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Entrepreneur Don Panoz, who once owned Chateau Elan and Road Atlanta, dies at 83
PANOZ-Portrait.jpg
Don Panoz, pharmaceutical tycoon and sports car maker, died Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Panoz invented the nicotine patch, opened Chateau Elan Winery and Resort and helped revive Road Atlanta in his time in South Hall County and metro Atlanta. - photo by Nick Bowman

After a short battle with pancreatic cancer, the man who invented the nicotine patch smoked his last cigarette early Tuesday, Sept. 11, and died surrounded by family.

“Possibly most widely celebrated for saving sports car racing in North America or inventing the dermatological patch, ironically ... for those that knew him and his smoking habits,” Don Panoz “was a man known for questioning the norm,” states a press release from Hoschton-based sports car maker Panoz.

“If someone told him ‘no,’ he told them ‘yes.’”

Panoz, the colorful entrepreneur who founded Chateau Elan and owned a variety of motorsports and pharmaceutical businesses, was 83.

“What he brought to the whole area was remarkable,” said Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. “His reach was just so far. He was such a visionary, but he could make it come true. It was just amazing what he did.”

Panoz’s career began in 1961 when he co-founded Milan Pharmaceuticals in West Virginia.

“When Panoz believed current technologies weren’t being challenged enough, the family moved to Ireland and built Élan Corporation, to continue the research and work in pharmaceuticals,” according to the Panoz press release.

Returning to the U.S. in 1980, Panoz established Élan Pharmaceutical Research Corp. in Gainesville, before venturing into the winery, golf and resort industries.

He founded Chateau Elan off Old Winder Highway/Ga. 211 and Interstate 85 in Braselton, selling it earlier this year to a Connecticut firm. He held similar investments in other parts of the world, including Australia and Scotland.

Panoz, with the help of friend Gene Sarazen, set up the Sarazen World Open, an unofficial stop on the PGA Tour held at Chateau Élan in Georgia from 1994 to 1998. 

“In the 1990s, Panoz, bitten by the Le Mans racing bug, went into business with son Dan, believing that racing was the best way to market Panoz vehicles and build the brand,” according to the company.

In 1996, Panoz bought Road Atlanta, which is off Winder Highway/Ga. 53 in Braselton in South Hall. He sold the track in 2012.

Most recently, Panoz was the chairman and founder of Green4U Technologies, a Braselton-based motorsports and electric vehicle company. Panoz LLC is part of Green4U.

In 2013, he became the 29th inductee into the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, and in 2014 received the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s Bob Russo Heritage Award, according to the Panoz website.

In 2015, Don Panoz received the La Bella Macchina Award at Concorso Italiano in recognition of his contributions to the automotive and motorsports industries.

“From the military, to the pharmaceutical industry; from the winery, golf and resort industry through to automotive, motorsports and manufacturing, Panoz has left an imprint of advancing technologies and producing outcomes no one would have thought possible,” states the press release.

“In addition to all the career, business and work achievements, Panoz was a family man, a comedian, an inspiration, a philanthropist, an innovator, a visionary and most importantly a wonderfully entertaining human to be around.”

Tributes poured in from others, as well.

“He was leader in the development of Braselton,” Mayor Bill Orr said. “He never shied away from a challenge. Chateau Elan is a good example of that. It was developed initially on a napkin.

“Even up until the moment of him passing away, he was still throwing ideas out there.”

Geoff Lee, president and general manager of Road Atlanta, said Panoz’s death “is a big personal loss for everybody, but it’s an even bigger loss to the motorsports world, where he really was an influencer — more than most people know.”

Road Atlanta “was on hard times, and Don came in with vision, energy, finances, structure and enthusiasm that was unparalleled,” Lee said. “He did for Road Atlanta what few could have done.”

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