Tributes are pouring in from across the motorsport family for Don Panoz, founder of Panoz LLC, Elan technologies and the American Le Mans Series, successful producer of GT, Prototype and single seater race cars.
There will be more added to this story as we receive them so please do check back in the next couple of days.
(With thanks to Marshall Pruett and Racer Magazine)
Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest: “I am especially moved and saddened today. At the last edition of the Le Mans Classic, I had the privilege of driving the 1998 Panoz Esperante GTR-1 at the 24 Hours circuit. The car was a stunning sight, but at the wheel, it went to a whole other level. I expected something exceptional, and it did not disappoint.
“I shared my experience with Don Panoz immediately, sending him a photo and a message, because we’ve always been close, partners and teammates in endurance. I was proud and happy to be able to express my friendship and respect for him once again.
“This photo was one of many examples of our shared passion. Not only could we talk about the discipline, these outstanding cars and remarkable men for hours just for fun, but like me he worked on behalf of this sport.
“Since the inception of the American Le Mans Series, the ties between the U.S. and the ACO have strengthened. Don Panoz was the great ambassador of that relationship. After a very successful and cutting-edge career, Don Panoz may have become involved in cars and motorsport somewhat accidentally, but he stayed for a reason. Having become a fan, he he applied his business acumen to the sport with his legendary trail-blazing flair. “He was just recently working on a Garage 56 project. He was always a step ahead. We shall miss the man as much as his expertise. On behalf of the ACO, I would like to extend my warmest condolences to his family and loved ones.”
Roger Penske: “Don, to me, was someone who came into the sport with passion. He certainly had a mind of his own and pushed the establishment on what he wanted to do with vehicles that carried his own name.
“You look at what he did at Road Atlanta and certainly with Scott Atherton with the American Le Mans Series. And then he was smart to combine it with the boys at Daytona. We had a wonderful win with Gil De Ferran in 2003 with his chassis at the Indianapolis 500, and the support we got from them was amazing.
“I’m sure sorry to see his loss. He was a businessman, someone committed to motor racing, and he was a good friend. I respected him a lot, and in so many ways.”
Gerard Neveu, CEO, World Endurance Championship: “We’re all sad to learn about the passing of Don Panoz, a huge figure in U.S. endurance racing. I’ve never met a bigger fan of sportscar racing and more importantly he was a genuinely good person. We will really miss him and send all condolences his family. Respect Don.”
David Brabham: “I am deeply saddened to hear the news that my old friend and team boss Don Panoz has passed away.
“When I think about Don I always have a smile, why, because what a character he was, his drive and passion for what he believed in was incredible, who would of thought of building a front-engine sportscar in 1997… !
“I was honoured to drive the Panoz Roadsters on the racetracks around the world and we sure shook the establishment by beating the likes of Audi and BMW with his little team from Brasleton Georgia.
“Without Don Panoz sportscars would not be what it is today, his commitment to bring in the manufacturers, privateers and align with the ACO was a stroke of genius and it paved the way for some of the best racing the USA had ever seen with his American Le Mans Series, a series for the fans.
“To Nancy, Danny and the rest of the family, my thoughts and prayers are with you all, Don will be sorely missed by so many people.”
Tommy Milner, who drive for Don via Multimatic, and whose father Tom runs the PWC Avezzano GT4 programme: “My first real interaction with Don was around 2000 with my dad, and that point, my dad been helping a little bit on the LMP side as a manager.
“We walked through the Chateau Elan while Don was having dinner, my dad wanted to say hello and give him a hard time, say something funny, and I remember vividly Don turned around, saw me, my dad said I was in go karts and had been through one of the Panoz driving schools, and being shy, I didn’t speak, but Don reached in his pocket, gave my dad 20 bucks, and said here’s this for Tommy’s first contract because he’s going to drive for me one day. I ended up driving for him in 2006 with Multimatic, and I’ll never forget that first meeting.
“He loved to laugh and tell jokes, and for me, driving for him and all he did for my dad, was so important in our careers. I can point to that year as being so instrumental in my career with all the people I met and have gone on to race with. In more modern times, my dad always told Don the truth when others were just toeing the line.
“It made him hate my dad at times, but he also respected him for it. And when you look at where sports car racing is today, it’s immeasurable to see what he’s contributed to the U.S. and around the world. Without a strong series like the ALMS to support the efforts of manufacturers who wanted to go sports car racing here, who knows what the landscape would look like today without all that he’s done.”
Andy Meyrick, Factory DeltaWing Driver: “I drove for Don for a number of years and I’m not afraid to say that he was the best boss of my career.
