An Interview With: JIM FRANCE, DON PANOZ, SCOTT ATHERTON, ED BENNETT, LEIGH DIFFEY

Grand-Am and ALMS announce merger
Grand-Am and ALMS announce merger

Photo by: Grand-Am

THE MODERATOR: As you can see by the signage, our title is Sports Car Racing in North American future, and that's what this is all about.

We have some VIPs in the house today I want to acknowledge. I want to start with two of our most important entitlement sponsors, Ed Brown, president and CEO of Patron; Colette Bennett, national sports marketing manager for Rolex. We have the chairman and CEO of NASCAR, Brian France. We have the CEO of the International Speedway Corporation, Lisa France Kennedy. NASCAR president, Mike Helton and NASCAR board member, Gary Crotty. Mark Reuss, president, North America, GM. Jim Campbell, VP of motorsports GM. John Doonan, director of Mazda Motorsports, Mazda North American operations. Beth Paretta, director of marketing and operations, SRT Motorsports. Andre Oosthuizen, VP marketing, Porsche Cars North America. From the International Motorsports Association, chief operating officer, Scott Elkins.

We have several gentlemen who head up our great facilities that are going to be involved in this new organization: President and general manager of Road Atlanta, Jeff Lee; president and general manager at Sebring International Raceway, Tres Stephenson.

And our host, really, is what you could call Joie Chitwood III, president of Daytona International Speedway.

A couple of good friends joining us on the phone listening in, director of motorsports for Ford Racing, Jamie Allison, and the marketing director for Continental Tire, Travis Roffler.

We are going to be going live on SPEED shortly which is going to be a big moment. Please stand by, we will begin momentarily. I am going to yield now to a very special guest emcee we brought in, Leigh Diffey.

LEIGH DIFFEY: Good morning, everybody, and we have just got the cue that we are now live on SPEED so we welcome the viewers on the network in North America and around the world, those viewing and tuning in and logging in on ALMS.com, GRAND-AM.com and NASCAR.com, welcome to those folks, too, on the teleconference.

I would like to start with just some raw emotion. What a day. Did you ever think we would see it? (Applause). It evokes so many emotions and feelings, doesn't it. And when there were not many of us in the room early this morning, there was no music, it was very quiet and to see these four gentleman's names, they were not sitting in the chairs just then and it was truly a special moment.

For all of us in the room, we are sitting here today because in various forms, we have had something to do with either the GRAND-AM Rolex sports car series or the American Le Mans Series Presented by Tequila Patron some way. For some of us we are very fortunate and we have got to work on both series in various capacities and enjoyed those signature moments that the series offer over the years, for more than a decade now for both series; whether that be right here in victory lane out in the front and seeing those exhausted yet elated drivers when they complete the Rolex 24 and slip on that beautiful Rolex wristwatch or watching the field be released. It was an exhilarating moment at the Mobile One 12 Hours of Sebring and watch them all pile into turn one. There's many magical moments we could list.

For me personally I've shared a lot with both series and have the fortune of commentating many key moments for GRAND-AM and ALMS, like the very first Daytona prototype race in 2003; Jim, seems like yesterday.

And Don, how about that race in Australia, in the streets of Adelaide, the Race of a Thousand Years for the American LeMans Series. Truly magical moments for us at motorsports fans and sports car fans, we have sat back and been a part of it, but also enjoyed it.

But the GRAND-AM and the American LeMans Series they have impacted drivers lives and careers. I was doing some numbers yesterday and combined since their inception, the two respective series have produce 80 individual driving champions. Isn't that significant. That's worthy of a round of applause, as well.

Want to list some things here. Big events, great racing, cool cars, diverse drivers from around the globe and even from Hollywood, we have got enthusiastic and involved and engaged manufacturers. We have just got the best, awesome tracks, and we have got passionate fans. And I'm not even talking about the future yet. I'm talking about what we have already in sports car racing here in the U.S. and it's with thanks to these four gentlemen.

