An interview with: Christopher R. Pook, President and CEO Championship Auto Racing Teams Part 2 - State of CART: Questions from the Media Q: The stock price has fallen quite a bit lately. Does that concern you? Chris Pook: You got to be...
An interview with:
Christopher R. Pook,
President and CEO Championship Auto Racing Teams
Part 2 - State of CART:
Questions from the Media
Q: The stock price has fallen quite a bit lately. Does that concern you?
Chris Pook: You got to be concerned about it. I mean, depends who is doing the takeover. I can't deal with the issue of worrying about what our stock price is. I have zero ability to manage that. What I can manage is the team of people who are running this team. I can manage them and let them grow and build this company and at that particular point, those that own the stock will see the results. But if I have to sit and look at a computer and watch the stock jump up and down, I might as well watch looney tunes. That's unproductive.
Q: Why should sponsors and potential sponsors get involved or stay involved with CART?
Chris Pook: Today if you are going to have companies come into motor racing you have got to be able to create an environment so they can promote and market and sell their products. That's the sanctioning body's responsibility.
Now, we have not done a very good job of that in the past. But we're doing an excellent job now and you have just got to go look at some of the business to business stories that are going on inside CART. We are putting companies together. You can go talk to Simple Green, talk to Pioneer, talk to these folks. We are actually putting people together so they are doing business deals and growing their businesses. That's what we're supposed to be doing as a marketing company. Yes, we're a motor racing company, but to make the motor racing work, you have to have the marketing. You have to have the corporate side of it working as well. That's why we're a marketing service company; still a sanctioning body.
Q: There has been a lot of talk about teams leaving, following Penske over to the IRL. We've heard all the names there. They are big teams, if they do go, obviously it will hurt CART to lose them. Where are the replacements? This is obviously a major issue for CART that you have. Where are the replacements for these teams going to come from? Do you have a clue at this point where they are actually going to come from?
Chris Pook: I don't think anybody has had a new team recently. I think the team issue is not only just in CART, it's everywhere. It's an issue in NASCAR, as I am sure you are aware. It's at all the levels, so - and I suspect it's going to be an issue as we go down the road, as the IRL goes down the road to the end of season. At least in the past it has been because after Indy's gone over, they've had a fairly major attrition.
But we are focusing on where the new teams are coming from, and the first thing that we need to do is we need to get our costs under control. Because what's happened. Yeah, you have had companies involved in sport that have been hand-grenading volumes of cash around, so we need to understand that we have got a process to go racing with a budget under control. We have got a model where we need to be now. I am not making any announcements for any of that, I am just telling you that that's what we have got done.
Now, having got that under control, we have something to go back to motor racing teams around the world and talk about. That process is underway. Bear in mind, we are not all ovals. We are a combination of road, street, and oval. So the predominance of the motor racing in the world takes place on road courses. So there's a huge number of teams around the world who we can go talk to. That process is underway.
Q: In the past CART has made a number of attempts to get closer to the IRL. The most recent being - you attempted to adopt the same engine formula as the IRL and a chassis that was somewhat similar. How do you view that and going forward what do you think you are going to do in terms of CART?
Chris Pook: I can probably give you the answer you don't want to hear but there's ladies in the room. We're going to move on and run our business the way we are going to run our business. And not the way others run our business. I mean, we - we made an overture very clearly by trying to take on the same engine and take on the same chassis. That was to try and see if we can get down a road of commonality and see if we can find a way to come back to. As you had pointed out that apparently has been sadly rebuffed. On to the next damsel in distress.
Q: If I could get back to the issue of teams. One team packed up its stuff and hauled out of here. I guess I'm assuming you are working with teams to try and keep them on board. Have you talked to the people at PWR and are they coming back in the future?
Chris Pook: I have not talked to - I did meet with (PWR Owner) Mr. (Bruce) McCaw in Monte Carlo the weekend before last. I have not talked to (PWR Senior Vice President) Mr. (Mike) Lowry. I did happen to notice that Mr. Dixon was fairly fast this morning in the Target car and I can only assume with reasonable discussions in those areas.
They said they were going down to one car. I think they made that announcement ten days ago so they - obviously they had some level of disagreement with their driver who is a very talented racing car driver. And the good news is that the folks at Milwaukee are going to see Mr. Dixon do what he does very well and that's drive a racing car.
Q: Following up, everybody says there's not enough room in this country for two open-wheel Indy Car type series. How do you respond to that and what does CART do to ensure that its model works, given the oversaturation of the market so to speak?
Chris Pook: Mark, there were - I like to look at it in North America. It's not just the United States and Canada, United States and Mexico. There were over 250,000 people in Mexico, 230,000 people in Long Beach. If the weather holds they will have 30,000 plus people here tomorrow. You will get to Laguna you will have 60,00 to 70,000 people at Laguna. We go to Portland and we will have 60,000 to 70,000 people. We'll be in Toronto with probably close to 200,000 people. Vancouver with God knows how many people. Cleveland with 50,000 to 60,000. We'll be in Mid-Ohio with 50,000 or 60,000. Montreal, great new venue, soldout next Saturday and Sunday for their F-I race. I have got a huge advance for the end of August. Denver's got a huge advance for Labor Day weekend.
