A DECADE OF VOICES: BUTCH LEITZINGER
Leitzinger: "To his absolute credit, and I'm grateful for it, (Don Panoz) kept his word on everything and the Series has progressed."
Butch Leitzinger would like to say he knew this would work. Alas, he was one of many who were skeptical when Don Panoz announced in 1998 his vision for the American Le Mans Series and bringing world-class sports car racing back to prominence in North America. But as the Series prepares for its 10th season, the two-time World Sports Car champion can look back and marvel at the road the Series and its teams, drivers and partners have traveled.
Now he's a believer:
"I have to say I was a bit of a doubter because we had been led down these garden paths so many times by so many people. Some of them probably were well-meaning; some of them not. Everything that Mr. Panoz said sounded good, but after awhile you get pretty hardened to nice talk and wait for something to happen. To his absolute credit, and I'm grateful for it, he kept his word on everything and the Series has progressed. For so many years we were told how great sports car racing was going to be in three years after all these plans came through. And usually about a year-and-a-half into that, the person made their way to Argentina and we never heard from them again."
"In the first year ... it seemed little cobbled together. With every year, we have a strong schedule where we go into stronger markets. From a driver's standpoint, you need the Series to be strong because you want to know you have a place to race every year. And for a long time we didn't. I was always jealous in sports car racing; you would see NASCAR drivers or other kinds of drivers who knew they had a place to race. At the end of the year, we'd be just dying to get information and see if there was an actual schedule for next year. But that was one of the nice things that happened with the Series because they would announce the schedule usually at Petit Le Mans and we knew we had somewhere to go. With each year, the dates have been more and more consistent where we can build a fan base and allow all of us to do what we do."
Preparations for the 2008 American Le Mans Series, its 10th season of world-class sports car racing, begin January 28-30 with the annual Winter Test at Sebring International Raceway.
The 2008 season opens with the 56th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida on Saturday, March 15. The race will start at 10 a.m. ET and will be broadcast live by SPEED, which will begin its coverage at 9:30 a.m. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com.