Going to ask you to keep the applause coming as we introduce the four special men today. The advice chairman of NASCAR and the founder of GRAND-AM, Mr. Jim France. Next to Jim, the founder of the American LeMans Series, Dr. Don Panoz. To Don's left, the president and CEO of the American LeMans Series, Mr. Scott Atherton. And to Scott's left, the president, CEO of GRAND-AM Road Racing, Mr. Ed Bennett.

We will hear from these four gentleman in just a few moments but if I can steer you towards the video screens, we are going to have a quick clip about what these two amazing racing organizations represent.

I think one of the amusing things is there's been so much said on telephones, Twitter, texting and written on Twitter and website that is actually nothing formal has been said yet but it's about to be. Vice chairman of NASCAR and the founder of GRAND-AM, Mr. Jim France.

Jim France
Jim France

Photo by: Grand-Am

JIM FRANCE: Thank you for the introduction. On behalf of the France family, GRAND-AM and NASCAR, I want to thank everyone for joining us here today for what is a real milestone occasion, not only for sports car racing, but for motor sports in North America.

It gives me great pleasure to announce today officially that GRAND-AM Road Racing and the American LeMans Series are merging in one sports car racing organization. (Applause.)

I feel the same way. I know a lot of people have been waiting many years for this day to come. I'm really looking forward to the merger process.

For the 2013 season, our two organizations will continue to run the schedule as has been in 2012. Beginning in 2014 with the Daytona 24 Hour, we will have a combined championship for North America.

This morning, I found myself thinking, almost 65 years ago, just three miles away from here at the old Streamline Hotel, my father, Bill, Senior, gathered a group of people who at the time were the leaders of motorsports in North America. Out of that meeting, NASCAR was formed.

Also out of that meeting, a great quote by my dad merged regarding the future of stock car racing. A portion of that quote went something like this: "Stock car racing has got distinct possibilities. We do not know how big it can be if it's handled properly. We are all interested in one thing, and that is improving the present conditions. The answer lies in our group right here today."

Today, all these years later in front of another gathering of leaders of motorsports, I want to echo my Dads words with some editing.

I think sports car racing has a distinct possibility, and I definitely feel like we are going to improve present conditions. There is no doubt in my mind that the answer lies with the two groups who are combining forces starting today.

This is great day professionally and personally for me. I've been a sports car racing fan my entire life. I can thank my father, Bill, Senior for that. He obviously loved stock car racing but had a real affinity for sports car racing, as well. So does the man sitting next to me, who has graciously agreed to be vice chairman of the new organization's board of directors. I would like to turn it over to the founder of the American LeMans Series, Dr. Don Panoz.

Don Panoz
Don Panoz

Photo by: Grand-Am

DON PANOZ: Thank you, Jim. Well, this is an exciting time. Especially for the fans, and especially for sports car racing. Like any form of sports entertainment, we really have to realize that the true value comes from the passion of the fans. That was the case in the days of the IMSA GT Camel series, for example, but it lost its way. It became a sport of the participants.

What we try to do at the American LeMans Series is take the desires and the abilities of our OEMs, our manufacturers, Porsche, Audi, Chevrolet, BMW; and of course racing teams like Rob Dyson, Greg Pickett and Ed Brown. And to do that, and market our series in a way, for them to be sure that rules are created even, that the field was even, and that we did that in a manner to satisfy the desires of the people who support this, which make it possible, and that is the fan.

Our first slogan for the American LeMans Series was "racing for the fans," and that's still true today.

Jim and I have had some long discussions, personal one-on-ones, and we agreed on a whole host of issues. In fact, Jim, I don't think we disagreed on anything. Our passion is to have sports car racing reach its pinnacle and be all that it could be. And I think that with the setup that we have done and the agreement we've made, that will happen.

My experiences in racing started in 1997. I was what they would call a newfie (ph). I could remember Sebring and our first car there. One of the most important things that happened to me that year was I went to Le Mans and I got bit by that mosquito that transfers viruses to people, and I have the Le Mans virus in my blood.

And I'd like to say right now that it was an important part of our discussions; and Jim's insistence that our relationship with Le Mans continue, and we are continuing to have discussions with them. In fact, in a couple weeks, another meeting.

I believe that Le Mans is supportive, the new president has told me that and we'll find a way to make sure that we can integrate our series to do races that will let some of our teams qualify for Le Mans in the future.

