The race was founded by Road Atlanta owner Don Panoz and first run on October 10, 1998 as part of the IMSA season. The 1999 edition was one of the original events of the American Le Mans Series. The 2010 and 2011 editions were also part of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, but the 2012 race for the brand-new World Endurance Championship was dropped in favour of Bahrain. This caused a lot of controversy after the calendar was published. In 2014 the race will be part of the inaugural Tudor United Sports Car Championship season.
From 1998 until 2013, Petit Le Mans covered a maximum of 1,000 miles (1,600 km) (which is approximately 394 laps) or a maximum of 10 hours, whichever came first; only once, in the rain-stopped 2009 race, had the leading team failed to complete 1,000 miles (1,600 km). Since 2014, the duration is 10 hours, without distance limitations. In addition to the overall race, teams of two or three drivers per car compete for class victories in different categories, divided into Le Mans prototypes and grand tourers. Class winners of this event receive an automatic invitation to the following year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, however in 2012 this was removed from the regulations.
The 2015 race featured the first time a GT car won overall against the faster prototypes. Rain created a flooded track the entire race causing multiple cautions and a red flag, allowing GTLM cars to leap-frog the prototypes that were struggling for grip in the conditions. Nick Tandy, winner of the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, and co-driver Patrick Pilet took the checkered flag when officials called the race with a little over two hours remaining.