CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach Champ Car Town Meeting, Part III

Champ Car Town Meeting in Long Beach with host Tommy Kendall along with panelists CART President Chris Pook, GPALB Prsident Jim Michaelian, Jim Liberatore of SPEED Channel, Champ Car driver Alex Tagliani and Rocketsports Racing owner Paul ...

Champ Car Town Meeting in Long Beach with host Tommy Kendall along with panelists CART President Chris Pook, GPALB Prsident Jim Michaelian, Jim Liberatore of SPEED Channel, Champ Car driver Alex Tagliani and Rocketsports Racing owner Paul Gentilozzi.

Part 3 of 4

Q: I see no diversity on SPEED whatever. What happened to Willy T Ribbs, Chris Miles? These guys were adequate in the things that they did. All of a sudden they vanish.

Liberatore: It's funny because there's two things. I think even more so in NASCAR that's really mystifying in a lot of ways. When you look at CART, just trying to get younger people involved in the sport at all, of any color in this country, is a challenge.

I'll speak a little bit for NASCAR just because they have an emphasis on diversity. But it is pretty stark when you go to any of these tracks for any of these races and it really is not representative at all. I know NASCAR is really trying to look at the diversity problem. To me a lot of it starts at the lower levels. When I grew up, it was basketball, baseball, football. That's what we played. We met with the karting people specifically talking about Champ Cars and how we can start opening up to the tracks to minorities, to kids, what can we do to get kids in these to go see the tracks. It's got to start at that level. Motorsports, unlike others, it's not all of a sudden -- I think it's great that we see a couple kids here today, but it's not something that you are just going to adopt later in life. I think the issue starts, "How do we start reaching these kids so it's integrated a little more?" I don't really have a good answer for those questions.

Q: There is no answer, so there's no improvement? I've been in motorsports way before most of you. You say basketball, baseball, people were organizing races on the street in Los Angeles because we were not accepted at racetracks. We represent over 2000 individuals that have lost their dreams behind their cars. Is this not going to come to an end or is this what we have to live with?

Liberatore: I would ask you, since you've been involved so long, what you would do to suggest to make a change.

Q: One of the things to make the change, I have had many discussions with NASCAR. Chris probably recognizes me. I can't snap at him too much because if it wasn't for Chris, we would have had those '65 Chevy's going through the guardrails. I want to thank you for those years for that. The reality of that, that was in 1975, too, when we put those guardrails down there. Do you realize since then not one person from out of that black community has come to a professional level, not one? But Jim with SPEED, the diversification of your commentators, it should work there. This is one of the things that's very, very simple. We offered the same thing with NASCAR. Honestly, I don't think the sanctioning bodies want the diversification.

Pook: Hang on a second. If I may, there's an across-the-board problem I think we have compared to other countries. One of the things that happened in this country years ago was the motoring organization used to be AAA. AAA used to run motor racing in this country. AAA went off on its own, does its insurance stuff, bits and pieces. The sanctioning bodies kind of took over the sporting side.

If you look at the European countries, particularly this kid, Sebastien Bourdais, he is backed by the French Federation of Automobiles. That's where his money came from. They embraced him, paid for him to go driving in 3000, they supported him. We have another kid in our series from England, Darren Manning, RAC written on the side of his car. RAC is the Royal Automobile Club. The Royal Automobile Club, that is the sanctioning body for motor racing in the UK. What they've done is they've gone into their coffers and taken money to support Darren Manning and his career. We are sanctioning bodies. We carry this burden. The Sports Car Club of America carries this burden. We all carry this burden of developing young people no matter where they come from to give them a chance.

One of the challenges the our sport, it is expensive. Go-karts today, used to be you could run a go-kart for your kid for a thousand bucks a year. Kids in go-karts, it's five, six, seven thousand. It's very much an issue that has to be addressed. It will be addressed as we move forward.

Q: Jim, you're in a position that can change the situation much faster than Champ Car. How many homes are you into now?

Liberatore: I hear what you're saying. I think the announcers we have are the best in the business. I think to think it's going to start at an announcer level and trickle down, maybe that is one way to think about. It's something that we can talk about afterwards, if you don't mind. I think there are people like you who have been in this business, are minority, who have a much better idea of what to do than what I do. How do we reach these people? I don't know. I have no answer to that, I'll be honest. I would like to talk to you after.

Q: God bless SPEED channel. Chris, as far as the ladder series, you talked about having a clear path to Champ Cars. I have a son here who wants to be the next Michael Schumacher.

