Mike Petersen & Dale White
Messrs. Petersen-White Lightning
set up this interview for Petit Le Mans week, through the good services
of Petersen-White Lightning PR man Tom Moore. The team name is one
we use repeatedly, ALMS race after ALMS race…but who are Mike
Petersen (right) and Dale White? It was actually a hilarious start
to the interview…. “Well, we met a long time ago, I
can’t remember when it was, can you? ….No, I can’t
either …It might have been in 1991” … but we eventually
managed to pin them down to some hard facts – with Tom Moore’s
So who are
they and where have they come from? How do they go racing? Why do
they go racing? The Ed. just prompted, but basically left them to
it, to tell the Petersen-White Lightning story.
I started in off-road racing, just as Dale did. I decided to have
a ‘pre-runner’ built, and was referred to Dale. I think
that was in ’91.
I was running an existing off-road team, and a highly competitive
one, based in Las Vegas, so the location was perfect for Mike.
So I agreed a deal for Dale to build me a car, and once I found
out that he was racing trucks, I decided that was what I wanted
We’ve raced together ever since. We did six years of off-road
racing together, and our wins in the ’98 and ’99 Baja
1000 races was the signal to do something else.
We won championships,
we won almost everything there was to win, and the team was getting
bigger and bigger. I suppose I was just overwhelmed by it.
So I suggested to Mike
that we went road racing. That was the best decision we ever made.
I needed to focus on one thing, with someone I could really work
It was time for a different challenge. We’d kicked some major
ass, and that was really satisfying.
(right): We were usually first at everything, so in that
respect it’s tough to come here to the ALMS.
We tried, and won in,
SCCA, Speedvision GTs, Trans Am – we loved the road racing,
but most of all we loved endurance road racing. Do you know, we
gave Alex (Job) one of his first professional wins? It was at Watkins
Glen, and he won GT3 and we won GT2 in a car that we bought from
Mike is the visionary, and he has lots of input. He’s very
good at looking at the bigger picture. He and I work really well
together, we complement each other perfectly. Mike is looking at
next year, while I’m looking at this afternoon.
We’re a very good pairing. Effectively he’s the COO
and I’m the CEO. The livery on the cars – they’re
all my companies.
I run a casino with several
family members, but although I have to work very hard at that side
of my life as well as the racing, that means I can pursue this passion
for as long as it takes. I can subsidise this nasty habit called
We talk on the ‘phone every day…
But I don’t want to be in the race shop every day, and I haven’t
got the time anyway.
Mike knows what it takes, he knows a lot of the details that go
on with the team. Mike probably knows more than any other guy writing
a check in this paddock. He is a part of it. He isn’t just
a show up and drive guy.
We did both series [ALMS and USRRC] initially, but when the split
came, we focused on the ALMS. At Laguna Seca in ’98, we were
running a Chevy – as the factory-supported Chevrolet team.
We talked then about the future, as we do all the time anyway, but
it was actually Mike’s Dad who suggested we ran a Porsche.
Was I ready to lay out the money on a Porsche? That needed some
thinking about. We ended up looking at three different Porsches
– a 911 GT1 (good thing we didn’t go that route!), Alex’s
RSR and Alex’s back-up car, a ’98 3.8 RSR, which had
actually never been raced.
We went to Daytona to see the car, we thought about it, and we bought
it a week later. Our first race was at Sebring, and Mike, myself
and Charlie Slater came home sixth in class. That was a good start.
We ran five races that first year, and we’ve done something
like that most seasons since, although we did the full season in
Our team is the best bunch of guys. It certainly isn’t the
fact that we’re spending more money, far from it. We’re
very cautious about spending money. We just prepare better and we’re
We worked with Alex at Le Mans this year, as you know, and we saw
Alex’s strengths and weaknesses. We try and make the parts
We may not always have the latest hardware, but that doesn’t
always make you go quicker or last longer….
For example, last year at Petit Le Mans, everyone had the updated
motor, but we stuck to the standard engine. Although we were slower
on the straight, if the race had lasted one lap longer, we would
have won the class.
It’s endurance racing, so we ran with the tried and tested
I love the underdog role, because when you kick ass, it’s
a lot sweeter. I like to be the quietest until the success comes
– then I’m the LOUDEST!
