CHAMPCAR/CART: An interview with Chris Pook 2001-12-20, part II

Part II Q. CART just took a pretty good hit with Penske leaving, and the perception is that the organization is in trouble; that may or may not be, but the perception is that it is. How do you intend to rectify that situation, and how can you...

Part II

Q. CART just took a pretty good hit with Penske leaving, and the perception is that the organization is in trouble; that may or may not be, but the perception is that it is. How do you intend to rectify that situation, and how can you make up for losing a man whose name is almost synonymous with CART?

CHRIS POOK: That is a very fair statement. He was one of the founders with Pat and Gurney and he was one heck of a competitor. Let's not forget is was only a year back that Roger was having a terrible time having his cars run up front, run in the middle of the pack, and at one point even qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. And this is with all due respect to Roger because he is an incredibly capable guy.

But don't cast the other guys in the CART series out of the window, we have got some solid citizens in this series, okay, and some really quality guys. Just look at the number of the winners we had last year in the CART series. There were 11 different winners last year in the CART series.

So, you know, I know that all you guys are in love with Roger, and rightfully so, because he is a very capable man and he is a tremendous leader in American business and in American sport, but don't underestimate our other guys. We are moving on. You know, it's sad to lose Marlboro; it's sad to lose Roger. We're all going to lose tobacco in 2005. But meantime, the window looks open for Brown and Williamson, the players brand, and we will now focus on those folks and we will see what we can do to create the right environment so they can create the right business and thrive with CART until the government stops them doing business with sports in this country.

Q. Earlier you were very clear on this reported mandate that you had been given to remove team owners from the board of directors --

CHRIS POOK: No. I didn't say I had a mandate to remove --

Q. Reported mandate, I'm sorry.

CHRIS POOK: No, no. The board of directors and the shareholders -- the shareholders decide who is on the board of director, not the CEO of the company. The shareholders will decide who the board members are, and the board members who do not want to serve there, they will decide to either not run or not serve.

But the CEO does not say who runs on the board of directors of a public company. I want to be very, very clear.

Q. It's also been reported that they were interested in seeing you become CEO, or at least one or two of them; and they were also interested in resolving or curtailing the powers of the Franchise Board. Do you have any comment there?

CHRIS POOK: No, I don't. I mean, I can't comment on that -- the Franchise Board is a unique situation here and I think it played a very unique role in the growth of CART.

The Franchise Board as we know it today -- and I am only talk from management's viewpoint here. I am not talking on behalf of the board and I want to make that very clear to you.

Management's point of view, the format as we know the Franchise Board today does need to be changed, but we do absolutely need to have the input of our car owners into how we do business. They make up a very, very important part of the product called CART.

As also, do we need the input of our race promoters; they make up a very important part of the product called CART and we need the input of our sponsors and manufacturers, as well.

You know, I think that we have to create a balance here and we have to have a communication process. We have to listen to the constituencies. We have to all come together to find the right solution, and I think it's very possible to do it. It's been done before, and we'll do it again.

Q. In response to the Speed Channel television coverage, did I hear you correctly that there will be Friday and Saturday qualifying this year?

CHRIS POOK: It is my proposal to go back to our team owners and suggest that we have a qualifying period on Friday.

Q. What about the St. Petersburg area appeals to you and CART at this point?

CHRIS POOK: It is the largest street area in Florida, larger than Miami and that's of interest to us. Number two, if you look at the circuit that's been laid out there, this circuit has potential to be a truly, truly romantic circuit. It has the waterfront area, the harbor there that we can build into a mini Monte Carlo. The city itself is unique, the architecture -- street circuits are made up of unique bits and pieces that create a character to each street circuit. St. Petersburg has all of these ingredients necessary, and it has the market adjacent to it in order to deliver what we need to deliver to our sponsors suppliers, manufacturers, media and our audience.

Q. As you've alluded already, CART has become much more of an international event, especially with the third week up here in Canada, a second one in Mexico and in Europe. Do you see the series continuing in this format?

CHRIS POOK: Again, I don't want to be repetitious here, but we are going to be driven by what our constituencies want. If they want to have a race in Podunk, we'll go to Podunk and have a race if it made sense to our teams and all of our constituencies.

I think the combination of North America, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. makes a very, very good combination; and as I said before, overseas races add a flavor to it. And the fact that we have international drivers is also very important. We have got two good Mexican drivers in Michael Jourdain and Fernandez; two good Canadian drivers in Tagliani and Carpentier -- do you want to take credit for Tracy or should we have him down here?

Q. Well, he's born in this town.

CHRIS POOK:   But he acts like a kid from Phoenix sometimes.
(Laughs).  Anyway, I'm just being facetious with you.

I think we have got a good Brazilian core of drivers and I hope that we'll have a very good English driver and Australian and German. Young Dixon, believe it or not, was born in Australia but raised in New Zealand. He's the youngest guy to ever win a race last year for us.

