Photo: Courtesy of IMSA

Petit Le Mans Grand Marshal Takes Panoz’s “For the Fans” Mantra to Next Level

By IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When the command to start engines is given to the drivers at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Motul Petit Le Mans on Saturday, Oct. 13, the person saying the most famous words in racing won’t be a famous person.

And it’ll be exactly as the creator of Motul Petit Le Mans, the late Don Panoz, would have wanted it. As a tribute to Panoz, who passed away on Sept. 11 at the age of 83, Road Atlanta announced that this year’s grand marshal will be a race fan that has been selected in an essay contest in which they have described – in 350 words or less – how Panoz has positively impacted their life as a fan of sports car racing.

The staff at Road Atlanta came up with the idea shortly after news of Panoz’s passing broke. Panoz owned the track before selling it to IMSA as part of the historic 2012 merger between the American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM.

“It immediately occurred to me that Don’s big mantra when he started all of this was ‘For the Fans,’” said Road Atlanta President Geoff Lee. “He was taken by sports car racing (after attending the 24 Hours of Le Mans), and decided to back it up with his own investment in the late ‘90s and beyond, with the mantra and intention of bringing it back to the U.S. in a way the fans could really enjoy it.

“He wanted to make it approachable for the fans. He wanted to make it something where they could really embrace the fact that these incredible cars with this incredible technology and these highly skilled drivers could be available to them. That’s when our paddocks became open. That’s when Petit Le Mans started, when the American Le Mans Series started. The grid walk started here. Basically, anything we could do to make the fans feel more engaged and be given that up close and personal touch, that’s what Don wanted.”

The grand marshal contest takes Panoz’s wishes to the next level. It also comes the year after Panoz himself served as the grand marshal for the 20th Motul Petit Le Mans.

“I think Don would be tickled that he was grand marshal last year, and for him to be followed by a fan in those footsteps would resonate with him,” Lee said. “That’s really what the contest was all about. What would Don want and how do we appropriately recognize him?”

Road Atlanta began accepting submissions on Monday and the contest continues through Friday, Sept. 28. The selection will be made on Oct. 3 for the winner and guest to receive free tickets. Travel expenses are not included. Lee has been impressed by the response already.

“We’ve been lucky that the responses so far have been thoughtful,” he said. “I was afraid we might get overwhelmed. We’re getting a lot of responses, but they’re good responses. We’re not getting, ‘Gee, I’d like to do that,’ which isn’t a response in my mind. People are taking their time and thinking about it.”

If you’d like to participate, you’ve got a little bit of time to think about it, but not a whole lot with Friday’s deadline looming. Email your submission to [email protected] by 11:59:59 p.m. ET on Sept. 28.
For one lucky fan, it’ll be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“If I was a fan, not a participating VIP/sponsor or whatever else and I got a chance to start, arguably, 100,000 horsepower on the grid, I think it might be kind of fun,” Lee concluded.

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