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Tributes Pour In for Don Panoz

Motorsports world reacts to death of Don Panoz…

Photo: IMSA

Tributes to Don Panoz, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 83, have poured in from around the motorsports world. 

A selection of statements and memories of the motorsports pioneer, who founded the American Le Mans Seres and ran the successful Panoz Racing operation, are below.

Check back later as more tributes are updated.

Jim France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO and IMSA Chairman:

“Don Panoz will be remembered as a one of the most important figures in the history of sports car racing. 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.”

Scott Atherton, IMSA President and COO:

“It is difficult to find the right words to express my sadness with the news of Don’s passing. He was a very special guy – the most visionary and creative person I have ever worked with. He was a serial entrepreneur of the highest order.

“Don was the consummate ‘idea guy’ – not all of them good mind you – but he came up with several that were truly brilliant that transformed entire industries.

“Many of us who make our living in motorsport owe him a debt of gratitude. He deserves full credit for putting professional sports car racing back on the map when it was at its lowest point.  His acquisition of IMSA, Sebring International Raceway, Road Atlanta, Mosport and the creation of the American Le Mans Series are enduring monuments of his legacy.

“Don loved the challenge that top-level motorsport represented. He loved to compete and was always looking to achieve success with game-changing innovation and by doing things differently. Putting the engine in the front of a modern LMP1 racecar, introducing hybrid engine technology at Le Mans long before it was embraced by mainstream manufacturers and, of course, the DeltaWing are but a few of many, many examples.

“I had the honor and privilege of working side-by-side with Don for nearly 15 years – witnessing many of his landmark achievements in motorsports, hotels, golf resorts, residential real estate and much more, not just in America, but around the world.

“His drive, energy and work ethic were truly remarkable. Don ran on the rev limiter right to the end. But he was also a lot of fun to be around, always quick with a joke or a fascinating tale from his past. We have all lost a great man and many of us have lost a great friend and mentor.”

Michel Cosson, ACO President (1992-2003):

“[Don was a] man who worked with us to make the ACO global. He readily joined us in our efforts to bring the ACO to the international stage.”

Jean-Claude Plassart, ACO President (2003 to 2012):

“Don was a great friend to the ACO and a personal friend of mine. I want to highlight his enthusiasm for developing motorsport all over the world and increasing the profile of the 24 Hours of Le Mans internationally, particularly in the U.S., his home country.”

Pierre Fillon, ACO President (2012-current):

“I am especially moved and saddened today. At the last edition of the Le Mans Classic, I had the privilege of driving the 1998 Panoz Esperante GTR-1 at the 24 Hours circuit. The car was a stunning sight, but at the wheel, it went to a whole other level. I expected something exceptional, and it did not disappoint.

“I shared my experience with Don Panoz immediately, sending him a photo and a message, because we’ve always been close, partners and teammates in endurance. I was proud and happy to be able to express my friendship and respect for him once again. This photo was one of many examples of our shared passion. Not only could we talk about the discipline, these outstanding cars and remarkable men for hours just for fun, but like me he worked on behalf of this sport.

“Since the inception of the American Le Mans Series, the ties between the U.S. and the ACO have strengthened. Don Panoz was the great ambassador of that relationship.

“After a very successful and cutting-edge career, Don Panoz may have become involved in cars and motorsport somewhat accidentally, but he stayed for a reason. Having become a fan, he he applied his business acumen to the sport with his legendary trail-blazing flair. He was just recently working on a Garage 56 project. He was always a step ahead.

“We shall miss the man as much as his expertise. On behalf of the ACO, I would like to extend my warmest condolences to his family and loved ones.”

Wayne Taylor, team owner Wayne Taylor Racing:

“It’s a very sad day. I did a lot with him over the years that I can vividly remember, starting with the day we met, and we instantly bonded.

“I’ll never forget 1998 when he announced the inaugural Petit Le Mans. I was in my pit when I was with the Ferrari team, and he drove down and asked, ‘Where’s Wayne? The guys fetched me, and Don pointed at our racecar and said, ‘Wayne, you have the engine in the wrong place.’ At that point, I thought, ‘What is this guy thinking,’ but from that point we became good friends.

“I remember him asking me one day to just hang around after a race weekend. We had breakfast and he asked if I wanted to come to the best restaurant at the winery. I didn’t realize you had to wear a coat, so I called and told him I didn’t bring one. Don said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll bring you one.’ It turned out to be this loud, blue-and-yellow coat, the worst thing I’d seen in my life. But I took it from him and put it on and he said he absolutely loved it, he wanted me to have it.

“He asked me many times if I was interested in running his program over the years, which didn’t come to be for one reason or another, but we were always good friends. There might have been things I didn’t agree with him on at ALMS, but I think ultimately he did more for sportscars than anybody.

“When he announced the “For the Fans” tagline, I thought that was the best thing anybody’s ever come up with for our sport. And then he merged with Jim France and that made it all a huge success. It’s a very sad day for me.”

Max Angelelli:

“I only worked directly with Don when he entrusted me in 1999, giving me the opportunity to drive in the Le Mans 24-hour in a Panoz LMP1 Prototype. That was an unbelievable opportunity that opened a big door for me, and I’ve been grateful ever since for that trust in me.

“Then, what he did for our beloved sportscar world in the States was never before seen, unheard of. He did so much in the way of personal commitments, financial commitments, promotional commitments, in his vision to get sportscar racing where it is today.

“It’s safe to say IMSA is the best sportscar racing in the world and he had a tremendous impact on how that has come about. I’m grateful for the opportunity he gave me at Le Mans and grateful for the opportunity to participate in sportscar racing at the highest levels thanks to him. He was the spark that started this fire”

Greg Gill, WC Vision and Pirelli World Challenge President/CEO:

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Don Panoz. He and his organization did more for sports car racing than any other.

“His Panoz Avezzano GT4 sports car won 13 GTS/GTSA races in the past two years in the Pirelli World Challenge and the Panoz Company captured the 2018 GTS Manufacturers Championship in GTS, a tremendous achievement.

“Don always had fresh insight alongside a warm sense of humor about our industry and the sport. He will be sorely missed.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John


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