CHAMP CAR TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH NEW SERIES PRESIDENT STEVE JOHNSON
ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to a special media teleconference as we head into this weekend's event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, round 11 of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, the Champ Car Hurricane Relief 400, which the Champ Car racing community will be putting a large effort towards helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina throughout the Gulf Coast.
Today it is my pleasure to introduce the incoming president, the new president, of the Champ Car World Series, Mr. Steve Johnson. Steve, thank you for joining us today.
STEVE JOHNSON: Thanks, Eric. It's great to be here. I'd like to make a statement, if I could. I'm very excited to be able to have my first of what will be many Champ Car media updates. I view all of you as our allies and partners, and without you, Champ Car would not be in the enviable position it is today. Our organization and series is on solid ground with a focus, business plan, focused ownership group, and a focused executive team leading the charge.
I use the word "focus" because I view that as a key element of our current success and momentum as well as what will drive our future. We're focused on our fans. We're focused on our teams, our sponsors, our track partners, and most importantly delivering the ultimate entertainment value worldwide to automotive sporting and motorsports enthusiasts. It's my honor to be here on this call.
ERIC MAUK: Steve, we have a large panel of media that are familiar with motorsports, but if you could for some of those people that might not be familiar with your background, tell us about where you're coming from.
STEVE JOHNSON: Well, this is really an exciting time for me. It's probably somewhat a funny story on how I got into motorsports. I originally came out of corporate America where I went to work at General Electric. At GE, we were quickly bought by Black & Decker. I left Black & Decker to go for an opportunity to go with Fortune Brands, vice president of sales with the Master Lock Company. I left there and went to Allied Signal, which is now Honeywell. That was my first experience in the automotive area because I had the brands of Fram, Autolite, Bendix and Prestone. I was at Allied Signal, again, now Honeywell, happened to be the grand marshall at an NHRA event in Atlanta, Georgia. It was one of my first big major sporting events, motorsports events, to go to.
As I stood on the starting line between I think it was Eddie Hill, the Pennzoil car, and Kenny Bernstein, the Budweiser car, standing between 16,000 horsepower, I was standing next to the president of the NHRA, when the cars took off, I think they had to pick me off the track, I wasn't sure what hit me, I turned to them and said, "This is the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life. Why doesn't anybody know about this sport?" Dallas Gardner, who was the president at the time, said, "We're trying to get to that next level. Would you be willing to come over and help us?" I said, "Sure." That's how I got into motorsports.
I spent four years at the National Hot Rod Association as the vice president of sales, then I went to the Sports Car Club of America, president and CEO of both SCCA, Inc., and SCCA Pro Racing, which is one of the other companies. I was there for five years. Now I'm on day two at president of Champ Car. It's been a fun two days, let's put it that way.
ERIC MAUK: This weekend we head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. As we alluded to before, the Champ Car Hurricane Relief 400. The whole Champ Car community has banded together, there's been a huge auction running on the CARA charities website through Champ Car. We've already amassed almost $18,000 in bids for the items up there. Talk a little bit about what it means to you for your very first event as Champ Car president to have a cause such as this to go with.
STEVE JOHNSON: Well, it's very special. The hurricane, you know, we've all lived through this now. It's a part of our lives. It's affected every one of us. To see the way the Champ Car family has come together and rallied around this great cause, you know, I'm just really looking forward to going to Las Vegas and being a part of it.
This is something that's not going to end after Las Vegas. Champ Car is committed to helping. You're going to see more initiatives on our part to help out the hurricane areas and all the folks. As we're talking about it today, there's another hurricane hitting Florida. So our thoughts and prayers are with all of those people in that area, as well. Let's hope they get through that unscathed.
ERIC MAUK: We'll take questions from the media now.
Q</I>: How much of a priority is it for you to reach some kind of an accommodation with IRL?
STEVE JOHNSON: Why did I know that question was coming (laughter)? You know, I've had that on almost everybody that's talked with me. If you remember earlier, I said "focused." What Champ Car is focused on is our business and our business model and we're not focused on what's IRL is doing, we're not focused on what NASCAR is doing. I was asked about reunification. The only unification that I'm focused on right now is making sure that everybody that's involved with Champ Car is on the same page, moving the same direction with the same goals in mind. It's not a priority of mine to reunify and to focus on the IRL.
Q</I>: Only your second day on the job, but the only question mark in Long Beach remains is Trans-Am. What do you see happening with Trans-Am? What are the possibilities there?
STEVE JOHNSON: As far as Trans-Am goes, I haven't had a chance to talk to Paul Gentilozzi yet. Champ Car has Trans-Am I believe until November 1. They have to let us, I'm talking with the SCCA hat on, they have to let the SCCA know by November 1st if they're going to continue with the series. All indications are that they are. As a matter of fact, next week I'm going to be at some -- with some potential sponsors talking about Trans-Am.
