Peter Baron - The Anatomy of a Team Owner
From Software to Boats to Racing, Baron Still Finds Time to Laugh
Doing "The World's Greatest Job"
By Travis Braun

Peter Baron is a software salesman. He’s an open-wheel racer. He’s a sports car driver. He’s the chief operating officer of a boat company. He’s a team manager. He’s a team owner.

Yes, Baron has been all of those things at one time or another. Presently, he is team owner of SAMAX Motorsport, a team almost as eccentric as he is. Fielding a car in Grand Touring and one in Daytona Prototype in the Rolex Sports Car Series, SAMAX competes in two separate races simultaneously every time the green flag drops. And Baron somehow pulls it off race after race. Then again, with the life he’s lived, there’s no one more fit for the job.

Baron, a native of Park Ridge, Illinois, was never around racing as a child. Nevertheless, he recalls having race cars as toys and watching the Indianapolis 500 and Monaco Grand Prix on network television. One of his earlier memories is of a trip he took with his father to the June Sprints at Road America. “I remember that it was a neat event,” Baron said. “I was too young to know what was going on other than I was watching cars go around.”

As a student, Baron showed a particular talent for math and numbers. This drove him to a major in economics and a minor in math during his college years. He seemed destined for a career in the corporate world.

Baron pursued finance out of college, but was still being pestered by the driver in him. After starting in amateur club racing and climbing his way to SCCA's Pro Racing S-2000 series, Baron ended up in Toyota Atlantic where he would compete for two years. “I determined that I wasn’t going anywhere in the Atlantic or open-wheel world,” said Baron. “I know guys who ate, slept, and drank trying to get a full-time job driving in racing, and it was a pretty dicey, risky situation. Taking as many business classes as I did, it just didn’t seem like the probability was all that great to make it to the upper level and the top career in racing. So I kept one foot in the driving world and one foot in the business world.”

His foot in the business world led him to three years in software sales and an unforeseen benefit; he met his soon-to-be racing partner, Leo Hindery. Both feet were starting to merge.

Hindery, who had finished up a job for an internet company in Silicon Valley, purchased a boat company in Florida, and Baron moved east to become chief operating officer (COO) of the venture in 2001. Baron said, “Right as this was going on we [Leo Hindery and I] had been renting rides in sports car stuff, and Leo wanted to do more full time driving. It didn’t make sense for him to rent rides anymore, so he decided to start his own team.”

Owing to liability issues, Hindery didn’t want to actually own his own team. So Baron and Hindery found a crew chief named Rodger Hawley to head up the team, which they named Orbit Racing.

In 2002, the boat company was sold and Baron found himself in Florida without a job. Seeing Orbit as his alternative, Baron turned to the one-year-old team for a job. “I was driving [for Orbit], so I looked after the car and some of the day-to-day stuff,” Baron explained. “We put in a whole parts department and I brought in a person from the boat company to put in a whole inventory system. We just tried to turn it from a shop into more of a business.”

Baron’s two year stint as a driver in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) brought him two podium finishes in one of Orbit’s Porsche 911 GT3 RS cars. However, his biggest success as a driver came at the 2003 24 Heures du Mans, where he placed second driving for Orbit with teammates Hindery and Marc Lieb of Germany. Baron said, “…I’d never thought that I’d get to run at Le Mans and get a podium. That’s a pretty special thing.”

Indeed it was. So special that the year before, fresh off a disappointing Le Mans finish, Baron and Hindery made a pact on the trip home that if they made it onto the podium the following year, they would both get a tattoo honoring the accomplishment.

“Low and behold, we finished second and shortly thereafter Leo sent me a video tape of his tattoo… The worst part is, as you’re sitting in there getting a tattoo and you can’t believe how much it hurts, there are eighteen year old girls from high school with tattoos all over. You’re just wondering, ‘What’s their problem?’”

Besides Le Mans tattoos, Peter also introduced this game (right), to Le Mans - firing T-shirts into the crowd, on Friday afternoon. The ACO didn't like that one...

By this time, Orbit Racing was starting to outgrow Hindery’s needs. Thus, Baron and Hindery decided to start their own team, with more of a focus on Hindery’s driving. In 2004, BAM! (British American Motorsport) was born, and Baron became fifty-percent owner of the team.

One of Baron’s first races out of the drivers’ seat came at Le Mans of that year. “I was called the business director and I worked on the marketing and promotional side,” Baron explained. “I got just as much excitement off the track as I did behind the wheel.”

Yet that excitement, at least with BAM!, was beginning to diminish. Six months into Baron’s relationship with the team, things began to unravel. Strong personality clashes within the team, mixed with Baron’s mother falling ill, caused him to step out as co-owner. Baron said, “In the grand scheme, it’s much more important spending time with the family and helping out with a bad situation…. I thought I was going to be out of racing.”

