Hats + Legends + Cars
Cyber Motorsports was there at the beginning of the Petit Le Mans and through its history. One long-time IMSA supporter who had been stationed in Europe, attended a dozen 24 Hours of Le Mans. He knew his stuff and told Earl, “I hope you know that you helped make the Petit Le Mans a success!” That comment and the time when the ALMS asked us to delay our coverage by 24 Hours so as to not conflict with the live TV coverage were the two greatest compliments we received. Another compliment occurred in 2018.
Over the 20 year period, Earl had purchased or was given a variety of team hats. He then got autographs on these. For example, on the MOMO hat, there are autographs of Giampiero Moretti, Kevin Doran, Didier Theys and Max Papis. On the Doyle/Risi Ferrari hat are Wayne Taylor and Eric Van de Poele’s. On the Audi hat are the autographs of Alan McNish, Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Cappello and others. Earl’s goal for the 2018 PLM was to take these hats from over the years and then get a photograph taken with the legends that are associated with these hats. He chose a day and time when things were relatively slow and calm on Friday morning after the late Thursday night practice. Most of the crew was sleeping in while the team owners that Earl wanted to see were there early.
The first hat was for the Ferrari team that won the premiere Petit Le Mans. Wayne Taylor was a driver on that team and is now a team owner. Earl put on the Ferrari hat and saw Wayne arriving at the Wayne Taylor Racing paddock. Wayne saw the hat, laughed and said, “That’s a hat from when I won the first Petit Le Mans!” Earl showed Wayne his autograph on the hat and he laughed again and said, “I want you to show this to my team! Maybe, it will give us good luck this year!” The photo at the right was taken in the WTR paddock. And, it did bring them good luck as they won the 2018 Petit Le Mans!
The next hat was the Audi hat. Audi was a dominate team for nearly a decade at the Petit Le Mans. Rheinhold Joest, who managed the teams for most of those years is the most successful prototype team owner in history. His teams have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans an incredible 15 times. Even with all this success, Joest is a private man and shuns photographs and autographs, etc. Earl told one of the team principles for the Joest Mazda team what he wanted to do and showed the Audi hat with all the autographs. The team representative then took the hat over to Rheinhold standing in the back of the paddock and explained what I wanted to do and pointed at me. Reheinhold laughed and waved for me to come in. Earl says, “Though, we had never met personally, when you are at the track for over 20 years, people recognize each other‘s faces.”
One of the most moving experiences involved visiting the paddock memorial set up in honor of ALMS and PLM-founder, Don Panoz, who had passed away just weeks before his beloved Petit Le Mans occurred. Earl put on his Visteon hat and walked into the memorial. Geoff Lee, president of Road Atlanta and long-time Panoz associate said, “Look! He’s wearing a Visteon hat! Get a photograph!” Visteon had been the major sponsor for the first Panoz racing efforts. In fact, the Panoz GTR-98 with the Visteon sponsorship was sitting in the middle of the Panoz memorial. The car was also portrayed on the tickets for the premiere PLM. Earl showed his ticket from that race and someone suggested, “You should take a photo of that ticket on the car that is on the ticket!
Seeing the memorial set up in this way with all the hundreds of signatures and messages on the banner were quite moving. Earl admits to tears welling up in his eyes when seeing this. Earl says, “Don Panoz is the one responsible for us being able to experience the Petit Le Mans like we have for all those years. To Don, I owe a big, thank you, and RIP, my friend. I know your efforts are still making a positive difference and will do so for many years.”
Earl was responsible for organizing a gathering of online racing afficianados at the 1998 and 1999 Petit Le Mans. Earl did not plan this but it was befitting of the history... he was wearing the same shirt in 1998 at the premiere Petit Le Mans as he did at the 2018 PLM!