I can only say to you that on our side of the map with the number of spectators that are showing up, something must be right. I can't focus on the other side, the tens and the 15,000's that show up for those race, I can't deal with those. That's not my business. Focus on what we've got.
So I think what we have got to look at is make sure that our spectator business model continues to work well, which it is, and if we have got a glitch in any of the places we go to, consistent glitch where the numbers are not good, we have got to look at it and see why. This world works by supply and demand and right now we have got demand from the public and our television ratings are coming back thanks to Speed Channel, Doug Sellars is in here someplace, Doug, thank you, congratulation to you guys, at Fox. That's why Fox is the fastest growing and best television network in the world today all over the world. Thanks to guys like Doug Sellars who make the shows work. Our numbers are coming back there.
Mark, I can't answer your question about if it's oversaturated. I really can't. Our promoters are getting done what they have got to get done.
Q: CART has all these spectators showing up at the races and in some respects, might be the stronger series, but yet everybody is saying CART is going to die. How do you counteract that kind of negative perception.
Chris Pook: We have been talking about that. Poor Adam is under the gun because I have been hammering his rear about this.
Adam Saal: You get used to it.
Chris Pook: There's two avenues to public relations now - public relations that deal with the sport which Adam is extremely good at and his team is extremely good at and political spin stuff that you have been watching for the last few days, and we are going to have to get a political-spin person to guide us through this storm. Some of you have been writing factually about our numbers and how good attendance we've got. Others of you have been deciding to go ignore that, dealing with doom and gloom. That's your style, you do what you have got to do.
At the end of the day, the facts are going to be the facts. The customers will read the material and look at the material and will judge about what they read.
Q: Is there a movement within your team to try and get Oriol Servia with another team like Derrick Walker said yesterday when he put his name in the hat. Is that what you'd like to do here in the next month?
Chris Pook: Well, yes. Obviously we'd like to have a 20th car, okay. On the other hand, at what cost and what stretch and we have got to be sensible in how we approach this; make sure it's being done in a sensible manner and that we're just not throwing race cars on the racetrack. We're about quality, Robin, not quantity.
Q: Will you try to help support these teams so you won't lose any more from the field?
Chris Pook: Every sanctioning body does that, they work hard at trying to keeping a full field. If 20 is the magic number in everybody's mind, that's what we have got to live with. As I have told you before, anywhere between 18 and 22 as far as I am concerned is a good show.
Q: We keep hearing that there are some other teams besides PWR that are in financial difficulty and might not make it through the season which would obviously affect the car count even more. You are saying even 20 is an ideal number. But there's always the possibility that it can go below that this year because and do you have a thought or thoughts how to combat this? Is there some plan to help these teams so that they don't follow PWR out the door?
Chris Pook: Well, I think that PWR's situation is somewhat unique. The answer to your question is we are aware that there is one other team that's got some concerns and we're working with that team. But the PWR situation is very unique; and obviously complicated one as you probably gathered, and I don't think it behooves me to go down the road on that situation because obviously there was pretty substantial miscommunication somewhere. So it is what it is. I mean, absolutely we're sensitive to that.
Q: I'd like to first say I think you are doing a great job. You have taken this division quite far. What do you think about the Stars of Tomorrow's program?
Chris Pook: I think that it's important to start with the youngsters at seven and eight years old and to let them develop through the go-kart process. I think that that's where all racing -- all good racing drivers emanate from and I think you have to embrace the go-kart program. I think we are doing that with our Barber Dodge program. We have got Barber Dodge made a huge effort to bring go-karters up through their series and get them into Barber Dodge, and then from Barber Dodge we get to get them to Atlantic and from Atlantic we need to get them in the big car series. CART has not done a good job at this in the past. We have got to work at this. In Long Beach I spent 15 minutes talking to the young guys who were in the Barber Dodge program, who had come there and they - actually been to Fontana having a race. They came over on the Sunday morning. We visited with them, and we did have some tremendous young folks in there, I mean, great bunch of young drivers, including young Unser, you know, a name you know. But equally there's a lot of talented 17, 18-year-old kids in there that want to become professional racing car drivers. We have been nuts if we ignore that and where they came from. We have to do one thing at a time, put one foot in front of the other and one pad on the leg at a time. Can we embrace everything all at once? No. Can we work at it? Yes. Will we work at it? Absolutely. Do we have staff on board to work at it? Yes.
Adam Saal: Among Chris's scheduled appointments today after he goes on our qualifying show on speed channel he will go right over and address the Atlantic drivers. As a former Indy Lights guy I can tell you wasn't a lot of time you get from the league office, so it will be time well spent. We appreciate it. This is time well spent as well. Chris, thank you very much.