CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland Town Meeting press conference, Part VI

Transcript of Town Meeting: Portland with Chris Pook, Jimmy Vasser, Bill Hildick, Lon Bromley and Scott Pruett Part 6 of 6 Q: Chris, you talked earlier about Max coming back. Could we expect to see Memo Gidley and Bryan Herta in the series.

Transcript of Town Meeting: Portland with Chris Pook, Jimmy Vasser, Bill Hildick, Lon Bromley and Scott Pruett

Part 6 of 6

Q: Chris, you talked earlier about Max coming back. Could we expect to see Memo Gidley and Bryan Herta in the series. Last year there was a big announcement about Mario Andretti being more involved in the company, possibly owning a team. We haven't heard anything about Mr. Andretti lately.

Pook: Well, Mario is on our board of directors. He was at one point endeavoring to put a team together. That didn't materialize. He's still very much involved with us. You'll see him here when we get to Portland. With Memo and Bryan, Bryan got very close on a package this year, didn't quite get there. We clearly want him back. We clearly want Memo back. We'd like to have Alex Barron, as well, maybe young Phil Hill's young son over in Europe is a pretty capable kid that could drive. We'd like to have Alex Gurney up in the series, Rocky Moran, Jr. There's some good guys out there. The problem we have is putting the right chemistry together with the right teams.

The other issue, quite frankly, it's very tough these days for Americans to get in the cars. The Europeans come over, particularly the young Europeans come over, in 10 laps they're on the pace. Our guys, they can drive, but it takes them 60 to 70 laps to get up on the pace. That's a problem for us at the moment. The engineers, they want a driver that comes in and goes quick right away. We're fixing that with our junior series, making those cars more difficult to drive. Our guys will be able to get there. The door is wide open. We would love nothing better than to have the Hertas and Gidleys, Derek Hill, Alex Gurney, Rocky Moran, Jr., Alex Barron in our series. It's just fixing the problem. We'll get it fixed here. Give us a couple years, we'll fix it.

Q: I'm Brian from Portland. With the talk about going to V-10s, you asked earlier if we heard of them. I have. The sound will knock your fillings loose, they're wonderful. With that in mind, Portland has always struggled with sound regulations. How do you see that shaping up?

Pook: Very quietly (smiling). No, we'll work with at that Portland. Mark will be working with us on that issue. We may have to tone down the noise with them a bit. We respect that, the value of the market, being here, is very important to us. We'll make the adjustment accordingly. Thanks for the question. It's a good question.

Q: I'm Don from Portland. This is a question for everybody on the panel. We've heard of improvements in the works at the track here in Portland such as a second pedestrian bridge. If you had a wish list, what improvements would you make?

Bromley: Mark, will I still be your friend after tonight (laughter)?

Wigginton: Bring your checkbook.

Bromley: Well, I'd like to see a little change in the chicane personally, I think for a couple of reasons. I'm a real race fan. I like to see racing. Unfortunately some of our drivers have trouble getting through that first lap due to that chicane. If we could rearrange it somehow at a very low expense to the promoter, I think it would add to our show and make the race that day go a lot better for us.

Pook: I think actually Mark and I have talked a bit about the chicane last year. Mark has it on his dial sheet to get done. I think that's probably where we've got to be. Again, this is a delicate balance about what you do, how much pressure you put on the racetracks to constantly change. Coming from the promoter's side, it's cheaper to change a race car than it is to change a racetrack. We have to have a balance here and a communication. The days of CART just walking in and slamming their foot down and saying, "You will do this, you will do that," are gone. We now communicate and talk, work with our promoters to make sure that what we do is sensible.

We also have to understand that we're only here once a year. He's running this racetrack every week with all kinds of different series. We've got to be respectful of the other series that run on this racetrack at the same time. We might want changes that may be good for us, but can't be good for other series. We can't be selfish. We have to understand in today's world, it's a give and take situation. The street has two directions. That's where we will come from in these discussions, arrive at a compromise for everybody.

Bromley: Mark is safety oriented here at PIR. He's always right on top of things. I'm always asking for new things. What we don't see are all the other small things, the many things that he puts into that racetrack, wall, fencing, dirt work. That's because we just don't think about the little things, but they're just as important as the big ones. My hat is off to Mark.

Q: I'm Howard, Estacada, Oregon. I want to say thank you to Lon and Bill for all the work they've done behind the scenes. Having been out on some of the corners, particularly in the rain on turn seven, all the work it took to get those guys moving again quickly, it's amazing. As far as what we the fans can do, CART stock is at an all-time low, buy some. I was amazed to see it didn't move after that wonderful race last weekend. What does it take to get it moving, Mr. Pook?

