CHAMPCAR/CART: Pook, Panoz press conference, part IV

An interview with Christopher R. Pook and Don Panoz Part 4 of 4 Q: Both of you have - in one way or another been associated with a fellow who I call the Godfather of motor sports in South Florida, Ralph Sanchez; although he's not directly ...

An interview with Christopher R. Pook and Don Panoz

Part 4 of 4

Q: Both of you have - in one way or another been associated with a fellow who I call the Godfather of motor sports in South Florida, Ralph Sanchez; although he's not directly involved in this event this weekend and as we all know has had some health issues over the last couple of years, again I just wonder from both of your standpoints, what you can say about Ralph and what he has done for motor sports in South Florida and what he continues to do?

Chris Pook: He is motor sports in South Florida. Neither of our series would be here. We would not be here if it wasn't for Ralph. Homestead would not be where it wasn't for Ralph. He was the pioneer in the marketplace here. And you know, while he's not directly involved, you know, Ralph Sanchez is all over this place and so he should be. He deserves every bit of credit in my book for what goes on in South Florida and in - motor racing, in general, owes a lot, not just South Florida, but motor racing in general owes a lot to Ralph Sanchez. We intend to salute him here this weekend and he deserves it. No one deserves it more richly in my opinion than he does.

Don Panoz: I would echo that. If it wasn't for Ralph Sanchez no one would ever have known how great the Miami races can be. He, as Chris said, he was the pioneer, and he set a standard and it is that nostalgia of those races that the fans remember and it's what we're going to try and bring back in Ralph's honor. Q: Mr. Pook, what is holding CART back from signing final documents by 60 percent of Raceworks and another question would be what kind of investment is CART doing on this three-day event, if you could quantify?

Chris Pook: I am not going to discuss investments with all due respect and it's not to avoid your question. We're a public company and there's a certain discipline and methodology we have for disclosing our expenditures and how we spend our money, so forgive me for that.

The first question: As soon as all the matters are resolved with regard to the long-term agreement or semi-long-term agreement between the city of Miami and Raceworks then it calls for us to execute those documents. And that's being worked through as we speak and hopefully very shortly we'll be able to sign that agreement.

Q: I am glad to see there's a tribute to Ralph Sanchez. Of course there's the new variable of NASCAR, I don't want to beat a dead horse there. I guess time will tell if ticket sales of one event are affected by the other. My question: Should this marriage work, will we see a different event date next year, something closer to the original date this year of April?

Chris Pook: We are in an October date mode against next year. Part of the agreement that Championship Auto Racing Teams has with Dover Downs on the Tampa, St. Pete event is very similar agreement that exists between Long Beach and Fontana where there is a time and distance clause in the contract that prohibits us from coming in here into the April marketplace.

The second part of that is that I am not sure that downtown Miami needs economic impact in the timeframe from January through May the 15th, May the 1st because this is the boom season for this city from Central America

Caribbean, Latin America and of course from the United States and Canada. The time of the year where it does need or can use, I have misstated the word need, where it can use economic impact is the early fall. That's why I think one of the reasons we are here and one of the reasons why you see such huge support from all the hotels and the restaurants and the hospitality industry in this city.

Q: Following up on one of Don's previous comments, I guess you are saying the reason why you don't expect ticket sales from one event to affect the other is because of demographics. Am I correct?

Don Panoz: Well, I think that when you put together these two shows you are covering a wide spectrum of the fans, a broader spectrum than we, ALMS cover, and I think it's probably the same for CART. I think as we build this, I think that over the coming years, I think there's a good prospect that you can see some of the biggest crowds that you have ever had at racing in Miami. And the ones that Ralph created were fantastic and I am just looking at where we can put them all. I think that the fans will enjoy it and I think both fans will enjoy the other type of racing - at least I hope they will - and I just see it as a positive and a good opportunity. Of course, the facts could prove us wrong and the facts will speak for themselves. But I think it's a great opportunity and we need to do it.

Q: One of the things that I wanted to touch on was to go back to a comment that you made earlier regarding television. At this point in history in the CART FedEx Championship Series, is it almost as important if not more important to have seats on the couches watching the race on television for the ratings as it is to have fannies in the seats in the grandstand?

Chris Pook: Well, yeah, the overall answer is yes. But it is a chicken or egg answer; isn't it? Which comes first? Attendance at events by history builds television ratings in marketplaces. So our objective this weekend here is to remind the South Florida market of what fun these events are and how tremendous it is to have people excited and cheering in the grand stands, really enjoying the event and seeing it on television. And then when the next event comes up on television, which I believe for Don is Road Atlanta, and when the folks see that on television, they will tune in and watch that, the folks of South Florida. When our next event comes up which will be Australia, they see it on television and they tune in to watch that. That starts to build our television ratings because it gets another major market engaged in the process of watching a television set.

