The merger of Grand-Am Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series will bring new drivers and classes to the Rolex 24 At Daytona next year.
Those changes are still a ways out, but astute race fans might notice a new face at Daytona International Speedway this year. Entrepreneur and ALMS founder Don Panoz — a former-competitor-turned-cozy-partner of Grand-Am — will be a Rolex regular starting this year.
"I came (to the Rolex) in '98 and (entered a car as an owner), but I hadn't been back since because we (at ALMS) were competitors (with Grand-Am)," said Panoz, who founded a company that invented the nicotine patch. "But, now that the merger has progressed, I'll be here more."
Panoz, who now serves as vice chairman of the unified series' board of directors, has never driven in races. His involvement with the sport has been primarily financial.
And, though Panoz hasn't been a fixture at the Rolex, he has been a force in American sports car racing for the past two decades. With the merger, Panoz plans to be much more involved in future Rolex races.
Panoz's road to sports car racing's power elite began modestly in the late 1980s with his son Dan's startup company, Panoz Automotive Development. But the impetus for Le Mans only came when the racing car company developed the car Don Panoz entered into Sebring in 1997 and the Rolex in 1998.
A year later, Panoz founded ALMS, which would be Grand-Am's chief competitor in the United States for more than a decade. He bought ALMS' sanctioning body, the International Motor Sports Association, in the early 2000s. Daytona Beach News Journal
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