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Atherton: ALMS/GA Merger “Most Rewarding” in Career

IMSA President Scott Atherton reflects on his high points, “low water points” in career…

Photo: Brian Cleary/BCPix.com

Scott Atherton says crafting the merger between the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am served as the biggest achievement of his three-decade plus motorsports career.

The IMSA President announced his retirement last week, following a nearly 20-year stint at the top of the sanctioning body, which was absorbed by Grand-Am in 2012 to create what’s now known as the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Having joined the Don Panoz-owned ALMS at the end of 1999, Atherton helped kickstart negotiations with Grand-Am/NASCAR chairman Jim France that ultimately led to the unification of North American sports car racing.

“Without question, it is the crafting of the process and ultimately the becoming to fruition of the merging of what was the American Le Mans Series and what was Grand-Am Road Racing,” Atherton said.

“Having started that dialogue myself with Jim France approaching me, the two of us having some very private offsite meetings even before I raised it to Don’s attention.

“And really having the outline of what a merged entity would be, scribbled out on a yellow pad, before going in to talk to Don about what, what was potentially capable of happening without question. That is the highlight.

“And I would say the second highlight is the outcome of that merger and what we’ve been able to do as a whole since then.

“When I told the staff [of my retirement], it’s been seven years, believe it or not, almost eight, since that merger occurred. And, to me, it’s been the most rewarding, satisfying period of my career.”

“No Regrets” in Career Despite Several “Low Water Marks” in ALMS Era

While stating he’s had no regrets through his career, which included stints as president of Laguna Seca, Nazareth Speedway and California Speedway, Atherton revealed some “low water marks” during his time in the ALMS. 

“There was a single 24-hour period where our previously announced scheduled contracted sanction agreement in place with an event in Mexico City was canceled and our second year return to Washington DC was canceled all within a 24 hour period, on short notice.

“I mean, these were absolute panic 911 emergency situation for sure.

“The other example, and this is, humorous now but it was devastating at the time. It was Thanksgiving day when my cell phone rang and I looked down at the screen and it was, Dr. Ullrich the head of motorsport for Audi.

“And the first words were, ‘Scott, there’s something wrong with your phone system. I keep trying to dial your office and there’s no answer.’

“And I explained to him that it was Thanksgiving day holiday here in the States and the office was closed and for that reason, no answer.

“And he paused for about one second and said, ‘Well, unfortunately, I have bad news. I’m calling to tell you that Audi is withdrawing from the American Le Mans Series effective immediately.’

“No discussion, nothing else to be said.

“I remember it as if it happened yesterday. I remembered nothing else of that entire period because I was immediately in the fog.

“So those are two regrettable examples.

“My dad had a great saying, ‘The only things I regretted are the things I didn’t do’. In this industry, there’s a very short list for me.”

Atherton’s successor is expected to be announced shortly after next month’s season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans.

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

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