‘Completely neurotic’ and near a Rolex 24 record, here’s what makes Wayne Taylor tick
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Hang a left out of Daytona International Speedway, head down I-4 into the suburban Orlando sprawl, and Wayne Taylor says it’s easy to find his home.
Not because the namesake of Wayne Taylor Racing keeps his front porch festooned with all the specially engraved, gold-plated bling from the haul of winning timepieces over his team’s three consecutive overall victories in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“If you drive past my house, you can find me on all fours picking up leaves out of the grass,” Taylor, a longtime resident of Altamonte Springs, told NBC Sports with a laugh. “I think I’m pretty sick to be honest, and as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten worse and worse. So I’ve become completely neurotic.”
WATCH THE ROLEX 24 ON NBC SPORTS: How to stay tuned for 24 hours of racing
INFORMATION FOR THE 60TH ROLEX 24: Schedules, start times, entry lists
If that attention to detail sounds like the key to becoming a sports car powerhouse that annually wins the endurance race classic that opens the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, Taylor would agree.
“That bleeds over into the race team,” Taylor said. “So when I see stuff on the counter, I literally either throw it off or pull somebody in and say, ‘Hey, this place needs to be tidy.’ But yeah, I’m very, very detail-oriented. And every single year (in the race), we never ever have a problem.
“I’ve always tried to run my operation as professionally as Roger Penske does. I’ve watched him for years and years and years. But then again, he’s across the board, not just sports cars. But I’ve learned a lot from him, and I’m trying to install the same sort of ideas into my team -- and not all of the things that Roger does, because we do stuff differently.
“But yes, it does come down to detail, and when you’re using a race team to represent different brands, you should be slick and well tucked up and ready to go.”
Taylor, 65, might lack the auto racing gravitas and magnitude of Penske and his 18 Indy 500 victories and championships in IndyCar, NASCAR and IMSA.
But the South African native certainly can etch his name in racing history in the 60th Rolex 24 at Daytona this weekend.
Taylor’s No. 10 Acura ARX-05 will start from the pole position Saturday at the Daytona International Speedway road course in pursuit of a record fourth overall victory that would break a tie with another racing titan, Chip Ganassi (whose teams won the Rolex 24 in 2006-08).
“The biggest thing you see with Wayne’s teams is the passion for winning, and that’s true with Chip, too,” six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, who has driven on Rolex 24 winners for Ganassi and Taylor, told NBC Sports. “It’s not just Wayne and not just Chip. It’s the whole team. But it comes from those guys. Wayne is just as competitive as Chip, and Chip is probably the most competitive person I know outside of my wife. So they’re definitely fun programs to be a part of because they’re only focused on winning.”
Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner for Andretti Autosport who also drove for Team Penske in sports cars for three years, won the Rolex 24 with WTR last year and returns this year with Ricky Taylor, Felipe Albuquerque and Will Stevens – the fourth consecutive year Taylor has had a fresh lineup at Daytona.
Despite the churn of drivers (and a manufacturer switch last year from Cadillac), there is a continuity within WTR’s close-knit group of longtime team members, which Rossi immediately identified as the championship DNA he’s witnessed in other teams.
“You can 100 percent see why Wayne Taylor Racing has been so successful and have the championships and big race wins,” Rossi told NBC Sports. “Being able to drive for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar (and) Acura Team Penske in IMSA, they’re organizations that go about things a different way.
“Wayne Taylor Racing is a very small, almost family oriented group where everyone from mechanics to truck drivers to management all have an equal say, and everyone is going for the same goal and have the same ideology and work ethic. I think that is a major part of why they’ve accomplished what they have, and that all stems from Wayne being the type of person that he is and being a racer and then a businessman at heart. And for him it’s all about winning and everything else is pretty much secondary.”
Taylor, who retired from full-time driving shortly before starting his team 15 years ago, likes noting that mechanic Bill Mullen once strapped him into the car and since has done the same with Taylor’s sons, Ricky and Jordan.
Bill Mullen is the No. 10 @KonicaMinoltaUS Cadillac DPi-V.R’s driver assist & rear end mechanic.— Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport (@WayneTaylorRcng) April 7, 2020
He’s been a crucial member of the team since our inception and fun fact ➡️ has participated in 29 Rolex 24s!
Our friends @PitlaneParley spoke with him here: https://t.co/aczunrsalB pic.twitter.com/n96k9spQPm
The team also has continuity in management. General manager Travis Houge joined WTR in 2006, and technical director and strategist Brian Pillar came aboard in 2007.
“I think that’s what people think about WTR,” Taylor said. “I’ve been in sports car racing ever since coming to this country in 1990 and never done anything else and so our focus has always been sports car racing and these long-distance races. And if you look down the paddock, you’ll see teams here for two to three years and then they’re gone. I think we show consistency. I think the team we run as a family because it really is. The guys on the team have been with me since we started.”
