Daytona 24: Pre-race notes

Six Drivers Looking to Join Fathers as Winners of Prestigious Rolex 24 This Weekend at Daytona International Speedway DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 22, 2008) -- Since the beginning of time, sons have followed fathers into the family trade,...

Six Drivers Looking to Join Fathers as Winners of Prestigious Rolex 24 This Weekend at Daytona International Speedway

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 22, 2008) -- Since the beginning of time, sons have followed fathers into the family trade, passing the family's "business" from one generation to the next. Past and present fathers competing in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 are no different, having passed along their enthusiasm and love of competition to offspring who on Jan. 26-27 will also compete in the 46th Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Only six, however, will carry proven Rolex 24-hour winning genetic material into this year's race.

Reigning Rolex Series Daytona Prototype driving champion Alex Gurney, 33, of Newport Beach, Calif., is the son of racing great Dan Gurney, who in 1962 drove to victory in Daytona International Speedway's first installment of what would become today's Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Going on as a driver to compete in and win races ranging from Formula One to Le Mans, Gurney later turned to team ownership, returning to Daytona in 1983 with his All American Racers and won the grueling race outright in 1993.

As this year's Rolex-24 Grand Marshal, the 76-year-old Gurney will give the expected 73-car field -- son Alex among them -- the command to "start your engines."

Full-season teammate and 2007 Daytona Prototype co-champion Jon Fogarty again shares the driver's seat with Alex Gurney, with aid in this year's Rolex 24 by two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and 1996 Champ Car World Series titlist Jimmy Vasser.

David Donohue, 40, of Malvern, Pa., is the son of the legendary Mark Donohue, who left his winning mark at the 1969 Rolex 24 At Daytona before the sport which he so loved claimed his life in a pre-race practice accident for the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix.

Only 8 years old at the time of his father's death, it was hardly expected that David Donohue would grow up to also race cars. The younger Donohue took to the sport, however, and eventually became a key member of the No. 58 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley team upon its formation in late 2002. A three-time Daytona Prototype race winner, the 2008 Rolex 24 will mark David Donohue's 11th start in the race.

London-born Justin Bell, also 40, regularly drives the No. 12 Rock Valley Oil Motorsports Pontiac Riley Daytona Prototype and in early December half-seriously asked his father, three-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Derek Bell, if he'd "like to give it a lash this year."

"To my astonishment he said he'd give it a go and here we are, racing in the Rolex 24," said Justin Bell, who resides in Delray Beach, Fla. The younger Bell has a 2003 Daytona International Speedway sports car victory under his belt, too, albeit of shorter race duration.

The Bells have previously raced together, including a GTS Corvette during the 2003 Rolex 24. The appearance will be the elder Bell's first race in a Daytona Prototype.

The trim, fit and still youthful 68-year-old Derek Bell has kept active through historic prototype car competitions and helped England's Bentley Motors develop its 2003 prototype race car.

"I'm actually looking forward to it," Derek Bell said. "To race in the Rolex 24 with Justin will make it all the more fun."

Graham Rahal, 18, Columbus, Ohio, this week starts his third Rolex 24 with one of the Rolex Series' strongest teams, the No. 60 Ford Riley of Ohio-based Michael Shank Racing.

While 1981 Rolex 24 At Daytona winner and current IndyCar Series team owner Bobby Rahal insists his race-car driving days are over, son Graham Rahal will have to go it alone for now. He's not exactly hurting as a result.

Quickly carving his own niche in the racing world, Graham Rahal became the youngest winner of an SCCA Formula Atlantic national championship in 2005 (the same title his father had won three decades previous).

Moving up to the professional ranks in 2006, Graham Rahal kick-started the racing year with a Rolex 24 GT-class run in the No. 72 Tafel Racing Porsche GT3 Cup car that started on the GT pole and finished sixth in class. Graham Rahal later charged ahead to score five wins in the Champ Car Atlantic series as a rookie.

Stoked, he returned in 2007 for his first Daytona Prototype ride in Southard Motorsports' No. 3 Lexus Riley, but it finished 62nd after completing only 214 race laps. But returning for the 46th running of the Rolex 24 with Shank may be Graham Rahal's best shot yet. Shank believes Rahal is bringing important skills to the table.

"Graham's a really talented driver," Shank said. "We're putting him in the (No.) 60 Ford Riley that has three of the same four drivers that two years ago scored a dark-horse second place. So, he's got his work cut out for him. But the team wouldn't have put him in the car if they didn't think he'd buck up and contribute his fair share."

At 16 years of age Jordan Taylor is one of the 2008 field's youngest competitors but he hardly comes to the 46th running of the twice-a-round-the-clock classic absent of the kind of statistics -- being crowned Skip Barber Racing's 2007 Eastern Series champion, for one -- of which a father would be proud.

The Altamonte Springs, Fla., resident and Lake Highland Academy student will co-drive Terra Firma Motorsports' No. 17 Millenia Fine Art Porsche GT3 Cup car with Ron Zitza of Maitland, Fla., Gary Jensen of Winter Park, Fla., and Mark Jensen of Winter Park, Fla.

Unlike most Rolex 24 drivers, Jordan Taylor will need only to look into his Porsche's mirrors or perhaps out of his car's window to catch a glimpse of older brother Ricky Jordan, 18 -- also of Altamonte Springs and likewise a Lake Highland student -- or father Wayne Taylor, who will be sharing co-driving duties in one of the Rolex Series' top race cars, the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley Daytona Prototype.

Like Jordan Taylor, Ricky Taylor has already posted race statistics that make envious others twice and three times his age.

Meanwhile, their 51-year-old father, sports car veteran and two-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner (1996, 2005) Wayne Taylor, only basks in the limelight now being shared by his sons.

"I was as surprised as anyone," Taylor said a few years ago after the two approached him with the idea of following in their father's footsteps. "Up until that time, they gave absolutely no clue that they'd be interested in motor sports. None.

"Racing now with Ricky is a wonderful experience for me," Wayne Taylor continued, "one I had wondered at one time if it'd ever come true and, now, it won't be long before Ricky, Jordan and I can share the same car. I can hardly wait."

A thinly disguised announcement for the future?

-credit: garra

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Alex Gurney , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Jon Fogarty , Wayne Taylor , Graham Rahal , Jimmie Johnson , Justin Bell , Dan Gurney , David Donohue , Gary Jensen , Jordan Taylor , Derek Bell , Skip Barber , Ron Zitza , Michael Shank , Mark Jensen , Ricky Taylor
Teams Michael Shank Racing