: 14 total.
AutoRacing1: Seven paired and seven on your own?
AutoRacing1: The ALMS tried to team up with Champ Car a couple times. I know I heard from
their organization their manufacturers wanted to be the lead series for the
weekend. They didn't like to play second fiddle. Right now Grand-Am is willing to
EDMONDSON: Where it's important for us to be considered the co-feature,
that's something that we try to work with the promoter to do. But we have no
problem with being No. 2. To go into, for example, Watkins Glen for the Nextel Cup
weekend, there are all kinds of series that would love to be a support series to
NASCAR on Saturday or Friday night. We run on Friday night. That crowd we have on
Friday night that was there for that race, I don't care why they came, they're
there and their eyeballs are in place, is the third largest spectator crowd in the
state of New York in any given 12-month period.
No matter how you cut them up, they are people in place watching Grand-Am. So that
to me is an opportunity that couldn't be missed. Same thing is true with Long
Beach. The anticipated spectator crowd for Long Beach on Saturday when we're going
to run in front of 65,000 people. I don't care if they're there to see Madonna running the
celebrity race. Our sponsors and team also have an opportunity to show them
Grand-Am racing, 65,000 people strong. Whether we're No. 1 or No. 2 is immaterial
ADAM SAAL: It's not always the case. I mean, clearly when we run
with Nextel Cup we play second fiddle.
EDMONDSON: Everything is No. 2 to Nextel Cup. If you don't believe that,
you're fooling yourself.
ADAM SAAL: Obviously. In this case (Mexico City), two finales. We've seen equal promotion across
the board. In their minds there's a Saturday feature race and Sunday feature race.
It's not always a given that we're going to be a shoulder program, if you will,
for another race. At Long Beach will we be? Of course, we will be. It's a nice
showcase to have.
Every billboard and TV ad
I've seen (here in Mexico City) has only been about the sports car event
(not about Champ Car). This promoter recognizes that what is today may not
always be. So the day may come when he wants a free-standing Grand-Am event
and it's in his best interest to educate the audience that we exist and here
is what we do.
EDMONDSON: Every billboard and TV ad I've seen has only been about the
sports car event. This promoter recognizes that what is today may not always be. So the
day may come when he wants a free-standing Grand-Am event and it's in his best
interest to educate the audience that we exist and here is what we do.
ADAM SAAL: I think you'll see at Infineon, Sears Point as well,
you'll see a similar promotion to that.
AutoRacing1: The France family of course was into stock car racing
originally. Now they've got -- this is the first time they're into
EDMONDSON: That's not true. As early as 1959, before the Daytona
Speedway was built, Bill France was promoting sports car racing at the new
airport. Back in the early days of the Speedway, they've had sports car racing
from the very beginning. In fact, the Daytona Continental that Dan Gurney won by
using the starter motor was 40 some years ago. By then, by no means was the
Daytona International Speedway or NASCAR a big deal on the national or
international scene. This was part of what they believed was a valid part of the
If they were going to be in the motorsports business, they had to be in all of it.
When it came time to start IMSA, it was Bill France Sr. who put up the bulk of the
money to get John Bishop his start. They supported him behind the scenes and
publicly for many, many years. They have always had an ongoing interest in road
racing. Jim France is the France family member today who loves road racing, not
just sports car racing, but motorcycle road racing, too.
I think that this idea that
they (France family) are just doing it (Grand-Am) for some ulterior motive
is bizarre. I read some of the most bizarre theories you can possibly
imagine. I've read that the reason that Grand-Am exists is to keep sports
car racing splintered so that sports car racing doesn't overtake NASCAR in
I think that this idea that they are just doing it (Grand-Am) for some ulterior motive
is bizarre. I read
some of the most bizarre theories on the websites you can possibly imagine. I've
read that the reason that Grand-Am exists is to keep sports car racing splintered
so that sports car racing doesn't overtake NASCAR in popularity. That is, as far
as I'm concerned, one of the most bizarre theories I've ever heard.
We are not a threat, "we" being the road racing community, to what NASCAR does.
NASCAR, in fact, is going to open doors that will allow other people to get
involved with motorsports. There's a lot of places in the country that don't care
a thing about NASCAR or ALMS or IRL or Champ Car. They're football oriented,
baseball oriented. They don't have a track nearby, they don't care. I'm just
stunned when I see the things that are attributed to the France family. Every time
I read these things, it becomes clear to me that this guy doesn't know Jim France,
doesn't know Bill France, doesn't have a clue about these people. I've known them
for 25 years and I've never, ever seen the sort of behavior that's attributed to
them from anyone.