Pook: You know, I can't do anything about the stock. I don't look at the stock. I'm sorry, shareholders. If I look at the stock, I'll go bananas worrying about that. I just know when we fix the company, we'll fix the stock. That's what's going to happen. The stock will take care of itself.

Q: Alex from Guadalajara, Mexico. Will Champ Car organization support drivers, as they do in Mexico, Brazil, they have the Team Brazil in Europe, sponsor a particular pool of pilots so they can come up and be on the top level?

Pook: That's our plan, exactly. By the way, in Mexico they're doing an outstanding job of bringing young racing car drivers up. They have a very, very structured program, excellent program that starts way down in the lower classes and brings them through. The young driver Luis Diaz that won a couple of our races in Atlantic last year sat in for Adrian Fernandez last year in Mexico City. Unfortunately, the car broke early in the race. He's a talented driver that will come through.

That is our plan, exactly that. We need to make our junior series a bit more difficult to drive. The Atlantic series is too easy to drive. Our whole intent is when a guy wins that series, he'll have a chunk of dough to take with him up to the big team, and that will start their career off at the next level. The Europeans and the Brazilians, Mexicans are way ahead of us. The Canadians have a good driver program, too. We unfortunately have not paid attention to that over the years. We're going to pay attention to it now. That will eliminate the problems, we won't have the Memo Gidley problems, Alex Barron problems. We will put drivers up through the system every single year.

Q: Chris, I used to have my own identity. I'm know known as Jason La Point's dad. He's kind of come up through the ladder that you're speaking of, the Star Mazda series, US F2000. He's won the championships. Basically what we found out, after winning each championship, you had the right then to now spend more money to try to win another one. What you just spoke of over here is real encouraging. The first race in the Toyota Atlantic at Road America toward the end of the season in 2001, put the car in third place against seasoned drivers. He did run two more races, ran Laguna Seca, down through the streets of Houston. I can tell you that most of these young kids out here, they look for that carrot and how can you get there. Right now it is strictly a money issue.

It's nothing to get two or three phone calls a week from an Atlantic team that want Jason on their team, they want him to drive for them, but it's a money issue. They'll give it to him for half the price they would a driver they don't think could win the championship. That's probably just one statement. The question I have for you is on this foundation that you're building for CART. You bring up the American driver issue. I think that's possibly where this foundation is. If you want the American fans, the people in this room like myself love the technology of your series, we love the road courses of your series. What we're lacking is the person to go out there to yell and cheer for, pronounce their name. I can pronounce Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The rest of them I would struggle with. I think if you went around the room, you'd see the same thing.

I kind of got turned on with that through a person I met about five, six years ago who ended up being my stepfather-in-law who is a huge NASCAR and IRL fan. He mentioned to me one day, Jason and I talked to him about why he didn't like CART, and that was the reason. "I can't pronounce any of their names." I think in that foundation you need the AJ Foyts, Al Unsers, Rocky Morans, Michael Valientes, Jason La Point, Scott Jenkins is here tonight, Chris Knight is over here. These are some talented kids that could be up there if it wasn't just for one issue, money. Some of these fans out here would love. Jason La Point was born in Woodburn, Oregon, editor of the newspaper, captain of the tennis team, valedictorian. The thing they said about his senior clip where they put the things in there, Jason La Point will win the Indy 500 five times and put Woodburn on the map. He needs the opportunity to get in the car and go try. If you can get some American drivers in there, get a fan base built up, that's where NASCAR has this series beat, they have the fan base. They're paying for those sponsors to be on the car, et cetera. I think that really should be a priority on your list of getting people in there that can bring a fan base with them and build that up.

Pook: We're very much aware of that. It's a pretty high priority. I empathize with you. We have to do two things. We have to bring the cost of sport down at the same time as having a program like that. The costs have been let to get out of control. It's nuts. Absolutely crazy. Atlantic Series is a million dollars a year. That's stupid. Doesn't make any sense at all. We'll fix it.

Q: I'm Robin from Portland. I enjoyed the race. I got a little lost because you didn't really show the new drivers with the new paint jobs and didn't really give us a chance to get to know these new drivers. Is the TV package going to work more on that so we can actually cheer for these people, we'll know how to pronounce their names?

Pruett: There's so many new things about CART going into the season. We don't know their names. We're like, "How do you pronounce Sebastien, Bourdais?" We're going through. You're laughing, but it was the same thing in our meetings. We also talked about, because of all these new paint schemes, new names. We did a clip on Bourdais, we showed his face, then we showed his name on the side of his race car. You could kind of see a bit of the color. That's the direction from the TV side of it that we want to head. There's so many new things about CART that it was just absolutely impossible to try inundate all this information to the viewers in such a small amount of time and cover what's going on, covering all the action on track from qualifying and from the race. We're going to make every attempt to try -- let the viewers, just as we want to know the different colors and faces, names that go with all these different and new teams and drivers, we're going to do whatever we can to help the viewer understand that because we know that's a big issue.

