Porsche Cars North America PR head Bob Carlson has passed away after a long battle with cancer at the age of 60.
Carlson had a significant influence as both a journalist and public relations professional in the automotive and motorsports worlds, particularly within Porsche and at its Atlanta headquarters. He was also a friend, mentor and valued colleague to everyone he touched, both in and out of his work environment.
For the past 24 years, he worked for Porsche Cars North America, starting with the company when it was headquartered in Reno as the racing public relations co-ordinator, and was stationed in Warrington with Al Holbert, the first president of Porsche Motorsport North America. Carlson was quickly promoted to racing PR manager, and helped lead Porsche through a golden era in motorsports, including the major success of the Porsche 962, which many still consider Porsche's most successful race car.
Carlson personally guided road racing stars such as Holbert, Derek Bell, Bob Wollek, Rob Dyson, Hurley Haywood, Chip Robinson and others through this period, maximising exposure for Porsche while cementing lifetime relationships with both drivers and journalists. His patience and professionalism was required during the same period as he acted as public relations representative for Porsche's brief CART Champ Car effort, and he remained in Pennsylvania, working with Holbert, until the veteran died in a plane crash in 1988.
Carlson then moved to Porsche Cars North America corporate headquarters in Reno, becoming manager of media relations and racing in 1991 and subsequently manager of PR in 1992. Another promotion in 1993 earned him the title of GM for public relations before the introduction of the Boxster, Porsche's return to Le Mans and the resurgence of sportscar racing in the United States, with the American Le Mans Series, saw his areas of responsibility expand.
Although involved with Porsche's road car models, Carlson's first love had always been motorsports, and the announcement that the factory was teaming up with Penske Racing to build an LMP2 prototype vaulted him back into the spotlight of Porsche Motorsport. His extensive relationships within the industry made the transition from Porsche 911-only racing to prototype racing seamless. Even after he was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer in 2007 and was forced to miss the activity at the race track, he guided the internal and agency PR staff through the complicated political path of international media and racing.
His keen interest in motorsports history also led to the idea of gathering historic Porsche race cars and drivers from around the world at a Rennsport Reunion in the United States. Naysayers dismissed the idea as 'of little interest' or 'a waste of money', but Porsche Cars North America president Fred Schwab gave the okay, and Carlson and retired racer and vintage racing organiser Brian Redman set forth to contact collectors, drivers, and the Porsche museum in Germany to solicit participants and race cars to join together at Lime Rock Park in July 2001. More than 15,000 enthusiasts came to the event, along with Roger Penske, Paul Newman and countless other Porsche Motorsport icons, plus more than 300 highly historic vintage Porsche race cars.
In early 2008, Carlson was awarded the Jim Chapman Award for lifetime achievement in motorsports public relations from the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association.
"The American Le Mans Series is deeply saddened at the passing of Bob Carlson,” ALMS president and CEO Scott Atherton said in a statement, “He was truly an icon of the auto industry and especially motorsport. Bob was an enthusiast, a true 'car guy', but also a consummate professional and, above all, a loyal friend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Debbie and the Carlson family. He will be missed by all who had the pleasure to know him."