An Interview with
Chris Pook, CART President and CEO
and legendary drivers
Michael Andretti and Mario Andretti
Q Good afternoon to Chris, Michael and Mario. I guess a question to Chris is certainly and, understandably, a lot of attention is focused on the departure of Marlboro and Penske to the IRL. And, again, the stated reasons for that was that Philip Morris and Marlboro, you know, wish to be involved in a Series that is 100% focused on the domestic market. But the flip side of that is that about a month ago there was a new sponsor that came into CART, namely Gigante, the chain of sort of super-stores in Mexico which, I believe, is now starting to kind of get a foothold in the United States and California. I wonder if anybody, you know, could talk about ultimately the significance of that. And, as a second question, sort of Part B to this rambling question, maybe talk a little bit about the fact that CART has a very significant presence both with races in Mexico and with three Mexican drivers. And do you think that CART has done enough to capitalize on the presence of Adrian Fernandez and Michel Jourdain in the past, and now with Mario Dominguez, do you see CART trying to make more hay of that within that growing population in the United States?
CHRIS POOK: Thanks, David.
First of all, let me just point one thing out to you, okay. I mean, we're all talking about Roger Penske's departure from our Series. But there's one thing you don't know. For some reason, he has still reserved his car numbers 2 and 3 in the Series for this year and asked for them to be held all year.
I don't know what that means, but it means something. (Inaudible) either value at 2 or 3, and we haven't discovered how to charge for it yet (laughter).
The second part about Gigante and the third part about, you know, the positioning of CART and the Mexican drivers, Gigante, actually, the arrival of Gigante is perfect, the timing is perfect. I think that just really underlines what I've been talking about with regard to the North American free trade association between Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Here's a very good example of a company that's racing in our country, has got an affiliation with a major U.S. outlet, a retail outlet in this country. They're taking advantage fully of the NASCAR regulation and using CART as a marketing platform, a marketing vehicle, to achieve it. It won't be long before they're up in Canada. Office Depot is their relationship in this country. They're clearly going to leverage those relationships together, and Canada will be the next market that they'll move in to.
So the whole marketing platform concept, I think, is being borne out in this instance with this particular company, as it is with Tecate, by the way. We should not forget Tecate.
By the way, Quaker State Mexico is funding one of the teams this year, the Herdez Team, and they're using the Canadian/U.S. platform to further their national brand name.
So that whole thing is starting to come together, and I suspect that you're going to see many more countries that will take advantage of these three big marketing platforms that we've got. That's the European economic community, represented by our races in Germany and England; the Pacific rim communities with Japan and Australia; and, of course, the North American with Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Now, moving on to the third part of your question, if I remember correctly, that was the issue of the three Mexican drivers that are in the Series. We see this as, once again, another huge cross-marketing opportunity, a cross-pollination opportunity.
We are in the process now of getting our Spanish language broadcast distribution in the United States television network put together. As you know, there are two now, and a third emerging, Spanish-speaking television networks operating in this country. And we are now going to - very shortly you'll see an announcement about us putting our races on the Spanish-speaking networks in domestic United States to reach our Latin American customers who are resident in this country.
So that clearly has come about as a result of the three Mexican drivers who are here participating in our Series. And it will be the opening of the doors, if you will, of the CART FedEx product to the Latino, resident Latino community of our country, by delivering the product to them with a Spanish language broadcast.
I hope that covers the three questions. Was there a fourth one buried in there that I didn't get?
Q There may have been. If there was, I forgot it. That's fine. Thanks very much, Chris. I appreciate it.
CHRIS POOK: Thanks.
Q First, I want to say hello to Chris. You and I have walked the racetrack many days here in Memphis. One of the things, Chris, that I noticed about you is you do everything when you're at the racetrack from park the cars to pick up trash as we walked along the garage. I'm wondering, with that type of hands-on approach that you have, when you sat down and you talked to the Board members at CART about coming on board, was that part of what you said, that if "I can't have control and hands-on, I don't want this job"?
CHRIS POOK: Well, I don't think I said that, Ron, to them. I think that probably they knew that's the sort of way I've operated over the years. I mean, Mario's seen me when we first started. I am very passionate about this business.
MARIO ANDRETTI: I don't think that needs to be said at this stage.
CHRIS POOK: You got to be hands-on. I think this is the type of sport where you have many constituents, and you really do need to -- I have an expression about getting my arms around people, getting my arms around projects. You've got to get your arms around every aspect of this business. You've got to be sensitive to it, and you've got to be understanding to it.
