"As I was about to send it off, I said, 'This is complete bullshit, and they're going to see right through it,' " Dayton recalls. "So I threw it in the garbage and took a framed photograph - a beautiful professional photograph - of our building, and I wrote Robert a three-sentence letter: 'Thanks very much for the opportunity to submit an RFP, but I'm at a loss for words, because I've never dealt with a manufacturer before. So to use an old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words. If you like what you see, give us a call.' "
Clarke was looking for young, moldable teams, and he knew that Dayton had the requisite drive and resources. So he not only gave him a call, he gave him a car. At Sebring, in Highcroft's first race with the new Acura, Dayton stunned the team's hired guns, F1 veterans David Brabham and Stefan Johansson, by lapping nearly as quickly as they were. "At one point in the race," Brabham says, "he was going quicker than Tony Kanaan." Kanaan, by the way, went on to win the LMP2 class at Sebring in another Acura.
This was good for Dayton's ego but worrisome to Honda, and Clarke felt compelled to have what he calls "a very blunt" conversation with Dayton. "I said, 'For you not just to succeed but to excel, you have to put all of your efforts into being an owner,' " Clarke says. "He's a very talented driver, and part of his dream was participating as a driver, so I think getting out of the car was a very difficult decision for him."
But Dayton understood the situation. In an ultracompetitive environment where even proven professionals such as Bryan Herta and Christian Fittipaldi were getting dumped, there was no place for a middle-aged gentleman driver, no matter how talented. The decision to climb out of the cockpit was eased by a freak accident in his pool, which left Dayton with a broken neck that kept him out of commission for several months. Even now, he's not sure his mended vertebrae could withstand the tremendous g-forces generated by a prototype. And to be honest, he gets more driving pleasure from old cars than new ones.
"The new cars are clearly better weapons, but they're not as romantic," he explains. "An old car is sliding. It's creaking and groaning. It's got more personality, and it's more joyful to drive. To drift a front-engine grand prix car through Curva Grande at Monza is cooler to me than driving [a prototype] flat in sixth gear through turn 1 at Sebring. But there is an equal if not greater satisfaction that I take in having been able to put this team together. Running a team is a much more multifaceted challenge than simply driving a car quickly."