Pickett Makes the Transition
Greg Pickett is one of the most popular and well-respected people in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón paddock. Actually, he’s one of the most popular and well-respected personalities in the entire North American road racing community. He’s a genuine nice guy who has been around the sport a long time – softly spoken but always approachable and usually smiling.
Pickett has a firm grasp on the sport’s rich history and is (or rather was) one heck of a race car driver, too. He raced only twice last year – at Sebring and Petit Le Mans – but is now, at age 65, happily retired as a professional race car driver. He is – as he confirmed during an enlightening chat on the phone earlier this week – thoroughly enjoying his new-found role as a team owner.
Pickett began racing relatively late at the age of 25, but it wasn’t long before he made his presence felt in the SCCA ranks on the West Coast. He sprung to prominence firstly in 1974, driving an ex-Chaparral Camaro, and finished third in his very first professional race – a Trans-Am event at Road America in ’76. He went on to become one of the most successful Trans-Am drivers of all time, claiming the championship in 1978 with a Greenwood Corvette and notching up many more successes over a career that spanned four decades.
After taking a sabbatical to concentrate on building up his Cytomax/Muscle Milk business, Pickett returned to the Trans-Am ranks in the 2000s and scored a memorable win at Edmonton in 2005. Two years later, he re-established his own team to move into the American Le Mans Series with a P1 Lola in partnership with good friend and fellow former Trans-Am champion Klaus Graf. An initial toe-in-the-water exercise grew into the fulfillment of a life-long dream with a foray to the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 2008, followed by a full-time assault on the ALMS from midway through the 2009 season. Since then his Muscle Milk team has established itself as a front-line operation.
Despite the fact he was already well into his 60s, Pickett remained competitive behind the wheel. He and Graf claimed a well-deserved victory at Sebring in 2010, added another at Lime Rock, and even though business commitments forced Pickett to skip one race, his German co-driver remained very much in contention for the championship until a mechanical failure pitched Pickett and his beloved Porsche RS Spyder into a terrifying accident at the end of the long main straightaway at Mid-Ohio. Pickett himself was extremely fortunate to emerge with only minor injuries, but they were enough to keep him on the sidelines for the remainder of the season.
Pickett readily admits that, at the time, he wasn’t sure what the future would hold so far as his racing was concerned. He had made the commitment to continue the title quest with Graf, who was assisted by various Porsche factory drivers; although that challenge ultimately fell a little short, Pickett, to his surprise, found he was enjoying his new role as "merely" a team owner.
"I was able to spend the next couple of races with Timo Bernhard as Klaus’ teammate at Elkhart Lake and Romain Dumas at Mosport, with Klaus really dominating that event, and it was my wife (Penny), actually, on our trip home after those events, she said, ‘Greg, how are you doing? It seems to me that you’re feeling pretty good about things. You seem to be very happy and enthused at the track.’ And she said that ‘I know you really hadn’t contemplated doing this for a while but it seems to me that you’re doing really well.’
"I hadn’t really stopped to think about it until then," says Pickett, "and I said to myself, I really was enjoying it. I had the same camaraderie with the fellas (on the team), the boys – which is another thing I enjoy immensely. I was reading an article and saw a comment that said ‘Success not shared is failure,’ and I think there’s a lot of truth in that. Sharing success with other people as part of a team, there’s nothing quite like that in life. It really makes the thrill of victory, if you will, just that much sweeter when you share it with a whole group of people who are trying very hard to accomplish that same thing.
"I still had all of that with our win at Mosport, it was very satisfying, and so I actually began thinking that, you know, maybe this will be OK. Jeremy, I really can tell you that in the past I didn’t think that I would do that. I did not think the type of commitment – of time and energy and resources – that it takes to run at this level was something that I was going to get any satisfaction from when I wasn’t any longer participating behind the wheel. And I was wrong about that in my early observations. I must tell you that my transition is going really well. I’m enjoying it very much. I’m enjoying the challenge of putting together a world-class sports car operation very much and we’re well along our way in doing that, I think."
Pickett’s enthusiasm is infectious. He speaks quietly but with passion. And he’s not finished...
"I love my partnership with HPD," he continued. "You see, those kind of things, I wasn’t involved in those issues before. I’ve made a good friend in Nick Wirth and his boys from Wirth Research that actually built this great car, and Roger Griffith and the fellows from HPD. It’s just a whole different feeling now. We’re all trying real hard together and using my organizational skills, if you will, to try and pull that together and make it successful, I’m really enjoying it very much. I can tell you everything is good here with Greg Pickett and this transition!"
Happily, too, he harbors no regrets about the Mid-Ohio accident effectively precipitating the end of his driving career.
"No, I don’t think so. Come on, I had success. I was 63 years old when I won my last race (in 2010) with Klaus at Lime Rock – and by the way that was only against my great friend (Simon) Pagenaud, who’s driven for me now, and (David) Brabham, so you know, when you’re competing at that level and you succeed that long in your career....
"I think if you look back and you don’t feel fulfilled and very lucky and very happy about that, you need to get things a little bit more in perspective," he concludes with a chuckle.