Even at a glance during a preseason test at Sebring, it's impossible to miss the fastidious, if not fanatical, attention to detail that Dayton brings to the Highcroft operation. The star attraction, naturally, is the supersexy Acura prototype. ("We've got more technology in our steering wheels than NASCAR has in its entire paddock," Dayton says.) It's being tended to by twenty mechanics and engineers with résumés stretching from vintage racing to F1. The car, transporter, tent, team uniforms, and signage all bear the striking black, blue, and lime-green livery of title sponsor Patrón Tequila. Even the color-coordinated trio of team motorbikes is parked with military precision.
"Duncan's got a tremendous passion for the sport," says Scott Sharp, who joined Highcroft last year and who will team again with co-driver David Brabham in 2009. "He has the wherewithal to do just about anything he wants, but he eats, drinks, and sleeps racing, and he'll do whatever it takes to win.
Patrón and I got really lucky when we stumbled onto him."
This is high praise for a guy who'd never even sat in a race car until he was thirty-one years old. Dayton dates his love affair with racing to seeing the stunning split-screen opening credits of the 1966 movie Grand Prix when he was an impressionable boy of eight. Growing up in Minneapolis (in the Highcroft neighborhood), he spent countless hours fooling around in go-karts and driving on frozen lakes in his mother's Ford Gra-nada. But his father, Ken, was the CEO of the retail empire now known as Target, and the family had a long history of philanthropy and supporting the arts, so the notion of making a career out of racing, much less racing himself, never occurred to Dayton.
Instead, he studied architecture and went into business as a real-estate developer. It was only later that he indulged his long-sublimated love for cars, first restoring a Ferrari Dino and then buying a Brabham BT29 Formula B car whose lithe, cigar-shaped body reminded him of the lovelies featured in Grand Prix. In his first vintage event, he qualified on the pole and finished second, and then he was off to the races - literally.
Over the years, Dayton has amassed a world-class stable of collectibles, including F1 cars such as a Brabham BT33 raced by Black Jack himself, an ex-Graham Hill Lotus 16, and, most iconic of all, the Lotus 79 that Mario Andretti drove to the 1978 world championship. Dayton himself matured into perhaps America's most celebrated vintage racer, winning races on four continents. But inevitably, he grew tired of being a big fish in a small pond. So he and his friend Michael Fitzgerald - another vintage racer who'd come late to the sport - teamed up to race Formula Ford 2000s in professional competition.