Interview with Grand-Am President Roger Edmondson
by Mark Cipolloni
November 9, 2005
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While in Mexico City for this past weekend’s Champ Car/Grand-Am doubleheader, we caught up with Roger Edmondson, President of Grand-Am to talk about the growth of the series, their formula for long-term growth, he addresses the lack of spectators in the grandstands, he answers the question of why ALMS and Grand-Am can’t be united, and he dismisses the notion that the France family would ever be behind a divide and conquer strategy to keep NASCAR light years ahead of the competition in the USA
Roger has been the President of Grand-Am, the brainchild of Jim France, since the beginning, 1999.
Also with us in the room was Adam Saal, Director of Communications for Grand-Am.
AutoRacing1: We see a car count in the Grand-Am that has been non-stop growth. What is the secret to you being able to grow this series and get the kind of car count we’re seeing?
ROGER EDMONDSON: Well, I think the secret is in our concept of controlling the technology and making sure that everything that’s used in our race cars is available to every competitor. So it starts with the fact that people who sign on to the Grand-Am concept believe that they have a chance, if they do everything right, they have an equal chance to win the race, as compared to some programs where there’s things they simply can’t buy. We require that everything used be available.
We started that process in 2003. The growth has been pretty spectacular now. We anticipate continued growth.
AutoRacing1: How is the model working? The purses as of right now are not real large, correct?
EDMONDSON: That’s correct.
AutoRacing1: So most of the revenue for the teams is coming in through the sponsorship that they have or their personal finances?
EDMONDSON: Yeah. I would say that our purses are comparable to all other sports car purses around the world, to the best of my knowledge. I think that the purse for a typical Grand-Am event in the United States is very similar to a typical ALMS event. When we run our Daytona 24-hour race, the purse is four times the normal. I think when ALMS runs the 12-hours of Sebring, which is a much better-supported event, their purses are much larger.
But by and large, the financing comes from the resources of the teams or their sponsors, not ours.
AutoRacing1: So the cost then apparently is not – without getting purse money, the cost to compete is not high. What is the average team budget, would you say, for the Prototypes?
EDMONDSON: I think a typical Daytona Prototype single-car team probably is in the $1.2 to 1.5 million range. I think we have some that are doing it for as low as $800K. I think we have some that are spending $2 or 3 million. But the point is that the $3 million budget, the team doesn’t have any better equipment than the $800,000 team as far as what they can put on the racetrack. They may be able to stay in better hotels, they may be able to hire more talented drivers, or better engineers, but not as far as the equipment goes.
AutoRacing1: The teams are not able to do much development on the cars, is that correct?
EDMONDSON: No. The cars they buy should be pretty well developed by the constructor. They certainly have certain areas of freedom in the suspension and setup. But as far as developing the car itself, there’s no need to develop the car because the rules are pretty well spelled out on what the car is. We require that we be in a position to approve the car before it’s produced and so we know what everybody’s getting. It’s pretty easy to decide if what they have is legal or not.
AutoRacing1: Let’s say a team buys a car from a certain manufacturer, then they’re not competitive. Is the manufacturer able to make any upgrades to their cars or is that aspect of the rules locked?
EDMONDSON: We have selectively allowed changes that rectified some of the errors that the constructors made at the beginning. You know, I look at a typical sanctioning body rule book that maybe starts out at 10 pages, and in three years is 15 pages, and that’s because nobody is perfect enough to anticipate everything when they wrote the first book.
The same thing is true in designing the car. Our goal is to create racing, competitive racing, not to make one brand be perceived as the top brand. We’ve seen the inequities in the original designs, given it time to work itself out. We now have started to take some of the cars that weren’t quite as successful and allowed them to make some changes that will bring them up. But the basic car is still in place, it’s just a small change.
AutoRacing1: Very similar to the NASCAR model in that regard, where, at least until they had body templates, they would allow a manufacturer to make changes to catch up if they were behind.
EDMONDSON: It is similar in that regard. I think that’s similar in all forms of racing. If we look at the ACO models, they’ve allowed some cars bigger air restrictors and others, so forth, for that very reason. It’s a balancing act and you don’t know whether you’ve got the balance just right until you see the cars out on the racetrack.
Unfortunately, when you put them on the racetrack, if that’s your only measure, you also kind of have to factor in the talent of the drivers, the decisions made by the team captain on when to pit. There’s a lot of things that are involved in results that have nothing to do with whether the equipment is as good as the other guy’s equipment.
