An Interview with
Chris Pook, CART President and CEO
and legendary drivers
Michael Andretti and Mario Andretti
Q Question for Chris. Obviously, last year the engine rules were a very contentious issue, and Honda and Ford announcing that they wouldn't be carrying on for differing reasons. But, nonetheless, that was the case. You have announced the new engine rules. You've been working very hard with both Honda and Ford to possibly get them back in the Series. Both parties have made some very positive comments about the improved relationship with CART under your leadership. What can you tell us just about the future in general as you see it as far as engine manufacturers and CART? And is there anything specific you can say about Honda and Ford, Chris?
CHRIS POOK: I can't talk specifically about them because I'm not privy to what their plans are. But I can tell you that, first of all, obviously we're extremely grateful to have had the participation from both those manufacturers over the years. As I've told both of them, in 2002, we are going to work extremely hard to deliver the value to them that they are seeking as a result of their involvement with this Series.
We hope they'll change their mind. We suspect that maybe they can't. But be that as it may, we will demonstrate to them this year that full delivery of value. And, you know, the decision they make will be what it is.
In the meantime, we continue to enjoy extremely good, positive conversations with I believe it's two other manufacturers on a very, very solid footing. And a third one, the conversations are heating up. That is in addition, of course, to Toyota, who have already committed to building a normally-aspirated engine - supply houses, excuse me, that are out there.
You have TWR Engineering, you have Judd, and, of course, you have Ilmor who are all making normally-aspirated engines. So those conversations continue, those availabilities will be available to us. But on the manufacturers' side, I continue to be extremely encouraged.
Q One quick one for Chris and then one for Chris and Michael. International TV package, is that going to be announced soon, Chris?
CHRIS POOK: It will be. It will be, Mark. We are approaching it in a completely different manner. We have some very good developments occurring in addition to the standard ones that are out there.
But we are going to get the international television distribution correct. We're going to do it properly. We're going to do it so it's a value to all the participants in the Series, and not just something that you've got to have for the sake of having international television. We're committed to creating a one-hour highlights program which will be distributed free to any international television carrier that wants to have it.
Then, as we move through country by country, with an extremely experienced marketing agency who we've not announced yet but are working at it flat out, you will see that our international television package, when it emerges, will be probably one of the finest. Will it be as good as Mr. Ecclestone's in Formula One? No. But will it be along the same lines and the same penetration and the same coverages? Absolutely.
But like a lot of things here, if you've noticed under the last two and a half months, we don't like to talk about stuff till we've got something really to talk about.
Q Thank you for the update. Question: In the past we've had the great names in the sport. Michael's getting up there in age --?
CHRIS POOK: Michael, you have anything to say to that?
Q I didn't say he was retiring yet. But we've seen them coming up. We've seen the Graham Rahals the Alex Gurneys, some of which are in the CART system, and others like the Marco Andrettis and the Graham Rahals who are in shifter carts and not that far away. Is CART going to try to do what it can to bring these people along and keep these great names in the sport?
CHRIS POOK: Absolutely. Absolutely. One of the initiatives you will hear from CART over the season is one which we've entitled "Our Heritage is our Future." And we have an incredible heritage. Two members of our heritage you're talking to this afternoon.
We want to make it such that the Andretti name will stay involved in Indy Car racing with championship auto racing teams in the FedEx Series.
Little Al - not Little Al, but what's Al's boy's name, Mario? Mini Al, they call him.
You know, he's coming through the ranks. We've got our eye on him. You mentioned Alex Gurney. There's a ton - a ton - of kids coming out, Rahal's kid. We're keeping our eye on these kids and creating an environment.
MARIO ANDRETTI: How about Marco?
CHRIS POOK: Marco, yeah.
We've embraced the Barber Dodge Series We've embraced that, and we've created the relationship between Barber Dodge and Atlantic and our Series.
You will see us reach very shortly into the Shifter kart series to create the relationship from Shifter kart to Barber Dodge. In fact, there is a relationship between Shifter kart and Barber Dodge because Barber Dodge has a great scholarship out there. It's probably not as much as it should be. We should probably visit that very shortly in one of our press statements.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Also, you have "The Stars of Tomorrow."
CHRIS POOK: And "The Stars of Tomorrow."
So the system is there. We just have to get our arms around it and talk about it and make it such that it's easy for these -- you know, Michael and Mario will tell you that in Europe, the system they have for bringing young guys forward is incredible.
I mean, not only in Europe now, but New Zealanders have a system, the Aussies have a system, the Japanese have a system, the South Americans have a system. We are backward in this area. We have to get it together and really make it work. Because, believe me, there are hundreds of young Americans out there who can drive racing cars very well, indeed. They just need a break to get into the system.
