Welcome to the IMSA History unofficial website

This site is aimed at bringing you memories from the glory days of sportscar racing in the US.



John Bishop

After working at the SCCA for many years as chief executive director, John Bishop resigned in 1969. He had been involved in the internal disputes which tore the staff apart. The main point in these quarrels was focused on the way things had to be managed for the future. Most of the staff did not consider moving ahead towards professionalism, John Bishop's view was quite different. He suddenly realized he did not have any other viable option than to resign. He took some weeks off, after his resignation, and thought cautiously about his personal future. At first sight, he felt himself with no perspective at all, but his faith was kind of sealed, as Bill France called him one week later. They already knew each other and John Bishop thought he could get himself a job in NASCAR, but things appeared to be quite different.

It was a period of fast growing track construction throughout the US and there was a need for a new sanctioning body that would run a series and award prize money. This new body would be run as a professional organization. Bill France really thought John Bishop was the right man for ruling this kind of organization. So John Bishop and Bill France made the deal, and the new IMSA series was launched. John Bishop returned to Connecticut and created the name IMSA. The logo was his own creation. He rented some modest office space, set up an organisation plan and set about contracting plan for legal, banking and insurance. He was ready to set up the rules for competition. With a technical background, he was quite up to the task. The official date for IMSA's creation was 9th May 1969. IMSA set up its new offices in Fairfield, Connecticut, curiously not far away from the SCCA's headquarters. The very first IMSA employees were Edythe Hindle, secretary, Dick Gilmartin, publicity and Bob Zuehlke, technical director. John Bishop and his wife Peggy were ready for a new and exciting adventure. IMSA soon established membership and mailing list, and circulated entry forms and information in Competition Press.

The first professional series appeared to be Formula Ford and Formula Vee based. The very first race was scheduled for Pocono, in early october. It was the very first IMSA race in history. However, Pocono nearly failed to host the race as the SCCA theatened not to use the track for further events, which was kind of negative in terms of financial income for the track direction. Fortunately, things straightened out, and IMSA leased the track. John Bishop caught the auto racing bug while attending a Watkins Glen race in 1950. He worked at Sikorsky(copters) and then at Martin Company, Dave Allen, a SCCA executive would get in touch with him, while he offered his Volkswagen for sale. He would speak about a left position at the SCCA, which consisted in dealing with the "Contest Board" at the core of the SCCA. John Bishop accepted this request and settled in Westport, Connecticut. His rocketing career in auto racing had just taken off. His job was mainly to deal with the different classes which were involved in the SCCA. It was mainly a technical job. He would also deal with a lot of paper work(driving licence checking, entry registration etc...). He began to get acquainted by a lot of people, and this relationship he would acquire with these people would help a lot many years later. He would get along well with Jim Kimberly, the SCCA CEO, in spite of a very strong character.

In 1958, many changes would take place within the SCCA and elections would be set at the core of each region. a new position had been created : executive director, which was meant to manage the whole staff. This man, Hugo Rush, was the chief cause for Dave Allen's departure. His relationship with Hugo Rush was not always straightforward but the years he spent with him were very profitable because he learnt a lot . As soon as problems arose, they just had to talk about aircraft and everything would straighten down. He would gain an invaluable experience at dealing with all kind of problems. He would appear as a good manager, and dealing with people seemed to be as natural as dealing with his day-to-day job. The dissents within the SCCA will provoke Hugo Rush's departure. One of the main point was the direction the SCCA was to take. A crucial decision was to be taken towards professionalism. John Bishop would be appointed to the job of executive director.

Now in charge of the new SCCA Pro organisation, he was now to virtually rewrite every technical rule. He was perfectly suited to the task. He was also in charge of the amateur rules and he was not under worked, for sure. rom 1962, the SCCA would have to deal with some of the most prestigious races : Daytona, Sebring, Bridgehampton and Watkins Glen and the US Grand Prix. The creation of the new USRRC Championship (for sportscars) emonstrated his ability to get back events which were kind of stolen by the USAC. His agenda was overbooked and he also demonstrated his working capacity. The SCCA was on its way to professionalism and the creation of the TransAm as well as the CanAm proved that it was running on the right trail. He was one of the main actor in developing them. The FIA would delegate its powers to the ACCUS and, by this fact, John Bishop worked to the elaboration of the FIA rules. He was also a member of various technical commissions, which were to elaborate various technical rules for these types of cars. The SCCA dominance, up to this moment, was at his peak. In 1968, members in charge of the Can Am, Trans Am and USRRC management wished to have it their own way, and John Bishop, as to oppose them as an advocate of the current system . Quarrels became much more personal.

En 1969, the staff, well supported by some big names, carried its point. From that moment, John Bishop had no other choice : he resigned. He had to face a new dilemna : he was to think about his future. It was during thus reflection period that he got a phone call from Bill France, the NASCAR boss, who sent him an invitation at Daytona in order to "drink Scotch, go fishing and talk", dixit Bill. He knew that John had left the SCCA and he had in mind a new organisation. A lot of new tracks were being built and it was the time to promote new events... and a new race series.
Conditions were fit to do so. Bill France knew that John as the man up to the job and he wanted to launch his career : he gave him full powers. John did accept his proposal. This organisation would be professionally run, with prices awarded to every entrant, and it would be managed as a professional entity. Bill France could lend him the money and give him full autonomy. The NASCAR would own three quarters of the share and John one quarter. He went back to Connecticut, rented a modest office. At this time, he created the International Motor Sport Association, designed the famous logo, shaped up the future of the organisation got in touch with banks and insurance companies. He had to deal the judicial aspects of the organisation.

He set to work to carve the new IMSA rules. He soon hired his former secretary Edythe Hindle, then Bob Gilmartin, who would take care of the advertising, and Bob Zuehlke as technical director. IMSA was offcially born on 9th may 1969. John Bishop wanted to craft technical rules which would be easily understandable, while accurate and obvious. The SCCA would feel rancour when IMSA settled in Fairfield, Connecticut, not far away from its headquarters. Some papers would spread, threatening its members with penalties if ever they would enter any IMSA race. IMSA would then promote oneself sing the local press and inserting ads in papers such as "Competition Press". The very first series that IMSA could set was a Formula V and Formula Ford program. The first race took place at Pocono, Pennsylvania. The SCCA, once again, showed some kind of remorsefulness and threatened the track direction to withdraw its eligibility for the next SCCA events. Hopefully, it didn't happen, and Pocono could rent the track, for an extra $10000 for this very first race. John Bishop knew that if IMSA should undergo such pressures, his credibility would be at a great risk, so he lent more money in order to rent Pocono.

The race took place in a family mood, and the race finally was a relative success without any trouble. 328 spectators attended this inaugural event. This race was won Jim Clark from Michigan(not the Formula 1 driver, who died two years earlier), with 23 drivers amongst whom some of them would become some top drivers in the next few years. One could watch Fred Opert, Carson Baird or Skip Barber, to name a few. Tech inspection took place in the paddock and the women dealing with the registration would proffer donuts to the entrants. One month later, a second race took place at Talladega, Alabama and one could see that word of mouth had spread; because you could see nice fields of Formula Ford, Vee or sedans. Every racer could enjoy his ride but the attendance didn't reach the 500 people mark.

The very first season was over; but IMSA was looking forward to the next one, with 10 races on the agenda. Bill France, who was undergoing financial setbacks, would withdraw his share of investments but he would bring some new people. They would purchase his shares Bill France and made a good deal. The 1970 season was launched, but the races did not attract the crowds, and only the races tied with the NASCAR ones, it looked like the spectators were taken as hostages. Some accidents took place, but nothing serious. It was obvious that the the formula racers were not the way to go. Suddenly, John Bishop, while thinking about a solution to his problem, remembered his commitment to crafting the FIA appendice J rules. Those were dealing with the World Championship for Makes cars. He realized that something was clear : aside Daytona, Sebring and Watkins Glen, the cars involved in those races had no other championship to race in. By the end of the 1970 season, a GT Championship was announced. The cars would be group 2 and 4, Touring and GT FIA cars. The cars would be Corvette, Camaro, Mustang, Porsche 911 and 914, Alfa Romeo as well as any other cars. Races would be long enough to give everyone a chance at winning. This annoucement was cheered by Joseph Hoppen, Porsche-Audi CEO, who felt that his cars could shine.

The future proved him right.The IMSA had all the elements to produce a great series and a great series it became. John Bishop was the right man in the right place, and he used his former skills to manage his championship, and he did it as a great manager. His talent was to comprehend every aspect of his commitment . His relationship with the drivers or race partners definitely proved that he knew exactly what he did, and he mastered every aspect of an auto racing organisation. He kept listening to the drivers, mechanics or teams, he was able to let sometimes little glitches flow, and he knew how to gain everyone's respect.