If we have a team that’s running a given car and they’re not successful, that doesn’t tell us that the car is bad. If we have 10 teams running a car, and none of them can be successful, then there’s probably something that car needs.
AutoRacing1: With the engines you do the same thing, you selectively or randomly check horsepower?
EDMONDSON: We check more than horsepower. We check horsepower and torque. I think one of the things that makes us unique is that we have a base engine, which is the Porsche 3.6 liter flat 6, and we know what its torque curve is, we know what its horsepower curve is. What we’ve attempted to do is bring other powerplants in and then specify their air restrictor or their rpms or their cam or other things that will give them a torque curve as similar as possible to the Porsche. It’s the least capable of the bunch. That’s our baseline. That’s it.
AutoRacing1: Interesting. I heard the car count could be up to 35 or 40 cars next year?
EDMONDSON: I’m anticipating at the 24-hour that we could have as many as 40 or 42 Prototypes.
AutoRacing1: That’s a lot.
EDMONDSON: It is a lot. But we have to recognize that the 24-hour is unique in our environment just much the same way as the Indy 500 may be unique in the open-wheel environment, and that is that you have teams that run that event only and then you don’t see them the rest of the season. I think probably the best example is George Robinson, who has been around sports car racing for a long time, but he gets all he needs from the 24-hour. That’s the only time we see him.
To say we’ll have 42 at Daytona does not imply I anticipate 42 at Phoenix or Laguna Seca, for example.
AutoRacing1: As we know in America, NASCAR is king of the hill. They have the majority of the race fans, sponsorship and TV ratings. When you mention to the average person on the street auto racing, they think NASCAR. As I observe today, I don’t see a big turnout in attendance at the Grand-Am races. Sports car racing has struggled for a long time to get a large fan base. Is that a goal of the series?
EDMONDSON: Well, let’s first off remember that in terms of comparing road racing to NASCAR racing, most of them actually in many ways got started in the late ’40s. Bill France formed NASCAR around 1948. It was around that same time that some of the GIs coming back from World War II started racing in California or at Watkins Glen.
NASCAR’s form of racing, whether it be because of the stock body cars they started with or whatever, the stewardship of Bill France Sr., I don’t know, all of it together, created what became a business that was poised to break out and did just a few years ago. NASCAR hasn’t always been this successful.
AutoRacing1: About 10 years, since the IRL was created that split the then king-of-the-hill, Indy Car Racing, and directly led to its downfall.
EDMONDSON: In the hands of others, road racing has had very many peaks and valleys. I think there were probably times when had just the right set of circumstances or the right alignment of the stars occurred, perhaps road racing in this country could have achieved the same level of success as NASCAR, but it did not for reasons I don’t know. I was doing motorcycles back in those days.
When we started Grand-Am, we started Grand-Am with the idea we would try to learn from the mistakes we’d seen from road racing in the past and also try to learn from the success generated at NASCAR and try to avoid making the same old mistakes and at the same time bring only those things we thought were appropriate from the NASCAR model into road racing. Our goal was to eliminate the peaks and valleys.
We started out at ground zero. We have had growth, but it has never been our concern as to whether the growth from year one to year two was 50% or a hundred percent as long as there was growth. Growth is measured in more than just car count. It’s measured in our sponsorship, it’s measured in membership, it’s measured in a number of promoters who want to hold our events, it’s measured in the number of tickets they’re selling, it’s measured in TV ratings. I mean, there are a lot of indicators that show growth. And right now Grand-Am has got growth in every single area, including the spectator side.
The difference here, though, is we look at NASCAR as having a 50- to 60-year background, we’re only in year six. When you look at things with a long view, we feel very, very strong before where we are and where we’re going. If you expected us to have immediate success and immediate public acceptance by a large percentage of the population, you’re probably going to be disappointed where we are at this point.
AutoRacing1: Part of NASCAR’s success is that the manufacturers are in it to compete, and they use NASCAR for marketing purposes. Is that the same model for Grand-Am?
EDMONDSON: The model is a little different in our program in this regard. We welcome manufacturer participation – our model is not so different from NASCAR as it is from ALMS, for example. In our program, we welcome manufacture participation, but we’re not dependent upon it. In other words, if a manufacturer wants to come to Grand-Am, they’re welcome and they’ll find us to be cooperative partners, but they’re going to do it our way and they’re going to abide by our regulations and fit in with all the other people who are in the program and not become dominant or become the major source of our underpinning.