Q: Maybe a Welcome to CART half hour show to get us to know these drivers.

Pruett: There's a lot of things being discussed exactly like that, as well as running around on Friday afternoon -- Thursday afternoon, real little quick clips, vignettes, to try to bring these guys to life. Everything has been so new and so different coming into this season, we're trying to find our way as well.

Q: My name is Jamie. I'm from Aloha, Oregon. We've talked a lot about the Stars of Tomorrow and the driver development series. My question is, within that framework, are there any efforts being made to particularly courage women drivers to come up through the series?

Pook: Yes, there are. Her name is Danica Patrick. She gets on with the program. You'll see her in Atlantics this year. She pushes the button. She doesn't take any guff from the guys either. She's quite something. She's quite something.

Q: My name is Jennifer Berry. Actually, I drive Formula 500s here in Portland. But I'm probably too old to be part of your program.

Pook: We have lots of programs, my dear.

Q: You're looking for new ideas. You have for years been partnered with SCCA to provide turn workers for your races. Is there anything possibility of you partnering with SCCA club racing to give those of us who do club racing at all of the venues you go to every year a possibility to get involved? Also getting more of our SCCA turn workers into Lon Bromley's safety program, too.

Pook: Well, I'll let Lon answer that himself. Part of the discussions when I went to Topeka, Kansas, recently with Steve was to see how we could work together in those areas to showcase in the regions some of the amateur races that go on, and also at the same time to be able to have some dialogue with the SCCA particularly when it comes to the runoffs about people who do well in the runoffs, how we introduce them to the next step in professional racing, be it single seater or maybe going across to American LeMans series. Those conversations are underway. It's part of the whole rebuilding of our relationship with the Sports Car Club of America.

Bromley: I understand, I've heard a lot of rumors, that Chris may volunteer myself and some of my group this year to do some special instruction with SCCA. I think that's a very special step to get involved with the SCCA. We'll just move on from that point. What do you think?

Q: Sounds great.

Pook: Lon actually has to go and do some speaking engagements for us concerning safety because it's very sophisticated, the work that he and his team does. I think people take a lot of this issue for granted from time to time. If you all knew the preparation that goes in not just to the building of the vehicles they have for this safety program, it's truly remarkable. Many long, hard hours of work. When they have to work, the intensity of the level of work they have to do is horrific because they literally are fighting for seconds in some instances, such as the case with Zanardi. We had a situation in Australia where we had all 16 guys or 18 guys fully employed out there flat out working on that situation. We need to understand more that side of it, that side of our business, because it's a very, very important part. It's an emotional part of our business, as well.

Q: Howard from Vancouver. I want to congratulate you on a great job. Also that CART.com is an excellent website for fans. My point I wanted to make was a lot of talk about the feeder program and the American drivers versus the South American and Mexican drivers. I think we're at a disadvantage in the United States. Any of you that have traveled to any large city in those other countries, taken one taxi cab drive, you'll know where they have it up on us, where they have the advantage.

Pook: Four-time world champion from Buenos Aires named Fangio came out of a taxi cab, went into a race car. Your point is well made.

Saal: Scott, bring it to conclusion. It was a great evening.

Pruett: It was a great evening. As I said, my family, myself, moved to the Portland area, McMinnville. What a great turnout. Give yourselves a hand. Super job. Sorry we couldn't get to all the questions this evening. I know there were a lot unanswered. Also to our guests Lon, Chris, Bill, they've taken the time to come here and talk with us this evening, explain and help us understand where CART is, where CART is going, what's happening with it, some other aspects that we didn't understand before we got here, and hopefully we do as we finish wrapping up the program. Let's give them a hand, as well.

Pook: On behalf of the management team, everybody at CART, I would like to thank you all for coming out tonight. I think it's terrific you did this. It's very healthy for us to hear from you, your input, your points, all of you. I'm very grateful to you. I want to assure you that we're going to fight and we're going to fight and we're going to kick ass and take names and we're going to get this series back up to the top again where it belongs.

Pruett: Thanks again. I know we'll be around for a few minutes, milling around. Come by and ask us some questions. Again, thanks so much. We'll see you at the races.

Part I

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Alex Gurney , Derek Hill , Jimmy Vasser , Memo Gidley , Adrian Fernandez , Paul Tracy , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Alex Barron , Mario Andretti , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Chris Pook , Rocky Moran , Danica Patrick