Well, this merger occurred, actually, in a deal and a happened shake on the golf course. Surprise. We had a match.

But before we went on the golf course, I'm a senior, Jim is a little bit younger than me, so we agreed that we would have an NDA, a non-disclosure agreement. We would not disclose what we shot, and we would not disclose who won. And the best was a dollar, and that Bill is labeled the nonbusiness closure dollar of the golf match for the merger of these two great series.

Jim, I have that framed, and that's going to be -- it's only a dollar, it's small, but I've got this framed, and that's going to be the cornerstone of our success going forward.

And think about success. Do you realize that we set a world record for keeping a secret in motorsports? Six months and 14 days before somebody broke it. And we'll have trophies for that, Jim.

JIM FRANCE: We deserve 'em.

DON PANOZ: We do. Anyway, thank you all for coming. Thank you for being interested in what we're doing. Thank you for supporting us in the past, and thank you for supporting the GRAND-AM and making it to a point that both of us will be better off as a single party, and the world is our oyster, Jim. Thank you.

LEIGH DIFFEY: Don, can we be so bold to ask where that one dollar is, whose office?

DON PANOZ: Julie is having it framed.

LEIGH DIFFEY: Scott, for you, you stepped into the helm of the American LeMans Series in its second year of competition and existence in 2000, and you've been at the helm ever since. Many interesting times over those 12 years. Did you ever think that a merger like this would be possible, a day like this would come?

Scott Atherton, President and CEO of ALMS
Scott Atherton, President and CEO of ALMS

Photo by: Grand-Am

SCOTT ATHERTON: Candidly for 11 and a half of the past 12 years, no.

We can divulge today I think for the first time officially, a lot of things coming out today for the first time, five years ago, we took a real run at this, and it wasn't the right time. It wasn't the right place, and obviously it didn't work out.

About six months ago, Jim and I were at an industry meeting and I was suffering from a very bad head cold and excused myself from the meeting to go take care of that. And as I walked back, bumped into Jim France, and Jim said, "Scott, we need to talk."

I said, "Jim, I'm always ready to talk. I enjoy our conversations."

"What are you doing next week?"

"Call me."

And next week, that call came, and that resulted in a meeting that we can call an NDA, nondisclosure location, as well. The meeting was originally scheduled for two hours and it went on for six hours.

At the end of that meeting there was about six pages of a yellow pad that was filled up with common ground. And I ran back to the office, and walked into Don's office, and I said, Don, we've got an opportunity here.

And there was so much common ground that it was undeniable. At that moment, we engaged fully, and to think of what has been accomplished in such a relatively short time with such a complex set of circumstances, is truly remarkable. And we couldn't be more pleased.

LEIGH DIFFEY: Over the years, you've developed and nurtured wonderful relationships with various manufacturers, a lot are represented here today. Prior to today, had you discussed this with them, and if so what was the reaction?

SCOTT ATHERTON: We called it the road show, because that's exactly what it was; as you say, on both sides, on GRAND-AM and the American LeMans Series, deeply rooted relationships with manufacturers and teams.

Don and I made the first stop ourselves, and to say that it was enthusiastically received would be a gross understatement. The next set of meetings which included I think just about everybody that is on our grid involved all four of us.

So we were meeting with presidents, CEOs, chief marketing officers, board members of every car company you can name, and after they got over the initial shock of having Jim France and Don Panoz walk through the door with smiles on their face, when we shared with them the vision of what we were about to announce and what we felt was literally on the threshold of coming to fruition, it was off the chart.

And to think that they all made drastic changes in their personal schedules, first to take that meeting, because we allowed no notice for it; and then for many of them to be joining us here today, I think it's the ultimate validation of how significant and how important this announcement is, and I think on behalf of all four of us up at this table, for those of you that have changed your schedules and traveled to be here, a sincere thank you.

LEIGH DIFFEY: Folks Mr. Scott Atherton.

Ed Bennett, President and CEO of Grand-Am
Ed Bennett, President and CEO of Grand-Am

Photo by: Grand-Am

And Ed, for you, it's been quite the interesting ride. Obviously a long time NASCAR family member. This is your first year on the job in GRAND-AM as the president and CEO. You really through yourself in the middle there because you were right at the front of these negotiations for the majority of the time and it's been very intense. Take us inside your world and tell us about the hard work that's gone on to get us here today.