You look at that combination, and I think the chemistry is good and I think that -- you know, I'm not going to sit here and tell you now that we are going to go on and get all kinds of other international races. We're going to -- we are going to, we are going to reinforce what we have here right now and get that right before we step across the ice some more.

Q. One of the criticisms of CART, one of the reasons some see it as having problems is the lack of a major event, i.e., the Indy 500. Do you think that is necessary, an event that belongs solely to CART and do you plan to propose such an event?

CHRIS POOK: I don't think I plan to introduce such an event and there could never be another event like the Indy 500. It is the Indy 500. It is what it is and it is a wonderful event and deserves every bit of recognition it gets.

What I would remind you is that before there was this supposed split between the Indianapolis 500 and CART, CART drivers used to run at the Indianapolis 500, and you've seen the last two years CART drivers go back to the Indianapolis 500. I think that we want to be able to be sure is that our drivers have all of the flexibility in the world to go participate in the Indianapolis 500.

And for us to go out and try and manufacture an event and the attempt was to try to compete with or be like the Indianapolis 500, it would be a very poor, bad, strategic mistake on our part.

Q. Well, as long as it belongs to the IRL, do people look at the IRL as having the marquis event of open-wheel racing in North America?

CHRIS POOK: Probably they will, yeah. Absolutely. Why not? And why shouldn't they? The IRL has their product; it is an oval series and we are not. We are a completely different series. We are a multi-national series comprised of different disciplines, racing on ovals, road and street courses. And the only one comparative item is that some of our guys who race on ovals who like ovals will be able to go and race the Indianapolis 500.

I am hopeful that some of the IRL guys will want to come over and race with us, and I am hopeful that some of our guys will race in more IRL races. That's really our position.

But, you know, I don't think we need to reinvent the wheel here.

Q. CART has lost some of its U.S. oval venues in the last couple of years and the most successful events are road and street races, Long Beach included. Are you going to try to build the U.S. oval presence for CART and use what you learned from events like Long Beach to try to rebuild their stature?

CHRIS POOK: Absolutely. We are going to rebuild the oval events, get after them and build them up. And we will use the basic disciplines that the successful road courses and street events have and the successful disciplines that some of the oval events have. We'll build these with team work between ourselves and our promoters, our racing car drivers and our teams and our sponsors. Not a complicated process to put backsides in seats. We have just got to be disciplined and make it attractive for our customers to go to.

Q. Do you foresee CART strengthening its relationship with ISC to try to run on some of the ISC ovals that have been dropped from?

CHRIS POOK: Clearly, we want to build our relationships. We don't want bad relationships with anybody. That's not what we are about. All of us in the motor spots business, we are in too small a segment of the marketplace to be throwing rocks at each other or yelling at each other and not getting along.

What happened with ISC was very unfortunate. I can't speak to it at all. It's not by business, not my watch. I was just a little old promoter at that time that those particular thing happened.

But are we going to outreach to ISC? Absolutely. Are we going to outreach to IRL? Absolutely. Are we going to outreach to American LeMans series? Absolutely. Are we going to outreach to SECA? Absolutely. We are here to cooperate with folks and build relationships and move forward. We are not here to heave rocks and bury our head in the sand.

Q. There's talk of doing a possible joint race with the ALS in Miami; I would like to get your opinion on such an event. And will you be looking as a proposal?

CHRIS POOK: I will be looking at every single proposal that comes in the door.

Miami is a great market and we need to evaluate it carefully. We also need to be sure that what we've got on our plate we execute properly and we don't overextend ourselves here in the immediate future.

But the answer is: Yes, we will look at that, as we will with any promoter that wants to come in the door here and offer us a concept or idea or proposal. Absolutely.

Q. Do you feel there's enough time to do an event in April given where we are today?

CHRIS POOK: What capacity are you asking me that? As my ex-employment or current employment?

Q. I guess both. Do you think there's enough time to promote the event to be a CART race, as well as an ALS race, given the date?

CHRIS POOK: Lead time in putting on a circuit event, the single most important element there is. It's all about planning and execution. And when you do a temporary circuit event, do you it in somebody else's environment, a city's environment, you have to have the public sector totally on board with you as you go down the road to do the event.

So to try, in my opinion as -- in my 20-some years, 27 years in a temporary circuit business, to go in and try to do a new temporary circuit event in four months would not be the most sensible thing for the promoter to do, let alone this company to involve itself with.

That's not to say in the future with the right planning and the right put-together, we would not be interested in doing it.

Q. Do you have any plans on running this business out of southern California, which is your home, or do you plan on moving to Detroit, or do you plan on moving the CART office?

CHRIS POOK: I'm staying in Troy.

Q. Do you see Las Vegas somewhere on the horizon for either an oval race at the Speedway or a street race?

CHRIS POOK: Some are on the horizon. A street race would be very hard there in Las Vegas. I can't tell you the number of times I've been to Las Vegas in the last ten years to do street race concepts.

If we run on the oval, it will be at the pleasure of Mr. Smith and Speedway of Motor Sports.

Q. Seems like one of the things you stress is any venue you promote, you want the promoter to come to you with a proposal.

