BRASELTON, Ga. — Don Panoz, the founder of the American Le Mans Series and creator of the Panoz car marque, has died at the age of 83.
Panoz made most of his money in the pharmaceutical industry, where he was a part of a research group that created time-release medication in transdermal patches.
Following a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry, Panoz slowly began moving into the motorsports world. In 1989 his son, Dan, formed an upstart car company then known as Panoz Auto Development.
The elder Panoz invested in the company and over the years the business grew and so did Panoz’s interest in motorsport. Eventually Panoz began preparing race cars for competition in road racing events, which included the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 1999 Panoz formed the American Le Mans Series with the goal of bringing European-style racing to the United States. The series thrived for more than 10 years before finally merging with the Grand-Am Rolex SportsCar Series to form what is now known as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“Don Panoz will be remembered as a one of the most important figures in the history of sports car racing,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO and IMSA Chairman Jim France said. “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.”
Panoz also owned race tracks, including Road Atlanta, Sebring Int’l Raceway and Mosport Int’l Raceway (now Canadian Tire Motorsport Park).
Panoz is also recognized for creating the Petit Le Mans 10-hour endurance event, which is run annually at Road Atlanta. The 20th running of the event will be Oct. 13.
“It (Petit Le Mans) started in 1998,” Panoz said in a story that will be published in the October issue of SPEED SPORT Magazine. “The race we had at Road Atlanta called the Atlanta Grand Prix, which was in late spring, early summer of ’98, I think we had 3,500 people. I had this idea for Petit Le Mans and approached the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest) and they were willing to go along with us.
“We had 20-some thousand people and it blew my mind. And now, over the years it’s around 100,000 people (attendance over three days). I don’t know what to think, but it’s way beyond any expectation.”
In the early 2010s, Panoz was instrumental in the development of the revolutionary DeltaWing race car, which was half the weight and horsepower, but all the performance of other prototype race cars. The DeltaWing raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the American Le Mans Series and the WeatherTech Championship until the end of the 2016 season.
Most recently the Panoz nameplate has found success in the Pirelli World Challenge, with Team Panoz Racing capturing the Pirelli World Challenge GTS Sprint/SprintX Manufacturer’s Championship with the Panoz Avezzano.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Don Panoz,” said Greg Gill, president and CEO of WC Vision and Pirelli World Challenge. “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.”
“The American entrepreneur who initially made his name in the pharmaceutical industry became widely influential in North American endurance racing. Having founded a racing team with son Dan, they manufactured innovative race cars that competed in 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1997, Champ Car and other series,” said WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca officials in a statement. “Panoz founded both the American Le Mans Series and Petit Le Mans, the treasured 10-hour endurance race that draws in drivers and fans from across the motorsport community. The 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season closes at the upcoming Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 10-13. Panoz owned Road Atlanta, Sebring Raceway and Mosport Int’l Raceway. Many of his motorsports holdings were sold in 2012 to help facilitate the merger between ALMS and the Grand-Am Road Racing Series.
“The vision of Panoz helped shape endurance racing in America in a way that positively affected its popularity and laid the framework for exciting racing carried forth by the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which raced at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca at this past weekend’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix.”