An Interview with Chris Pook and Chuck Martinez Part 1 of 2 Adam Saal: Tough act to follow as we congratulate Cristiano da Matta. However, a highlight of the year for us is a brand-new event, Grand Prix Americas, that we put together in a ...
An Interview with Chris Pook and Chuck Martinez
Part 1 of 2
Adam Saal: Tough act to follow as we congratulate Cristiano da Matta. However, a highlight of the year for us is a brand-new event, Grand Prix Americas, that we put together in a relatively short time frame in concert with Raceworks, the American LeMans series, as well as TransAm. We'd like to ask Chuck Martinez, the President and General Manager of Raceworks, who came on board on relatively short notice like everything else with this event to pull off a successful race, and Chris Pook, CART president and CEO, recognized as the founder of modern day street racing in America. A lot of energy, sleepless nights, Chuck. The event looked great. Give us your general thoughts.
Chuck Martinez: Considering, like you said, all the obstacles, the time frame, logistical issues, political, legal issues as you are all aware of, we feel great about this event. Our expectations were met. Very happy about the weather, even though we had a little rain yesterday. It turned out to be a terrific event. Our partnership with LeMans and CART was ultimately incredibly favorable. LeMans was very happy with the event, as I'm sure as CART was. We have TransAm going right now. I think we provided the fans a terrific weekend. Two great concerts. Stands were full. We're very excited. We think this is a terrific platform for future events in this community.
Adam Saal: What was your biggest challenge? You're well-experienced here in the Miami marketplace, have quite a few contacts. Coming into motorsports for the first time, what was your biggest challenge to bring this race off?
Chuck Martinez: Quite frankly, it was really the time frame. We really had a very, very short time frame. Obviously, putting together an urban event like this, urban street race, you're dealing with a lot of constraints, trying to find paddock space. Obviously, everyone in town knows you don't have a choice. Negotiating these things were difficult. The City of Miami, city manager's office, merchants, business people, Bayside, everyone involved downtown was really on our side. This was truly a team effort.
Adam Saal: Chris, these types of events are certainly something that you created the model for here in North America. Even your expectations, were they met today?
Chris Pook: Oh, I think it was just outstanding. I talked to the mayor afterwards, the commissioner. They were really, really happy. At the end of the day, when you do these events in a city, your partner, if you will, use the word "partner" in quotes, is very, very important. We come in, we tear their city up, and they're looking for benefits in return. Those two gentlemen were ecstatic and happy about it. I would be very remiss if I did not congratulate Chuck and his entire team. Chuck did come on board just three months ago or four months ago. He has a remarkable presence about him, and his ability to grasp things very, very quickly. He does have knowledge of the event business, but I was pretty staggered. (GPALB President) Jim (Michaelian) was here on Friday and Saturday, from Long Beach, had been with me at Long Beach for 28 years, he was amazed at what Chuck had been able to achieve with his team.
He's a great leader, not just because he's sitting here today. But the event came off well because of his leadership and his ability to deal with all the constituencies in the racetrack area, which at the end of the day this is what it's all about, your ability to work with your constituencies and make sure that they feel reasonable about what's going on. Job well done to you, Chuck, and your team.
Adam Saal: Focusing on CART in particular as you lead the company through a rejuvenation, how important is it to establish new events in which we can grab attention of fans, sponsors and even new competitors through a venue like this?
Chris Pook: As you know, it's part of our platform, part of our policy going forward that we're going to be in market in major cities in North America and other countries around the world. The fact that we can come here to Miami, which is as a stand-alone market in the United States is a very important market. When you look at what else Miami means in the sense of the ability to reach Central America and the Caribbean and Latin America, it's a very, very meaningful market for us. It's very much a strategic part of our whole plan. Miami is important to us. Tampa/St. Pete will be important to us. Denver was important to us. When we get back to Houston, that will be very important to us. Other major cities in North America, the NAFTA region, we have Mexico City coming up in the middle of November, that's another huge event that's very important to us.
If you look at what CART's philosophy is, it's to go in market, and I mean in the market itself, not 40, 50 miles outside in the countryside. We want to be in the cities, let the non-motor racing fan, if you will, touch and feel our product. Hopefully they'll touch and feel our product by the television set on an ongoing basis which will drive our ratings up and get us back to where we want to be in the division numbers. Nothing new, just copying what (former NFL Commissioner) Pete Rozelle set in motion back in the early '60s.
Adam Saal: We'll start questions.
Q: Just after the halfway point you and I almost ran into each other. I don't think I've ever seen you so relaxed while a race was still going on. Were things just going that good for this race today?
