Scott Atherton says his retirement plans have been in the works for “more than a year” as the longest-running North American motorsports executive looks to spend more time with his family following a “taxing” two-decade run as IMSA President.
IMSA announced Thursday that Atherton, 59, would be retiring at the end of this year, following a 34-year career in motorsports that has seen him play a leading role in North American sports car racing.
Atherton was hired by Don Panoz to serve as the President and CEO of the American Le Mans Series in late 1999 and led the ALMS and Grand-Am through the merger into the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2014.
When asked by Sportscar365 on how long his retirement plans have been in the works, Atherton said it’s been on the radar for quite some time.
“I had approached Jim France [IMSA chairman] and Ed Bennett [IMSA CEO] more than a year ago with the idea of crafting a succession plan,” Atherton said.
“I actually used the ACO model as my benchmark because whenever there’s a change of presidency of the ACO, they always name a lieutenant, and that person spends at least a year traveling, attending, mirroring the existing president.
“We weren’t able to pull that off. After much discussion it was concluded that I would remain through the 2019 season, which obviously coincided with our 50th anniversary.It didn’t take much for me to agree.
“I love what I do, I still have a passion for it. Many have asked me what’s the motivation, why are you making this change?
“It’s a very taxing role to be in. I’ve been in this industry for 34 years; I’ve been married for 32 years.
“My wife, Nancy, informed me that she was tired of waiting and a change was needed. I was very candid: the only way my schedule would change is if I’m no longer doing what I’m doing.
“There’s no more to the story; it was completely my choice. There’s no other action or force involved. It’s nice that it’s on my terms.”
Atherton explained there’s been a few “life events” that occurred recently, including the sudden death of his brother-in-law, that helped lead to the decision.
“It is a bit of a wake-up call,” he said. “There’s been a lot of things I’ve been putting off for a long, long time that I’m looking forward to embracing.
“It’s a daunting situation. There is no Plan ‘A’ at this moment other than to take a breather. There’s a long list of things that have been on the ‘to-do list’. I’m looking forward to embracing a lot of diversity.
“This job has defined me in every moment of my waking hours for as long as I can remember.
“In the 34 years in this industry, I’ve moved 14 times; always for the right reasons, always for opportunity, and looking back over the course of those years, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“It’a been a wonderful experience and so many people that have enabled me to achieve whatever it can be described as, career-wise.
“I’ve heard from many of them today already. I’m so humbled and grounded like never before, in getting the response I’ve had from around the world.”
Atherton’s successor has been determined and will be announced following next month’s Motul Petit Le Mans.
He explained they “accelerated” today’s announcement due to rumors circulating the paddock last weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca of his pending retirement, with Atherton wishing to break the news on his own terms.
Atherton to Retain Link to ACO
While remaining on IMSA’s board of directors, Atherton will also continue to be one of the primary links to the ACO, a relationship that dates back to his arrival in the ALMS some 20 years ago.
Atherton has worked with three different ACO presidents in that timeframe, in what he characterizes in having “deep roots” to the French organization.
“We have a very strong bond with that group and the goal is to keep that and continue building it,” Atherton said.
“I think my role will be very similar to what it is today, as it relates to the steering committee that exists and involves Pierre Fillon [ACO President], Gerard Neveu [WEC CEO], Jim France, Ed Bennett and myself.
“The capacity I’m in now will remain intact although not with my day-to-day responsibilities. There will be a new President of IMSA.”