We’re set up to do business from now until the end of time without manufacturer direct involvement as is NASCAR. NASCAR at one point in time in its history was very close to the manufacturers in their dependency. They found out they couldn’t survive with that because companies would come and go based on their marketing strategy. Sports car people have never seemed to learn that lesson. If you followed road racing for years, you’ve seen people come in and obliterate the rest of the competition. When their marketing goes off, they have left and sent the series down the tubes.
We’re not about to let that happen. Our regulations, again, they open the door to manufacturers, but they do not give them a position to take the upper hand.
AutoRacing1: Do all the engines have to be badged with the manufacturer badging?
EDMONDSON: On the cars themselves?
EDMONDSON: Yes. The engine first has to be approved because we want to make sure any engine we allow in the cars is going to be a competitive engine, not an overachiever, not an underachiever. If that engine is in the car, we want to make sure that people know that’s what’s powering the car. There’s a requirement, we’re talking Prototypes now, there’s a requirement that the engine manufacturer’s name or the word “powered by” then the name be on the windshield in at least six-inch tall letters.
AutoRacing1: Does it have to be a passenger car manufacturer name or can it be a Cosworth or a John Judd?
EDMONDSON: We’ve only accepted engines for approval from manufacturers of passenger cars. We have not accepted any pure racing engines. We have a couple of automobile manufacturers who don’t have an engine of the right size who have asked if we would be willing to consider using a racing engine they have that is the right size. And after due consideration, we’ve had to decline.
ADAM SAAL: I believe we do have restrictions that it has to be available for commercial purchase by anyone, the components used, if you have a five-liter Pontiac, small block.
AutoRacing1: That’s kind of the same model the IRL used when they first went into business. Then they changed. Now it seems they’re in big trouble.
EDMONDSON: We try to learn the lessons from what we see out there. I don’t see us changing.
AutoRacing1: It’s interesting. Jim France said when the Grand-Am was first started that he wasn’t sure there was a market for sports car racing, but they, you, would give it their best shot. How do you measure success? What is the model? Is it a case that as long as there’s teams and there’s cars, and the teams are healthy, that you’ll just continue even though the spectators aren’t there? Do you have to at some point in time say, well, look, we’re not getting the spectators, this is not really a spectator sport, it’s club racing, which a lot of people have accused sports car racing of being, is there some point in time you say we tried but it’s not what we wanted?
EDMONDSON: No, I think that the goal of any sanctioning body would be to have the same sort of success that NASCAR has, whether it be a function of time or whether it be a function of luck or good management. So we are certainly desirous of having all the trappings of success, but we’re going to earn them. Our belief was that the best way to have a long-term fan base, a large fan base, was to make sure that the entertainment product we put on the track was consistently and predictably entertaining.
If you look back at our races over the last three years, they have gotten better and better and better. I think there’s probably only been one or two that have been stale in any way, shape or form. It’s always a question about who’s going to win a Grand-Am race, right down to the last five minutes in most cases. We’re comfortable now that we have a product that is appealing to not only dedicated motorsports fans, but to casual motorsports fans. And I don’t think that we need to separate whether they are NASCAR fans or IRL fans or Champ Car fans or any of those other things. I think the church has done a bad job with the Methodists, Catholics and Baptists deciding who is right about little tiny things, when in fact they’ve got a much bigger message. We’ve got the same situation here. We don’t have to go in the IRL Champ Car fight. We don’t have any enemies with the ALMS. We’re all in motorsports. Anything any of us do to raise the perception of motorsports is good for all the others.
AutoRacing1: Have you already passed a point where you think it’s going to work? Or do you have some point in time where you’re going to sit down and say, “Hey, we tried this. Is it something we think is going to work?”
EDMONDSON: It’s already working. Let me say this, I think this is probably why I went ahead and took the job. I came to this job after having just won a multi-million dollar lawsuit with the AMA. I didn’t need a job. I came because of my respect for the Frances and the excitement that the opportunity offered me. And I knew this was the one thing I knew, there wasn’t going to be any quit, and that there would be a long-term view.
When you have committed people, and I’ve known Jim France to keep every commitment he ever made, and I’ve known the whole France family, and I’ve never seen them break a commitment. When you have that comfort level, you can then make your plans for the long-term and you don’t have to put out short-term fires. That’s the difference here.