Chris Pook: Well, when you have a guy that runs the racetrack like Martinez, you can go and have a beer. I was pretty relaxed today. There's a lot of stuff here we need to fix. Chuck knows it. We'll talk about it. I think one of the important things that I've got to remember to do is just to stand back and let him do the job because I was in his job for 28 years basically. I need to stand back and let him into the job, then quietly suggest some of the things to him that I see from the experience I have. That's how we work. The one thing about Chuck is, you only have to say something to him once. It doesn't take many words. He grasps things very quickly, goes out and gets it done. That is very reassuring if you're the CEO of a sanctioning body going into a race for the first time.
Q: On Tuesday when we talked, the American LeMans series and CART, this weekend being exploratory. Have we gone past the exploratory stage? Do you think we'll see more companion races next year?
Chris Pook: I think we're past the exploratory stage. We danced together this weekend. We didn't stand on each other's toes. We had a good, productive meeting this morning. We are going to talk. We wanted to see what happened this afternoon before we made a final discussion point. But we'll talk to the American LeMans series this week and see where the next dance floor is going to be.
Q: Will you be in Atlanta next weekend?
Chris Pook: I will not be in Atlanta next weekend, though. Thanks for the invitation, though.
Q: Are you guys going to have an attendance figure for today?
Chuck Martinez: We will have an attendance figure. We're still putting that together.
Q: There were some legal challenges, sort of a protracted battle to make this race happen. There was speculation that there might even be a request for a last-minute injunction. Is that all done? Are you going to be able to move forward with some kind of long-term commitment from the local authorities?
Chuck Martinez: I can't speak for the Homestead folks, but I can tell you that CART is committed to this event. American LeMans is committed. City of Miami and everyone involved, city manager's office, all the merchants. I think people will see what a great event this was and what potential is here. I'm pretty confident. I know we're moving forward. I think we've shown this is a viable event. It can only get better.
Q: Chris, because of the politics, I don't believe you have a contract past this year. Can you talk about the message you got in your conversation with the mayor and also the message you might have gotten in your conversation with (ALMS Founder Don) Panoz? Will there be a firm contract sometime soon or is the politics still a matter of concern?
Chris Pook: Well, I think there will be a firm contract very soon. We'll see if that contract gets legally challenged again. In the meantime, I'm sure Chuck is going to work on pulling a permit for next year as soon as possible. We will continue to walk down those two roads, the one road being the annual permit road and the other road being the long-term contract. I'll leave that to Chuck to discuss with the city, what his best advice is on that.
Q: And your conversation with the mayor, what was his reaction, and Panoz?
Chris Pook: I think very positive. I can't talk for the mayor, but it was a very, very positive conversation. I have every reason to believe that he was absolutely delighted with the weekend. He sees the opportunity for growth of the event, both economic growth in the sense of economic impact for the City of Miami and the presentation of the event itself to South Florida.
Q: You said you don't have attendance figures, not today. Do you have a sense of whether you're going to meet your expectations?
Chuck Martinez: Yesterday was a great day. Friday was light. Fridays tend to be. Yesterday was a great day. Stands full of people, very happy with everything. It was pretty busy. Today was even more so. We're looking at the numbers right now. If we don't meet them, we're going to be pretty darn close.
Q: When do you expect to know for sure?
Chuck Martinez: My job in the next 12 hours is going to be to dismantle this track and make sure the city is working tomorrow at 6 a.m. I'll probably figure out numbers soon thereafter. By the end of the week we'll have something.
Q: What were your expectations? What would be a successful event going in?
Chuck Martinez: I think between 75,000 and 100,000 over the three days. I think we're definitely at the low end of that, at least. We just have to tally everything. If you were out there, if you took a walk, our grandstand area was full, our GA area was full, our suites were all packed. I'll tell you, in the last two weeks, our suites accommodate 40, we were getting requests non-stop to add more. We exceeded all the way across the board in our suites.
Chris Pook: I think it's really important to remember one of the philosophies of CART and its promoters that we do business with in the first-year events is to make sure that we execute on the event well for the spectators and the sponsors who are in attendance. We prefer to have lower numbers, but a top execution, because that's what brings customers back next year in added numbers. What Chuck is trying to do is build a business. Businesses don't get built in one year or in our case three days. These events take at least three years to get to any reasonable level of maturity. You have to build them solidly block by block as you go, not just throw it all together and hope it comes out right.
Chuck Martinez: Our goal for this event was, number one, make sure that CART and ALMS and TransAm were able to work smoothly in all areas, pits, paddock, manage everything, make sure it's at seamless of an operation as possible; two, to be very, very high-end and very, very fan friendly. I think we were able to achieve that. We were working with luxury brand sponsors like Cadillac. That was our intention to show this is a premiere product, separate ourselves from the rest of the marketplace.
Pook< Martinez press conference, part I