Pook: Teach him German.

Q: Don't think we haven't explored that already. Paul made the comment about the Atlantics being under-powered and over-tired. When you look at the current rookies in Champ Cars, a lot of F3000 there, F1 test drivers. Does there need to be something between Atlantics and Champ Cars? Do we need a US F3000?

Pook: We're on that now. Just bear in mind one thing, though. The gentleman sitting next to Paul comes from Atlantics. He came through the Atlantic program. So did Jacques Villeneuve come from Atlantics. So does Patrick Carpentier come from Atlantics. Atlantics is a good series. But today we have to recognize, with all due respect for Toyota and the Atlantic Series, the race car is way too easy to drive. I got myself in serious trouble in Portland for saying this stuff. Paul is trying to cover my ass tonight.

It is over-tired, there is too much downforce on it. We need to make these cars difficult to drive. It is very high on our priority list. We've had some very interesting meetings with Toyota on this subject. I'm sure we're going to get an answer from them very quickly. One of the sad things about CART was the Indy Lights Series because it was a great series. In the history of Indy Lights, all but two of the champions made it to CART. The only two guys that didn't make it up were (Steve) Robertson and (David) Empringham. The only two champions that didn't make it up to CART. Those cars were horrible to drive. They were brutal. But if you learned how to drive one of those race cars, stepping into a Champ Car was like stepping into a Rolls Royce.

We'll fix it. It's very high on our priorities. It will get done. Whether it gets done in 2004 or 2005, I don't have that answer for you tonight. But I can tell you, the ladder system and the development system all the way up from go-karts to Barber Dodge, to Atlantics, no matter what Atlantics will be, then to Champ Car, will be a very, very clear path. We've got to make the growth and availability of the talent so compelling to Paul and his colleagues that they will look at that talent, just as Haas said when he tested Bourdais, "I have to have that kid in my car. I don't care what it takes, but I have to have him in my car." We will get to it.

Q: I'm very interested in the sport, getting started in the sport late. I've called CART, they're very receptive. Everybody wants to help you out, giving me all the advice they can. Talked to somebody named Robert (Dole) in charge of driver development. Bobby Hamilton, he's helping out African Americans. I think African Americans need to get involved, start going to the races. I went to Laguna and they let me into the pit. I wasn't supposed to be there. I'm standing there taking pictures of you guys. As far as the sport being receptive to African Americans, they've been very receptive. Skip Barber. There aren't many African Americans in the audience. Me coming here is a step. I'd like to get more people coming out here with me. I live in South Central. I tell all my friends about it. They're starting to get interested in it. I've been talking to African American companies because they're not interested in the sport, but now they are. Is it takes people like myself saying, "Can you start a team? Get Magic Johnson or something, somebody to give me some money to get those companies to be more interested in it." I think it takes people like us, whoever, just to promote on that ground level.

Gentilozzi: I agree a thousand percent. I ran Willy Ribbs in 1990 on my own nickel, Bill Lester in two races in 1994 on my own nickel because those guys had talent. Willy was a legend when I started in the Trans-Am series. He's been a friend for a decade and a half and will be till the day we all hang this up. Now, he is one of the worst announcers I ever heard. Willy, I hope you're listening because you know I love you, but that hat's got to go.

Everybody in the world has a prejudice of some sort.  But this is the most open.  If
you can drive, if you can win, you'll be a race driver.  I got a stack of resumes
from people who want to drive two feet thick at home.  It doesn't matter whether
they're 10 years old.  Everybody wants to be a race driver. You know, there are
62,000 members in SCCA.  I was just having this discussion the other day.  There are
less than 3000 minority members.  It's a problem we can only fix by participation.

But believe me, if you are fast, and you have enough desire, you'll get a ride. It will happen. But don't say, "This week I'm new in auto racing and I want to be a CART driver." You got to start somewhere. If you win, these young guys, they want to be race drivers, you got to win at every level. Even TK got a job. Really, I learned in 1998 the way to win a championship in Trans-Am was get rid of TK.

