This weekend, the 24 Hours of Daytona race serves as a 50th anniversary party for IMSA, the International Motor Sports Association. Part of that celebration includes the official debut of a book — IMSA 1969-1989: The Inside Story of How John Bishop Built the World’s Greatest Sports Car Racing Series, written by Mitch Bishop and Mark Raffauf.
The authors know of what they write. Mitch Bishop is John Bishop’s son and Mark Raffauf started working for IMSA as a 16-year-old and worked his way to become the sanctioning body’s president, and still serves as senior director of race operations.
At least three things are very impressive about this book:
For one, the book is physically impressive. It is huge, a large-format, coffee-table volume printed on heavy paper stock and with lots of period photographs.
For another, the book not only doesn’t hide the fact that several IMSA racing teams funded their cars with illicit drug money, it devotes a full chapter, Chapter 10, to the subject under the chapter title of “Bad Boys: Drugs, Money, & Racing.”
For yet another, the book tells the fascinating if rather tragic story of John Bishop and his family, and details “Big” Bill France’s role in helping John Bishop launch the sports car racing group — and the irony, decades later, and long after Bishop sold his interest in the organization, of IMSA rallying being enfolded into the France family/NASCAR network.
I used to be a daily newspaper sports writer who covered the motorsports beat, and then was motorsports editor at AutoWeek magazine. I covered IMSA races, and edited dozens of stories about them, but without knowing the amazing story of John Bishop, or even of how significant France’s role was in getting IMSA started.
How’s this for a fascinating family? Back in 1692, Bridget Bishop was charged with witchcraft and was hanged in Salem, Massachusetts. Later, there were great aunts who hated each other but lived upstairs and down in the same home in Vermont; the one upstairs had the controls to the water supply and the one downstairs to the heating system and, while bickering, each would shut off the other’s supply.
John Bishop grew up sharing his father’s love of airplanes but for health reasons could not become a pilot in the Army Air Corps in World War II. Instead, he served on ships in the Pacific theater as a Naval radio operator, returning home after the war, married and started a family, and college on the GI Bill, though his studies in industrial design at Syracuse University were interrupted by a return to active duty during the Korean War.
When friends invited the Bishops to watch sports car races at nearby Watkins Glen, New York, he discovered the wonders of the competition. Before long, while working as a designer in the aircraft industry, he was recruited to join the staff of the Sports Car Club of America, where he realized that a not-for-profit organization that disdained professional racing — even though it sanctioned it in the form of the Trans Am and Can-Am series — wasn’t going to work on a long-term basis.
With encouragement — and a loan — from “Big” Bill France, Bishop and his wife, Peggy, launched IMSA, and the rest is motorsports history, history that fills this huge and well written and well-presented book.
Oh, actually, there’s at least a fourth thing the authors did that impressed me: They credit D. C. Williams for working with Raffauf to come up with the original idea for the book back in 2009, and for conducting a series of interviews with key people that provided a foundation for the text.
IMSA 1969-1989: The Inside Story of How John Bishop Built the World’s Greatest Sports Car Racing Series
By Mitch Bishop and Mark Raffauf
Octane Press, 2019