So that's really where we at CART come from. We want to build a marketplace and the South Florida market, the Miami ADI, is a very, very important television ADI. And if we can build this, the viewers up in this market, that will move the needle on our ratings.

Q: I am looking at this from the point of the history of the CART FedEx Championship Series and also the history of the American Le Mans Series. At this point in time it's almost as though both of you are almost reinventing yourselves. Is that a fair assessment?

Don Panoz: From my part, we're still creating our series. We're the new kids on the block. '99 was our first full season and we're learning a lot and we have gotten into a lot of new venues and a lot of them were the first time this year. But I don't think it's so much reinventing ourselves - we are finding out how good we could be.

Q: What about sports car racing from your side, I guess, in general.

Don Panoz: I think we're recreating it. Everybody tells me, I wasn't around or wasn't in the sport at the time the great days of IMSA and the Camel Lights, et cetera, et cetera and about all the great racing there was and including in Miami. But I think we have managed to retrieve a lot of those loyal fans and have given them something to watch and they are seeing good racing and good competition, and that's what they want to spend their money for.

Chris Pook: I don't think we are recreating ourselves here. CART is what it is. I think that what I am, as the CEO of CART is endeavoring to do, is to reposition our management, philosophy and our outlook toward doing business with host venues such as Miami, with potential partners such as American Le Mans Series and the overall way that CART conducts itself, its day-to-day business.

Q: I am a little confused by the numbers here. There's been a lot of discussion about the different demographic audiences or demographics of the audiences for the two series; yet you are only projecting 35 or 40,000 people on

Sunday which is not a bad crowd for either series but I wish somebody could address why you are not getting twice as many and how the promoter is supposed to make out paying two sanctioning fees with one crowd?

Chris Pook: Since we're on the hook here with the promoter, I will explain that at the same time the discussion we had in Denver and the discussion we'll have in Tampa, St. Pete. The most important thing we have to do here is to manage the number of people we have in attendance and make sure that we manage them well, in the sense that they get in and out effectively. They don't have parking problems; don't have ingress and egress problems; they don't have standing in line at bathroom problems, and concession standing in line problems, and that the food service through the hospitality goes extremely smoothly. I come from a school where you live and die by the stand of the product you present the first time out. We intend to limit the number of people we have here. This is not a one-year shot in the dark. It is a long-term project here. And like any other business, it will take at least three years to build and get up on its feet and we'll take the steady growth approach, but it will be a steady but firm and solid approach and we'll do things properly. We have little interest in jamming volumes of people in and having a mess on our hands.

Q: 40,000 doesn't represent the demand?

Chris Pook: I don't believe 40,000 represents the demand. We won't be able to answer that question until Sunday or Saturday, but we said that Denver when we first started Denver and Dover the same thing that we were going to limit Denver to 45 to 50,000 people on Sunday and they successfully did that and they ran a very successful weekend and we intend to do the same thing here.

Q: There was an article in the Miami Herald this week about ISC [International Speedway Corporation], our favorite people, planning to try for an 11th hour injunction to prevent the race from happening, God forbid, can you tell me where we are on that, what CART and ALMS intend to do to fight that effort if it's still in play?

Chris Pook: Having been in the street racing business for 30 years, I understand the business of injunctions being brought at the last minute. I am sure that if they intend to do it, they have got three or four days to do it in. Having known about this event for the length of time that they have known about it and the amount of opposition they have presented on the way down to the event, I would have a hard time really understanding why they would wait until the last 72 hours to ask for this injunction.

Q: Next year's schedule for Don is not out, I know. CART's is out. Does ALMS have in mind certain events for next year that possibly could be combined events?

Don Panoz: As far as I am concerned, that's a work-in-progress and it will be part of our discussions after this race and we'll be looking to see where it makes sense. We have a schedule pretty well inked in for next year and we'll be announcing it at Petit Le Mans the week after the Miami race. But I think Chris and I both are business people and we're going to look at what makes sense for both of us and for our respective series, and if there's an opportunity I can assure you we'll chew it over like a good piece of fat and see what we can squeeze out of it.

Merrill Cain: We'd like to thank both Don Panoz and Chris Pook for taking time out of their busy schedules to spend a few minutes with us this afternoon. Thank you very much, gentlemen. We look forward to a great event this weekend at the Grand Prix Americas in Miami.

Round 16 of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series takes place this Sunday with the Grand Prix Americas. The race can be seen live in most markets on the CBS television network at Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET.

Thanks to all who participated in today's teleconference, we appreciate it. Have a very pleasant afternoon.

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Panoz, Pook press conference, part I

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About this article
Series ALMS , IndyCar
Drivers Chris Pook , Don Panoz