The 2013 Rolex 24 at Daytona offered plenty of racing action over the past weekend, with Juan Pablo Montoyo of the Chip Ganassi Racing Team taking the checkered flag in the 51st edition of this popular annual event. It was Montoya’s third overall win in Daytona, and a fifth for teammate and lead driver, Scott Pruett, putting him on a par with Hurley Haywood’s record for wins in the two-day endurance race. Together with Charlie Kimball and Memo Rojas, Montoya and Pruett proved to be a winning combination crossing the finish line close to 22 seconds ahead of defending champion AJ Allmendinger of Michael Shank Racing.
Run on a 3.56-mile course combining an infield road course with parts of the NASCAR tri-oval, the 24 Hours of Daytona started in 1962 as a three-hour sports car race called the Daytona Continental, with points counting towards the International Championship for GT Manufacturers. The event became the Daytona 2000 in 1964 and the 24 Hours of Daytona between 1966 and 1971 before changing to the 6 hours of Daytona in 1972 because of the fuel crisis of the time as a result of the OPEC oil embargo. The race never took place in 1974, but resumed as the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1975, with the name later changing to include the names of various sponsors, including Pepsi and SunBank. Rolex has been the sponsor since 2002
The off-season timing of the Rolex 24 affords many top drivers the opportunity to participate, and it is generally a star-studded event. With teams consisting of between three and five drivers, world-class participants from other types of racing often sign up for the race. NASCAR drivers have included Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Kyle Petty, Kevin Harvick and Robby Gordon, while Indianapolis 500 winners to participate include Helio Castroneves, Dan Wheldon, Buddy Rice, Juan Pablo Montoyo, Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish.
Casey Mears was born March 12, 1978 in Bakersfield, California, and was surrounded by racing as he grew up. His father, Roger Mears, was one of the top performers on the off-road racing arena and his uncle, Rick Mears, won the Indianapolis 500 four times during his racing career. Mears began his own racing career at the tender age of four with BMX bicycles, and then he moved to ATVs at his hometown speedway. In 1991 he started racing go-karts and moved to SuperLites Off-Road Series a year later where he made a few top-three finishes.
“Tradition and heritage” have been used to describe Casey Mears, the new driver of No. 42 Dodge Charger in 2006. His family history and his surname transcend any one racing series. His fourth season was completed in 2006, on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup circuit. Over the years with Felix Sabates, at Chip Ganassi Racing, Mears has continued improving, which has given him the needed experience to be able to withstand the pressure that goes with racing the celebrated “Texaco Star” car. Many experienced and talented drivers have driven the “Texaco Star” on the NASCAR circuit like, Kenny Irwin, Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd and Davey Allison.
Mears commented that not only was it a privilege to have Texaco/Havoline sponsor him but having grown up knowing them and the relationship Texaco/Havoline had with Mario and Michael Andretti. The 2004 season revealed Mears to be a strong competitor, earning him his first Top-5 finish at the Watkins Glen International. He also followed his Uncle’s footsteps by winning the pole position at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in track-record time. During 2005 Mears NEXTEL Cup season was up and down. He had two races in Homestead and Texas, which were potential winners but with late-race cautions he was prevented from doing so. Altogether it wasn’t a complete write-off as he was able to finish the season with 3 Top-5 finishes and 9 Top-10s.
By the end of 2009, Casey Mears had notched up 252 consecutive race starts, one win, 12 Top Five positions, and 46 Top Tens. The year started off with the announcement the Mears would be driving the #90 Key Motorsports Chevrolet in 2010, but he broke his consecutive race starts record by failing to qualify for the 2010 Daytona 500 and later failing to qualify for Las Vegas, Fontana and Atlanta. Time will tell whether Casey Mears will regain his form and add more successes to his NASCAR racing history.
The NASCAR element of the Chip Ganassi Racing team merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is an organization that supports several racing teams involved in NASCAR and IRL races. The association is co-owned by Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates – both of whom are businessmen. Chip was a successful driver in his younger years and he made the decision to create a one-car IndyCar team in 1990. As a team owner Ganassi enjoyed immense success. In his first four years his team took five championship titles and 46 wins – the start to a long and successful period of racing. He made the decision to partner with Felix Sabates in 2000.
Sebates was never really a racer and he instead made his way into the world of stock car racing as an owner in 1987. This was easy since Sabates was a self-made millionaire from Cuba. He called his original team SABCO Racing and it was this team that Ganassi decided to purchase 80% of as he made his way into the ownership side of NASCAR racing. The Chip Ganassi Racing team is based in Concord, North Carolina. The teams currently race in the IndyCar Series and Rolex Sports Car Series. Dodge has been the car of choice since Ganassi took over the running of the operation – a collaboration which has definitely been advantageous.
Just before the NASCAR team merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc. in November 2008, five drivers worked for the team. David Stemme started racing at the age of 15 and he has raced in the Busch Series and the NEXTEL Cup. Reed Sorenson started racing at the age of six and he went on to become a rookie phenomenon. He too was driving in the Busch Series and the NEXTEL Cup. Born in New Zealand, Scott Dixon was the team’s IndyCar driver. He impressed right from the start – winning his IndyCar debut and going on perform well in successive races. Dan Wheldon hails from England and is also an IndyCar driver. He has enjoyed an immensely successful career both in the states and abroad and is likely to continue to impress both his employers and fans. Scott Pruett is usually the man of choice for the Rolex Series. He has competed in a number of different forms of motorsports and proven to be successful at each one. All five drivers of Chip Ganassi Racing will likely continue to prove their worth in years to come.
From the outside, Dario Franchitti seems to be just another success story and hero to many. But this racing driver has a special quality about him and the ability to achieve. He had a magnificent racing career in CART and IndyCar, and is now moving to another popular auto racing sport, NASCAR. Dario Franchitti has become a favorite amongst fans, on and off the racetracks, as his down-to-earth mannerisms and his humility are respected and admired.
Born in Bathgate, Scotland, on 19 May 1973, Dario Franchitti started his racing career in the kart arena. He proved that he was naturally talented at driving by winning the 1984 Scottish Junior Championship. After winning the British Junior Championships consecutively in 1985 and again in 1986, it was only a matter of time before he moved onto bigger things. By 2007, Dario Franchitti found himself signing with the Andretti Green Racing Team for his tenth season. It would be a season of nail-biting action and victory. During his 2007 season, Franchitti had managed to survive two auto racing crashes, win the Indianapolis 500, win the 2007 IRL Championship and end 1st in the points rankings.
But since September, rumors and speculation grew over the possibility that Chip Ganassi Racing would approach Franchitti to join them for the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. On the 3rd of October, Dario Franchitti confirmed everyone’s suspicions and announced that he would be driving the #40 Dodge Avenger full-time next year. Even though his move was expected, his IndyCar fans and supporters will sorely miss him. Franchitti is a magnificently skilled driver and he is anticipated to ease his way into the NASCAR industry as well as his teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, did during his transition. Dario Franchitti’s first challenge as a Chip Ganassi Racing team driver will be the stock car development program.
At home, however, Franchitti spends his time reading, working out, piloting his helicopter and spending time with his world famous wife, Ashley Judd. But one thing is for certain – his past is only a glimpse of what is to come. He is a racing driver that excels in every form of auto racing, and it is predicted that he will take NASCAR to the next level. His dedication to the sport and determination to achieve will definitely see him conquering NASCAR championships in the future.