Michelin’s IMSA Dealers, Pt. 2

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Following Part 1 that was published last week, Michelin continues its in-depth interviews with three of the most successful current IMSA car dealers, Ben Keating, Paul Miller, and Bobby Rahal.

Q: You have all been in sports cars a long time. What is the part of sports cars, IMSA, and endurance racing that you like best?

Paul Miller: “The long endurance races have so much prestige. It’s such a high bar to be able to compete at this level, even in the lowly GTD class.”

Bobby Rahal: (interjecting) “It’s not so lowly anymore.” (laughter)

PM: “But it’s about to get promoted because of the Pro-Pro class coming our way. It is so prestigious and so tough with the competition, which is just tremendous. I just love the competition and I have for years. I am way more successful as a car owner than I ever was as a driver! Unlike Bobby here (laughter). My experience is completely different than his.”

BR: “A lot of it stems from my father. He was an SCCA racer, like Paul was. That is what I grew up around. Racing here at Sebring, 1969-1971, then the Watkins Glen 6-hour… those years may have been the greatest years of sports car racing with the Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512, and that whole era.

“I was always captivated by that anyway. Even when I started racing, I started (in) sports cars even before I got into Indy car. I was part of the team that won Daytona in 1981. I always felt it was important to drive as many different cars as you could.

“The great drivers I respected were successful no matter where they went. I said this the other day to someone when I was being interviewed, that when I won here in ’87, for me, personally, that was the most satisfying race in my career.

“Not Indy. Because of my experience with my father here in those years when I was a 16, 17, 18-year-old teenager.

“Sebring has always held a special place in my heart. It is as important as going to Le Mans.

“Growing up, these are the races. Even after I started Indy car, I still kept driving sports car for quite a while. I love sports car racing. I love the endurance racing. I think all races should be six hours at least, but that’s a personal thought! It is great racing.

“The manufacturers, the industry support is second-to-none. And that’s why I worked so hard for this relationship with BMW started 15 years ago, because I felt we needed to be in this environment.”

Ben Keating: “The best part of racing are the relationships with the people. It is all competitive, but very respectful of each other. Generally, the relationships are great.

“There are not many a-holes in the paddock. They stick out like sore thumbs… they don’t last long because eventually the environment isn’t comfortable for people like that.

“I enjoy being with the racers. Most of us are grateful for the opportunity to be there, to be in the paddock.

“I’m very particular about who I race with. With Viper, I had my own team and my own cars. One difference vs. Paul and Bobby. Paul is a great dealer, and a good friend. I get along well with Paul.

“Paul gets his thrill from putting the team and people together to be successful.

“Bobby was a successful driver, then team owner. I get the thrill from driving and my own personal performance.

“I’ve always felt I have to work to make myself better, competing against myself. If it is not fun, I am not doing it. Right now, I do not want to own a team. I want to show up, drive, and go home. That is where the fun is.

“It is unbelievable there is a sport for pro-ams, a platform to be on the same stage at big time, big events.

“I am a 49-year-old car dealer and can win a major event. I can compete at Daytona, Le Mans or Sebring. There are times where the responsibility is on my shoulders.

“That is the equivalent of catching a TD pass from Tom Brady to win the game. Not many get that opportunity. You can play pro/am golf days, but you can’t partner with the pro in the middle of the Masters.

“I love the drama that unfolds in a long race and how I am involved with my team. I put together the best program of co-drivers and want to be around people I can have fun with. I might perform well on a certain day, car, or track, and then two others get in and defy the laws of physics! Nothing is as good as endurance racing.

“The learning process is a major step over seven years. I love all the data with my engineering background. I can also see age starting to appear. This year I am wearing glasses under my helmet for the first time behind the wheel.

“I think I am in the sweet spot of my career.”

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