AUTORACING1: How do you react to the notion that the France
family wants to ensure that all other forms of racing must stay
splintered, divided, so that NASCAR (all three divisions) can remain
I think that it's easy sometimes if you have a mindset or if you go into a
situation with a certain view based on information, whether it be true or not,
that your perception of what you see is colored by that. I've known many cases
where people take two and two and come up with five.
The only thing I can tell you is I've known the Frances since 1983 when I was a
young man and walked with an IDF or motorcycle series, and they gave me
all the support they possibly could. They opened the doors to me and
allowed me to do what I needed to do with their help. At no time have I ever seen them use their
power within the motorcycle industry or the motorcycle racing industry to put
anybody down or suppress anything or do anything. And I haven't seen it in sports
I've seen an absolutely meticulous adherence to ethics and to what's right and to
what's fair. And the bulk of anything that Grand-Am tries to do is based on trying
to give everybody the fairest shake possible to make sure that more and more
people can be successful at it.
So at no time in any of
these things over a 25-year period have I ever heard or seen anything that
would give credence to this idea that the Frances are going to reach out and
send in the black helicopters and bomb things or do disinformation. If this
was all true, it flies in the face of them starting IMSA years ago.
So at no time in any of these things over a 25-year period have I ever heard or
seen anything that would give credence to this idea that the Frances are going to
reach out and send in the black helicopters and bomb things or do disinformation.
If this was all true, it flies in the face of them starting IMSA years
What you're really seeing is you're seeing people reacting in the marketplace to
opportunity. If they had been totally satisfied years ago with the way the SECA
was running their sports car races at Daytona Speedway, they never would have
backed John Bishop and his dream to have a different type of sports car series.
His dream was based on a belief that the amateur program that SECA was using was
the wrong way to go and that there needed to be professional sports cars.
They backed John Bishop because John Bishop believed that road racing -- John
Bishop looked at the American road racing landscape and decided there was a better
way to do it. He came to the Frances with his idea for a professional sports car
series and said, "I think we can make road racing a very successful product." The
Frances are sitting there with an investment in a fairly high-profile
international sports car race and a big speedway with tickets to sell. They said,
"John, you know what, I think you're right." He said, "I need some money, I need
some help." They backed him. This flies in the face of trying to make NASCAR the
AutoRacing1: What year was that?
EDMONDSON: Sometime in the '60s, I believe.
ADAM SAAL: It was founded in '68.
EDMONDSON: In fact, the Frances own 11 facilities now. They only had one or two NASCAR
races a year. Those facilities had to have other product. So it is totally in
their best interest as a free enterprise operation trying to make money for their
stockholders and meet their legal obligations to all the people that bought stock
in ISC, they have an obligation to make those facilities as profitable as they
can. That means you have to have races. If you can only have a Winston Cup race or
Nextel Cup race once a year or twice a year, you need other valued and respected
races to fill -- candy stores have got to have candy.
AutoRacing1: Can those other races be the NASCAR Truck Series, or the
Busch Series rather than a non-France family owned series such as Champ
The France family was loyal
and backed every one of those new owners of that operation (sports cars)
for years and years. Even when they went to jail, they stuck with the next
guy. Even when the purse money was paid by the Speedway and not to the
competitors, they stuck with the sanctioning body.
EDMONDSON: That is certainly part of it. But not everybody's cup of tea is
over stock car racing. Jim France in particular loves road racing. Now, they backed
administration after administration at the IMSA professional sports car
level, finally the Andy Evans era, we've been through all this. The
France family was loyal and backed every one of those new owners of that
operation for years and years. Even when they went to jail, they stuck
with the next guy. Even when the purse money was paid by the Speedway
and not to the competitors, they stuck with the sanctioning body.
Finally, in frustration, they decided they needed to take a look about going their
own way. Did they start their own thing? No. They went out and got the other
promoters and the SCCA and started the United States Road Racing Championship.
It's about the same time that Don Panoz decided to start ALMS. Panoz decided that
his best interest was in using the LeMans brand, and he struck a financial deal
with the folks in LeMans that meant that the rules from that 24-hour race, once a
year for 48 cars, were going to be the rules he used week in, week out for an
The Frances believed that that was not the best thing for their 24-hour race or
American championship and felt that a series that was based entirely on the needs
of the American audience and the American road racing infrastructure was going to
go unmet unless they started something on their own. So they gave up on the USARC,
called me on the phone and said, "We think we're going to start a sports car
series. Do you want to come down and talk to us? You did a good job on
motorcycles. We'd like to give you an opportunity."
