POUGHKEEPSIE NY, November 01, 2006 — On the weekend that Formula 1 lost its finest driver, so did sports car racing. And like Michael Schumacher, James Weaver went out on top. Weaver’s last race was the season-ending American Le Mans race at Laguna Seca on October 21. Each time he brought the car into the Laguna pits, it was from the lead. At the prior race at Road Atlanta, he set fastest lap. At Mosport, he broke the track record in qualifying. He finished second in the championship.
Weaver left the sport as he lived. He did not want any fan fare or attention. The focus was always on the team, not himself. He told the team of his retirement after the race was over and thanked the emotional gathering for all of his success. The next day was spent shopping for his daughter. The family comes first, not feeding the star-making machine.
In the “look-at-me” world of racing, Weaver was an inspiring breath of fresh air. A true gentleman, he was also a Renaissance man who was conversant on almost any subject. His graciousness, irrepressible humor and affable personality made him a favorite of the fans and motorsport’s best ambassador.
Helmet tilted forward and trademark orange gloves a blur of commitment, Weaver was brilliantly fast on the track. He was an implacable competitor and relentless in finding ways to improve the car. He was one of the best set-up drivers in the business. Long after other drivers had retired to their hotels, he was at the track poring over data and working on finding more speed. It was this singular dedication and work ethic on and off the track that made him such a fearsome competitor.
Weaver had been with Dyson Racing for twenty years. His core values of loyalty and sense of honor were unique. James has the universal respect of everyone in the paddock and in racing. In the highly charged competitive world of racing, nothing speaks better of the racer and of the man.
James Weaver on his retirement from racing:
“One of the hardest decisions for any sportsman is knowing when it is time to leave the playing field. Experience holds you in good stead, but eventually time tips the scales against you.
“I have been racing for over thirty years and twenty of those with Rob Dyson. It has been an enormous privilege to know him and to be part of his team. No driver could ask for a better environment in which to enjoy the sport. I was able to do what I loved doing – how I liked doing it. It was brilliant fun to be able to be a part of a sport I love and very unusual to be able to do it on my terms – all of which I have Rob to thank for.
“Rob’s charismatic leadership and generosity have made Dyson Racing a unique team. Leaving my home and family of the past twenty years is the toughest thing I have ever done and I will very much miss the friendships and camaraderie.
“I could not have made my career in racing without the help of numerous people and I would like to acknowledge my heart felt debt to them. Dyson Racing is only a small team, but historically we have always had excellent suppliers, many of whom have become friends. They have played a huge part in our success and I would like to thank them for their support and friendship.
“In looking back, some of my happiest memories are of test days with our old friends at Goodyear. We also had great fun with Riley & Scott, Ben Lozano, Lola, AER, AP, Pagid, Reid Washbon, and the folks from Penske Shocks – the list is exhaustive! During all these years, Marion Champlain did a fantastic job of feeding us and making sure that Dyson Racing always had the plum hotels. And Alyson Kimball proved time and time again that she is the best sports physiotherapist in the business. As always, it is the people that make the difference.
“None of this would be possible without IMSA and the ALMS and I would like to wish them every success for their bright future and thank all of their staff. The race officials, corner workers and the fans are the foundation of racing. The enthusiastic support of the fans means so much to a driver and has been very much appreciated over the years.
“I particularly want to thank everyone on the team and my teammates for making it so much fun. Rob and his long standing crew chief, Pat Smith, Ben Lozano, Bob Akin, Andy, Butch, Chris, Marion, Bob Shaffer and my friends at Goodyear, you are all very much in my thoughts.
“Racing with Rob has enabled me to see the best of America and I leave with the best of memories and a great regard for the country, the people, and above all for Rob, who will always be ‘The Guvnor.’”
Chris Dyson’s pick of some of James Weaver’s more notable races:
Las Vegas ALMS Finale, 1999: “This race was our last chance to secure the inaugural ALMS drivers championship for Elliott Forbes-Robinson. All year long, we had been the underdog getting steady results, and as we came into the last round, we had to beat Panoz to win the championship. Our Riley and Scott Ford V8 was a generation behind the top-running BMW, Panoz and Lola entries, but from the first few laps you would have never known it. At the flag, James drove like a man possessed, picking off the lead cars with impunity. It was mesmerizing. This pace was a surprise to our opposition, and when he pitted to hand off to Elliott we had been harrowing the top three. Elliott took over and the Panoz tangled with a slower car, and we ended up winning the championship. It was a great day for the team.”
Sears Point, 1995: “This was the first season running the Riley and Scott Ford, and by the time we arrived at Sears Point, the car was really coming into its own. The Ferrari 333sps had qualified well, but James was very confident that our Goodyear rubber would outperform the Ferrari’s Pirellis. He was absolutely right. From the green, he shot ahead of the field and never looked back. This was in the IMSA WSC days when the drivers did solo races, and this was one of the most impressive and controlling wins I have ever seen. No one could touch James that day.”
Daytona Paul Revere 2002: “We always had a great car every time we came to Daytona, and James had been on the pole for each 24 Hour since 1998. But this race was different. We had been struggling with an intermittent misfire all during practice, and the car was not quite right going into the race. It rained heavily in the afternoon before the race, and this completely changed the track. Didier Theys, who was our championship rival, had a Dallara which was as fast if not faster than our car. James and I managed to hold a lead throughout the race, but at the last round of yellows the field was bunched up and Didier had gotten ahead through pit stops. James executed a great pass on Theys in the infield after the restart and started driving away. A master strategist, James even backed off a little to shrink the gap to build a false confidence in his rival, and then started pushing and stretched the gap. We won the race by ten seconds or something. And the misfire had never really gone away… It was a stunning performance even by James standards.”
Sears Point ALMS, 2003: “This was the day David slung Goliath. We had been showing encouraging pace all year with our LMP 675 Lola-AER, but this was our breakthrough race. In practice, our car was substantially quicker than the Audi R8, with our Goodyears having an edge to the Audi R8 Michelins in the critical esses section leading back to the pits. In the race, the Audi had led, but a yellow with minutes remaining bunched up the field and James had a shot to track Marco Werner down. He did just that, turning the fastest lap of the race by over one second! James timed the pass for the lead perfectly and did it in typical Weaver style, late braking and going by him at the hairpin in front of the pits. The crew and the crowd went nuts.”
James Weaver Career Highlights
100 Career Wins
Seventy-Six Fastest Laps
Forty-One Lap Records
Over 200 Podium Finishes
2006 Second place ALMS LMP1 – seven podiums, two poles
2005 Fifth place ALMS LMP1 – two wins, five podiums
2004 Second place ALMS LMP1 – one win, five podiums
2003 Sixth place ALMS LMP675 – two wins, five podiums
2002 Third place Grand Am – four wins, seven podiums
2001 First place Grand Am – six wins, nine podiums
2000 First place Grand Am – four wins, six podiums
1999 Third place USRRC CanAm – one win, two podiums
1998 First place USRR CanAm – three wins, four podiums; Fourth place PSR World Sports Car – three wins, four podiums
1997 Third place PSR World Sports Car – four wins, seven podiums
1996 First place Global GT Championship – five wins
1995 Second place IMSA World Sports Car – five wins, seven podiums
1994 IMSA World Sports Car – one win: Sebring 12 Hours
1993 IMSA GTP Championship – Daytona 24 Hours, second in class; Indy Lights Championship – Dyson Racing Lola/Buick
1992 British Touring Car Championship – Nissan Primera GT
1991 IMSA GTP Championship
1990 Sixth place IMSA GTP Championship – one win, one podium
1989 Second place British Touring Car – eleven wins, Class B champion; IMSA GTP – one podium. CART Indy Car – Dyson Racing
1988 Fourth place IMSA GTP Championship – two wins, four podiums
1987 IMSA GTP – one win, Atlanta (first with Dyson), two podiums
1986 IMSA GTP; World Sports Car Championship
1985 World Sports Car Championship – second Le Mans; Japanese Group C
1984 British & European Touring Car – one win, three poles
1983 Third place European F3; British Thundersports Series – four wins
1982 Fourth place European F3 – three wins; fifth place British F3
1981 Sixth place British F3 Championship – one win
1980 Second place Derwent TV Sports 2000 Championship – six wins
1979 Second place Townsend Thoresen FF1600 – twelve wins
1978 Fifth place TT FF 1600 and Phillips FF 1600 – five wins
v 1976 Third place Dunlop FF 1600 Championship – five wins
Reflections on James Weaver:
ALMS media guide: “One of the worlds’s great racing drivers, no matter which discipline. Weaver’s knowledge and skill in and out of the car have translated into a plethora of driving titles and championships that make up a body of work very few drivers in the racing industry have or will achieve.”
Scott Atherton, American Le Mans Series President and CEO: “With the greatest of respect to all our drivers, James Weaver is one of my favorites. He exemplifies what it means to be a competitor in the American Le Mans Series and sports car racing in general. His quick wit, professional manner and courtesy, both on and off the track, have rightly made him a fan favorite in our paddock. His ability to maintain his competitive spirit and bravery long past the point that most hang up their helmets places him in a rare category of race driver. James is truly one of a kind, and we will miss his presence in the American Le Mans Series. We wish him and his family all the best.”
Chris Dyson, teammate: “It is impossible to quantify how much James has meant to us over the years. James was there for all of our important victories and championships and he was the leading force behind the team for the past twenty years. James has stuck with us through thick and thin and he has had unflagging commitment to the family and to the team.
“He had so much capacity beyond just driving quickly. He was always paying attention to what was happening with the car and how we could do better. No matter how well you have done, no matter how much success you have, it can always be better still.
“James does not have to be on the ‘front page.’ He never seeks the limelight and in an ego driven sport, that is unique. James is incredibly honest, very decent, and he is very secure in who he is. James is an iconoclast, a character, whatever it was the pink socks or his dry sense of humor, he always kept the big picture in mind. He understood he was never bigger than the sport and at the same time, he was a huge part of it, some would say larger than life. In a sport of often fragile egos James was comfortable in his own shoes. They broke the mold with James.
“If you look at the score, you have to say that James is one of the best sports car racers of all times. That is the black and white of the matter. But anyone who met him or worked with him knows that he left behind a great legacy of integrity, honesty, and open friendliness. I remember meeting someone who knew him in the 70’s and 80’s and he said that he had never met a more gentle person than James. I have to agree with that.”
Rob Dyson, team principal: “I would have to say that of all the people I have met in business and racing, James is one of the most decent and principled I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I have been blessed that our relationship spans more than twenty years. They have been years that have seen many changes to Dyson Racing and motorsports, but James has been our bedrock – our go-to guy who never let us down. The team came first and he always shared with his teammates. He was very unselfish. His commitment to being the best on the track and being fair and upright off the track has never flagged and has been instrumental in our success over those many years.
“His thirty-three race wins and three championships with us do not tell the story. The story is about what James meant to racing. He always, without fail, put on a good show. James was beloved by the fans and the fans know true when they see it. His sense of humor never left him. He treated everyone with respect. James is a gentleman in every sense of the word. You will never see any videos of him throwing a helmet at another car. He made a difference. He touched people and will always be known for his honesty, kindness, courtesy and humor.
“He has laid a foundation at Dyson Racing that we will be our bedrock for as long as we are racing. He will be missed, but he will always be with us.”
Oliver Gavin, Corvette C6-R: “I have known James since 2000. We met at Homestead, and it was the first race I had ever done in America. James was one of the first people to introduce himself, and he was a perfect gentleman. He offered his help and took me around to meet the principals at Dyson Racing, which started my relationship with the team.
“The next two years I often raced against James. There was a lot of banter and huge fun. James had great insight on how drivers were attacking corners or how the cars were handling. He had a great capacity to learn, and never thought that he knew it all – yet he had a massive amount of knowledge. I don’t think there is anyone better at setting up a race car. He is very analytical, almost as skilled as an engineer as he is as a driver.
“We had some great battles. I remember one at Mid-Ohio in 2001 where he was bearing down on me at a furious pace, but I managed to hang on for the win. James is fantastic in traffic; he has an amazing ability to scythe his way through traffic like Schumacher and Senna. I do not know know how he does it.
“We have become great friends. He is also such an entertaining chap to travel with. One day we were in Napa, California, and he decided we should drive to Lake Tahoe. So I drove all the way there, and we found a nice place to have lunch. He than decided we should drive all the way back to Napa. He slept all the way back, and I drove about 600 miles in a day to have lunch at Lake Tahoe. That is just James, to do things on a whim.”
Marty Kaufman, IMSA Race Director: “I have known James since my IMSA beginnings and have always found him to be a delightful, straightforward, honest person. One of the episodes that stick in my mind was the incident at Del Mar when he ran into the sound meter: After the incident and the race, he came to see me apologizing profusely for what could have been injury to those personnel around the flying meter. He said that he was just so frustrated with the entire matter that he lost his head and thought that by eliminating the meter, it would have helped eliminate the problem. As I said, he was very humble and apologetic. The next person into my office was Bob Akin. Bob said that James’ windshield was covered in oil and other debris and that obviously caused him not to see the meter and that is why he hit it. I told Bob that James had been in moments before and told me what happened. Bob got a wry smile on his face and left.
“James’ honesty was very much appreciated. He is just a really neat guy – a fierce, terrific competitor and I will miss him greatly.”
Karl Koenigstein, Michelin N.A. Technical Team Leader: “What set James apart was that in an age where lots of drivers have been driving since they were kids and racing in professionally prepared cars, James had a good amount of his own mechanical ability. He truly understood the car which helped him sort it out.
“James could be really incredible when conditions changed or the car was off. He would drive around the cars weak points and emphasize its advantages. If the car was not exiting a corner well, he might brake more aggressively to unsettle the rear of the car, then catch it and lean on it and power out. And he could do it lap after lap.
“Even in difficult and frustrating times, James always kept a good sense of humor and his perspective — a true professional and a class act. I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him through our relationship with Dyson Racing. Working with James was an honor and it was fun.”
Butch Leitzinger, teammate: “It is tempting to cite all of the victories, pole positions, fastest laps, and championships that James has won to measure his stature in the racing world. But far more representative of the man is the humility and grace that he carried, in an environment that is accustomed to neither.
“He was the perfect teammate, always focused on the team, rather than himself. He always left his book open, never hiding his notes. When I would make a mistake that would cost us a position or a victory, he would react not with anger or frustration but with empathy, although where that empathy came from I do not know, because I can scarcely remember him making a mistake.
“James liked to say that I would have had much more success if I had not gotten mixed up with him, but that could not have been further from the truth. Not only did he allow me to ride on his coattails for all of these years, but he also showed that being absolutely committed to the team and having a fun time were not mutually exclusive things.
“Above all, James had the ability, even in the ugliest situations, to see the humor. However many victories we have shared, we have shared a thousand more laughs. The sharpest part of his wit was his command of the English language. In my early days I would try to spar with him, only to be verbally drawn and quartered, and left shivering in the corner.
“When a sporting legend retires, it is customary to look at his career in the form of statistics. But quantitative measurements can not encapsulate the impact that James has had. For many of us, we are better people having known him. No statistic can capture that.”
Dick Martin, IMSA Chief of Pits: “James Weaver has set the standard for sports car drivers year in and year out. He is a true gentleman, class act and has earned everyone’s respect both on and off the track. Not only will I miss his driving ability but also his demeanor, humor and friendship in the American Le Mans Series.”
Allan McNish, Audi R10: Returning to the American Le Mans Series this year, James reminded me on numerous occasions just what a hard, no compromise racing driver he is – right up to his last race at Laguna Seca. He was undoubtedly one of the worlds very best sportscar drivers over the past two or three decades and off-track, epitomized the typical English gentleman – although he must be colour blind – only joking James! Enjoy your retirement.”
Emanuele Pirro, Audi R10: “I have known James for 25 years, and he has always been a great driver as well as a great gentleman, both inside and outside of the race car. I personally think he retired too early because I feel he still has a lot to give motor racing and there is a great deal he could teach others, so I hope he changes his mind in the near future. I think he has been a great example of longevity, integrity and race craft and he has also proved that it is possible to be a great driver without having been an F1 driver! He has been a real icon for sportscar racing and for Team Dyson – I will miss his tweed jacket which gave him a very British, and a little bit of a goofy look, but above all he was always tough competition during a race. I also remember that his statements at Drivers’ Briefings and at press conferences were always appropriate and very full of personality. Come on James, come back, I don’t want to be the most experienced driver in sportscar racing!”
Guy Smith, teammate: “I remember when I first met James it was at the start of the Bentley program in 2001,I knew a lot about him and how good he was. In fact when I was 6 my dad used to sponsor a guy called Dave Scott in British Formula 3 and I remember going to watch Dave with my dad at Silverstone, and a chap called James Weaver won that day.
“When I joined Bentley I was a kid and had no experience of Le Mans, James and I were at a shake down test at Santa Pod just before the Le Mans test, James sat me down and talked me through Le Mans and the pros and cons but mainly about the safety and what to look out for when driving there, he did not need to but he did.
“We met up again when I joined Dyson and I was immediately impressed by his speed. His ability to do a one-lapper was as good as I had ever seen and he could pull out a mega lap on very old tires when no one else could: that is talent. James is a fierce competitor who never showed any signs of letting up. I wish him all the best.”
Andy Wallace, teammate: “James is a very special human being. We were together eleven years with Dyson Racing. You could not ask for a better, more helpful friend. Everyone says that sportscar racing is a team effort, but to actually find a teammate who is unselfish as James is very rare.
“For me, not only is James one of the fastest and most entertaining drivers to watch, he is also the most technically gifted in the paddock. His knowledge and feel for a racing car is legendary. He is a generous teammate and a true friend and his sense of humor keeps us all amused. We will miss him a lot. Some say he has never been within 2 feet of an apex. They back this up by pointing to the countless number of pictures showing James and the apex on opposite sides of the page. But that is beside the point. Anyway, apexes are overrated in my opinion. There is never a dull moment with James around.”
And the Fans: “The world of sports car racing will absolutely not be the same without him.” “I just wanted to say thanks to Mr. Weaver for all of the years of thrills and fun he has brought to race fans all over the world.” “He was always a gentleman, never tired of talking to the fans like me, or signing books chronicling his long career.” “James, I want to thank you for all of the pleasure you have provided me in watching you drive.” “He was always the best TV interview in racing.” “He was one of my favorite drivers who could take it to anybody on the track.” “We, and so many fans, were totally impressed with everything he has done for the sport.” “He is such a fine person. I hope he knows how much he will be missed.”