'78 Atlantic Co-Rookie of the Year is Still Going Strong in Rolex Series ALTON, Va., Oct. 1 - About the most physical thing many 60-year-old men do is play golf or tennis. Chris Gleason and RJ Valentine are both 60, but they do something more...
'78 Atlantic Co-Rookie of the Year is Still Going Strong in Rolex Series
ALTON, Va., Oct. 1 - About the most physical thing many 60-year-old men do is play golf or tennis.
Chris Gleason and RJ Valentine are both 60, but they do something more than a bit more physical and dangerous - they race cars for fun.
They're both good at it too. Along with their Racer Group teammate, 32-year-old Ian James, they're tied for third place in the GT drivers' point standings in the Rolex series, which will stage its tenth race of the season at Virginia International Raceway on Sunday.
The trio, which drives the No. 66 Racers Group Porsche GT3 RS sponsored by The Gleason Group, F1 Boston, Monster Cable and Adobe Road Winery, has 257 points going into Sunday's VIR 400.
Gleason, of Johnstown, Pa., and Valentine, of Hingham, Mass., are both businessmen first and racers second. Gleason's company is The Gleason Group, a leading, independently owned commercial insurance company that specializes in benefit programs and risk-based technology applications. One of Valentine's babies is F1 Boston, a premier karting facility that combines two indoor karting tracks with conference, gaming and entertainment facilities.
James, a professional race car driver from England who lives in Kissimmee, Fla., is admittedly their "ringer" on the track.
Two other professional race car drivers, Bill Auberlen and Boris Said, are ahead of them with 278 and 277 points, respectively. But they are the only two that are ahead of them, and more than 100 drivers have earned points in the class this year.
So far this year the trio has two second-place finishes (Mont-Tremblant and the recent race at Homestead-Miami Speedway); three thirds, two fourths, a sixth and a ninth. The top step of the podium has been elusive this year, but it remains their goal. "I think about it all the time," Gleason admits.
"Chris has been an awesome teammate this year," James said. "He's very consistent and has great speed, and he's a real team player. I've really enjoyed racing with him, and I hope to race with him in the future too."
Gleason is a prime example of how one can still pursue one's dreams even after life steps in to change those dreams' course.
He started his driving career in the seventies in open-wheel cars, beginning with Formula Fords. He finished second in the 1973 Formula Ford national championships. He also won the Pabst 500 IMSA race in 1974 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
He then moved into Super Vees and Formula Atlantic cars, tying for Rookie of the Year honors in the latter in 1978.
"The 1979 season in Formula Atlantic was very competitive," Gleason recalled. "Just a few of the drivers I raced against that year who went on to success in the top echelons of motorsports included Keke Rosberg, Danny Sullivan and Bobby Rahal."
In the eighties Gleason drove in the Trans-Am and IMSA series, and he finished fifth in the Rothman Porsche Turbo Cup series in Canada in 1989.
Poised for continued success in the sport, life then stepped in. Gleason took a break from racing from 1991 through 1995 to concentrate on his business and his growing family. He and his wife, Janet, have four children.
He returned to GT racing in 1996. In 1997 he co-drove a Dodge Viper to an impressive sixth-place finish in the GT2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. That was followed by a podium finish at the 1998 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, when he was third in the GT2 class.
Gleason drove in the Motorola Cup series in 1999, co-driving a GS-400 to the first motorsports victory in Lexus's corporate history.
He drove a BMW in Grand American Rolex series events in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and he also competed in Grand Am Cup events in an Acura.
Paired with Rick Fairbanks and Claudia Huertgen, he finished fourth in the LMP 675 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2001 in a Lola.
"That was sort of like an amateur golfer making the cut to play in the U.S. Open," Gleason said at the time.
Gleason joined The Racers Group program for the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
In recognition of his accomplishments in the sport, in July Gleason was inducted into the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame in his hometown of Johnstown, Pa. Indy car, stock car and endurance sports car team owner Chip Ganassi, a long-time friend of Gleason's, presented the award.
"If Chris had stuck with only racing, he could have had a career as a professional race car driver. But that's not the complete Chris Gleason," Ganassi explained that night.
"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," Ganaassi continued. "But each time, he came home to the small town of Johnstown, Pa. He had commitments there, as he was helping with the family business and helping to raise a family of his own."
Gleason doesn't look back; he is proud of his business accomplishments and especially proud of his family.
But he's also delighted to still be racing competitively in a professional racing series at 60.
"It keeps me young," he said simply.
This weekend's event at VIR opens with practice on Friday and qualifying on Saturday. On race day, Sunday, this is a warm-up session at 9:40 a.m. prior to the VIR 400 beginning at noon. The event's length is 400 km, 77 laps or two hours and 45 minutes.
The race is scheduled to be broadcast live on SPEED beginning at noon Eastern time.
For more information see www.gleasonagency.com, www.theracersgroup.com, www.grandamerican.com, www.virclub.com and www.restartcommunications.com.