When you think of Butch Leitzinger's collection of teammates in the American Le Mans Series, the first name that comes across the minds of most is James Weaver. A master storyteller, Weaver is more than qualified to speak about Leitzinger, who will make his 100th ALMS start next week at Lime Rock Park…
Butch said that of all the insults we playfully traded, his favorite one was when I said, "What can I say about Butch as a teammate? Actually, anything I like as the chance of it being slanderous is absolutely nil!"
Joking apart, in reality, the chance of me saying anything about him that isn't massively complimentary is absolutely nil.
As a driver, he combines searing pace with an astonishingly safe pair of hands. As a teammate, he is totally reliable, trustworthy and unfailingly gracious. Very few people are aware of what an enormous asset Butch was to Dyson Racing. His speed alone would have guaranteed him a place on the team, but it was his ability to jump into the car, with any setup, and within two laps extract a time from it that made him such a devastating asset. In a race, if the car lost its balance, he would just adapt his driving style and maintain the pace.
It is this ability more than anything that allows him to provide such a crucial ingredient, vital to the team's success. In sports car racing, if you divide the track time in practice between two drivers, you never get through as much setup work as one driver could on his own. Butch was always very gracious about me hogging the car in practice; he could see that this allowed us to go into the race with the best possible setup. I normally concentrated on the chassis and Butch took care of the tires. This strategy wouldn't have worked without his gracious approach and enormous natural ability.
We enjoyed a lot of success together on-track. Off-track, we spent many enjoyable evenings, along with Andy Wallace, talking nonsense over a Corona or two. Butch drove with Andy and me at Panoz in Europe and Japan. The currency exchange rate always used to confuse him when negotiating his contract, so Andy hit on the cunning plan of explaining everything to him in Coronas! This made it easy to understand: 2,830 Coronas for a test day, 12,000 Coronas for a race, etc., etc.!
In 1997, the three of us were testing the Panoz at Paul Ricard and had blown the engine up, broken the propshaft and generally wrecked all the equipment, so we retired to the hotel for a leisurely dinner. We were on the wrong side of our third bottle of Claret, when Andy suggested that we ring Rob Dyson in New York to let him know how we were getting on. Rob inquired as to how things were going and what was it like driving for Don.
Andy explained that we had trashed all the kit and were now back at the hotel abusing the expense account. There was a slight pause and then Rob replied, "pretty much the same as driving for me then!"
A huge amount of fun was had over the years, and it was a privilege being Butch's teammate on so many occasions.
• The American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix is set for Saturday, July 7 at Lime Rock Park. The two-hour, 45-minute race airs on ESPN2 airs the race the same day at 4 p.m. ET. Live coverage is available starting at 2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN3.