Chip Harp, Sports Feature Writer
Part 3 of a 3-part Series on Georgia’s Don Panoz and his contribution to racing
Racing in America has a rich and diverse history.
Whether it’s the open-wheeled rockets of Indianapolis or Formula 1, or the stock cars of NASCAR, or the sports cars who have run since the 50’s at world renowned tracks like Daytona and Sebring, auto racing has long been a part of America’s heart.
Don Panoz understood the significance of preserving the highest level of endurance racing for North America fans. On the heels of creating Panoz Motor Sport Group, he created the American Le Mans Series, as he stated, “for the fans”.
Based from the Panoz headquarters and factory in north Georgia, Panoz wanted to build on the history of racing in America. This new series grew into an international force, hosting the world’s best racers and cars at some of the nation’s best tracks.
Le Mans-style cars raced at tracks such as Sonoma, Laguna Seca, Lime Rock, Circuit of the Americas, and of course, Georgia’s own Road Atlanta. Here, at Road Atlanta near his Panoz-producing factory, he would host a 10-hour homage to Le Mans, the Petit Le Mans. Starting in 1998, this race, held annually, is one of the largest racing events in the world featuring the best Porsche, Ferrari, Audi, Corvette, and Ford have to offer.
By teaming up with France’s L’Automobile Club de l’Ouest, teams could transition from North American racing to the Le Mans event each year. This allows teams to test their best against the best of Europe and the world.
In 2013, the ALMS series made the decision to merge with NASCAR-owned IMSA, who ran an alternative series. This formed an even stronger series and incorporated the best tracks from across the country.
On October 1st, as in every year since 1998, tens of thousands of race fans will descend on north Georgia’s Road Atlanta, for the Petit Le Mans. Once again some of the world’s best and most sophisticated race machines and teams will feature their best drivers on one of the continent’s most famous tracks. This, thanks to a pharmaceutical industry pioneer who took his innovative, entrepreneurial talent to work in transforming the automotive industry and creating hundreds of jobs for Georgians.
All thanks to the humble muscadine and the challenge that “it” can’t be done. Don Panoz has lived a life of showing people how to do it.