It’s quite the juxtaposition with the team’s rotating cast of endurance and fourth drivers. Since 2019, WTR’s winning entries have included champions from Formula One (Fernando Alonso in 2019) and IndyCar (Scott Dixon in ‘20), a 24 Hours of Le Mans winner (Kamui Kobayashi in ’19-20) and a four-time Indy 500 winner (Helio Castroneves last year).
“The key ingredients are look at your driver lineup and make sure there’s no egos,” Taylor said. “You have to find someone that’s had experience and someone that has won any international race. No. 1 is finding that driver that has done this type of racing that’s accomplished, and they can do the same lap times as everyone else on the team. Speed is important. Being part of the group and working with the group is important.
“People forget that the setup of the car really comes down to the drivers. Even though the engineer sets the car up, it’s based on the feedback from the drivers.”
Wayne Taylor hired his newest driver, Stevens, over the phone -- the same way he brought on Kobayashi and others whom he barely knew personally.
WTR does enough meticulous research on each driver to ensure interpersonal relationships are virtually guaranteed to work – a manner similar to its mostly flawless quality control. Taylor’s mantra is that pit stops are when “the car comes in for tires, fuel and drivers,” underscoring that “we never come in the pits for something that’s broken or loose.”
“I think winning three in a row just goes to show it’s such a team effort,” Ricky Taylor said. “They’ve had a revolving door of drivers. The one thing that’s consistent is the core group of the team. They’ve done such an amazing job of executing in this race.”
Describing his father as “a warrior who is OCD in a very good way,” Ricky said he and his brother, Jordan” sometimes will get as many as 10 calls a day from Wayne about everything from racing to Jordan’s dog Fonzie digging holes in his back yard.
“Sometimes he might have forgotten why he called,” Ricky told NBC Sports with a laugh. “He’s a bit of a control freak, but I think in the world of motorsports, the difference is in the details, and he wants everything to be perfect. And I think whether it’s just clean countertops or whether it’s having the ride height down to the half-millimeter, the team knows because your shirts are tucked in, and because the countertops are clean, that level of detail should be put into every aspect of the race car, whether it’s setting up the car in the shop or how diff change gets made at the racetrack.
“That level of detail gets put into every detail of the race team.”
Jordan Taylor, who drove for three of his father’s Rolex 24 winners (2017, ’19-20) before leaving for Corvette Racing, said WTR also feeds off the passion and emotion of his father, who is among the most outspoken live wires in IMSA (particularly when he feels his team has been wronged).
“I think the guys feed off that,” Jordan Taylor told NBC Sports. “The crew guys, the engineers, the drivers, they all feel that passion and know that he really wants to win and only comes to events to win. Every week that I’m at home, he’s talking about the next race and how they’re going to win it.
“This one is a big one for him. The Rolex is our home race. Obviously, as a family member, I hear about it every day, and it’s pretty special what he’s been able to accomplish as a team owner.”
Taylor’s success also might stem from a bluntness that sometimes can be prickly.
Renger van der Zande won the Rolex 24 in 2019-20 with WTR but said he was “suddenly sacked” by the team before the 2021 season. Now with Chip Ganassi Racing, van der Zande said about WTR that “there’s no chance they get four in a row” but also was complimentary despite some hurt feelings.
“It’s been a great step forward to go with Ganassi, but at the same time, that little team is very strong,” he told NBC Sports. “Wayne Taylor Racing, the guys who work there, they know what to do, they know how to win.”
Filipe Albuquerque, who replaced van der Zande last year, said Taylor is “a unique character, and I laugh a lot with him,” but things often turn serious in debriefs.
“We say exactly what’s on our minds without thinking much,” Albuquerque told NBC Sports. “It’s just plain and simple. Even if it’s hard, we just put it out there. Wayne is super nice to deal with him because he will never tell you a lie. He will tell you exactly what he thinks, and exactly what he’s doing wrong or right, and that’s perfect, because you don’t want people to tell you that is not really true to your face.”
Said Rossi: “Wayne is a racer at heart. He is very, very vocal about the way he wants things to be run and operated. And if you’re doing a good job, he’ll tell you that. If you’re not, he’ll tell you that. You know where you stand. It’s great to drive for someone like that because there’s no questions. It’s this is what we need to do. This is how we’re going to do it. The results have been proven in the past, so why would you ever not want to buy into that mentality?”
Rossi said WTR’s “secret weapon” is its engineering department of three “whereas a bigger team, it’s all spread out and there’s a lot of delegation in different departments, which obviously has its advantages, but I think over a 24-hour race and being able to react very, very quickly, the fact that this core group of people has their hands in everything makes those decisions a lot easier and a lot clearer.”
Wayne Taylor said there is no secret to his historic success, though it helps to avoid dwelling on it.
“Honestly, I don’t think about that, because if I started thinking about that, it would drive me completely crazy and drive my team crazy,” he said. “So I just look at this as another 24 Hours at Daytona, and as I said to my lead engineer, ‘I provide the money, you provide the race team. If you get the money, I’ve done my job. Your job is to win the race.’
“So that’s how we run every single race. We race to win.”