Q: When my brother and I went to Laguna together, I was rapping with Carpentier. We've been following CART since we were 10. We liked it because it was so diverse. You get people from Canada, Brazil. It's cool. You see Americans. They're going head-to-head. That's what makes it so cool. If it's All-American, yeah, yeah, yeah. But imagine, "We just beat the guys from Brazil, beat the guys from here." Instead of racing each other, we race everyone from around the world. That's what I loved about the whole thing. Again, when we were around, when we were in Laguna, it didn't feel like one door was shut in our face. We were talking to a guy that had the Bridgestone shirt. He escorted us into the pit. We talked to the engineers, the Lola guys were walking around. They came to us and were just talking like setup and whatnot. "What does this do on the car?" It was really cool, a cool experience for us. Once again, I guess it's all about getting the people in, sharing it with people and getting them in. My brother and I are just a few in a big crowd of people that just don't know about it. I already have like friends that are into motorsports just because we shared it.

Q: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to do this with you. I'm here representing downtown Long Beach. Tag, I got a question for you. How do you feel about racing in the night in these upcoming two races? For the SPEED Channel guys, how is that going to affect how you show the two night races? For Chris, how do these two night races come about? Is there going to be any more in the future?

Tagliani: I think they're going to have the tough job. For us it's going to be easy. I was in Cleveland talking about the race. I heard that the football field is lit up with four big posts with those big lights. Around Cleveland racetrack, we're going to have 22. It's going to be like in the sun. I'm already trying to figure out which visor is going to be the best, what kind of sticker to put on the visor to not get burned up underneath those light bulbs. I think for us it's going to be pretty much the same.

I think Cleveland is a difficult track on its own because you don't have any reference points. It's pretty flat. I think the only concern of most of the drivers is how much the light is going to create some shadows and if you're going to be able to see the rubber down on the track, if you're going to get blinded by the post when you're coming down the straightaway, where you're going to be positioned. Those are all things that we ask ourselves. But we're going to know when we get there. I think it's going to be a great event. For myself, if I have the chance to be on the timing stand and watch some of the guys qualify, the first thing I will look for is the backfiring and the red glow of the brakes when they get into the corners.

Liberatore: As far as we're concerned, Speedvision is not carrying this race. It's funny because there's still people at work, we took a ton of production people with us (laughter). We're psyched because it's a prime-time event. The way the Lingner group does everything, this is going to be great. I hope it works. It's going to be fantastic. One of the things we want to work with CART is trying to schedule their events away from NASCAR and away from Tiger Woods winning a tournament. If I am Tiger Woods, I will play in every tournament there's a CART race that Sunday. He won the Masters, US Open, Bay Hill, all up against car races. At least he was killing everybody. Prime time, it's going to be an event. It's prime time. It's going to be great. We're really looking forward to it.

Pook: The reason why we decided to do that is, first of all, Milwaukee is a great facility. It's actually the oldest racing facility in the United States of America. It will celebrate 100 years this year. They rebuilt the grandstand there at Milwaukee. Unfortunately, over the last two or three years, the promotional level at Milwaukee slipped a little bit. It started a little bit of a downhill slide. Basically Milwaukee needed a new suit of clothes. We decided we'd run at night there.

We went to Musco, the folks that do most of the lighting. They do the golf tournaments, the Battle of Big Horn I think it's called, and they're also the folks that lit Ground Zero during the process of taking those buildings apart. They're very, very capable. That was the decision to go there. Then we just kind of looked at Cleveland and said, "4th of July weekend." Cleveland needs a little bit of a new suit of clothes. It's a very important market for us. Milwaukee is a very important market for us. "If we've done Milwaukee, let's just do Cleveland, too."

We called Musco. 22 units is pretty monster. But we'll do it. Let's get on. In fact, we were there last Thursday night I think I was in Cleveland. They brought one of those units out. Shut the airport down for an hour, fired that thing up. It's absolutely amazing. Just to give Alex a little bit of comfort here, Musco does all the lighting in the United States at all the racetracks that run at night. They're very sensitive to the shadow issue for drivers. There will be lots of time to test the lights and have the drivers under practice sessions on Thursday night. They'll get their feedback and listen to them.

These lights, they're amazing. They can adjust every single light itself. In the bank of lights, there are probably 20, 30 separate lights. Each one can be adjusted by remote. It's very, very sophisticated. It will be really very, very exciting. As Alex pointed out to you, when these go on compression, the blue flame starts to come out the back, when the brakes blow, it will be something pretty emotional, pretty romantic. I think it will be a lot of fun. We want to make it fun for those guys. We'll put lots of usual things, traffic lights, stop signs up, so they can know what they're doing (laughter).

Part IV

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Michael Schumacher , Jacques Villeneuve , Darren Manning , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Gentilozzi , Sébastien Bourdais , Bill Lester , Skip Barber , Chris Pook , Jim Michaelian , Tommy Kendall