I think that's just what I've learned over the years. And, you know, what you see is what you get. I mean, my stage in life, you're not going to make too many changes. I'm sure I'll be driving people crazy if I see trash lying on the ground around the racetrack or I see things that aren't presented in the right way. I'll be a pain in the rear. But that's just the way I'm built. At the end of the day, that's how I get the job done.
Q I've noticed in the press conferences, one of the press conferences that was held at Sneak Preview, that a number of the members of the media kept bringing up the IRL/CART situation, what have you. And I sat back and kind of looked at it. Maybe my warped sense of looking at things, I thought that maybe -- is it the media in your mind that is creating this alleged war between CART and the IRL instead of there actually being a war between CART and the IRL?
CHRIS POOK: Oh, absolutely, it's the media that's having a field day with this thing. And CART's, you know, certainly over the past few years, as Mario has pointed out, has fueled the fire.
But, you know, they are two very different Series. You can ask Michael about it and ask Mario about it; they're much more experienced and adept at answering this question than I am.
But we are a multi-venue Series: road courses, oval courses, street courses, in key major markets around the world. And, you know, we do go overseas and we do go to other places, and we are different. We're totally different. They're two entirely different products.
The fact that the racing cars have got four wheels and are powered by engines and we burn methanol is probably the only similarity, and they're driven by human beings. That's the only similarities.
I think it's because of those similarities that your colleagues in the media like to build up the, you know, the paper man and see if they can knock him down. But, you know, I mean, I think Mario and Michael should comment on that. As I said, they're more experienced in that than I am.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Can I comment a second?
You know, we have to go back to say 1994, for instance, Indianapolis, pre-IRL, when CART was still going through Indianapolis and it was sanctioned by USAC.
I don't know if anybody can argue that those were definitely the best days to date - the best, the most successful events at Indianapolis. Indianapolis has changed so dramatically.
Tony George, you must respect him for having a vision, but I could never understand why he would try to fix something that wasn't broken. He made comments about he had problems with the -- he was hearing rumors that CART was not very pleased with being three weeks there, and on and on. And he was afraid that probably they would boycott or whatever.
I've been there since 1965, and always bellyached as a driver about being there three weeks or four weeks. But did I ever miss a day? I mean, we're allowed to bellyache. But, you know, at the end of the day, were we ever glad to be there? You're darn right. Were we always there? You're darn right. Would we always support it? You're darn right.
So, again, all of these things that Tony thought that were potentially a threat to the stability of what he had there were just a pipe dream. You know, the race as we knew it had been destroyed until, in my opinion, some of the CART drivers started going back and it created some new excitement. And by creating this alternate Series, I think, if anything, that idea is what forced many fans to obviously make choices which became emotional.
So, you know, okay, we can blame the media to some degree, but it was the idea of this alternate series that I think created all these problems. And you can't tell me that motor racing, you know, open wheel racing, is better today because of the IRL. The IRL created - or damaged it, you know, to an incredible level. Everybody's trying to make the best of it now and so on and so forth.
But, you know, a lot of people don't realize that as far as open wheel cars, single-seaters, USAC was beginning to see the future back in the middle '60s by going to road racing. And they could see that that was the natural way for this type of racing to go and to be more attractive and attract a wider span of fans.
When CART came on, they expanded on that. A lot of road racing teams, you know, like the Newman/Haas team used to say - and Paul Newman had never been involved in oval racing - they were basically with a racing background, and they brought in that other flavor. That's what made the Series great.
From a driver's standpoint, I would have never come out of Formula One, I would have ended my career there for better or worse, if I would have had to come back to an all-oval series in the United States.
And, again, we can go back and beat this dead horse over and over and over and put blames all over the place, and the big problem was when this alternate series was started, which was not needed.
Q I do have a question for Michael. Traction control, Michael. Is there time to understand it before Monterrey, or is it a shooting gallery?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I don't think there's going to be as much in it as everybody thinks, especially lap time. I think the advantage of traction control is going to be more in saving your tires type thing.
I think, yeah, we did a lot of testing with it the last test, and, you know, these manufacturers have been using traction control for many, many years. I mean, I used traction control back in Formula One back in 1993. So it's not like it's something new, so it's not going to be a huge deal.
CHRIS POOK: One other point, let me just say to make it very clear, we have the greatest and utmost respect for the Indianapolis 500 and Tony George. We have cleared our calendar so that our troops can go back and run at the Indianapolis 500. If Tony decides to create a Triple Crown and gives us another couple 500 races to put into the mix, I assure you we will not get in the way of our racing car drivers running there.
The greatest thing that could happen for us this May is for Team Motorola and Michael to go back to the Indianapolis and go home and take the Indianapolis 500 checkered flag. I'd be the happiest man in the world if that happened.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, you wouldn't (laughing).
CHRIS POOK: Second or third happiest.