CHRIS POOK: Forgive me. No -- no. What I'm saying is that I think that question was asked in line with the Preferred Promoter Status, and I was answering it in that context of the Preferred Promoter Status. We will identify -- this company has identified markets it wants to go into, and as the timing is correct and our constituents are comfortable with it, we will then go after those markets, but we are not going to did it in a vacuum.

Q. What is your opinion, the most experienced promoter in the country with Las Vegas, do you think Las Vegas could support a race at the Speedway -- it wasn't able to do that in the other open-wheel circuit.

CHRIS POOK: It's all in how it's promoted and how it's presented. I think that's the real question here. I think Las Vegas would be a fun place to go do an event. Whether or not -- whether or not we could compete with the casinos and the machines and the tables; that is the question.

This is not like boxing. NASCAR has been very successful there and you've got to hand it to them. I believe the NHRA was successful with their event there.

I think we have to evaluate the market very carefully, and if we go to that market we would have to do it with; A, Smith's blessing; B, we would have to create some major strategic alliances within the Las Vegas casino community to make sure that we were getting folks out to the race and folks in the casino at the same time.

Q. Mr. Heitzler was very interested in eventually having a CART headquarters located in Las Vegas. Could you comment on your thoughts about that?

CHRIS POOK: I think Las Vegas would be a wonderful place for a headquarters. But we are in a motor racing business as a primary business, and I think we might be a bit of a loner sitting out there in Las Vegas in this type of business.

Q. Are you going to move to Troy?

CHRIS POOK: I'm in Troy.

Q. Are you going to live in Troy?

CHRIS POOK: Yeah, I'll maintain a residence here in Troy.

Q. We were just wanting to know, when are you going to report that Forsythe resigned from the board? We have not seen it in a press release.

CHRIS POOK: Well, you've reported it already on this conference call, so it's academic.

We will file the necessary paperwork as it's appropriate for us to do.

Q. When did he resign?

CHRIS POOK: Yesterday, I think. I think we got it today.

Q. Has anyone else resigned?

CHRIS POOK: Not that we know of, no.

Q. I have a question regarding the international television deal and how it is shaping up and what the timing of the agreement is as far as the announcement. And also, with regards to what was mentioned earlier about developing shows on CBS and developing the audience, what cost do you think will be associated with that development, and are you going to continue to pay for CBS to air your races?

CHRIS POOK: The agreement calls for us to buy time on CBS and we will honor that agreement and we will support that show with the necessary advertising.

Now, your question concerning overseas television, we enjoy very good overseas television currently in Brazil and Australia. I think that we are in the process of putting together our overseas television package. We are taking a different tact towards that this time around because we have to recognize that we do have events in a certain number of countries and we really want to maximize our relationship with the event promoters in those countries in the appropriate television in their respective countries.

We will take a different perspective, but overseas television will be a very, very important part of our strategy.

I am not prepared to address it at this time and probably won't be able to address it until after a business plan is approved by the board on January 22 or 23.

Q. One thing about relationship with the press. The series calendar, which obviously cannot change for this year and probably not too much fiddling for 2003, the racing season opens up off-shore. Yes, Mexico is NAFTA, etc., Etc., But speaking to news outlets and AP, if something doesn't happen in the U.S., it gets short shift. And the season championship was clinched over in Australia; are you going to address these issues sometime down the road, because every other U.S. based series starts in the U.S. and ends in the U.S.?

CHRIS POOK: For 2002, it is what it is.

As we reposition the series, which we are doing, you will see change come forward in that area for 2003 onward, but I can't talk to those changes today. I can just tell that you when we present the goals and objectives to our board, this area will be covered.

Q. And a request. We don't get Speed Vision or Speed Channel on the Upper West Side in Manhattan.

CHRIS POOK: Call Mr. Whoever It Is and tell him to get it in there.

Q. The markets you have identified as ones maybe you would like to go to, is Phoenix one of them?

CHRIS POOK: I think Phoenix is a great market. We had some of the greatest CART races in Phoenix that you've ever seen. I mean, those guys do, 19-second flats for God's sake. The most amazing piece of racing you've ever seen.

I think Phoenix is a fabulous market. I think Phoenix International Raceway is one of those racetracks that has the lore and feeling and atmosphere of uniqueness about it. It is just truly incredible.

So, would we like to be there?  I'm sure we would like to be at
Phoenix.  Can we fit it or will we be invited; who knows?
T.E. McHALE:  With those glowing words about Phoenix, we'll wrap it
up this afternoon.  We want to thank Chris Pook for the afternoon.

Before we end for the day, I'd just like to say thanks to our WorldCom operators, Brenda, Dawn, Jaime and Janet for being with me on these calls over the past five years. I'd also like to thank those of you who took the time to join us on a regular basis over that same period. I wish you way wonderful holiday season and I hope our paths will cross again soon. Thanks, and good afternoon.

Part I


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About this article
Series Automotive , IndyCar
Drivers Chris Pook
Teams Williams