As Baron’s racing aspirations kept looking bleak, he prepared to head back to corporate America. However, that’s when opportunity came knocking. John Lacey, principal of an organization called Doncaster Racing, was looking for a team to run his group of drivers in the Grand Touring (GT) division of the Rolex Sports Car Series. “I had conversations with John Lacey about running his group in the 2005 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. So I decided I’d give it one last chance, with no other partners or other people, to go put together a shop.”

Baron’s team that he took to Daytona was called TRG East, since Kevin and Debra Buckler, owners of The Racer's Group (TRG), were involved with the organization. Baron’s team appeared to have a solid future, earning a third in GT at the race with their Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. “One of my greatest moments in racing was when my own team got a podium at the 2005 24 Hours of Daytona, first time out,” Baron recalled. “The excitement that I felt with that was actually more than I had on the podium at Le Mans.”

That was good, since it seemed that Baron had solidified his position as a team owner in the Rolex Series. After TRG’s involvement with the team dwindled, Baron made the decision to rename his team. Baron laughed, “The moral of the story is partners really aren’t a good thing. Or maybe they are and I just haven’t found the right one.”

Whichever the case, Baron settled on the name SAMAX Motorsport after his daughter, Sam, and his son, Max. “It’s pretty tough to come up with a name for a team,” explained Baron. “The kids and family are important, and since it is part of the name it helps you keep a focus. You love doing it but you still have to remember that family is the most important thing.”

By the conclusion of 2005, SAMAX was running two GT Porsches and had added a Riley Daytona Prototype effort. The DP program was organized for car owner Brian Tuttle, who had purchased a Riley DP and then contacted SAMAX to run the car. “He [Tuttle] was looking at teams locally down here [in Florida] and it was one of those things where I worked pretty hard on the sales effort and the business background helped a whole bunch.”

That same background would pay off at the beginning of 2006 when SAMAX went to the 2006 24 Hours of Daytona with two GT and two DP cars. Originally, Tuttle wasn’t going to run at the 24 Hours, giving SAMAX the opportunity to rent his DP car to another group. That group came along, and on Christmas Eve the agreement was signed to partner CITGO Racing with SAMAX for the 24 Hours.

However, Baron was thrown a curve ball when Tuttle made the decision to run the 24 Hours for championship points. “We put together a whole prototype program for him [Tuttle] in less than two weeks,” Baron said. “We were running three cars comfortably at the end of the previous season, and my goal has always been to run two professional DP efforts…. We had all of the resources and infrastructure, and the personnel were just a few phone calls away.”

Having to coordinate around 54 crew members, Baron grew a couple more gray hairs during the 24 Hours, especially since three of the four cars wouldn’t see the checkered flag.

Baron refocused his efforts for the rest of 2006 with just the two Porsches and the CITGO DP effort. Mid-season, he further reduced SAMAX when he parked one of the Porsches. “We had money and funding and stuff, but starting in May it was becoming very painful to try and find talented drivers out there with funding or sponsorship to go compete against the [Pontiac] GTOs,” Baron remarked.

This leaves just the SAMAX/Doncaster Porsche and the CITGO DP for the rest of this season, a strange combination for a single team. Baron commented on the combination: “The biggest obstacle is to make sure that the customer for each program is satisfied that they are getting the best out of everything and that they are getting all of the proper attention and support that they need from me…. They don’t want to think that the other program is interfering with their program.”

Interference and tension is the last thing you’ll find at SAMAX. One of Baron’s strengths is his ability to keep a humorous atmosphere at his team. “Things are just more fun and entertaining if you can include a sense of humor,” he said. “No one is going racing to get rich. We’re all doing it because we are passionate about racing and it’s something we love, so you might as well try to have fun while you’re out there. If the crew has conflicts and creates tension, it spills over into the drivers and might affect how they perform. I’ve heard from a lot of people that it’s just a good, happy, healthy environment.”

No matter how fun his race team is, Baron still finds time to slip away from it and enjoy time with his family. “It’s one of the unique things about being in my position,” he laughs. “I can sort of define my own hours and the travel schedule. The nice thing is, as bad as the schedule is from May to August, September to December is pretty open.”

SAMAX looks to be a Grand-Am contender in the years to come. “The main goal is to work for two prototypes, and if a prototype deal came up right now, on a moment's notice we could be ready to jump into that.”

Sure, SAMAX evolved in a peculiar way, but so did its team owner. He still remembers those early childhood days out at Road America. “Every time I drive on that track, I remember sitting on the outside of turn five or on the hill at turn seven and eight…dreaming of being out there someday. It’s always sort of a pinch-me thing remembering where I was and where I got to every time I go there.”

So what’s this comical team owner have planned for the future? Baron says it best, “I hope I can be a team owner until I retire. It’s possibly the world’s greatest job.”

 

Contents Copyright © dailysportscar.com. All Rights Reserved.