Sebring: Chris Gleason preview

Johnstown, Pa. Insurance Exec During the Week Lives Life in the Fast Lane on the Weekends JOHNSTOWN, Pa., March 11 - On weekdays, Chris Gleason of Johnstown, Pa. is a distinguished insurance executive as president and chief executive officer of...

Johnstown, Pa. Insurance Exec During the Week Lives Life in the Fast Lane on the Weekends

JOHNSTOWN, Pa., March 11 - On weekdays, Chris Gleason of Johnstown, Pa. is a distinguished insurance executive as president and chief executive officer of Gleason Financial Ltd. of Johnstown, Pa., one of the nation's leading insurance brokerage firms.

But on the weekends, there is another side to this father of four from the small town in Pennsylvania most famous for a flood in 1889.

On weekends Gleason replaces his briefcase for a helmet and becomes one of the most successful sports car endurance drivers in the nation. Although he races as an avocation rather than a vocation, the on-track results of this 5'11", 190-lb. 58-year-old exceed those of many professional racers.

While some of his colleagues do nothing more strenuous than occasionally drive a golf cart, Gleason works hard to keep in shape and at the top of his favorite form of motorsports.

His results are impressive.

Last year Gleason had top-10 finishes in class in the three most prestigious sports car endurance races in the world: the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France; the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.; and the 12 Hours of Sebring in Sebring, Fla.

What's more, Gleason accomplished this while racing with three different teams and using three different cars.

Gleason finished fourth in the LMP675 class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last June with Roock-Knight Hawk Racing's Lola Nissan.

He was sixth in the GT class and an incredible ninth overall out of 80 teams in the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona last February, driving a BMW for Genesis Racing.

A month later Gleason was tenth in the GT class at Sebring, this time driving a Porsche for a British team, Cirtek Racing.

He also drove an Acura in selected Grand-Am Cup races in 2001.

Gleason's 2002 racing season is set to start this coming weekend when he plans to compete in both the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla., and in the Speed World Challenge Touring Car Championship that supports the 12-hour enduro.

He'll be in a new Porsche 911 GT3R fielded by Cirtek Racing in the headliner on Saturday, which starts at 10:30 a.m. The co-drivers for that car on the official entry list include Rob Wilson of London; Raul Dawson of Geneva, Switzerland and Dave Gooding, also of London.

That event is part of the American Le Mans Series, and Gleason plans to compete in selected events in that series this year. He is especially looking forward to competing at places like Road America in Wisconsin and Road Atlanta during the course of the AMLS season.

Gleason is also contemplating making his third start in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France this June.

He has a full-season arrangement with duPont Motorsport of Wilmington, Del., for the 2002 Speed World Challenge Touring Car Championship, where he'll campaign a BMW 325is. At Sebring that division will hold a test day on Tuesday, March 12 followed by practice on Wednesday, March 13; qualifying on Thursday, March 14 and the race on Friday, March 15.

All of the events will be covered on Speed Channel on cable TV. (Speed Channel will cover this weekend's 12 Hours of Sebring live and in its entirety beginning at 10 a.m. this Saturday.)

The Speed World Challenge Touring Car series is sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America. It is North America's top production car-based championship. It features two classes - GT and Touring - with a race for each class each racing weekend. Both events utilize standing starts like Formula 1 races, and the series regularly attracts more than 40 cars for each of the two races each weekend.

The duPont Motorsports team will field five cars in the Touring class in the Speed World Challenge Touring Car series this year, up one from 2001 when it secured the manufacturer's trophy for BMW in this division.

Gleason's BMW 325is will be car number 53. Driving the other BMW 325is will be Raan Rodriguez of San Juan, Puerto Rico in car 50; team owner Alfred duPont of Kennett Square, Pa., in car 51; Rick Gilhart of Cincinnati, Ohio in car 54 and Neal Sapp of Ellicot City, Md., in car 55. While driving for duPont Motorsport last year, Sapp posted four victories and finished second in the overall Touring car championship.

The team will also field two BMW M3s in the GT class. Sapp will drive one numbered 55 in all the events, and duPont will drive one numbered 51 in selected races.

"The entire duPont Motorsport team is excited about having talented drivers, including Chris Gleason, in our cars for 2002," said Mike Milan, team manager. "We feel that we have created a combination of crew and drivers that will put us on the podium at every race this season. 2001 was a great year for us. We've learned what it takes to win, and we plan to do it every time we hit the track."

Gleason is pleased to be competing with such an accomplished team.

"I'm very excited to return to my roots of competing in a sprint-race format as opposed to endurance racing," he added. World Challenge events are a maximum of 50 minutes start to finish, which is much different than 24-hour enduros like Le Mans and the Rolex 24.

In addition to his business endeavors and his passion for auto racing, Gleason is very involved in work to improve the lives of the disabled. He often works with local agencies in markets were he competes to arrange special behind-the-scenes tours of the races that these special people would never get otherwise. He is extremely involved in civic and charitable endeavors in Pennsylvania, and he is a member of the University of Pittsburgh's School of Health & Rehabilitative Sciences (SHRS)'s board.

Gleason also helps the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation whenever possible. The latter group was founded by Schmidt, an Indy car driver who was paralyzed in a racing accident in 2000 and now raises funds to find a cure for paralysis. Schmidt plans to visit with Gleason at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh on April 10 to be briefed on that institution's stem cell research and nerve and tissue regeneration first-hand.

Gleason is also very involved in transportation issues. In 1997 he was appointed by Congress to be a member of the board of the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC), which is trying to reform America's passenger railroad system.

Last month that work reached a turning point when the ARC submitted a plan to the President and Congress to reform and refocus America's railroad system by emphasizing high-speed rail service in congested corridors and including the private sector and private funds in those efforts.

The 11-race 2002 Speed World Challenge Touring Car schedule, which is subject to change, follows:


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Series PWC
Drivers Rick Gilhart , Sam Schmidt , Raan Rodriguez , Chris Gleason