SEBRING — Donald Panoz, perhaps is best known as “Dr. Don,” was honored and immortalized when the Hall of Fame Gallery of Legends was renamed the Don Panoz Gallery of Legends on Thursday at the Sebring International Raceway. His family was in attendance for the unveiling.
Panoz died from pancreatic cancer on Sept. 11, 2018.
“The SIR Board of Directors were thinking of a way to memorialize the man who would change racing for the better,” said Secretary Mike Swaine. “They decided renaming the gallery was the perfect way to honor Panoz and his contributions and innovations to the sport.”
Swaine has been with SIR for more years than not and fondly remembers Panoz for his business acumen and his “down to earth” personality.
“Don was a very astute business person,” Swaine said. “He invented the transdermal patch, a drug delivery system. He was very successful at that. He was a boxer when he was a kid. He was a tough kid before he invented that patch.
“I can remember when he wanted to manufacture them in the U.S. and the government gave him static about it,” Swaine said. “He called Ireland and asked ‘Would you like me to build a manufacturing plant here?’ and they said ‘you betcha.’”
The company in Ireland was named Elan; it is the reason a four-leaf clover is on the family crest on his race cars. Panoz felt he should honor the country that opened its doors to his family. Swaine said many people assume he was Irish because of the crest but he wasn’t.
Panoz has affectionately been called a serial entrepreneur. He opened the hotel, Chateau Elan in Atlanta near the Road to Atlanta Track. Swaine said his son told him that Panoz bought the Road to Atlanta to keep traffic flowing to the hotel. Panoz bought a flailing Professional Sports Car Racing Association, Road to Atlanta, Mosport in Canada, International Motor Sports Association and Sebring International Raceway. Panoz had a winery and other companies in Atlanta as well.
Panoz also built the Chateau Elan at the Sebring track, which is now known as Seven at Sebring Raceway.
“When he bought Sebring, the track had been improved on some,” Swaine said. “He came in and put in all the pit boxes, built new walk-over bridges, did a lot of improvements around the track like putting in viewing mounds. He bought IMSA because he wanted to see motorsports try and go in a better direction.”
Swaine said if Panoz had not gotten involved with the sport, racing would look a lot different.
“Sebring might not even be here,” he said. “He was the kind of guy who would put his money where his mouth was. He was just a great guy.”
Panoz had an affinity for Sebring even though he loved all his tracks. He gave Sebring more attention and upgrades, Swaine said.
Everyone who knew Panoz seemed to appreciate his friendliness and caring attitude. His wife, Nancy, called Swaine after the SunTrust Bank shooting in January to find out if anyone at the track was affected and if there was anything her family could do.
Swaine was moved by that and said she was under no obligation to check on Sebring. He also said Panoz is “missed very much.”