Q Michael, Marco's getting up there in age. Do you see him moving in to the official CART ladder system soon?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Absolutely. I think this year is going to be a go-karting year, and next year he's going to be 16 and able to actually race cars. The first thing we're going to look at is the Barber Dodge thing. We're talking to Skip right now, actually.
CHRIS POOK: Great. That's good news, Michael. I didn't realize he's going to be 16.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: He will be 16, yep.
Q Chris, you expanding marketing agreements and licensing agreements for licensed products this year? I know last year it was all kind of on hold .
CHRIS POOK: Yes, we are. There are marketing agreements being expanded, licensing agreements being expanded, which it's being done internally at the moment in the sense of the strategic plan is being written by a marketing group, and it will emerge here I hope in the next 60 days.
Q Okay. So at that time we can petition or make an application for those?
CHRIS POOK: Absolutely. But like everybody, as I said, we want to get it right first before I launch it.
Q Oh, I quite understand. Michael, this is not an old question again, but how do you feel kind of being the senior statesman now that Mauricio is retired?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Actually, I was older than Mauricio. It was Moreno I really miss the most.
I don't know, it's no different. I don't really think about that at all. I think when you are one of the older guys out there, there's a little bit more responsibility. You just try to take it over. The newer drivers look up to you for things, and, you know, you try to use your experience the best you can and, you know, try to do what's best for the Series.
Q Are you going to be kind of taking over Mo's place on the safety area, or do you know at this stage?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, I'm not sure what Mo's doing, to be honest with you. I assume he's going to still stay involved with the CDA. I don't know what the status is on that.
But there's a lot of other drivers, not just myself, in terms of the safety. A lot of our guys are very much involved in that, and they'll continue to do what they've been doing.
Q Quick one for Chris. How's your son coming along?
CHRIS POOK: He's doing okay, thank you very much. He's got (inaudible) [C2] and he's got another six weeks in his halo, then he'll be ready to get back in to shape and see if he can get back into a race car. I'm not sure he's going to be able to get into a stock car again because it's too rigid. But he'll be able to make a living.
Q Mario, we're waiting for the new vintage to come out.
MARIO ANDRETTI: It's on its way.
MERRILL CAIN: That will do it for questions today. I want to offer it up to the gentlemen on the phone call, Chris, Mario, or Michael, if you guys want to make any final comments here Michael?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: All I can say is I think with the leadership we do have now, I think it's the best chance CART has had in many, many years to get to the point where it needs to be and deserves to be.
As we've all said, we feel that the product we have is second to none. And, you know, I think what's been missing has been the leadership. I think now we have that. So hopefully, you know, it will all be able to play itself out and CART will be around for many, many years.
MERRILL CAIN: Thanks Michael. Mario?
MARIO ANDRETTI: I'm going to make sure that Chris takes all the proper vitamins so he stays healthy and with us for a long, long time to come. Because, again, it's a breath of fresh air. It was a long time coming. And it brings just renewed excitement, renewed energy that was quite lacking in, you know, in an area that is exciting to begin with.
So I'm looking forward to this next season, like I have for quite some time personally. It's primarily to look for some of these different rules that are in place that used to really, really bother me - you know, things that we talked about. Even the, you know, the timed races. I'm sure that you must have the discretion to, you know, to conclude an event in case of extraordinary circumstances. But timed races were, you know, pretty much the order of the day on many of these road courses, which was not good.
So everything that is in place now is something more positive, something that we can really look forward to, and it will definitely enhance the excitement of our events.
As a spectator the last few years, I've been thriving on one thing, and it's the electricity all the practice sessions and all the races have been providing. I think some of the obstacles there that were prevailing in many ways are going to be eliminated. And that, to me, is probably the brightest thing of all as far as what we have to look forward to as aficionados of the sport.
MERRILL CAIN: Thanks for your comments, Mario. Chris?
CHRIS POOK: I just would like to thank everybody for participating this afternoon.
I particularly want to thank Mario and Michael for giving up their afternoon to be on with us.
And to you members of the media who participated, I thank you very much.
Keep an eye on us. When we do wrong, give us a kick. When we do right, maybe just give us a small pat on the back, because the troops are working awfully hard here, and they truly believe in the product. As Mario said, it is just the greatest, and it's full of excitement and fun. We're really enthusiastic about where we're going and what the future is for us.
So I thank you all very much indeed, and I bid you a good afternoon.
MERRILL CAIN: Thank you, Chris. Thank you very much for joining us on the CART teleconference this afternoon.