But we definitely don’t do it by spending more money. Look
at us on Wednesday, here at Petit Le Mans: we didn’t run at
all. We installed the fresh engine, and that one stays in for the
We weren’t one
of those teams that started out with a ‘semi’ and went
GT racing. Most of the guys who start like that are gone just as
quickly. We showed up for our first sports car race with an old
pick-up and the car on a flatbed trailer! When we had some success,
we stepped up to an enclosed trailer and a nicer pick-up. Then,
more success, a bigger trailer and bigger truck. It wasn’t
until a year or so ago that we moved into this semi and trailer.
We had all of those things from the off-road racing - helicopters
and the whole bit - but that wasn’t how we were going to step
into road racing, because we weren’t at that level here yet.
We had to earn our way here.
We love to do well, but we like to have fun too. We can be pretty
intense when we have to, but we know how to relax too.
Johnny (Mowlem) first drove for us in 2001.
I give Mike a list of drivers, and we talk about them. Johnny had
won at Laguna Seca in ’99 in the Reiser-Callas RSR, beating
Alex’s GT3-R, so we were pretty keen on him anyway. He was
driving the Skea Porsche in the Adelaide race at the end of 2000,
and he showed an interest in driving for us. Our car actually almost
won that race, but the terminal on the starter broke off at the
last pit stop. Engines don’t like being turned off…
Give us Alex’s drivers and we’d win. Let’s make
something clear though: if Johnny and Craig had as much time in
the car as the AJR drivers do, they’d do every bit as well.
But ask Johnny about testing: he wants to go testing all the time,
but we can’t do it like that.
We’ve done a total of two test days in the last two years.
Mowlem…..what happened in Qualifying Johnny?
I’m happy because we were right up there in second place,
until one and a half minutes from the end. But really I missed the
window – I should have come in for slicks, because we don’t
have intermediates. But I ended up staying on wets. It was fun while
We’re happy with our car and we’re very happy with the
support we get from Porsche.
When we do well against Alex, that makes us feel very good. He’s
the target for all of us, and we like to chase him as hard as we
can (Sebring, below).
IMSA and Porsche both agree that they need to give some help to
other teams. Everyone, absolutely everyone, likes it when someone
beats the 23 and 24 cars. It gives customers some hope, and we deserve
the chance to beat the favourites and people are recognising that.
While we’re quick
in every session and quick in every race, but both Porsche and IMSA
want to see teams racing with Alex’s cars. It’s going
to be a more level playing field next year.
But to beat Alex is still going to be incredibly tough. His drivers
are unbelievable…but we've shown we can do it.
They were very impressive at Le Mans.
The confidence of them – they knew they were going to make
up the time (after the radiator change).
Our intention is to do the whole season.
We should have the answer on that soon.
No street tracks in 2004. At Miami, the car was going to get hurt
for sure. You have to take too many chances, but it was a very good
show – but tough for everybody. That’s why we used the
older car at Miami, keeping the Le Mans car for Petit Le Mans.
We ordered the RSR in June, I think it was, and we had our order
confirmed at Miami.
It should be with us in plenty of time for Sebring.
that, we left Mike Petersen and Dale White to prepare for the following
day’s race. Sadly, the string of excellent 2003 results came
to an end with the heavy impact exiting the final turn – after
contact between Johnny and Ralf Kelleners. That was the #31 Porsche’s
first (and last) retirement of the season. Out of the window went
that chance of the runner-up slot in the GT Championship –
leaving the team to pack up early, and plan next year. And while
they were tremendously disappointed, they all had a good time relaxing
first of course.
more level playing field next year, eh? That should be very interesting
to Craig Stanton, a frustrated driver after the early exit from
the race, but still prepared to explain why the GT classes are so
hard fought – in fact all of the ALMS classes.
Everyone is proving himself out there on every lap. It’s a
brutal sport in many ways. You’re being asked questions all
the time. Do you have the killer instinct, can you do a double stint,
can you do a stint quicker on average lap times than everyone else,
can you deal with the traffic and not lose time? Every driver is
exposing himself on every lap.
Craig. And with an RSR next year, the race by race progress of Petersen-White
Lightning is going to be fascinating to watch.