Remembering IMSA co-founder John Bishop
IMSA co-founder John Bishop passed away Thursday. Here's Anne Proffit to tell the story of a man who did so much for North American sports car racing.
John Bishop died on Thursday, June 5 at the age of 87. We hadn’t seen much of the man who started the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) together with his late wife, Peg and the late Big Bill France, father of NASCAR, as Bishop fell prey to illnesses that define old age.
Yet anyone that loves America’s brand of sports car racing owes Bishop a debt. Essentially shoved out of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) during an inevitable 1969 war of philosophies, Bishop received a surprise call from France who said he’d back the Massachusetts-born Bishop in beginning a new series to conduct professional sports car racing. Thus IMSA was born with John and Peg Bishiop co-owing the organization with Bill France. IMSA’s first race took place at the Tricky Triangle, Pocono International Raceway and hosted Formula Vee and Formula Ford; the first sports car IMSA race occurred at Daytona International Speedway.
During this time IMSA thrived and grew with its Camel GT Challenge series that made Peter Gregg, Al Holbert, John Greenwood and Hurley Haywood racing stars. Manufacturers such as Porsche and BMW sought to increase market share by participating in IMSA’s Camel GT, joined later by Audi, Ford, Jaguar, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota (among others). With the help of expanding television coverage, the series grew to a level of importance that hasn’t been seen in sports car racing since the mid-to-late 1980s, when IMSA’s GTP prototypes ruled the grids.
The Bishop family ruled IMSA with an essential tight fist, helped along by initial chief steward Charlie Rainville. They propagated the idea of professional sports car racing and made IMSA THE series in which to compete on the North American continent. Despite his often authoritarian mannerisms, John Bishop’s IMSA felt ruled with fairness, congeniality and efficiency.
Still very much a series on ascension when Bishop called me, in 1973 with the idea of starting a commercial newsletter called the IMSA Arrow, I became the first editor/production/circulation and advertising director of the newsletter early in 1974. I felt privileged to work in that converted Fairfield, CT house, plucked from Stamford, CT’s Modern Brewery Age trade publication for this job that catered to my love of racing.
John and Peg Bishop were my mentors and made me the writer and photographer I am today, just as they fueled the careers of the team owners, drivers and crew members whose names ring the annals of professional sports car racing. When it became difficult to find permanent venues on which to race, the Bishops went to city streets and brought their brand of sports entertainment to the fans, who embraced IMSA as their own.
Toward the end of the 1980s, John and Peg Bishop sold IMSA, but their mark remained clearly evident throughout the organization’s life - and continues to this day with the TUDOR United Sports Car Series, owned in part by Big Bill France’s son Jim and sanctioned by IMSA. Peg Bishop passed away in August of 2013 and, with his partner no longer at his side, John’s imminent decline continued.
John Bishop died in San Rafael, California, survived by son Mitch, daughter-in-law Julia, four granddaughters, brother Peter Bishop and sister Ruth Rodger. While funeral arrangements are pending, any donations in Bishop’s honor may be made to the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen, NY.
Adieu John and Peg Bishop - we’ll miss you greatly.
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