John Doonan

New IMSA President John Doonan living out a second boyhood dream

The former director of motorsports for Mazda North America Operations John Doonan “finally” saw cars on track as he officially started his third day as the new president of IMSA.

He admitted that watching while in his new role is a bit of an adjustment.

“Little different not having a specific horse in the race,” Doonan said while speaking with media at Daytona International Speedway on the opening day of the Road Before the Rolex 24. “I sat back in my office for the first time all weekend and watched the first session quietly because I didn’t want to show any emotion on pit road for anybody in particular.

“I explained to some people who don’t necessarily understand sports car racing that I used to be responsible for the elephants in the circus, now I’m responsible for the whole circus.”

Being responsible for the whole circus means he gets a chance to expand on what has already been a dream career in motorsports as he takes over the reigns from the now-retired Scott Atherton.

“It was an awesome journey, a boyhood dream to work for Mazda,” said Doonan, who began working alongside Atherton and transitioning to his new role with the sanctioning body in October. “Several people in the garage area said I can’t believe you’re wearing a different shirt.

“But rarely do you get to live out two boyhood dreams. In February of ’79, I was sitting in my living room with my family, at that time there were just regular, I don’t even think it was hourly, I think it was every six or eight hours they gave some updates from Daytona and the Rolex 24. To imagine being a young person like that, I spoke about being that next generation of wanting to be somehow in the game or be part of the action. And now to have had the opportunities I’ve had at Mazda and now to come here, it’s really hard to explain.”

For a leader who started in the sport as a fan, it’s especially important to Doonan that he helps lead IMSA on a path that grows the audience of the sport he has a great passion for. And he knows he can’t do it alone.

“We – as a collective, and I continue to use the word ‘we’ and that’s not just ‘we’ IMSA, it’s ‘we’ the team owners, ‘we’ the drivers, ‘we’ the media – need to do our ever best to continue to grow our platforms and to grow our value,” Doonan asserted. “For me, it starts with our audience.”

“I think growing the audience, growing the outreach of how people can take in the IMSA content is critical. We also need to look at our audience, especially the younger generation.”

That will include developing initiatives to encourage fans to follow along with IMSA in new ways, such as through eSports or platforms like the newly launched TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

Another key tenet of Doonan’s leadership will be preserving and elevating the values on which the France and Bishop families founded IMSA.

“I’m honored to work for the France family,” he said. “I had a chance to talk with Jim France and then called Mitch Bishop. I said to both of them, IMSA was founded on a set of values that would allow racers, drivers, manufacturers to go racing on a variety of levels. It would be my personal goal to make that those original value statements of what IMSA was founded on are carried through to today.

“I think without a doubt the staff at IMSA has done that with a lot of passion. A lot of professionalism. And I’m here and fortunate enough to be the next caretaker of it.”