“He looked after us all, let us get on with the job, however tough the task, but then made it fun.
“He’s a simply huge loss, not just for those of us on his own teams, but for the whole racing community. There are so many people that I know will feel that they owe him a massive vote of thanks for his contribution.
“One final moment, I got an email from Don just 11 days ago asking how I was doing (after his accident at the Spa 24). I knew he was unwell, and for him to do that while he, himself, was battling is the mark of the man.”
Katherine Legge, Factory DeltaWing driver: “Don was an integral part of my career. When everything was going wrong, he plucked me from obscurity and breathed life into it.
“He was a legend and he was a really good man. He always had little magic tricks and stories to tell to keep us entertained. He captivated us.
“I’m devastated by his loss, really. I thought he’d live forever. There haven’t been that many people who’ve had that big of an impact on so many lives. He will be missed, but won’t ever be forgotten.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “He was ecstatic when we won with his (GT2) car at Sebring in 2006. He always liked those projects that were different.
“He loved racing and did a lot of things with his own programs, his tracks, and so many things that made an impact.
“He had a vision, and in racing, the big issue is you are often trying to make things happen against people who have different visions. It was a troubled time for sports car racing here, it was going a separate way from Europe, and his passion and drive brought global sports car racing together again.
“He was a spectacular person. He let his passion lead the way and never held back. He was a pure racer.”
Justin Bell: “Sad to hear that Dr. Panoz just passed away. “I always have a chuckle when I think of him smoking as we walked through the new buildings at Sebring as he told me that they were all non smoking buildings! Everyone that loves IMSA sports car racing owes him a huge debt of gratitude.”
Sean Rayhall, who Panoz hired to race full-time in 2016, the final season for Don’s DeltaWing:
“Don Panoz was one of the most eccentric racers, but also one of the truest. “I remember on my first drive for him in the DeltaWing at Daytona. He pulled us all into the motor coach and said, ‘Here’s a bowl of $100 bills. If any of you wreck my car, use one of those $100 bills to get your ass home because I don’t want to see you!’ “He had a heart of gold. He gave me a shot, believed in me, and believed in American talent. I’m so proud to have driven for Don Panoz. I cant thank him enough for how good he was to me.”
Richard Dean, who drove the LMP Roadster in a few ALMS races, won in the Roadster in the 2001 ELMS race at Vallelunga (Lanesra racing with Gary Formato) and won in GT2 at the 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours with Lawrence Tomlinson and Tom Kimber Smith for Team LNT:
“What a character, and what a legacy, a real innovator and a visionary. A man who truly invested in the sport, in his series, his circuits and his cars. The American Le Mans Series showed the way, it is still my favorite race series.
“There are so many that owe their careers in this sport to the opportunities that Don’s investments and projects provided.
“At Le Mans, it seemed coming into the race that everything was against us, engine issues at the test, we were allocated Garage 13, but his enthusiasm never wavered, he tried for 10 years to get the win and was just ecstatic when we did it. And he was given the Spirit of Le Mans award by the ACO that same weekend!
“I grabbed a Panoz flag from someone on my way to the podium, I see that picture every day in my gym. Without Don that wouldn’t have been possible, a simply huge part of my career.
“My thoughts are with Danny and the rest of the family.”
Ryan Eversley: “My dad was one of first employees of Panoz Motorsports and worked there for many years. I would go on to work at the Panoz Racing School for 7 years myself. Don Panoz absolutely shaped many things in my life. May he Rest In Peace.”
Michel Cosson, ACO President from 1992 to 2003, remembers a “man who worked with us to make the ACO global. He readily joined us in our efforts to bring the ACO to the international stage.”
Jean-Claude Plassart, ACO President from 2003 to 2012: “Don was a great friend to the ACO and a personal friend of mine. I want to highlight his enthusiasm for developing motorsport all over the world and increasing the profile of the 24 Hours of Le Mans internationally, particularly in the U.S., his home country.”
Yesterday, SRO Motorsports Group joined the global racing community in mourning the passing of Don Panoz.
A towering figure on the U.S. racing scene, Don’s influence was felt at all levels of the sport he loved, both at home and abroad.
SRO can trace its own relationship with Panoz back as far as 1997, when the brand’s GTR-1 competed in the FIA GT Championship. More than 20 years later, the Panoz Avezzano GT4 is the benchmark in the Pirelli World Challenge GTS category.
It is thanks to this sustained success that the Panoz name has become synonymous with speed and technical innovation. Indeed, that will remain true for generations to come.
To Don’s family and his many friends across the globe, Stephane Ratel and the SRO team wish to send their sincere condolences.