Sometimes nice guys do finish first.
In this case the nice guy is John Doonan, and “winning” means being chosen to lead the International Motor Sports Ass’n as the sanctioning body’s new president.
Doonan’s appointment is also a victory for grassroots racers because he comes from a grassroots racing family. He earned his executive credentials through the manufacturer side of the sport.
Doonan joined Mazda in 2003 as its Midwest advertising manager. He was promoted to manager of motorsports team development in 2005 and served in that position for the rest of his tenure at Mazda. In 2011, the position of director of motorsports for Mazda North American Operations was added to his duties. In that position, he developed the overall strategy and managed Mazda’s motorsports programs in North America.
Mazda isn’t as large as many other car manufacturers, but Doonan loved the marque since he was a boy, and throughout his career he did the best he could to build the brand despite tight budgets.
In doing so he used the code typical of many underdogs: Harness your passion to give you more drive than the competition and then outwork everyone.
Along the way he learned many valuable lessons in negotiations, marketing and building corporate partnerships that will serve him well in his new position, where he reports to Ed Bennett, IMSA’s chief executive officer.
Among Doonan’s most admirable traits are his willingness to listen to varying viewpoints and his strong appreciation of history.
Doonan succeeds Scott Atherton, who is still involved as a member of IMSA’s board of directors and is now focusing on consultant work through his company, Atherton Motorsports Advisors.
As president of the top sanctioning body for sports car racing in North America, Doonan oversees seven series. The premier one is the 12-race WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which includes the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts and the Motul Petit Le Mans.
While at Mazda, the program Doonan led was managed by Mazda Team Joest, which competes in the Daytona Prototype international class of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
This team is the pinnacle of the Mazda Road to 24, a ladder system from grassroots racing to the top level of IMSA. The Road to 24 program features Global Mazda MX-5 Cup, a professional single-make series that utilizes the latest generation Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Doonan was also instrumental in securing funds from Mazda to support and develop the Mazda Road to Indy, a formula car ladder system that provides scholarships to the champions at different levels to help them reach the NTT IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
Doonan’s first day at his new job was Oct. 21 and he officially got the title of president on Jan. 1.
The boardroom is a long way from the 49-year-old executive’s beginnings in the sport.
His grandfather, the late John W. Doonan, loved midget, sprint car and Indy car racing, and raced midgets many years ago.
“Just recently my grandfather’s 1947 Kurtis Kraft midget made its way back into the family,” Doonan said. “I hope we can have it restored and brought to some historic events.”
While Doonan’s father, the late John G. Doonan, loved attending midget and sprint races, he was a grassroots road racer at heart. The Doonans went to the races as a family.
As a boy, Doonan spent many hours helping to prepare his father’s race cars. This taught him to appreciate the jobs of all the members of a crew and gave him hands-on experience that has served him well.
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