ED BENNETT: It's been a fantastic indoctrination to sports car racing, and I'm very proud to be sitting at the table with these highly distinguished folks in sports car racing and motorsports.

This has indeed been a very aggressive time line and a lot of work needed to be done. We had a fantastic team on both sides of the aisle to put it together and it's also been very invigorating.

True to form in racing, it went very fast and very smooth. It's a bold; it's I think the right move at the right time for sports car racing. A lot of work went into it and a lot of work still remains.

These organizations collectively represent eight different series. There's a lot of work beyond the top two divisions and all of the developmental series for GRAND-AM, the Rolex Sports Car Series, Continental Tire Top Performance Showcase, and we also sanction the Ferrari Challenge with our relationship with Ferrari North America. In the case of IMSA, obviously ALMS, IMSA GT3, Cup, cooper Tires Prototype Lights, as well as Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge up in Canada.

So it's a tremendous scope of sports car content, and I think our offering to our promoter partners in North America will be unmatched. From here our mission will be to work very closely to develop the best strategy as we move forward, incorporating and harnessing the best practices that both organizations have to offer. I'm truly excited about the future together.

Q. If you could maybe give us a little bit more detail in terms of the timing of it and why now, and why you decide to give it a go? And also is there a working name or when will we find out?

JIM FRANCE: I'll start with the last part of the question first. We have not -- we do not have a name. We will be going through a plan. We have got some ideas on how to come up with a name for the new combined series.

I think that the hard work that Ed referred to and Scott referred to is with our teams going forward to figure out all the details of how we combine everything, the naming and the schedules and all of the things that go into making a series.

I have to give Ed Brown credit for kind of the timing of this. He and Scott Sharp were down here competing in the 24 Hour race, and we got together on Ed's bus, had some good conversations. He's the main sponsor of the ALMS Series, has a tremendous team that runs in that series. He came to Daytona to compete in the 24 Hour race, and he suggested that I should get together with Don.

His observation was: I think you two would like each other, and we found out we did; and that we had a lot of common vision. So I've got to give Ed Brown credit for kind of the shove to get us moving on it.

Q. What do you anticipate the class structure being for this unified championship?

SCOTT ATHERTON: I think it's too early to be definitive. This will be the true merger of the two series, when we combine the technical regulations and descriptions of these cars. The vision has been clearly established but it's been all by the guys in the suits. And the practical application of our vision with the realities of technical limitations and capabilities, is yet to be determined.

If you can understand the complexities of putting this arrangement together and how our focus has been on due diligence and all the legal matters that were required in order to get us to this point today, there for our staffs have just recently found out and the technical people who are responsible for that are just getting their arms around what it is we have launched on or launched into here.

So, all things in time. And there will be a point in time when we'll be getting back together with many of you in this room and working our constituents, teams, manufacturers, make sure we get it right the first time.

Q. I understand the vision of the combination from Mr. France and Dr. Panoz of this, but Mr. Atherton and Ed, you both are responsible for implementing what we just talked about, the cars that will be on the track and the drivers that will be in those cars. Can you give us in generalities what you see in 2014, a little over a year from now, when it comes to what your respective first races at the Rolex 24 and Mr. Atherton, Sebring 12 hour event what does that look like from your perspective 15 months away?

ED BENNETT: Just echo what Scott shared; it's a full field of exciting sports cars. I think it has a lot of international flare. It has all of the international and domestic manufacturers that you would want to be a part of a successful sports car series.

Really need to work with the stakeholders, the teams, the manufacturers to get their input about the relevance for them and what they sell in the showroom, and there seems to be a lot of respect for the investments made I think for the teams so that we don't obsolete significant hardware in the process.

It's a collective effort; one that we really look forward to, and one of the best things about this relationship is I think the human capital that we both have to manage that process together.

Q. How it compares to what we are currently seeing with the Rolex 24?

SCOTT ATHERTON: I think when we meet back here in January of 2014, you will see a by-product of a process that has blended together the best and the brightest, the best practices, the best procedures, protocols of both series.

