DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — When renowned Italian sports car driver Max ‘The Ax’ Angelelli hangs up his helmet for the final time after this month’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, it will unequivocally mark the end of an era in North American sports car racing.
Angelelli, 50, announced Friday during the opening day of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test weekend at Daytona Int’l Speedway that the 55th running of the event would not only be his last outing in the twice-around-the-clock enduro, but his last in professional racing after a 30-year career that has seen some of the greatest moments in the history of the sport.
He admitted that even doing Daytona one last time was a stretch, but that his long-time teammate, team owner and friend Wayne Taylor talked him into it.
“I wanted to do it earlier,” Angelelli told Sportscar365. “Wayne convinced me to do Daytona for the very last time because he knows me very well and he knows how much I’m attached to Daytona as a race, as a track, as everything.”
“This is where everything started and this is where everything will end for me as a driver. I made my name here, starting in Daytona, and now I’m going to greet the people and say goodbye in Daytona. I think it’s good. I thank Wayne for pushing me to do Daytona one more time.”
Angelelli’s career goes back to the late 80s and early 90s in his homeland of Italy, where he won the Italian F3 championship in 1992 before pushing his racing prowess out to foreign lands, finally settling in North America and rewriting a portion of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and IMSA history books.
First joining Wayne Taylor Racing in 2004, when it was known as SunTrust Racing, Angelelli stormed onto the scene and quickly garnered the nickname ‘The Ax’ for his habit of chopping seconds out of an opposing car’s lead before making the pass for position.
He won the 2005 Rolex 24 with Taylor and ultimately captured the Grand-Am Prototype championship that year, his first of two Grand-Am titles during a long and successful tenure in that series.
Angelelli teamed with Taylor and his two sons, Ricky and Jordan, during a decade-long stint in Grand-Am competition, winning the Prototype title again in 2013 as a co-driver with Jordan Taylor.
But when the series merged with the American Le Mans Series prior to the 2014 campaign, Angelelli began to scale back, only competing in the four long-distance races of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (and later WeatherTech SportsCar Championship) from 2014 through 2016 but scoring the win at Petit Le Mans in 2014.
In all, Angelelli has scored 27 victories and 73 podium finishes in 143 starts at the premier level of sports car racing in North America, but he has a chance to do something that few get the opportunity to do in professional sports — go out on top, a winner in his final appearance.
Peyton Manning did it in Super Bowl 50. Angelelli’s Rolex 24 teammate this year, Jeff Gordon, had the chance to do so in his final full-time NASCAR Cup Series season in 2015, coming up just short of winning the championship in the season’s final race.
Now ‘The Ax’ has one last chance to win at Daytona before he rides into the sunset, as well.