TACH SPECIAL: Does the American Le Mans Series spend too much time outside U.S.?
27 October 2000By David Treffer
Contributing Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
This week-end’s race in Las Vegas, Nevada marks the last time that the American Le Mans Series will be on North American soil for the rest of the year.
The season ends on December 31st in Adelaide, Australia. By the time the series’ 12 races have been completed the travel schedule resembles more of a World Le Mans Series than "American." Before I start my rant, let me point out that Don Panoz has done more for sportscar racing in North America than any recent owner or sanctioning body.
In my humble opinion, Don Panoz is a mixture of former IMSA owner John Bishop and former PSR owner Andy Evans. To compare Mr.Panoz to the mercurial Andy Evans is not meant as an insult. Andy Evans, in spite of his maniacal personality, had some brilliant ideas to unite North American sportscar racing with the rest of the world. Andy Evans’ downfall was of his own doing which has been well documented. Mr.Panoz picked up the shattered pieces and has been steadily gluing the platform back together piece by piece.
John Bishop, the original founder/owner of IMSA brought a steadiness to sportscar racing that was desperately needed in the early ‘70’s. Bishop’s only problem was the lack of funding. Bishop’s personal relationship with Bill France, Sr. ,who helped to bankroll the early stages of the series, brought a calming influence to North American sportscar racing. The France family brought the funding from R.J.Reynolds via the Camel-branded cigarette to create a series point fund and the all-important promotional budget.
Now here we are in the year 2000. Prototype sportscar racing is alive and doing well in North America due to the bankroll and determination of Don Panoz. But a potential "problem" is on the horizon. That "problem" is the amount of time that the series spends away from North American soil. During the early part
of this year, ALMS had a gap of 16 weeks (Charlotte April 1st-Sears Point July 23rd) away from North America. Part of that gap was spent preparing for Le Mans. That’s understandable. However, in marketing motorsports, the message must be consistent and the product readily available. Running off to foreign shores is sexy and exciting. It brings ,in a word, "panache." Recognizing that Don Panoz is a global thinker and businessman, using the ALMS as a marketing platform to meet other worldly captains of industry is brilliant.
Now comes the 2001 schedule. 13 races are on the schedule. Of those 13 races, 9 will be in North America. However, once again the schedule has a gap of several weeks (18 to be exact) between March 17th and July 22nd. That’s a long time to be away from your integral fan base. I could be totally off-based. Maybe sportscar road-racing fans don’t mind the gap. Judging by the attendance at the Petit Le Mans, probably the largest-ever at Road Atlanta, maybe the fans could care less.
No doubt greater minds have already addressed this problem for future schedules. Mr.Panoz did not amass his personal fortune my misreading the horizon. But he might want to examine the idea of staying home. We shall see.