Pop quiz for all you Formula 1 geeks out there: Who's won the most Monaco Grands Prix? Graham Hill? Nope. Ayrton Senna? Sorry. Michael Schumacher? Try again. Juan Manuel Fangio? Getting colder. Tazio Nuvolari? Now you're just guessing. The correct answer is Duncan Dayton.
OK, so that was a trick question. Each of his eight victories came in the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, and nobody's going to confuse Dayton with the Brabhams and Andrettis who originally drove the cars he now races in vintage events. But Dayton recently embarked on a new career - as an American Le Mans Series team owner - and his success may earn him a spot alongside another set of motorsports heroes.
"I want to emulate Lance Reventlow, Jim Kimberly, Briggs Cunningham, Bob Akin, Rob Dyson, Roger Penske - privateers who took it to the Europeans on their own soil and did an amazing job," Dayton says. "But these days, to be successful at the highest level, you need factory support. So two years ago, I went to Acura and told them: 'You guys don't know me from Adam. But I'm going to win Le Mans in the next ten years, and I hope it's with you as opposed to against you.' Six weeks later, we signed a contract."
Acura hasn't committed itself to racing at Le Mans - yet. But the company selected Dayton's little-known Highcroft Racing operation to be one of four teams to fly Acura's flag in ALMS competition. Last year, Highcroft scored four class wins, more than the three other Acura teams combined. As a reward, Acura named Highcroft one of the two teams that will campaign its brand-new LMP1 cars - the top of the ALMS pyramid - this year.
"We looked at the existing teams and a few other teams that had either an existing sports car program or the ability to create one," says Erik Berkman, president of Honda Performance Development, American Honda's racing arm. "Duncan's got a passion for racing, and he was aggressive in getting the Acura business. He dreams of going to Le Mans, and, ultimately, we dream about that, too. Also, he's gotten to where he is today in a different way than any of his competitors, and you've got to respect that."
Vintage racing is often the final port of call for affluent drivers looking for a relaxing environment where - especially here in America - cutthroat competition is actively discouraged. Dayton, 49, stockily built, engaging, and articulate, is rare, if not unique, in that he used vintage racing as a springboard to a career in the uppermost echelons of professional motorsports. And make no mistake: he's not just a rich guy with an overdeveloped ego looking to play Ron Dennis for a few years before moving on to hydroplanes or climbing Mount Everest or building a lavish hideaway in Fiji.