Memories, enjoyment, family - the 2004 banquet

Most post-season recognition banquets are traditional in manner, running film clips, bringing men and women on stage to recognize their achievements over the year. For many it's a first chance to say thanks in public; for others it's nothing but...

Most post-season recognition banquets are traditional in manner, running film clips, bringing men and women on stage to recognize their achievements over the year. For many it's a first chance to say thanks in public; for others it's nothing but a big ol' bore.

Tonight's Rolex Grand American Road Racing Series dinner and celebration at Caesar's Palace on the Las Vegas Strip took up an entire ballroom of 50 tables. Nearly all of them were full - with racers still basking in the glow of Sunday's season finale on the 2.88-mile California Speedway oval/road circuit just a bit less than 200 miles down I-15 in Fontana, California.

This was a generational affair, with children, grandchildren, parents and a very confident racing family that feels good about their futures. And why not? With members of their board on hand from Daytona - even Brian France, Mike Helton and Jim France made the trek in support - and an extremely relaxed group of racers on-hand, this felt more like the get-togethers of early road-racing days in the US when everybody cheered, hollered and, well, hooted.

The Grand American Road Racing Series had three classes this season, although the series soon downsides to two. In each category there's a podium and this could have gotten tedious. Instead, the evening began with a view speeches, a great video montage that brought cheers and laughter from the audience and then the awards began.

In each category, from engines to chassis to driver accolades, the proceedings began with the SGS class, which vaporizes after tonight. Then it was on to GT and finally to the Daytona Prototypes.

Accepting in the team category for PTG's sweep of the GT class, Tom Milner brought his grandson to the podium to witness that acceptance speech. It was that kind of night.

The night's biggest winners, CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates' Lexus/Riley team, together with drivers Max Papis and Scott Pruett, received most of the dais time and used it well.

Ganassi, whose choices over the past decade can't be questioned (well, for the most part) as usual was succinct about the success of this road racing series: "It takes strong leadership and I'd like to thank Jim France and the entire France family.

"The series is fun, it has great competitors and I really feel like I'm among family and friends," Ganassi said. The former CART driver had his start in road racing and enjoys returning to his roots.

After Ganassi's drivers insisted the entire team come to the dais, Max Papis was most gracious in acceptance of his first major championship and Pruett, taking his seventh "so far", he warned also remarked, "That's what racing's all about; it's the love we share with so many people."

That Scooter and Max enjoy working with each other (less that banging episode between Papis and Jan Magnussen at Homestead-Miami Speedway) goes without saying; it's evident in their body language.

And the fan voted Rolex Moment of the Year presented by series sponsor Rolex - who announced their extension with Grand American? Well, that went to the Max and Jan show at Homestead, where the duo pranged each other out of the competition and nearly cost the Ganassi/Sabates squad its title.

That their confrontation a la carbon didn't turn to disaster back last spring made tonight's closure appropriate. The Rolex Grand American Road Racing Series looks to be on the upswing if this evening's family affair is any indication.

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Jan Magnussen , Max Papis , Scott Pruett , Chip Ganassi , Mike Helton
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing