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‘Red Dragon’ To Return To Track After 2014 Tragedy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 25 2014

GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing will return to track after 2014 tragedy at Daytona. (File photo courtesy of IMSA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Dallas-based businessman Bob Stallings’ decision to return to racing in 2015 via the Pirelli World Challenge series went beyond the cold/hard corporate desire to “activate and develop brand awareness” for primary sponsor GAINSCO Auto Insurance.

Stallings and his championship-winning organization continue to deal emotionally with the aftermath of the devastating injuries teammate Memo Gidley suffered in a crash during the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona nearly one year ago.

“It was a remarkable experience in my life and touched me in a profound way,” said Stallings, recalling the debut event of the combined IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship at Daytona International Speedway. “I was there with Memo for a week in the hospital and it reminded me how vulnerable we all are and what a chance drivers take every time they go out on the track.”

GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing suspended operations last Feb. 25, one month after Gidley’s crash less than three hours into the Rolex 24, North America’s premier endurance event. After exploring opportunities in the TUDOR, Verizon IndyCar and various NASCAR series, Stallings and his corporate partners opted to field a car in the Pirelli World Challenge’s GTS class. The newest No. 99 “Red Dragon” will be a performance version of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe driven by Jon Fogarty, a veteran of the team’s two GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype championships.

Stallings said second-generation star Alex Gurney, Fogarty’s partner for those DP titles in 2007 and 2009,

Jon Fogarty returns with the 'Red Dragon'. (File photo courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Racing Series)

was offered an opportunity to continue with the team. But Gurney has opted to remain involved with the various auto and motorcycle ventures under way at All American Racers, the Southern California company founded by father Dan Gurney, a world-class racer/innovator, as well as brother/CEO Justin.

“Both Alex and Jon are like my sons,” Stallings said during a phone interview with RacinToday.com. “Jon’s a very solid guy, so I’m glad he’s going to be with us.

“We’re going to learn sedan racing in the GTS class and then likely move up to the top class (GT).” That learning curve could take as long as two years, Stallings said, given that the team will be developing the V6-powered Hyundai from scratch.

“No one’s ever homologated this Genesis Coupe,” Stallings said. “My ambition is sometime around the first week of March to start testing the car. They (World Challenge) do the best they can to be representative of the car being made (for the public). But if you want to compete and win, it has to be a proper race car. It’s a little different than the car on the showroom.”

Faced with that task, Stallings said the team will skip the first two rounds/four races of the 2015 schedule – the season-opener at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, on March 6 and 8 and the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 27 and 29. Stallings is aiming to debut at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., for Rounds 5 and 6 of GTS on April 24 and 26.

“We want to learn as much as we can about the series, what it takes to be successful there, just to get a good handle on what’s going on there,” Stallings said. “I also own a Hyundai dealership and I’m on the dealer council and the factory has a lot of interest in building performance cars.”

Stallings does not consider the move from top-of-the-line Prototype racing to a sedan-based series as a step-down in competition. And he is not thumbing his nose at the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, a result of the merger between the GRAND-AM and American Le Mans Series.

“I have a long-term vision for racing,” Stallings said. ”And although I’m the primary owner of the insurance

Bob Stallings will bring back his team for 2015. (File photo courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Series)

company that’s our primary sponsor, I don’t own the whole thing. I have a tendency to stay out of the meetings when GAINSCO decides what they want to do. They came to me and said, ‘We think we need to stay in racing…and if we want to go, will you go pro again?’

“I said I wanted to race. I had taken a look at IndyCar and also had more than a passing interest in something in NASCAR, and the sports car series because I love the competition of the Prototypes.”

Andy Jordan, GAINSCO’s senior vice president of marketing and business development, informed Stallings management wanted to compete in either IndyCar or the Pirelli World Challenge. “I told them that with the budget they had we wouldn’t win in IndyCar – we’d have fun and hang-out but we wouldn’t win.

“The Pirelli World Challenge had a number of characteristics that the marketing department was interested in. The fan and spectator interest in racing that lasts an hour…based on their research, there’s a wider audience and a more interested fan base than races that last for three hours. So many people – the Millenials – don’t have three hours-worth of attention to give. GAINSCO has 9,000 independent insurance agents and they bring a lot of those agents to each event. I’ve seen where in a three-hour race, about an hour-and-a half into it, they were at the bar. The idea is to keep them interested.

“From my point of view, I watched a bunch of their (World Challenge) races and it’s pretty intense. Reminded me of the Atlantic Series, and you fought like the dickens for 55 minutes. The crowd is pretty intense, too. There’s a lot to it.”

In addition to Fogarty, key returning personnel are team manager Terry Wilbert and technical director John Ward. Fogarty, who joined GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing early in the 2006 season, scored his 16th and most recent victory at COTA on March 2, 2013, after qualifying on-pole. Fogarty holds the record for most GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series poles with 25.

“I‘m super-excited to be back racing again with GAINSCO and the Bob Stallings team,” said Fogarty, a 39-year-old resident of Bend, Ore. “The chance to run again with the group that has been such a huge part of my career is great and I’m looking forward to adding to the history of the team and the Red Dragon. I know there’ll be a learning curve with a new car, new format and new series, but part of me feels as though I’m returning to a place I’m very familiar with – sprint format races. The shorter race distance and the fact that we’ll have a GT-only field will be much like my Atlantic days.” Counting his two Daytona Prototype titles, Fogarty captured four professional championships in the span of seven years. He also won the 2002 and 2004 Toyota Atlantic Championships.

Bob Stallings Racing was formed in 2001 and entered the professional sports car ranks in 2005, with Gurney and Fogarty quickly establishing the team as a road-racing juggernaut. The pair posted 16 victories, 31 poles and a pair of Daytona Prototype championships in 112 races over nine seasons.

Gurney qualified the No. 99 Corvette DP on-pole for last January’s Rolex 24 at DIS, where he was teamed with an all-star lineup featuring Fogarty, Gidley and Darren Law. Gurney then started a race that went horribly wrong less than three hours into the 52nd edition of the twice-around-the-clock classic.

Gidley was running in fourth down a high-speed section of the 3.56-mile “roval” between Turns 3 and 4 –and heading into the sun – when he slammed into the No. 62 Ferrari driven by Matteo Malucelli. Moments before the impact, Malucelli – teamed with Olivier Beretta, Giancarlo Fisichella and Gianmaria Bruni – radioed to his pits that the Prancing Horse had lost power and he was pulling over to the left.

Upon impact, the No. 99 Corvette sustained massive front-end damage. The race was red-flagged as emergency personnel worked through a debris field to remove both drivers from their cars.

An experienced CART open-wheel and sports car driver, Gidley was awake despite suffering fractures to his lower back, left arm, left leg and left heel. He underwent three surgeries at Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach over the five days following the crash.

“John Ward, my engineer, he’s seen everything in racing. And for the first 20 minutes we weren’t sure if Memo was alive,” Stallings said. “We could see the camera on him as they tried to cut him out of the car and he wasn’t moving. I kept calling him over the radio and John finally came over and said, ‘Bob, there’s a good chance he can’t hear you and never will answer you.’ Pretty devastating experience.

“Everyone associated with my team was really moved emotionally by what happened to Memo. And it drained everyone pretty deeply, especially me. I just decided that if we tried to continue racing our hearts probably wouldn’t be in it, as much as it needs to be for the championship. And it’s never been my desire to be in any competition unless we had a good chance to win. I thought our team was not at a place where…it didn’t strike me we were in a position to win.”

Stallings said Gidley’s rehab is ongoing, albeit at a pace slower than he is accustomed. “His doctor told me there was uncertainty related to how long it would take,” Stallings said. “He also told me that because of what happened to Memo’s back there might be complications, and there have been complications. But he’s in good spirits and he’s doing better.

“The last 60 days have been very good for him. He’s still not in a position where he can have the exercise regimen he’s used to but he’s getting better with each day. His desire and expectation is that he’ll be back racing…and I certainly hope that’s the case.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 25 2014
7 Comments

7 Comments »

  • Ken says:

    Clearly, Alex Gurney knows minor league racing when he sees it, and it’s only a matter of time before Fogarty gets a better offer he can’t refuse. It’s a sad day for #99 Red Dragon fans.

  • mitch says:

    Please don’t call the import the Red Dragon. Good luck with your new car. Very disappointed as I really missed watching the real Red Dragon this past year.

  • Pete says:

    Such a shame they won’t be back in prototype racing next year.

  • dee maynard says:

    GO GAINSCO!

  • Barth says:

    Its not the Red Dragon. It’s disrespectful to use such an iconic name on such a crappy car. If you can’t race cut Fogarty loose and let him find a real ride.

    • Ken says:

      Agreed…..If it’s not a red 99 prototype, I will have to find another team to pull for in the IMSA/Tudor series.