Detective Tom Polhaus: [picks up the falcon] Heavy. What is it?
Sam Spade: The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.
Source: Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon; Dashiell Hammett & John Huston
The announcement came on a Wednesday, September 5, 2012, that North America’s two largest sports car racing series, the American Le Mans Series and the Grand American Rolex Series, would be merging by 2014. Grand-Am would be writing the check to Dr. Don Panoz and the ALMS, and immediately there were press reports that this meant Grand-Am had “won” as if there were a pitched battle between the two going on for the past 12 years. In truth, there were some battles between the two, but combining these two racing series is likely to be much more interesting and more complex than this over-simplification.
We in the media excel at some things, but we are especially well suited to rampant speculation, this writer included. It seems this merger is “the stuff that dreams are made of”, and with that in mind, here, with apologies to Detective Sam Spade, is my list of hopes for the unified North American Sports Car Racing Series, “shweat – haaat”.
New name – Here’s hoping that there won’t be some moronic hybrid name like the “American Grand ALMS Am Series”. Instead, it would be so refreshing to have the new series have its very own name.
Independent officiating – One of the two existing series damages competition (not to mention, its reputation for fairness) with officiating that seems to be biased toward one or two major teams. This was also often the case with Indy Car’s “rules” under TGBB (The Great Brian Barnhart), and it’s great to see how Beau Barfield has brought respect back to the now unified Indy Car Series with simpler and fairer rules.
Endurance racing emphasis – Both series have their marquee events, so imagine the new series with all these events: 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, 6 Hours of Laguna Seca (?), 24 Hours of Le Mans, 6 Hours at the Glen, and the Petit Le Mans! A consistent series offering terrific winnings could lure competition from all over the world.
Keep the Le Mans emphasis – The ALMS is the hotter brother of the Grand-Am Series, and one of the reasons is that its formulas can run in Europe. We can’t lead the world unless we participate in it.
ALMS GT class remains – The GT class of the American Le Mans series features some of the best and most exciting wheel to wheel racing in the world. As Patrick Long told me in 2010 after going mano-a-mano with Joey Hand, “that’s the most fun I’ve ever had in any car, period”!
Go easy on the classes – On one side we have Grand-Am (Or Canned Ham according to He-who-shall-not-be-named) with two classes and on the other we have ALMS with way too many classes. I’m thinking that somewhere in the middle would be better.
Manufacturer support – According to Bobby Rahal, “manufacturer competition breeds more competition”. I’ve seen series that have a lot of manufacturers and those with little or none. Bobby Rahal is absolutely right about this.
Decent television package – Here’s hoping that the at home fans won’t continue to need to have the exploring skills of Vasco Da Gama to find when and where races will be televised. Let us bid ESPN3, which He-who-shall-not-be named calls “The Ocho”, goodbye.
Keep the ALMS fans happy – From what I can see, Grand-Am has fewer fans that seem less enthusiastic about their series. Contrasted with this, the American Le Mans series has a devoted cadre of supporters with a high disposable income demographic that advertisers love.
Keep a honcho – Racing series run by committee always fail – remember Champ Car? NASCAR is the most lucrative series in the US because it has always been run by a dictator, benevolent or not. After everything shakes down, look for a single leader to guide the series in order for the combined series to survive.
Go ahead, make your own list. Here’s to hoping the merger doesn’t turn out to be like Spade’s falcon – not what it appears.
Byline: Lisa Davidson