ALMS Founder Don Panoz Passes Away | Performance Racing Industry
ALMS Founder Don Panoz Passes Away
September 11, 2018
The founder of the American Le Mans Series and creator of the Panoz car marque, among several other accomplishments in the motorsports industry, has passed away at the age of 83.
ALMS Founder Don Panoz Passes Away

Don Panoz, the founder of the American Le Mans Series and creator of the Panoz car marque, has passed away at the age of 83.

In 1999, Panoz formed the American Le Mans Series with the goal of bringing European-style racing to the United States. The series thrived for more than 10 years before finally merging with the Grand-Am Rolex SportsCar Series to form what is now known as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

“Don Panoz will be remembered as one of the most important figures in the history of sports car racing,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO and IMSA Chairman Jim France said. “Don was a true gentleman who deeply cared about our sport. That was obvious to all who are involved with sports car racing. He became a great friend and partner, and we shared the pride of combining Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series and re-establishing the IMSA brand, bringing sports car racing together again. Don was a true innovator whose work touched many lives.”

Panoz fell in love with the unique atmosphere at the 24 Hours of Le Mans after experiencing it himself for the first time. Panoz aimed to replicate the spirit of Le Mans, its unique rules and regulations while adding his own fan-friendly atmosphere, first through the creation of a “one-off” event at Road Atlanta, the 10-hour or 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans, which debuted on Oct. 11, 1998.

Panoz later quickly founded the ALMS, a series of races throughout North America on world-class racetracks, including three that he owned: Sebring International Raceway, Road Atlanta, and Mosport - what today is known as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

ALMS was the first motorsports sanctioning body's to open the pre-race starting grid to race fans, enabling them to walk among the cars and drivers on the racetrack minutes before the start of each race—a practice still apart of every IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race and many other race organizations around the world.

Panoz’s involvement in motorsport extended well beyond the ALMS and his racetracks, which all were part of his Panoz Motor Sports Group. His Panoz Esperante GTR-1 was the first successful front-engine prototype race car in more than 30 years. Following that, Panoz was a pioneer in the introduction of hybrid technology in sports car racing, bringing the car known as “sparky” into competition at the 1998 Petit Le Mans.

In the early 2010s, Panoz was instrumental in the development of the revolutionary DeltaWing race car, which raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the ALMS and the WeatherTech Championship until the end of the 2016 season.

Panoz earned several prestigious accolades throughout his life. He was the 29th inductee into the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in 2013, the Bob Russo Heritage Award recipient from the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2014, the La Bella Machina award winner at the 2015 Concorso Italiano in Monterey, California, and the 2015 recipient of the Women In The Winner’s Circle Leadership Award from racing pioneer Lyn St. James and the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Panoz leaves behind his wife of 63 years Nancy; sons Danny and Chris; daughters Donna, Dena, Lisa and Andrea, along with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and numerous longtime friends and business associates from around the world.

(Photo courtesy of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship).