Dayton was just as fast - and sometimes faster - than the young lions who were climbing the formula-car ladder. "Duncan was especially good on ovals," Fitzgerald recalls. "He beat Buddy Rice. He repeatedly beat Sam Hornish. He could have raced at Indy. Honestly, I think both of us could have been professional drivers if we'd started earlier. I think we would have been Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves."
Seeing several friends - including Fitzgerald - break their backs in wrecks on ovals persuaded Dayton to shelve his dream of racing in the Indianapolis 500. Instead, he focused on sports cars, racing as a paying driver in Grand-Am and ALMS and competing at Le Mans four times. Although he scored class wins at Sebring and Petit Le Mans, he eventually realized that stepping up to the next class would require a much more serious investment of time, money, and personal responsibility.
Dayton formulated a five-year plan that he articulated to ALMS president Scott Atherton during a meeting in a Las Vegas hotel room. In 2005, Dayton said, he was going to build a race shop and administrative offices. In 2006, he planned to buy an existing chassis. In 2007, he wanted to attract manufacturer support. In 2008, he intended to secure a title sponsor. In 2009, he expected to move up to LMP1. And for 2010, the goal was Le Mans. "I thought, 'Wow, that's ambitious,' " Atherton recalls. Dayton spent millions, if not tens of millions, of his own dollars getting the team off the ground. But he's right on schedule with what he calls a "sustainable" program funded by sponsorship and factory backing.
He began by helping design and build a stunning 48,000-square-foot modernist facility for Highcroft Racing in Danbury, Connecticut, that's unlike any race shop in America. Then, he amassed a top-flight group ranging from team manager Robin Hill, formerly of the Target Chip Ganassi Champ Car program, to technical director Dave Luckett, who had been the chief mechanic for the Shadow and Arrows F1 teams, to longtime mechanic Glenn Taylor, who had wrenched on the BT29 that Dayton drove in his first vintage race.
Highcroft Racing debuted as an entrant with an old Lola bought from Rob Dyson, and although it wasn't competitive, the car gave Dayton the credibility he needed to wrangle a meeting with Honda Performance Development about an Acura LMP2 deal. Robert Clarke, HPD president at the time, was impressed enough to request a formal bid. On a tight deadline, Dayton and his friend Danny Sullivan, the 1985 Indy 500 winner, spent two days writing a forty-page proposal.