So if you use that as the basis and the vision, and you look at the strengths that each series has, and each one has a long list of each of those, it's truly going to be a best of the best example.

So candidly speaking, if you look at the GT category in the American LeMans Series, many reference that as, it's a high watermark of that type of racing that's ever been accomplished. Debatable but still it's very strong, healthy and getting healthier and stronger all the time.

I'm going to go on the record and say that will absolutely be in addition to what has historically in modern times been the 24 Hours of Daytona.

I think most important merging element in addition to the technical rules which admittedly, very complex, very challenging, but also a merging of our schedules. We both have examples of some of the most historic, most important business market venue events that any series could ask for.

If you take the best of those and oil them down to the best of the best, you open up here with a 24 hours of Daytona followed by the 12 hours of Sebring and then you just visualize the rest of the true all-star, four-star examples on our collective schedules; it's a very powerful combination. That's what's going to be different in '14.

JIM FRANCE: Visually, if you can imagine the green flag dropping, and looked at the cars as you came in the door, the cars in the room here, that is our equipment that both series have; and our vision is that we'll see a combined combination of those cars and our teams, both series, competing together for the championship. It will be a very compelling, powerful championship, and I believe we'll truly have some global recognition.

Q. Dr. Panoz, you mentioned this in your opening remarks, but how important will it be or do you foresee it being that your cars will be compatible with being able to compete in Le Mans and getting the rules so that you can do that?

DON PANOZ: Wow, well, first of all, I think that we have had a lot of discussions amongst ourselves that what we need to do is we need to have some common test days, teams from both series, tracks, same time, same place, same conditions, and do that in a manner that we can find a way to make the cars competitive.

Secondly, as part of doing that, we need to also pay attention to our fans, our sponsors, our stakeholders, the OEMs and we listen to what their comments are and we need to go through that and address the things that will make this combined series the best.

Going to Le Mans, we have even talked, for example, that if we had a 12-race schedule, maybe one way to have teams be able to go to Le Mans is because we've always had a conflict and timing of schedules that maybe we allow the teams to drop one race from their points. Everybody has that same opportunity. So people going to Le Mans wouldn't be penalized.

These are early discussions. Nothing yet is etched in stone, but that's why we have 14 months to go through all this and make sure we get it right before Daytona in 2014.

So all of these issues are on the table. All of these ideas are surfacing. We have had numerous chats about this. And I can honestly say that on these ideas and coming together and discussing them with Jim and our other people, all of the results and all of the reactions to this have been positive, from everybody's point of view. And not trying to find problems with it, but trying to find solutions to live up to what we think would be the greatest sports car racing series in the world. Thank you.

Q. How does this impact the ALMS's relationship with the ACO moving forward?

SCOTT ATHERTON: We have actually met with the ACO in American. Pierre Fillon is the newly-named president. Candidly, it came as a surprise. There was no advance notice. So once we got over the shock of what we were informing him of, we had a very productive discussion.

I also want to state that from our he very first meeting when Jim and I sat down back in February, he made the comment that he thought it was an important priority to retain the relationship with the ACO and to retain the link to Le Mans, and that's one of the highlights of my notes that day. Because for me, that was a paradigm shift.

I admit, I think we would all admit, that it's easier said than done, but our vision and plan is to retain that relationship. Don had the idea many, many years ago; there's 15 years of equity established in that relationship. As I said, easier said than done, but we are up to the task.

Q. The technical relations, with that be a combination, and do we know whether it will be a single tire supplier or open tire?

ED BENNETT: With respect to the technical regulations I think it goes back to one of the big strengths of our partnership and merger is we now have access to relationships and also personnel on both sides of the aisle to work together with one common goal.

But I think our international relationship with the FIA is also important to see how technical relationships are covered from an ACO, FIA perspective and realize there's lots of manufacturers, domestic and international, and we want to be in step with that as much as we can.

On the tire specifications, I think that's going to be part of the process. There's a lot of tire partner relationships. We have been fortunate to have the relationship with continental, ALMS has a relationship with multiple tire manufacturers, all great companies. That will be very high on our list to study as we enter this process together.