I have known, I have known from the day I agreed to do it, that Grand-Am was going to be successful. Now, there are many people out there who haven’t come to that realization yet. Maybe we aren’t in the minds of some at certain milestones. But Grand-Am is without question going to continue long after I’m gone and that’s all there is to it. So it’s not an open issue to me any more.
AutoRacing1: From the media’s perspective, how do we measure it? We look at how many people are in the grandstands. Most successful sports have spectators in the grandstands. You can go to a Formula 3 race and see a big field of cars, but there’s nobody there watching.
AutoRacing1: Was the early talk for Grand-Am that you were going to have big spectator crowds?
AutoRacing1: Or was it just to make the series successful financially?
EDMONDSON: The whole concept of the successful series to us is all of those things. The question is, which ones do you do first?
First off, I think this idea that we don’t have spectators is incorrect.
AutoRacing1: Not that they don’t have any. Visually in the grandstands, I think you have more of a camping crowd.
EDMONDSON: Let me say this to you. We run at Mid-Ohio. So does ALMS. You need to ask Michelle Trueman what the relative size of the crowds were.
AutoRacing1: I’m not here to characterize that one (ALMS or Grand-Am) is bigger than the other. I don’t know that either one of them is doing well. There’s other racing series that aren’t having success either.
EDMONDSON: I agree completely. You need to ask that question because I think there’s a perception that ALMS is knocking them dead at the turnstile.
AutoRacing1: Not in my perspective, no.
EDMONDSON: Now, everything we’re doing is on the growth. If I can push a magic button and you and I could both be up in the sky and see the Mid-Ohio crowd 10 years from now, you might say, “Look at that.” If that crowd 10 years from now is the same as it is today, then somebody’s doing something wrong. But I don’t think that’s going to be the case. It’s not based on wishful thinking but based on the progress we see being made. We have every reason to believe that next year will be better than this year and the year after will be better than that.
We’re here at this facility for the first time. I have no idea what this spectator crowd is going to be today, but I guarantee you it will be bigger next time we’re here. People who come and see this race are going to go home satisfied. The next time we come to town, a high percentage of them will come back and they’ll bring a friend. That is a sort of fan building that will stand the test of time. It’s not based on a hot ad campaign or ticket giveaway or some kind of gimmick to get people to come and see the naked lady jump off the tower into the burning vat of butter or whatever. You know what I’m talk about? Humpy Wheeler is a great promoter. That’s not what this is about.
I hope I don’t sound cocky or arrogant.
AutoRacing1: Not at all.
AutoRacing1: Do you feel there needs to be a consolidation in racing? Except for NASCAR, from my perspective, not only in the United States but elsewhere, things are so splintered and fractured that nobody can really succeed. They’re all there, just kind of making it, but nobody seems to be able to take off and start gaining on NASCAR because it’s just too splintered, not enough resources pooled together.
EDMONDSON: Well, I don’t know that that’s the reason. NASCAR has been, again, very successful in the last 10 years and is now rivaling the NFL and some other established major league sports. Maybe 10 years ago they would say that could never happen, that football was going to be king forever. But as things evolve and as the population base changes and people’s interest change, things do happen.
I don’t think that motorsports itself needs one home office with one person that has all the answers. I think there’s room in America with 300 million people for different people to follow their vision and their path.
What we’re doing is what we think is the right idea. Our thinking our idea is right doesn’t mean we think the other guys are wrong or that we think they’re bad. We simply in a free enterprise system have invested our money, just like a guy that opens a hardware store, maybe there’s no need for two hardware stores in a small town, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
I think we’re on the right path. I think seeing the growth we’re seeing on the spectator side now and on the TV side, I think this is the next big thing for us.
AutoRacing1: This event is a pretty big event for you folks. Long Beach next year. Is the plan to be back here as well next year?
EDMONDSON: We’ll be back here in March (With NASCAR Busch).
AutoRacing1: When the schedule was originally released, I think that was still up in the air.
ADAM SAAL: That date was on there.
EDMONDSON: But that’s not been confirmed.
ADAM SAAL: A formal announcement in the future will be made with regard to our Mexico event in 2006.
EDMONDSON: Next year, we think we’ve got the best schedule in motorsports frankly. If you look at all the places we go, events that we’re participating in, we pair up with IRL three times, we pair up with Champ Car once, we pair up with NASCAR three times. That makes for seven races out of 14 where we are paired up with people, and 7 where we’re alone.
