Sports car racing legend John Bishop, the visionary co-founder of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), died Thursday in San Rafael, Calif. due to complications from a recent illness. He was 87.
Bishop co-founded IMSA in 1969 with his wife Peggy and Bill France Sr., after a surprise telephone “cold call” from France – also NASCAR’s founder – that resulted in a quick trip from Connecticut to Daytona Beach to discuss assembling a new sports car sanctioning organization in North America.
“Bill said he thought there was a need for a new organization, and that he thought I might be the person to run it,” Bishop said recently. “So, very quickly, I got down to Daytona. Bill and I met, we talked a lot, drank a lot of Scotch, talked a lot more and planned it out. Peggy and I didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.”
That wasn’t exactly true. Bishop already had a solid resume as an experienced sports car official with the Sports Car Club of America. In ‘69, he decided he wanted to leave that organization.
“I offered my resignation and the SCCA surprised me – they accepted it,” Bishop said.
With France’s financial assistance, the Bishops built IMSA into a premier sports car organization that peaked in the 1980s and ‘90s with the Camel-sponsored GT Series, featuring the fabulous GTP prototypes. Bishop sold IMSA in 1989, in part due to health issues. But he remained a vital part of sports car racing, with a lengthy tenure as commissioner of GRAND-AM Road Racing.
Earlier this year, it was announced that Bishop will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in August.