A DECADE OF VOICES: TOM MILNER "I'm probably one of the oldest original IMSA members that are still running in the Series," Tom Milner boasts. "That was in 1969, and our first race was in Pocono, Pa. Not many people remember that." But for those...
A DECADE OF VOICES: TOM MILNER
"I'm probably one of the oldest original IMSA members that are still running in the Series," Tom Milner boasts. "That was in 1969, and our first race was in Pocono, Pa. Not many people remember that." But for those who have followed the American Le Mans Series, Milner and his Team PTG (Prototype Technology Group) are iconic figures after taking the Series' first GT championship in 1999. After winning five times with BMW, Milner and PTG are preparing for their second season with the Panoz Esperante GTLM in the Series' 10th season.
Breaking in with BMW:
"We (PTG) actually raced in NASCAR in the Busch Series in 1994 when I found out BMW was interested in returning to racing. I contacted the guy who was the motorsports manager, who was a good friend. I told him, 'I'm the guy. I'm German. I can do it for you. I have everything.' It was a very lucky thing for our company. I don't know if I did the right thing leaving NASCAR, so to speak, and go back to sports car racing. But my heart has always been in sports car racing. Maybe it wasn't financially the smartest decision. But in my heart, I can tell you that it was the right thing for me to do. The important part is that the people and team I have put together - the knowledge that they have, the know-how that they have - most of them came from sports car racing. That was really the secret to our team."
The welcome mat:
"We were always very well-received in the American Le Mans Series. I always have the reputation of not always being the nicest guy and I am in some cases brash and maybe look unfriendly. But all I want to do is win. The American Le Mans Series always has given me that opportunity and gave BMW and PTG the opportunity to show what we could do.
"It's fair to say that as a team we were a real showcase. We became fan favorites in the battle between Porsche and BMW - the two German companies. It was fierce and we called each other names ... in a friendly way. I think I can say that. I used to call them Volkswagens. And they had a not-so nice name for us, but it was all in good spirit and in very good competition. I talk to the Porsche people now; we always talk about the good old days and how we put one on them and they put one on us. That's really what made sports car racing in GT2: Porsche against BMW.
Seeing the Doctor:
I remember a particular day that I'm very fond of. It ended up that Dr. (Don) Panoz and I became good friends. It was several years before the American Le Mans Series was formed. Sports car racing was in disarray. The prototype guys were talking, 'We are going to do this.' And there were the GT guys, 'What are we going to do?' There was a meeting and I believe it was in Las Vegas. I sat on an orange crate with a bunch of GT guys. There Don Panoz came and I did not know the man. I had heard of him but didn't know who he was. He came up to me and I was talking to some of the guys there, saying 'What are we going to do? We have GT cars.' And of course we represented BMW and it was very important. He himself had a GT car at the time and said, 'If you guys need any help, just let me know.' That moment obviously stuck with me, and that I took that literally and called him up. We've been pretty good friends ever since."
"We had won Sebring and Daytona in consecutive years. But our greatest win really was Petit Le Mans in 2001. There were two BMW teams - BMW of North America which we represented and the factory. And we beat them. Something nice about our racing is that it is a very friendly atmosphere. We all talk to each other even though we compete against each other. But when it comes to the race track, they say all is fair in love and war. Well, this is not love."
The 2008 American Le Mans Series season opens with the 56th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida on Saturday, March 15. The race will start at 10 a.m. ET and will be broadcast live by SPEED, which will begin its coverage at 9:30 a.m. MotorsTV, Fox Latin America, 7TV in Russia and Greenlight Television will provide international coverage as well. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com.