The beauty of pairing up with people is we have an opportunity to show our brand of racing to an already-established audience and already-established sponsor base. It’s the best way to reach the largest number of people the quickest. It’s much more cost-effective than any ad campaign we could ever embark on.
AutoRacing1: Did you say 14 races total?
EDMONDSON: 14 total.
AutoRacing1: Seven paired and seven on your own?
AutoRacing1: The ALMS tried to team up with Champ Car a couple times. I know I heard from their organization their manufacturers wanted to be the lead series for the weekend. They didn’t like to play second fiddle. Right now Grand-Am is willing to do that?
EDMONDSON: Where it’s important for us to be considered the co-feature, that’s something that we try to work with the promoter to do. But we have no problem with being No. 2. To go into, for example, Watkins Glen for the Nextel Cup weekend, there are all kinds of series that would love to be a support series to NASCAR on Saturday or Friday night. We run on Friday night. That crowd we have on Friday night that was there for that race, I don’t care why they came, they’re there and their eyeballs are in place, is the third largest spectator crowd in the state of New York in any given 12-month period.
No matter how you cut them up, they are people in place watching Grand-Am. So that to me is an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. Same thing is true with Long Beach. The anticipated spectator crowd for Long Beach on Saturday when we’re going to run in front of 65,000 people. I don’t care if they’re there to see Madonna running the celebrity race. Our sponsors and team also have an opportunity to show them Grand-Am racing, 65,000 people strong. Whether we’re No. 1 or No. 2 is immaterial to me.
ADAM SAAL: It’s not always the case. I mean, clearly when we run with Nextel Cup we play second fiddle.
EDMONDSON: Everything is No. 2 to Nextel Cup. If you don’t believe that, you’re fooling yourself.
ADAM SAAL: Obviously. In this case (Mexico City), two finales. We’ve seen equal promotion across the board. In their minds there’s a Saturday feature race and Sunday feature race. It’s not always a given that we’re going to be a shoulder program, if you will, for another race. At Long Beach will we be? Of course, we will be. It’s a nice showcase to have.
EDMONDSON: Every billboard and TV ad I’ve seen has only been about the sports car event. This promoter recognizes that what is today may not always be. So the day may come when he wants a free-standing Grand-Am event and it’s in his best interest to educate the audience that we exist and here is what we do.
ADAM SAAL: I think you’ll see at Infineon, Sears Point as well, you’ll see a similar promotion to that.
AutoRacing1: The France family of course was into stock car racing originally. Now they’ve got – this is the first time they’re into something different….road racing.
EDMONDSON: That’s not true. As early as 1959, before the Daytona Speedway was built, Bill France was promoting sports car racing at the new airport. Back in the early days of the Speedway, they’ve had sports car racing from the very beginning. In fact, the Daytona Continental that Dan Gurney won by using the starter motor was 40 some years ago. By then, by no means was the Daytona International Speedway or NASCAR a big deal on the national or international scene. This was part of what they believed was a valid part of the motorsports scene.
If they were going to be in the motorsports business, they had to be in all of it. When it came time to start IMSA, it was Bill France Sr. who put up the bulk of the money to get John Bishop his start. They supported him behind the scenes and publicly for many, many years. They have always had an ongoing interest in road racing. Jim France is the France family member today who loves road racing, not just sports car racing, but motorcycle road racing, too.
I think that this idea that they are just doing it (Grand-Am) for some ulterior motive is bizarre. I read some of the most bizarre theories on the websites you can possibly imagine. I’ve read that the reason that Grand-Am exists is to keep sports car racing splintered so that sports car racing doesn’t overtake NASCAR in popularity. That is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the most bizarre theories I’ve ever heard.
We are not a threat, “we” being the road racing community, to what NASCAR does. NASCAR, in fact, is going to open doors that will allow other people to get involved with motorsports. There’s a lot of places in the country that don’t care a thing about NASCAR or ALMS or IRL or Champ Car. They’re football oriented, baseball oriented. They don’t have a track nearby, they don’t care. I’m just stunned when I see the things that are attributed to the France family. Every time I read these things, it becomes clear to me that this guy doesn’t know Jim France, doesn’t know Bill France, doesn’t have a clue about these people. I’ve known them for 25 years and I’ve never, ever seen the sort of behavior that’s attributed to them from anyone.
