Gleason to be Inducted into Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame
JOHNSTOWN, Pa., July 19 - Endurance sports car driver Chris Gleason of Johnstown, Pa. will be inducted into the Cambria Country Sports Hall of Fame in a special ceremony this coming Saturday night at the Pasquerilla Conference Center, 301 Napoleon St., Johnstown.
Indy car, stock car and endurance sports car team owner Chip Ganassi, a long-time friend of Gleason's who is based in Pittsburgh, will present the award.
Gleason, 60, is currently tied for second place in the national GT point standings of the Grand American Road Racing Association's Rolex series. He has finished on the podium in four of his last seven races (Florida's Daytona International Speedway twice; Phoenix International Raceway and Mont-Tremblant, Quebec).
Gleason is one of three drivers of The Racer's Group Porsche GT3 RS No. 66, which is sponsored by The Gleason Group, F1 Boston, Monster Cable and Adobe Road Winery.
The series' biggest race of the season is the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., an event which Gleason has competed in nine times. It is the most prestigious endurance sports car race in North America.
The biggest such event in the world is the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. Gleason competed in that event in 1997 and 2001.
Although his racing biography is more impressive than some professional race car drivers', Gleason is a businessman first and a race car driver second. He is president and chief executive officer of Gleason Financial based in Johnstown, one of the nation's leading independent insurance brokerage firms.
Gleason started his driving career in the seventies in open-wheel cars, beginning with Formula Fords. He finished second in the 1973 Formula Ford national championships. He also won the Pabst 500 IMSA race in 1974 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
He then moved into Super Vees and Formula Atlantic cars, tying for Rookie of the Year honors in the latter in 1978.
"The 1979 season in Formula Atlantic was very competitive," Gleason recalled. "Just a few of the drivers I raced against that year who went on to success in the top echelons of motorsports included Keke Rosberg, Danny Sullivan and Bobby Rahal."
In the eighties Gleason drove in the Trans-Am and IMSA series, and he finished fifth in the Rothman Porsche Turbo Cup series in Canada in 1989.
In 1991 Gleason took a break from racing to concentrate on his business and his growing family. He returned to GT racing in 1996. In 1997 he co-drove a Dodge Viper to an impressive sixth-place finish in the GT2 class at Le Mans. That was followed by a podium finish at the 1998 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, when he was third in the GT2 class.
Gleason drove in the Motorola Cup series in 1999, co-driving a GS-400 to the first motorsports victory in Lexus's corporate history.
He drove a BMW in Grand American Rolex series events in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and he also competed in Grand Am Cup events in an Acura.
He finished fourth in the LMP 675 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2001 in a Lola. His co-drivers on the Roock Knight Hawk Racing team for the latter race were Rick Fairbanks of Greenville, S.C. and one of the best female race car drivers in the world, Claudia Huertgen of Germany.
"Rick and I doing Le Mans is sort of like two amateur golfers making the cut to play in the U.S. Open," Gleason said at the time.
Gleason, who has earned the nickname "The Ironman" in racing, joined The Racers Group program for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. That team is based at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.
Gleason and his two teammates for 2004, Ian James of Kissimmee, Fla., and R.J. Valentine of Hingham, Mass., finished third in the GT class at their last race, which was the Paul Revere 250 at Daytona on July 1-2. Their next race is the EMCO Gears Mid-Ohio Road Racing Classic Aug. 6-7 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.
All 12 events on the 2004 schedule are televised on the SPEED network.
The Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame honors distinguished athletes from various sports. Just a few of the athletes who are members are golfer Arnold Palmer, National Football League All-Pro linebacker Jack Ham of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cy Young Major League Baseball pitcher Pete Vuckovich, jockey Bill Hartack, swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, baseball's Charlie Metro and wrestling coach Pat Pecora.
"The committee uses several key factors to choose members of the Hall of Fame," explained Cory Isenberg, a sports reporter at Johnstown's local newspaper, The Tribune-Democrat. "First, they must be outstanding in their sport. Second, they must have received some sort of national recognition. They generally have to be retired, but the committee made an exception to that one in Chris's case! To be doing as well in his sport as he is at 60 is exceptional."
"I'm very honored to be included," Gleason said. "It was really a surprise to be asked, and a terrific honor."
Gleason and his wife, Janet, have four children: Jennifer, 26; Chris Jr., 23; Meghan, 20 and Kevin, 17.
Although Gleason loves racing, he's involved in transportation matters of another kind, too. In 1997 Congress appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Council, which searches to reform America's passenger railroad system.
He was also the chairman of a committee of private and governmental people who helped set a new strategic direction for the Hiram G. Andrews Center in Johnstown, a rehabilitation center for severely disabled people. Gleason is also involved with the University of Pittsburgh's School of Health and Rehabilitative Sciences.