Q. I realize scheduling has not been worked out yet. Do you have a number in mind of how many races you would like to be on the schedule?

SCOTT ATHERTON: The discussions we've had are very preliminary, and I'll tell you the number that we have used is 12. Has a nice ring to it. It is consistent with what has been the high watermark for the American LeMans Series and I think a traditional number for GRAND-AM.

I think it also is going to be directly tied to television partnerships going forward. That's always a criteria, an important priority. And when you add a 24 Hour of Le Mans experience into our season here in North America, 12 races is a full calendar. Especially when you add a 24 Hour of Daytona and a 12 hours of Sebring to teams that historically, at least, have not had both of those weekends on their schedule in recent past.

Q. All I see is a mine field, you have sponsors, tracks, all sorts of things, FIA, ACO, everybody wants this little piece of the action. So if you were to take a sight, a commonality, Mr. France, and also one for Dr. Panoz, I would appreciate you guys at least telling us what you have in common beyond the obvious, that is.

JIM FRANCE: Well, we both have a passion for sports car racing, and for great events that comprise the American sports car racing history. We have both made significant investments in sports car racing.

I view every challenge as just a normal part of the business that we are in. And we solve any issues with good decision making with good, experienced personnel. We both have a great team that we are bringing together, great experience. And personally I feel like we have not seen any obstacles that stand in the way of really putting all this together. A lot of work; but that's what we are here for.

DON PANOZ: We have entities to think about like the ACO, the FIA, the list goes on. But being cognizant of that doesn't mean surrender. It really means that you look at it and you do the things that are good for our series that were legitimate and this combined series, and to make it better and stronger.

Sure, you have to deal with sponsors. Sure, you have to deal with the different organizations. But it doesn't mean that you still can't put your best efforts forward and create something that is unique.

I had that experience here in 1998 and 1999 with Petit Le Mans and the LMS. Sure, I was bitten by the LeMans bug. Sure, I like Le Mans. I go to it every year. It's a great spectacle. But also, this is the United States, it's North America, and we have our fans and we have the peculiarities of what they want, what our sponsors want, and I can assure you that's what we'll be addressing.

Q. I have an economic impact question. On average during SPEED weeks, we see about 650,000 race fans coming into the Daytona Beach area. Can we expect to see more fans coming into Daytona Beach with this combined championship?

JIM FRANCE: Yes, I will feel that there will be increased interest, not just from U.S. fans, but that the 24 Hour Race at Daytona falls in a great time of year from people that come to Florida from all over the world and enjoy the events. We have seen a continual uptick of the international interests.

I'm counting on Joie Chitwood to make sure that continues and grows. I think that the combination with going from Daytona to Sebring, another great internationally-recognized event, you start putting these synergies together, it's possible for teams to come over with a budget to compete in both events from overseas and bring their fans with them. There's a tremendous amount of opportunity in front of all of us, thank you.

SCOTT ATHERTON: I would like to add something to that. I think one of the more under-reported assets of this, is the assets of Panoz Motorsports Group have been merged into a new entity that will include rode Atlanta, Sebring, American Le Mans Series, IMSA, GRAND-AM.

When you add to that the existing relationship, part of the family of companies that own and operate Daytona International Speedway, Watkins Glen up in New York; if you believe the major stick-and-ball executives that it's a big asset to own your venue in addition to the content that comes into it, I think, again, we have through this merger, a tremendous opportunity for cross-pollination and unprecedented synergies to exist.

When you think about a collaborative effort between Daytona and Sebring to kick off the racing year with a 24-hour and a 12-hour event that can be co-promoted, co-produced, the possibilities here are amazing, and I'm looking at Joie Chitwood and I'm looking at Tres Stephenson that are sitting side-by-side here today -- and this is day one. Stand back, we don't know how big this is going to get.

Q. Has there been any consideration given to the WEC and being a part of that race series and that calendar? And will there be room in the regulations or classes for technology like the Delta wing and hybrid race cars?

DON PANOZ: Funny you should ask. I'll answer the last part first. The Delta wing is part of the agreement that saved and performance standards have to be achieved. We have proven we have the safety data and stuff, but it needs to be reviewed. But that is part of our agreement that can be accepted.

