POUGHKEEPSIE, NY, FEB. 19, 2004 — With the 2004 American Le Mans Series set to begin at Sebring, Florida on March 20, Rob Dyson can look back with satisfaction over more than 20 seasons of professional sportscar racing. During the past two decades Dyson Racing has established itself as the foremost sportscar racing team in North America, chalking up 58 race victories and a dozen season championships.
The latest of these championships, 25-year-old Chris Dyson`s LMP675 driver` title in the 2003 ALMS, came in a year that Rob Dyson describes as pivotal in the team`s on-going evolution and its future direction.
“It was a sort of passing of the torch last season. We made substantial changes on both the organizational and technical sides,” Dyson said. “Pat Smith, who helped me start Dyson Racing in 1976 as a club racing team and as Team Manager was a key element in the team`s growth and success over the years, retired at the end of June. On the technical side we made the transition to Lola`s LMP675 car, and in Peter Weston we added to the team one of the top race car engineers in the world. On the organizational side Randall Kelsey`s promotion to team manager has brought a new dimension to our operations.
“And it has been a pleasure for me both to see Chris`s progress as a driver, and to watch him move into a leadership role within the team. I am still deeply involved with this team, but Chris has assumed the day-to-day responsibility for the team`s operation. Chris`s formal title is Sporting Director, but the best description is that I am still the chief executive officer of Dyson Racing, and Chris is now the chief operating officer.”
Last season was also the first one in which Rob Dyson did not drive for the team. A shoulder injury and subsequent surgery to repair it kept the elder Dyson from getting behind the wheel of one of the Thetford/Norcold-sponsored Lolas. “I am 57 now, and I do not know if it makes sense for me to be competing at this level anymore,” Dyson said, though he refused to rule out a valedictory drive during the 2004 season. “But while it was tough last year not doing any driving, it was very gratifying to see how far Chris had come as a driver. It seems like yesterday that he was driving karts and now he has won his first championship.”
New team manager Randall Kelsey remembers Chris Dyson`s kart racing career, too, because when they were both 15, Kelsey was crewing for Chris at the dirt oval where the younger Dyson cut his racing teeth. Later that year, Rob offered Kelsey an after-school job in the Dyson Racing shop. That turned into a full-time second mechanic position summers and between semesters while Kelsey pursued a degree in business management at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
Kelsey graduated in December 2000 and accepted the job of head mechanic on Dyson`s #20 car. Two and a half years later, following Pat Smith`s retirement, Kelsey was named Team Manager.
“I learned so much from Pat, seeing how he ran the operations side of the team,” Kelsey said. “I was determined not to fix what was not broke, but with the new Lolas and with the addition of Peter Weston as our race engineer I knew that we did need some changes.”
The 2003 season may have been a year of transitions for the team, but here is what has not changed at Dyson Racing: # Despite running a significantly more complex car, the technical team is still very lean and nimble. “You need enough people to get the job done,” Kelsey noted while the team prepared for the season-opener at Sebring. “But the fewer people you have, the easier it is to keep the lines of communication open. Sometimes more people just means the job takes longer.”
The driver line-up represents – in addition to Chris Dyson – a group of veterans with excellent sportscar racing pedigrees and long affiliation with Dyson Racing. Andy Wallace, 43, and Butch Leitzinger, 35, are both starting their tenth season as Dyson Racing drivers, and James Weaver, 49, has been a regular member of the team since 1987. Like Chris Dyson in 2003, Weaver and Leitzinger have won U.S. sportscar driving titles at the wheel of Dyson cars, and Wallace is a former Le Mans 24-hour race winner. # At every one of the nine ALMS races in 2004, Dyson Racing`s pair of blue-and-white Thetford/Norcold Lolas will be among the favorites.
“Last year was a good one for Dyson Racing,” Chris Dyson noted as he reviewed the 2003 season that saw Dyson Racing`s Lola beat the all-conquering Audi R8s at Sonoma, California`s Infineon Raceway. Contemplating the team`s future, Dyson noted that “2004 should be even better. We have done a lot on the organizational and technical side over the past year to develop both the team and the car. We were able to match and sometimes exceed the performance of Audis in 2003, but sometimes there was a David and Goliath quality to it. The competition is going to be tough, but this year I think we are going to be in a position to win overall at every race. That is our goal, and I believe that our team can accomplish it.”
But Chris agrees that his task is bigger than just planning for 2004. “We are committed to the ALMS in 2004,” he said. “It represents the best combination of technical sophistication and competitive racing in America today. But sportscar racing is in turmoil today, and we need to be looking at where it is likely to be in the next five years. This team has had a long commitment to road racing and to sports cars, and we have always gone where the best opportunities are to showcase our team`s abilities. Other things may change in the future, but this team will always be looking to compete in the best series we can find.”