AUTORACING1: How do you react to the notion that the France family wants to ensure that all other forms of racing must stay splintered, divided, so that NASCAR (all three divisions) can remain king-of-the-hill?
EDMONDSON: With Grand-Am I think that it’s easy sometimes if you have a mindset or if you go into a situation with a certain view based on information, whether it be true or not, that your perception of what you see is colored by that. I’ve known many cases where people take two and two and come up with five.
The only thing I can tell you is I’ve known the Frances since 1983 when I was a young man and walked with an IDF or motorcycle series, and they gave me all the support they possibly could. They opened the doors to me and allowed me to do what I needed to do with their help. At no time have I ever seen them use their power within the motorcycle industry or the motorcycle racing industry to put anybody down or suppress anything or do anything. And I haven’t seen it in sports cars.
I’ve seen an absolutely meticulous adherence to ethics and to what’s right and to what’s fair. And the bulk of anything that Grand-Am tries to do is based on trying to give everybody the fairest shake possible to make sure that more and more people can be successful at it.
So at no time in any of these things over a 25-year period have I ever heard or seen anything that would give credence to this idea that the Frances are going to reach out and send in the black helicopters and bomb things or do disinformation. If this was all true, it flies in the face of them starting IMSA years ago.
What you’re really seeing is you’re seeing people reacting in the marketplace to opportunity. If they had been totally satisfied years ago with the way the SECA was running their sports car races at Daytona Speedway, they never would have backed John Bishop and his dream to have a different type of sports car series. His dream was based on a belief that the amateur program that SECA was using was the wrong way to go and that there needed to be professional sports cars.
They backed John Bishop because John Bishop believed that road racing – John Bishop looked at the American road racing landscape and decided there was a better way to do it. He came to the Frances with his idea for a professional sports car series and said, “I think we can make road racing a very successful product.” The Frances are sitting there with an investment in a fairly high-profile international sports car race and a big speedway with tickets to sell. They said, “John, you know what, I think you’re right.” He said, “I need some money, I need some help.” They backed him. This flies in the face of trying to make NASCAR the only thing.
AutoRacing1: What year was that?
EDMONDSON: Sometime in the ’60s, I believe.
ADAM SAAL: It was founded in ’68.
EDMONDSON: In fact, the Frances own 11 facilities now. They only had one or two NASCAR races a year. Those facilities had to have other product. So it is totally in their best interest as a free enterprise operation trying to make money for their stockholders and meet their legal obligations to all the people that bought stock in ISC, they have an obligation to make those facilities as profitable as they can. That means you have to have races. If you can only have a Winston Cup race or Nextel Cup race once a year or twice a year, you need other valued and respected races to fill – candy stores have got to have candy.
AutoRacing1: Can those other races be the NASCAR Truck Series, or the Busch Series rather than a non-France family owned series such as Champ Car?
EDMONDSON: That is certainly part of it. But not everybody’s cup of tea is over stock car racing. Jim France in particular loves road racing. Now, they backed administration after administration at the IMSA professional sports car level, finally the Andy Evans era, we’ve been through all this. The France family was loyal and backed every one of those new owners of that operation for years and years. Even when they went to jail, they stuck with the next guy. Even when the purse money was paid by the Speedway and not to the competitors, they stuck with the sanctioning body.
Finally, in frustration, they decided they needed to take a look about going their own way. Did they start their own thing? No. They went out and got the other promoters and the SCCA and started the United States Road Racing Championship. It’s about the same time that Don Panoz decided to start ALMS. Panoz decided that his best interest was in using the LeMans brand, and he struck a financial deal with the folks in LeMans that meant that the rules from that 24-hour race, once a year for 48 cars, were going to be the rules he used week in, week out for an American championship.
The Frances believed that that was not the best thing for their 24-hour race or American championship and felt that a series that was based entirely on the needs of the American audience and the American road racing infrastructure was going to go unmet unless they started something on their own. So they gave up on the USARC, called me on the phone and said, “We think we’re going to start a sports car series. Do you want to come down and talk to us? You did a good job on motorcycles. We’d like to give you an opportunity.”