We think about the WEC -- the WEC is an event of basically L and P1 cars and some people that like to travel. L and P1 cars and their technology, we have Peugeot, Toyota, we have Porsche coming. That is beyond kind of what the LMS was capable of and GRAND-AM was capable of, because that's really the manufacturer's playpen and maybe tens of millions of dollars in development. And our situation, we are not thinking about an L and P1 type class. We are thinking of prototypes, Daytona prototypes, Le Mans prototypes, and maybe even a Delta wing.

So they have their plan and they are pursuing that, but we are American-based. It was the American LeMans Series. This series that we are putting together is the American Sports Car Series, and we have to take care of our own business, our own market, addressing our sponsors, our fans, our teams, and that's exactly what we are going to do.

Of course we are going to pay attention to what's going on around us, but we'll be acting responsibly in our own best interests.

SCOTT ATHERTON: I think there is room for both. Part of the commitment of retaining the relationship with the ACO and with Le Mans would include a potential relationship with the World Endurance Championship.

I think we don't have any news to announce now, but the intention would be to have that be visible in the United States in 2013, and I don't think anybody would want to make a commitment on a single year. And for that, that's part of the future here, as well. So 2014 and beyond, still be written, but that would be the goal.

Q. There's a concern in the enthusiast world that the GT class in the ALMS, which is considered to be the fiercest racing gone on right now and probably the best road racing in the world; that it could be dumbed down to accommodate the two-bred cars from the Rolex GT series. Do you think that when you do your testing that this is a possibility, or that there's going to be a sort of a GT1 and then a GT 2class.

SCOTT ATHERTON: Thanks for the question, Peter. One of the first questions that I asked Jim when we first got together was about as long as your question, Peter, and it was: We have a GT category right now that is as good as it can get, we believe. It has OEM involvement from a diverse list of every type of car you can think of, and an appropriate level of activation that goes with that.

And we believe that in order for a future, combined series to be successful, that you would want to retain that and continue to grow that in a way that we have been growing it to get it to where it is today. And without hesitation, Jim's response was, I agree.

And that doesn't exclude anything. It just means that that example of the current content of the American Le Mans Series has been agreed to be part of the combined series. There are many more unanswered questions that surround that, but to put everyone, if there are fears, to rest, and certainly the OEM partners that are in the room, I think we can honestly say, and I want to see Jim nod his head yes, that going forward, that's the plan.

JIM FRANCE: That's correct, Scott. I would add that the Rolex Series has tremendous GT racing, also, and those teams will be included in this process and be a part of the series.

And what we look for is to have really a competitive event at each venue we go to, and I think that our technical crews that we have will figure that out. They better. (Laughter).

Q. In Baltimore this past weekend, we spoke to some of the most influential owners and well-respected drivers, and to a man, they were all extraordinarily excited about the potential of what you guys have presented today. But they also almost all said the same thing, and that was: Let's hope they don't mess this up. How do you folks go forward trying to keep a bunch of people who don't always agree, or often don't agree on how to get things done, to play in the same sandbox together?

JIM FRANCE: That's just the way it is every day (laughing). You can talk to any of our competitors. They are passionate, they believe in what they are doing and they are very competitive. And at the end of the day, we all find a way to race and compete with each other and figure things out.

We have been doing that for 60-plus years, and nothing will change from that perspective.

THE MODERATOR: That concludes the Q&A portion of our show.

LEIGH DIFFEY: Thanks, everyone, for your questions and for those on the teleconference as well, thank you. Obviously there are still many unanswered questions, but be patient; on behalf of the group, be patient, because it's all being worked out and those answers to those questions will come.

I think the most important thing to take away from today and take it from somebody who has worked in both championships at the same time; negativity is so destructive. Positive thoughts and positive attitude really is infective and it spreads quite quickly.

I like the old saying that so long as you think about something, it will always remain a possibility. When you commit to it, it becomes a reality. So go on, make it happen. Well, these four gentlemen have made it happen. Thank you very much for attending today. Like I said earlier, we will remember this day forever. Thank you.

Source: NASCAR