Actually, there's a total of 25 investors, all put our money in and here we are
six years later. This is not part of some grand plan. It's not part of some
scheme. Our success is not based on anything that NASCAR does, other than the fact
we have access to people who will take our phone calls, and maybe they wouldn't if
we were out there. But we're not financed by the Frances. We're not dictated to by
the Frances. Jim France, he's not even on our board. Is he an important part of
Grand-Am? Absolutely, because it's his vision and his concepts that he gave to me
when I started this thing.
But I run this thing day to day. If it makes it, I'm going to get the credit for
it. Maybe not. Doesn't matter. Maybe Jim will because people have been made aware
of his involvement. But if it fails, I'll definitely get the credit for it. That's
okay, too. That's the job.
But I implore you to sit back and look at this thing differently because there is
no grand scheme. There is no enemy. Everybody who sells a ticket to a motor sports
event is creating a prospect for our events. That's how I look at it.
AutoRacing1: Was there ever any attempt, any days when you first decided to do this new
series to sit down with Panoz and say, "Can we do it together?"
EDMONDSON: Yes. Before we ever announced that Grand-Am ever existed, and by
the way we announced it existed in September of '99, and we ran our first race at
the 24-hour in January, February of 2000.
Was there ever any attempt,
any days when you first decided to do this new series to sit down with Panoz
and say, "Can we do it together?"
Yes, we sat down with Bill
Donaldson, who at that time was the marketing and managing director of the
ALMS, and said, "Look, is there any way to get all in the same boat?".
So we sat down with Bill Donaldson, who at that time was the marketing and
managing director of the ALMS, and said, "Look, is there any way to get all in the
same boat?" And they made it clear that they're men of honor. They had a
contract with the ACO and France that required two things that we could not abide
by. One of them was that the word 'LeMans' had to be in every single thing they
did. It made no sense to the people at Daytona that they would be promoting
another international race every time they open their mouths. The second thing was
that the rules were going to be dictated by the ACO. Whatever the ACO decided,
whether it meant they were going to be racing ocean liners, motorhomes or fighter
jets, that's what the races had to be. That was not going to meet the needs that
Jim France put forth, which was -- We have to have an American series that works for
American racers and American spectators and American sponsors. So we tried, but it
was quite clear that we couldn't put it all together.
I don't wish the ALMS any bad luck at all. They've got road racing as it's always
been. And as I've said before, the size of that audience has been identified
already. What we're trying to do is something new to reach those other millions
and millions of Americans that haven't responded to road racing in 60 years.
I don't know why people get their hackles up about us, but that's all it is.
AutoRacing1: The only other criticism I've heard of Grand-Am is some people don't like the
looks of the cars. The rules don't dictate that. Is that the manufacturer's choice
as to how they make the car look or is there something else? I have to apologize,
I'm not familiar with your rule book enough to know.
EDMONDSON: There are enough hard points that have to be met dimensionally in
the construction of the frame that it was pretty well-predictable the cars were
going to have a similar look. For example, the size of the greenhouse was designed
for certain safety considerations, including being able to get a tall driver out
of the car if he's unconscious because most Americans are taller than some of the
But the point is that there's enough hard points in there that if eight guys sat
down to decide on a car, they all had these certain dimensions, they had to be in
certain places, they're ultimately going to look like they look.
I think what we're hearing mostly is that traditional sports car fans who
remembers the GTP era, he remembers a very sleek cockpit where the driver's head
was right here. In fact, we've got guys like Paul Tracy and Justin Wilson who might not
be able to get in some of those cars.
We came out with a big greenhouse. That's not what they expected. Does it make it
wrong? No, it's just not what they expected. So, again, because we had to start
with the cars that existed and the crowd that existed when we brought out our new
car, that crowd didn't like it too much. But you talk to the people who watch
NASCAR, stock cars, they think these are the sleekest things they've ever seen. So
it's all a point of -- remember I talked before you can come to something with a
certain amount of preconditioning?
EDMONDSON: I think that preconditioning has effect. Are these the most
beautiful cars ever made? I don't think it matters. They race like crazy. If you
take to it the most elemental things, the Olympics, the award goes to the guy that
crosses the line first, not the one with the best hairdo. I don't think we're too
concerned with that.
AutoRacing1: Very good. It's been a very good 1 hour.
EDMONDSON: I hope we can do more.
ADAM SAAL: We'll see you again.
EDMONDSON: Mark, I'm going to make it a personal mission to see you someday
say to me, "I agree with you on the France family." They are benefit factors to
this sport, not people that are raping it or suppressing or doing anything to harm
others. The success of IMSA, the success of Grand-Am, the success of Champ Car,
the success of IRL have nothing to do with any grand plan of Daytona. They have
entirely to do with the management, the luck, the skill, the circumstances that
involved those companies, nothing to do with NASCAR. Does NASCAR benefit when the
rest of us screw up? Of course, they do.
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