Sports car racing legend John Bishop, the visionary co-founder of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), died Thursday in San Rafael, Calif. due to complications from a recent illness. He was 87.
Bishop co-founded IMSA in 1969 with his wife Peggy and Bill France Sr., after a surprise telephone “cold call” from France – also NASCAR’s founder – that resulted in a quick trip from Connecticut to Daytona Beach to discuss assembling a new sports car sanctioning organization in North America.
“Bill said he thought there was a need for a new organization, and that he thought I might be the person to run it,” Bishop said recently. “So, very quickly, I got down to Daytona. Bill and I met, we talked a lot, drank a lot of Scotch, talked a lot more and planned it out. Peggy and I didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.”
That wasn’t exactly true. Bishop already had a solid resume as an experienced sports car official with the Sports Car Club of America. In ‘69, he decided he wanted to leave that organization.
“I offered my resignation and the SCCA surprised me – they accepted it,” Bishop said.
With France’s financial assistance, the Bishops built IMSA into a premier sports car organization that peaked in the 1980s and ‘90s with the Camel-sponsored GT Series, featuring the fabulous GTP prototypes. Bishop sold IMSA in 1989, in part due to health issues. But he remained a vital part of sports car racing, with a lengthy tenure as commissioner of GRAND-AM Road Racing.
“John’s passing evokes grand memories of another era of sports car racing in North America,” said IMSA Chairman Jim France, son of Bill France Sr. “We are thankful that John lived to see IMSA sanctioning the new unified sports car series and guiding a new era. We have lost a man who, once upon a time, was a sports car pioneer. Over the years, he became a giant in our industry. And now, he will forever be a legend.
“John and Peggy were especially close to my parents. They had a relationship that transcended their business dealings. Our family was always proud simply to know the Bishops. Having the honor to partner with them in forming IMSA was a bonus.
Earlier this year, it was announced that Bishop will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in August.
“My dad loved racing and all of the things around it, but the thing he loved most of all was the people – and writing the competition rules in an effort to bring everyone together,” said Bishop’s son, Mitch. “I always remember something driver Pete Halsmer said about my dad, that by building IMSA, he had allowed a lot of people to make a living doing something that they loved.”
Bishop was a Massachusetts native who called Cortland, N.Y. home; he had moved to San Rafael several years ago. He is survived by his son Mitch, daughter-in-law Julia, four granddaughters, brother Peter Bishop and sister Ruth Rodger. He was preceded in death by his wife Peggy (August 2013) and sons Mark and Marshall.
Arrangements are pending, but the family is asking that donations in Bishop’s honor be made to the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen, N.Y.