Gleason Inducted into Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame JOHNSTOWN, Pa., July 25 - Once upon a time, actually 25 years ago, an aspiring race car driver shyly approached a young amateur Formula Atlantic driver before a race in Quebec City, ...
Gleason Inducted into Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame
JOHNSTOWN, Pa., July 25 - Once upon a time, actually 25 years ago, an aspiring race car driver shyly approached a young amateur Formula Atlantic driver before a race in Quebec City, Quebec.
Both young men lived in Western Pennsylvania, where stick-and-ball sports prevail.
The young man trying to break into the sport wanted advice. He hoped their common geographical ties would be enough of a connection to help him get some tips from the Formula Atlantic driver who was already making forays into the sport.
The Formula Atlantic driver took the time to explain the sacrifices, commitment and determination the sport demands, and the pair began a friendship that day that grew stronger as the years unfolded.
And like all good fairy tales, there is a happy ending. The young driver seeking advice that day in Canada was Chip Ganassi. He went on to not only drive in the major leagues himself, but he has built a dynasty as a team owner in the Indy Racing League, NASCAR and the Grand American Rolex series.
The young Formula Atlantic driver was Chris Gleason, who continued to race as he could while helping to build his family's insurance business and raise a family. Today at age 60 he races a Porsche, and he's tied for second place in the GT standings of the Grand American Rolex series, the same series where Ganassi fields two Daytona Prototype cars.
Although neither look anything like Cinderella, Saturday night at the Pasquerilla Convention Center in Gleason's hometown of Johnstown, Pa. was sort of like the ball in our fairy tale, with a twist. In this happy ending many years later, the young driver who was seeking advice that day and who is now an international name in the sport led the accolades on a special night for the older driver who helped him so long ago. He has Indy cars racing in Milwaukee and stock cars racing in New Hampshire this afternoon, but last night Ganassi was in Johnstown so he could introduce Gleason to an audience of about 300, present him with a trophy, and help induct his mentor into the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame.
It was a great moment for both racers from this coal-mining region that is far removed from places like Daytona, Fla. and Le Mans, France.
"I was in awe of what I saw him do that day at that race in Canada," Ganassi said during his remarks. "That year was perhaps the most competitive year for any series in the world. All sorts of drivers in Formula Atlantic that year went on to stardom in Indy cars and Formula 1. And who was co-Rookie of the Year in Formula Atlantic? Chris Gleason.
"If he was from some other area of the world like Indianapolis or Monte Carlo, Chris would have had a career at the top levels of professional motorsports," Ganassi continued, "but each time, he came home to Johnstown. He had commitments here, as he was helping with the family business and helping to raise a family of his own. If he had stuck with only racing, his name would be synonymous with Andretti, Unser or Jim Clark. But that's not the complete Chris Gleason.
"He took the time to tell me about the commitment and dedication that racing takes, and he provided the cement in the formulation of my own racing career," Ganassi said.
He added that over the years he's looked to Gleason for business advice too. Gleason has also done well in that area, as the family's insurance business, the Gleason Agency based in Johnstown, has prospered under the leadership of Gleason and his brother, Rob, one of the many people that Gleason thanked when he took the podium.
"My brother Rob is my best friend and a role model for me," Gleason said. "I still say that when I grow up, I want to be like my brother Rob.
"I was raised in a great home, where my parents instilled in us the value of relationships and taught us about commitment, determination and persistence," he continued.
"My wife, Janet, and I had a prenuptial understanding about racing," he added. "She agreed to support it, and she has never wavered in that even when I came home with concussions and burns. She stayed the course, and she's the best thing that ever happened to me.
"My children have been supportive too," Gleason added. "I remember one time when I finished fifth at a race in Toronto, I was really disheartened because I thought I should have done better, but the kids said, 'No Dad, we think you did a great.'
"I have to thank Jim Marshall, my mechanic in the early years and my friend," Gleason noted. "We went all over New England, the Midwest and down South to race, and it really was a wonderful adventure.
"Myron Markovitz has been my friend and my attorney for years," he added. "He always said my racing contracts were awful, but I said I was going to do it anyway. Hugh Chamberlain gave me my first chance at Le Mans, and I wouldn't be here tonight without him. There were all sorts of people from the community who supported me as I was learning my skills, like Harvey Supowitz, Jeff Schwartz, Lanny Thiele and Charlie Kunkle. A community effort got me here."
Gleason said that the pinnacle of his racing career has been his two appearances at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. "It's the last great race in the world that is still run on public roads," he noted. "Driving at Le Mans is a memory I'll treasure the rest of my life.
"I'll treasure the memory of this night too," he concluded. "When I look at the people who are included in the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame, I see that they are people who represent not only excellence in sports but also excellence in life, and that's why I'm so honored to be included."
Gleason's next race is the EMCO Gears Mid-Ohio Road Racing Classic Aug. 6-7 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. It will be televised on SPEED.
For more information see: www.tribune-democrat.com, www.gleasonagency.com, www.theracersgroup.com, www.grandamerican.com and www.restartcommunications.com.