Mike Petersen & Dale White
Messrs. Petersen-White Lightning

dailysportscar.comWe 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 help.

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.

The Foundations

MP: 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.

DW: I was running an existing off-road team, and a highly competitive one, based in Las Vegas, so the location was perfect for Mike.

MP: 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 to do.

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DW: 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 with.

MP: It was time for a different challenge. We’d kicked some major ass, and that was really satisfying.

dailysportscar.comDW (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 him.

The Partners

DW: 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.

MP: 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 racing.

DW: We talk on the ‘phone every day…

MP: But I don’t want to be in the race shop every day, and I haven’t got the time anyway.

DW: 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.

Endurance Racing

DW: 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.

MP: 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.

DW: 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.

MP: We ran five races that first year, and we’ve done something like that most seasons since, although we did the full season in 2001.

The Team

DW: 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 smarter.

MP: 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 last longer….

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DW: We may not always have the latest hardware, but that doesn’t always make you go quicker or last longer….

MP: 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.

DW: It’s endurance racing, so we ran with the tried and tested motor.

MP: 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!

DW: 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 race.

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.

MP: 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.

Drivers

MP: Johnny (Mowlem) first drove for us in 2001.

dailysportscar.comDW: 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…

MP: 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.

DW: We’ve done a total of two test days in the last two years.

Enter Johnny Mowlem…..what happened in Qualifying Johnny?

JM: 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 it lasted.

Support

DW: We’re happy with our car and we’re very happy with the support we get from Porsche.

MP: 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).

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DW: 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.

MP: But to beat Alex is still going to be incredibly tough. His drivers are unbelievable…but we've shown we can do it.

DW: They were very impressive at Le Mans.

MP: The confidence of them – they knew they were going to make up the time (after the radiator change).

Next Year

DW: Our intention is to do the whole season.

MP: We should have the answer on that soon.

DW: 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.

MP: We ordered the RSR in June, I think it was, and we had our order confirmed at Miami.

DW: It should be with us in plenty of time for Sebring.

And with 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.

dailysportscar.comA more level playing field next year, eh? That should be very interesting indeed.

Last word 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.

CS: 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.

Perfect Craig. And with an RSR next year, the race by race progress of Petersen-White Lightning is going to be fascinating to watch.

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