Actually, there’s a total of 25 investors, all put our money in and here we are six years later. This is not part of some grand plan. It’s not part of some scheme. Our success is not based on anything that NASCAR does, other than the fact we have access to people who will take our phone calls, and maybe they wouldn’t if we were out there. But we’re not financed by the Frances. We’re not dictated to by the Frances. Jim France, he’s not even on our board. Is he an important part of Grand-Am? Absolutely, because it’s his vision and his concepts that he gave to me when I started this thing.
But I run this thing day to day. If it makes it, I’m going to get the credit for it. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter. Maybe Jim will because people have been made aware of his involvement. But if it fails, I’ll definitely get the credit for it. That’s okay, too. That’s the job.
But I implore you to sit back and look at this thing differently because there is no grand scheme. There is no enemy. Everybody who sells a ticket to a motor sports event is creating a prospect for our events. That’s how I look at it.
AutoRacing1: Was there ever any attempt, any days when you first decided to do this new series to sit down with Panoz and say, “Can we do it together?”
EDMONDSON: Yes. Before we ever announced that Grand-Am ever existed, and by the way we announced it existed in September of ’99, and we ran our first race at the 24-hour in January, February of 2000.
So we sat down with Bill Donaldson, who at that time was the marketing and managing director of the ALMS, and said, “Look, is there any way to get all in the same boat?” And they made it clear that they’re men of honor. They had a contract with the ACO and France that required two things that we could not abide by. One of them was that the word ‘LeMans’ had to be in every single thing they did. It made no sense to the people at Daytona that they would be promoting another international race every time they open their mouths. The second thing was that the rules were going to be dictated by the ACO. Whatever the ACO decided, whether it meant they were going to be racing ocean liners, motorhomes or fighter jets, that’s what the races had to be. That was not going to meet the needs that Jim France put forth, which was – We have to have an American series that works for American racers and American spectators and American sponsors. So we tried, but it was quite clear that we couldn’t put it all together.
I don’t wish the ALMS any bad luck at all. They’ve got road racing as it’s always been. And as I’ve said before, the size of that audience has been identified already. What we’re trying to do is something new to reach those other millions and millions of Americans that haven’t responded to road racing in 60 years.
I don’t know why people get their hackles up about us, but that’s all it is.
AutoRacing1: The only other criticism I’ve heard of Grand-Am is some people don’t like the looks of the cars. The rules don’t dictate that. Is that the manufacturer’s choice as to how they make the car look or is there something else? I have to apologize, I’m not familiar with your rule book enough to know.
EDMONDSON: There are enough hard points that have to be met dimensionally in the construction of the frame that it was pretty well-predictable the cars were going to have a similar look. For example, the size of the greenhouse was designed for certain safety considerations, including being able to get a tall driver out of the car if he’s unconscious because most Americans are taller than some of the other countries.
But the point is that there’s enough hard points in there that if eight guys sat down to decide on a car, they all had these certain dimensions, they had to be in certain places, they’re ultimately going to look like they look.
I think what we’re hearing mostly is that traditional sports car fans who remembers the GTP era, he remembers a very sleek cockpit where the driver’s head was right here. In fact, we’ve got guys like Paul Tracy and Justin Wilson who might not be able to get in some of those cars.
We came out with a big greenhouse. That’s not what they expected. Does it make it wrong? No, it’s just not what they expected. So, again, because we had to start with the cars that existed and the crowd that existed when we brought out our new car, that crowd didn’t like it too much. But you talk to the people who watch NASCAR, stock cars, they think these are the sleekest things they’ve ever seen. So it’s all a point of – remember I talked before you can come to something with a certain amount of preconditioning?
EDMONDSON: I think that preconditioning has effect. Are these the most beautiful cars ever made? I don’t think it matters. They race like crazy. If you take to it the most elemental things, the Olympics, the award goes to the guy that crosses the line first, not the one with the best hairdo. I don’t think we’re too concerned with that.
AutoRacing1: Very good. It’s been a very good 1 hour.
EDMONDSON: I hope we can do more.
ADAM SAAL: We’ll see you again.
EDMONDSON: Mark, I’m going to make it a personal mission to see you someday say to me, “I agree with you on the France family.” They are benefit factors to this sport, not people that are raping it or suppressing or doing anything to harm others. The success of IMSA, the success of Grand-Am, the success of Champ Car, the success of IRL have nothing to do with any grand plan of Daytona. They have entirely to do with the management, the luck, the skill, the circumstances that involved those companies, nothing to do with NASCAR. Does NASCAR benefit when the rest of us screw up? Of course, they do.