Right now I would say that it looks like Trans-Am will be back at Long Beach, but there's still some things that have to be done. I'll get some updates from Paul later on. As far as the World Challenge Series goes, you know, that's something you'd have to talk to Jim Michaelian on. He's pretty much the one setting the schedule out there for Long Beach.
Q</I>: Steve, how would you describe what your motivation is in pursuing this job? What are the primary challenges facing you and the organization?
STEVE JOHNSON: Well, the motivation, I've grown up with watching CART, watching open-wheel racing. To have the opportunity to jump into what I think is one of the top motorsport jobs in the world as the president of Champ Car is something that I couldn't turn down.
Now, I also had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Kevin and with Gerald Forsythe, with Paul, those guys are great salesmen. They are as committed to anything as I've ever seen. They had me so excited, I don't want to tell them now, I might have done this job for free the way they had me pumped up. Anyway, that's the motivation. This is one of the leading motorsports organizations worldwide.
Yeah, we've got challenges in front of us, there are certain priorities. I'd have to say our No. 1 priorities is working with our race teams, putting healthy race teams out on the track for our fans and for our sponsors. That's the first area. Obviously marketing is a major area that we're working on, and television. Those are three high priorities as we move forward.
Q</I>: One of the challenges you're facing, it appears to me, is like you were saying just a moment ago, the cars and the teams. We have 18 cars on the grid right now. Six of them are owned by series principals. There have been struggles for drivers and teams to find funding. As the new president of Champ Car, how will you approach that issue? What are some of the things that can be done to fix it?
STEVE JOHNSON: That's a great question. Just so you know, we are in talks with several other teams, so I see that number growing, and growing rapidly. Speaking of growing, take a look at what's happened with Atlantics. I think they've sold now 36 or 37 Atlantics for next year, which is a real healthy sign for our entire sport.
But we're working on, again, creating value. That's what this series is all about. It's about an entertainment value. It's not an accident that we're averaging now -- that we'll average 150,000 people per event. We'll have 2.1 million spectators at our 14 races this year. Next year with 16 races, we'll be over two and a half million spectators. Not many organizations are able to do that. Again, it's not by accident. We're following our business plan. We're adding value. By doing those things, the return on investment is going to increase significantly for the teams.
I've had a lot of discussions already with the team owners. We're in some major negotiations right now with several sponsors that are not only team sponsors but series sponsors. Boy, all I can say is stay tuned because we're going to have some big announcements coming up that has a lot to do with our teams as well as series. So things are actually looking very good there.
Q</I>: You talked about when you were recruited to go to the NHRA, sort of one of your marching orders were to take it to the next level. I guess in some ways you've maybe answered this already, but obviously Champ Car has come a long way from the dark days of the CART bankruptcy hearings and all that. How would you describe what the next level is that Champ Car needs to get to and how do you get there?
STEVE JOHNSON: Well, again, it really comes back down to what we do. We put on probably the best entertainment value there is in racing with the festivals that we're putting on. So we're handling it at the event level. You've been to the races. When you go to Denver, it's a different fan, a different fan base. When you see 150,000, the youths are there, the kids are there. It's a diverse group you see. Those are the Champ Car fans of tomorrow.
We still have the loyal Champ Car fans that are out there, as well. So we really got a couple different markets that we're going after. Will Wilson, our executive vice president of sales and marketing, has come here from the NFL. He's been on board for four months. He's really put together a strong marketing plan. We're not going to be shy about this stuff. We're going to be sharing all those things with you, as well as our strategic plan when we finalize that. You're going to see that. That will answer a lot of your questions in a more detailed fashion.
The other thing we're going to do is work on improving our television package, which is very important for us. We're in TV meetings, actually I believe there's a conference call going on right now on television, things they'd like to see. Just stay tuned with that because we're not going to keep that stuff a secret. We're going to get that out so the media sees it and is on board with what we're doing.
Q</I>: Did you have a chance to see the Champ Car Garage program last night? I'd like to hear your opinion of it.
STEVE JOHNSON: Well, I would like to say yes, but we had a major storm come through Indianapolis last night, and the hotel that I'm staying at, the satellite was lost. Not only didn't I get to watch that, I didn't get to watch anything. I sat in there in my hotel room and read. I'm going to get a copy of it this afternoon and I'm going to view it.
I can tell you, I had many emails today from both Champ Car officials and sponsors, as well as Champ Car fans. I haven't heard anything negative. Everything has been very positive, telling us they'd like to see 52 episodes. Well, funding is a wonderful thing, and it's something that we're working towards, to fund more of those type of shows. From what I hear, it's been very positive.
Continued in part 2