MONTEREY, Calif. – Saturday at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is historically the biggest day of the week at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
This Saturday easily lived up to that history as the IMSA Pavilion was the place to be throughout the day as some of the greatest drivers in the series history stopped by to tell stories and meet their fans.
The day of presentations in the IMSA Pavilion started with a visit from IMSA’s all-time victory leader Scott Pruett entertaining the many fans with stories from his long-time career in the championship.
“When I said ‘Hi to my family at home’ I was always speaking to my family,” he said. “But so many fans also thought I was talking to them because they were following my career and were a fan of what we were doing. It is those types of interactions that makes IMSA the special place that it is.”
Longtime BMW driver Brian Redman recounted some memories of the 1976 Rolex 24 At Daytona and how he, not the mechanics, worked on the car when it was stopped on the track.
“Back then the mechanics weren’t allowed out to work on the cars,” he said. “Our car stopped heading out of the pits and I pushed it back to our pit and worked on it for 10-15 minutes and got it going again. I got to the horseshoe and it stopped again. I ended up on the inside, so I ran across to the pits and got the necessary tools. A mechanic came with me back to the car and told me what to do and we got it going again.
“I got the car up on the banking and it stopped again!” he added. “Well this time I started to yell to the spectators to help get me some jumper cables. When I tried to start the car, there was no sound as the cables were faulty. By the time we got going we had lost at least 30 minutes. But then the race officials scored the race back an hour and we were back in the lead.”
Acura was represented by current Team Penske driver Ricky Taylor and former champion Parker Johnstone.
“I am happy where I am now,” Taylor said of his switch from his father’s team to Penske. “As a driver you never know when you are going to win your first race or your next race. When I had the opportunity to go to Team Penske, it was a tough decision but in the same breath it was good time to make the switch after achieving all of our goals with my dad (Wayne) and brother (Jordan). It was an exciting time for IMSA with a new entry in Acura Team Penske. Acura has made a beautiful car that is also very fast.
“All I have really driven are sports cars. My dad had been in it for 35 years so it was easy to follow that. It has been in my blood since the day I was born. I am excited where IMSA is currently. It is at a peak with all the manufacturers involved and to be a part of a great organization and to have the best equipment is special.”
“One of the things that is different in the cars are the changes like the steering wheel,” Johnstone said after he got spend some time with Ricky earlier this weekend. “When Ricky got into my car he asked where the buttons are. I went from nothing on the wheel to all the things that are there now and I helped develop that technology. It was great to have Ricky walk me through the Penske steering wheel. There is actually a quiz that they give to drivers about all of the buttons. I can’t believe that!
The nine-time Le Mans and six-time Sebring winner Tom Kristensen spoke about what it was like to come to the United States to race.
“When I came here to run in the American Le Mans Series we joined with American teams and it was a fantastic time,” he said. “That was a special time and the winning was part of that journey and that is close to my heart. Racing in the United States has been a wonderful journey and has been really fantastic.
“You see how loyal people come to the Audi brand and the people and mechanics working on these cars,” he added. “When they decided to make a sports car you can tell the legacy that they put into it. The history that goes into the Audi race cars is what makes them special.”
Johnny O’Connell is one of the most successful drivers in IMSA history. He enjoyed a long career and was an easy choice to the “50 Great Drivers” list last year.
“In North America I would have to go with Sebring as my favorite track,” he said. “For some reason or another I raced there 20 times, got to the podium 12 and won it eight times. There aren’t many guys that have something over Tom Kristensen. But I know he has anger because he has six wins there. You like your records to last and I think that one has a chance.”
“My first time at Daytona was in 1989 as a spectator and I slept in my car,” he remembered about his first IMSA experience. “That was the year they had to red-flag the race due to fog. What I remember it was early in the morning and the cars were stunning. I was just a young person and I said to myself ‘There is Hurley Haywood!’ or ‘That guy drives in F1,’ and that is what makes it special to me is that kind of memory.”
“This is such a great series. The history of it. The number of great drivers and to be amongst those is amazing and I am honored to be one of those 50 Great Drivers.”