By Rich Pollack
HIGHLAND BEACH — In the world of high-level professional sports car racing, few were as well respected — and feared by competitors on the track — as Devinder “Dave” Maraj.
The founder and driving force behind highly regarded Champion Racing, and the owner of Champion Porsche in Pompano Beach, Mr. Maraj guided his race team to victory from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s in some of the most competitive and challenging races in the world, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
That win, in France in 2005, marked the last time an American team won the grueling endurance race.
So when word of Mr. Maraj’s drowning death late last month began circulating among people in the auto world, disbelief set in and then quickly turned to shock and grief.
“Dave’s professionalism and demand for excellence was in a league by itself,” said Scott Atherton, president of the International Motor Sports Association and someone who knew Mr. Maraj well professionally. “He was the benchmark example of a team owner and competitor.”
Mr. Maraj, 65, who lived in Highland Beach, was discovered in the water near the Boca Raton Resort and Club by Boca Raton police divers early on Sunday, July 22, after friends had reported him missing. Boca Raton police are investigating his death as an accidental drowning.
Although Mr. Maraj — originally from Trinidad — had folded the racing team in 2008, he continued to operate Champion Porsche, which grew to be the largest-volume Porsche dealership in the world. Mr. Maraj had previously owned a Broward County Audi dealership.
“Dave was a great man to deal with,” said Cliff Ray, auto show coordinator for the South Florida Automobile Dealers Association, of which Mr. Maraj was a member for about 20 years. “He was always cordial and kind.”
In recent years, Mr. Maraj had traded his love for auto racing into a passion for sailing, according to Atherton. Still he linked the two together, naming his racing sailboat 24 Heures, or 24 Hours in French.
Atherton said there was a common denominator between Mr. Maraj’s success in auto racing as well as in business.
“Dave’s greatest strength was his ability to surround himself with outstanding people who knew how to get things done,” he said.
While the 24 Hours of Le Mans may have been Champion Racing’s greatest accomplishment, it was just one of many victories for the team, which raced for more than a decade.
Champion Racing won the American Le Mans series championship in 2003, 2004 and 2005, racing as an independent team, frequently competing against teams run by manufacturers, which had greater resources. The team, later racing under the Audi Sport North America name, won two more times.
“Dave’s team was always the one to beat on the global scale,” Atherton said. “Champion was the one everyone measured against.”
Very detail oriented, Mr. Maraj was known as a no-nonsense kind of owner, both with the team and the dealership.
“With Dave, nothing was left to chance,” Atherton said. “He was the most intense — and quietest — competitor I ever dealt with.”
Atherton said his organization provided decals that paid tribute to Mr. Maraj with his name and favorite saying, “One Last One,” for teams to place on their cars during a recent race.
“Dave was held in the highest regard possible,” he said. “He passed way too soon.”
Memorial services were held July 27 at Glick Family Funeral Home in Boca Raton.