WHITTINGTONS RETURN FOR ROLEX 24; HAYWOOD SEEKS SIXTH; GRAND MARSHALL SULLIVAN ADDED TO LINE-UP JANUARY 21, 1999; DAYTONA BEACH, FLA.: The Whittingtons, Don and Dale, return to racing after more than a decade, each seeking their ...
WHITTINGTONS RETURN FOR ROLEX 24; HAYWOOD SEEKS SIXTH; GRAND MARSHALL SULLIVAN ADDED TO LINE-UP
JANUARY 21, 1999; DAYTONA BEACH, FLA.: The Whittingtons, Don and Dale, return to racing after more than a decade, each seeking their first Rolex 24 win, while Hurley Haywood looks to capture his sixth Rolex 24 victory, and Danny Sullivan becomes the first competitor in the history of the race to also serve as Grand Marshall. This formidable quartet will join forces for this year's 37th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 30-31, driving the No. 3 DLW/MCR Ford R&S Mk3 entry in the premier Can-Am division. The car is prepared by veteran crew chief/team manager, Michael Colucci, who is also trying to secure win number six in this prestigious event.
The Whittingtons were very successful racers during the IMSA heydays of the late '70s through the mid-'80s, and Don captured both the LeMans 24-hour race and the World Endurance Championship in 1979, but neither has raced cars since that time: Don's last race was in 1985 and Dale's was in 1984. The brothers, along with Hurley Haywood, participated in the recent three-day test session at Daytona International Speedway's 3.56-mile road course/oval in preparation for the Rolex 24, and the team finished a respectable 10th place in the combined standings -- exactly where they aspired to be.
"I got in that car at the test and did a few laps and it felt so good, so comfortable," comments Don, who turns 53 on January 23, of Ft. Lauderdale, "that I said to myself 'Why didn't I do this sooner?' Hardly a day goes by that I don't think about some form of racing and I've been racing airplanes all along, up until a couple of years ago. I've been on the pole here before (in 1980) but I'd rather win the race, obviously, and that's been our whole focus straight out of the box. We tested in race setup and ran exactly the times we wanted to, and I think our results show that we've got as good a shot at winning as anybody out there."
"We were really, really happy with the test," agrees Michael Colucci, whose Jupiter, Fla.-based MCR team is fielding the No. 3 Ford R&S Mk3, and who claimed victory here in 1975, '76, '78, '85and '89. "Our goals were to give Don and Dale lots of seat time and give the car a good, long run. It was important to give them plenty of laps not only to acquaint them with this particular car, but also to familiarize them with the other drivers out there, most of whom they've never raced against. Since we'll be passing 25-30 cars each lap (due to the slower GT classes) knowing who you're up against is critical. And we ran about 1000 miles with the car, which was perfect. We've got Goodyear tires and new Roush engines, so that speaks for itself." Hurley Haywood, 50, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is the all-time leading Rolex 24 winner with five victories in 1973, '75, '77, '79, and '91, and was the first driver to win both the Daytona and LeMans 24-hour races in the same year ('77). He makes no secret of the fact that he's looking for number six.
"I think about the sixth win a lot," reflects Haywood, who is V.P. of Brumos Motor Cars in Jacksonville, Fla. "In trying to prepare, you try to stack the deck in your favor, and I think we've done that. The team is a good one and we've got experience on our side - I think collectively we've probably got more starts, more miles, and more wins than any other team out there. The Whittingtons are doing a really great job, making all the right moves, not skimping on anything, and I'm confident they'll get into the rhythm of the race with no trouble. The pace has pushed the bar up a bit over the years, but it's still consistency that wins this race."
Joining Don, Hurley, and Dale Whittington, 39, of Orlando, is 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan, 48, of Los Angeles, who is also this year's Grand Marshall. Sullivan won the GT1 class in 1998 (2nd overall) and has come very close to wining overall at Daytona; three times he has been part of the driver line-up in the leading car during the last hour of the race when mechanical problems occurred. "I'm hoping to have some of Hurley's and Mike's luck rub off on me," notes Sullivan, who makes history as the first Grand Marshall to also compete in the race. "I've always enjoyed my time at Daytona, and last year's class win was terrific, but I'd like to come home with first overall. From the entry list I've seen, it's going to be tough, but hopefully we'll have some fun and enjoy ourselves and take the big trophy at the end."
The Rolex 24 At Daytona, first round of the 1999 USRRC Can-Am championship, takes the green flag at 1:00 p.m. EST on Saturday, January 30. ESPN2 will provide live television coverage on Jan. 30th from 12:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m., and on Sunday, Jan. 31st, from 7:00 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.