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On the Passing of Don Panoz by Jon Rosner

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Don Panoz and his DeltaWing race car at Road America in 2014
photo courtesy of DeltaWing Project 56, LLC.

Adding up a short list of the accomplishments of Don Panoz is easy.

Special Feature from Jon Rosner

Don built and lead the team that created the time-release nicotine patch that has allowed millions to kick the smoking habit. In 1969, When Mylan Pharmaceuticals - the company Don co-founded - did not want to develop and produce the patch, Don left for Ireland to build a new company to develop and market it. Most people would have stopped there. But Don was not the kind of person to ever rest on his laurels. He and his wife Nancy created Chateau Elan Winery in Georgia, got involved in other wineries, racing car venues, and lots of new technologies ranging from water treatment to the DeltaWing racing car.

Don worked with his son Dan in the development of the Panoz Roadster (Dan had been importing Cobras and bought the bankruptcy assets of Thomson Motor Company of Wexford Ireland. Dan wanted to use the brilliant chassis developed by Frank Costin of Lotus fame.) Dan and Don developed a new handsome body to drape over the Panoz improved substructure. In 1999 Don created the Women’s Global GT Series to offer women drivers the opportunity to drive in a national series in a Panoz Esperante, a second Panoz car offering.

Don reveled in his technology group’s development of very advanced electric motor technologies and furthered the developments to the revolutionary DeltaWing. His team raced the DeltaWing in what is now the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Since the DeltaWing had half the weight and nearly half the total aerodynamic drag it only required about half the horsepower. A big benefit from the superior fuel economy was the need for far fewer pit stops...Pit stops being where the race is often won. Over the horizon, thoughts were that the DeltaWing might make for a very interesting street car.

He hired as driver one Katherine Legg. Katherine eats, sleeps and dreams about racing. She and Don were both aware of the fact that the DeltaWing was not a car that other drivers expected to see in their side glances and mirrors. It was pretty clear that at least a few times that the DeltaWing was punted off the track, it was done on purpose by competitors who simply did not like what they saw. Don created the American LeMans Series as he didn’t like the way he had been treated in a series he had entered as a competitor. He was not a man who was easily deterred and he surrounded himself with like-minded people.

Don once said: “I’m very honored and humbled to receive this award. My father taught me to work hard and never give up, and this has been my driving force. It’s what has energized me to do things like start a motorsports program, multiple international racing series like ALMS and the Women’s Global GT Series, and race the DeltaWing.”

Don was a true pioneer fearlessly and methodically crossing many boundaries and challenging many sacred cows, and more often than not, winning the day. In an age when many crow when they have little to show in terms of actual accomplishment Don was soft-spoken, understated and blazed a path for others to follow.

Don’s last dream was to take a Formula E car at LeMans and see how far they could go with it. His team may yet follow through on that one. Don was not a tall man, fairly thin and always in good physical shape, wiry, with piercing eyes and sharp intellect, tough, direct and when he was not all business, a warm and kind person. He will be missed.