Porsche loses Bob Carlson to cancer
In addition to many within Porsche, scores of friends and colleagues worldwide stood with Bob through his fight, offering thousands of encouraging CaringBridge postings while keeping up with Bob’s days as he coped with his illness and treatments. Bob, a man with a heart too big for just one person, stood tall in the peaks and valleys of his illness, much in part due to the loving support he received every day by his fans, including many of you.
PCNA will provide more information on how to extend your condolences once arrangement details become available. A tribute to Bob and his career follows this letter.
PORSCHE LOSES A MOST DEAR FAMILY MEMBER - BOB CARLSON
Bob, who turned 60 years-old this past October, had a significant influence as both a journalist and public relations professional in the automotive and motorsports worlds, particularly within Porsche and at the Atlanta headquarters. He was also a friend, mentor, and valued colleague to everyone he touched, both in and out of his work environment. For the past 24 years, Bob worked for Porsche Cars North America.
He started working for the company when it was headquartered in Reno, Nev., as the racing public relations coordinator, and was stationed in Warrington, Pa., with Al Holbert, who was the first president of Porsche Motorsport North America. He was quickly promoted to Racing PR Manager, and helped lead Porsche through a golden era in motorsports, including the major success of the Porsche 962 – which many still consider Porsche’s most successful race car.
Bob personally guided road racing stars such as Al Holbert, Derek Bell, Bob Wollek, Rob Dyson, Hurley Haywood, Chip Robinson and others through this period, maximizing exposure for Porsche while cementing lifetime relationships with both drivers and journalists, as well as everyone else in the racing community. Bob also showed his patience and professionalism during the same period as the public relations representative for Porsche’s brief CART champ car effort.
He remained in Pennsylvania working with Holbert until Al died in a private plane crash in 1988. Bob then moved to Porsche Cars North America corporate headquarters in Reno, becoming Manager, Media Relations and Racing in 1991, and subsequently Manager, Public Relations (1992). Another promotion in 1993 earned him the title of General Manager, Public Relations.
Bob did some of his best product and corporate public relations work during the early and mid-‘90s as Porsche had discontinued the high-volume Porsche 944, and was yet to introduce the Boxster (1997). Porsche sales numbers were down, yet journalists treated Porsche fairly because of the respect Bob had earned for being honest and responsive. With the introduction of the Boxster, Porsche’s return to Le Mans, and the resurgence of sports car racing in the United States with the American Le Mans Series, Bob had expanded areas of responsibility, and his hard work paid off. Porsche doubled its sales with the Boxster introduction and soon after with an all-new 911 Carrera line, and Bob was ready for the challenge.
His innovative product introduction programs and personal relationships helped spread the word about the new Porsche models. Subsequent introductions of the Cayenne and Cayman have elevated Porsche to its current success level, and Bob was an integral part of helping North America retain its position as the company’s largest market.
But Bob’s first love had always been motorsports, and the announcement that the Porsche factory was teaming with Penske Racing to build an LMP2 prototype vaulted him back into the spotlight of Porsche Motorsport. Bob’s extensive relationships within the industry made the transition from Porsche 911-only racing to prototype racing seamless. Even after he was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer in 2007 and was forced to miss the activity at the race track, he guided the internal and agency PR staff through the complicated political path of international media and racing.
Bob’s keen interest in motorsports history, which was only second to his personal interests in both Civil War history and the history of railroading in North America, led to an idea of gathering historic Porsche race cars and drivers from around the world at a Rennsport (racing) Reunion in the United States. Naysayers dismissed the idea as “of little interest” or “a waste of money,” but Porsche Cars North America president Fred Schwab gave the okay, and Bob and retired racer and vintage racing organizer Brian Redman set forth to contact collectors, drivers, and the Porsche museum in Germany to solicit participants and race cars to join him at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut in July 2001.
No one – except for Bob – could have anticipated the interest as more than 15,000 enthusiasts came to the event, along with Roger Penske, Paul Newman, and countless other Porsche Motorsport icons – plus more than 300 highly historic vintage Porsche race cars. Ask a Porsche Club of America member what was the most important event they ever missed they will surely respond, “Porsche Rennsport Reunion I at Lime Rock.”
Of course, the success of this event inspired Porsche to order Bob to start planning another Rennsport for 2004, and Bob realized that Lime Rock was not big enough to hold the event he had launched. His personal relationship with NASCAR owner Jim France led to a partnership with the Daytona International Speedway for Rennsport II in April 2004.
More than 600 Porsche race cars, and celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld and hundreds of race drivers and collectors, participated with the sweet sound of Porsche race engines revving on the high banking in one race after another. Rennsport III – also at Daytona – was held in November 2007, with Bob taking a break from radiation treatment to run the show, and it was another overwhelming success, with Porsche 917s, 962s, 956s, 904s, 908s, and hundreds of 356 and 911 race cars performing on the track where Porsche won its first 24-hour endurance race in 1968.
In early 2008, Bob was awarded the Jim Chapman award for lifetime achievement in motorsports public relations from the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association. Bob was born in San Jose, Calif., and graduated from Del Mar High School in San Jose in 1966. He then went to San Jose State University, where he received a B.S. in Business Administration in 1971, and went back to San Jose State for an M.S. in Mass Communications (1985).
Prior to his career in public relations, Bob was a newspaper man, writing a motorsports column and covering racing for the San Jose Mercury News, and before that for the Palo Alto Peninsula Times Tribune. Even Bob’s closest friends and associates might not know that he also worked for a short time (in 1984) in the PR department for Lockheed Missiles & Space Company, working with astronauts on the promotion of the Solar Array Flight Experiment for the space program.
Bob is survived by his wife, Debbie and his mother Fran, and by the thousands of friends, colleagues, and racers he touched with great tenderness and compassion. He will be greatly missed by all.
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