CHAMPCAR/CART: Chris Pook press conference, Part I

An interview with: Christopher R. Pook, President and CEO Championship Auto Racing Teams Part 1 - State of CART: Chris Pook statements: Adam Saal: Good afternoon. We wanted to take the time just to meet with the press. This is our first...

An interview with: Christopher R. Pook,
President and CEO Championship Auto Racing Teams

Part 1 - State of CART:
Chris Pook statements:

Adam Saal: Good afternoon. We wanted to take the time just to meet with the press. This is our first time racing in more than a month and quite a bit of news. In fact, some of it even positive has been out there on behalf of CART and may not be readily apparent, but we just wanted to take the time to say hello. It's not the best of weekends for Chris, he did lose his mother Thursday night but still wanted to be here to basically get the balance of the season off. Thank you, Chris, we appreciate it.

Chris Pook: Good morning, thanks Adam. I apologize for not being here yesterday. As Adam said, I lost my mother on Thursday night, but I know a couple of the members of the press read into the fact that I wasn't here yesterday; that I was trying to stop from meeting with you. I just want you guys to know, I know exactly who you are. (Laughter) I will make your life as miserable as you managed to make mine yesterday with your evil thoughts. Very disappointing.

We need to sell tickets to this thing. We have this number of people in the room and probably have a gross of about 100 grand here.

I wanted to chat with you a little bit. Obviously the month of May is a tough month for CART. We're obviously out of the limelight, although we manage to get drug into the limelight. It is the month of the Indianapolis 500 and we all do respect that. (Inaudible) The race is still undecided in the fact that we happen to have one of our drivers in the "appeal mode," I believe is the correct terminology. That will work its way out.

I know all of you suddenly got very surprised by the Honda announcement which was surprising to me in the sense that you were surprised because this announcement came out in October last year at Laguna Seca. And we knew it was going to happen. We worked very hard with the Honda folks. I personally apologized to (President of American Honda) Mr. (Koichi) Amamyia about the treatment that Honda had received last year during the year. And I must say also that a few other manufactures weren't treated as well as they should have been last year as well. But Honda was particularly on the end of the brunt of some pretty difficult rulings, so they made their statement in October and they stood by it. We're obviously disappointed to see them leave. But as I told Mr. Amamyia and (Executive Vice President of American Honda) Mr. (Tom) Elliott, we will honor our relationship with Honda through this season and make sure that they get true value out of their relationship with the series.

I think the fact that Motegi goes away with Honda should not come as a surprise. Disappointing. We built it up, we had a very good crowd there this year; a couple of you were over there for it. But they are owned by Honda and Honda is going to do what Honda has to do in their own corporate culture. And on that point, CART is going to do what it has to do to run its own business.

I think I've talked about the difficulties of the past. I have talked to you about some of the management deficiencies in the past. That doesn't come as any news to you. But we are now managing this company and running this company, and we intend to build this company.

We still have some of the finest venues in the world. We still have the finest racing car drivers outside of Formula One. We still have some of the finest teams outside of Formula One. And we intend to build on that and build with them. And build this business back. It's too good. Our audiences are still good. Believe it or not, if it doesn't pour rain tomorrow we're probably going to see 25,000 or 30,000 people at an oval race. That will be novel, won't it, to have something over 10,000 or 12,000 people. And in talking to the fans this morning coming in, it's because they want to see our guys perform in these cars on this particular oval which is a very unique one because it's wide and flat, and our drivers can excel under these true tests of driving conditions.

So we will move forward. We will have, you are aware of two engine agreements between Judd and Cosworth. We will have another announcement, I would say to you, in a week or ten days; that's more definite in that area, and we will continue to move the company back to the level where it should be and beyond.

Adam Saal: This weekend we debut on CBS. We have been in the position of having to defend our TV package and we're quite proud of it. Tell us what that means from our point that we actually have had the seven CBS races as well as the Fox race for Long Beach.

Chris Pook: We are very proud of what Terry Lingner has done in the production side with the Speed Channel group. The comments coming back from our customers who - those are the people that really count as far as we're concerned - are very, very positive. They like what they are seeing. As Fox grows its Speed Channel, so will we grow with it. The emphasis is on quality; not necessarily on quantity, but on quality and the same production team that has been producing the first races for us on Speed Channel will be producing the CBS race this weekend albeit, with the director being Terry Hubert from CBS.

So the two of them are working extremely well together - the production side and the network, and we're confident that we'll have a really super quality television show. Hopefully we don't get very, very low cloud cover so we don't get our in-car knocked out as what happened to us in Long Beach. But I think to - take a look at it. See how we're growing that side of our business.

Questions from the Media:

Q: The field is down under 20 cars. Does that have some ramifications as far as the contracts are concerned?

Chris Pook: Our current tracks are basically 16-car, 18-car, some are - we do have some 20-car contracts. They are overseas races. We have talked to our overseas promoters who - or last year were crying the blues about the large number of cars we insisted on bringing because they have to pay the freight on the airlines tickets, and they really want those numbers cut down. So on the overseas races we want to be able to put our show in two 747s and to do that, that really caps us out at 20 cars. We have to ship some stuff by scheduled freight.

So everybody is on board. I should remind you that CART has run races before with 16 cars and I am on record of saying to you that anywhere between 18 and 22 cars is where we want to be. We can put on an excellent show with 18 cars. We have got 15 guys that can win, I think out of those 15 on any one weekend and again this is not about quantity. This is about quality. That's the focus we're going to have on going forward. Overseas races shipping more than 20 cars is a big problem for us.

Q: Comment on where Milwaukee fits in. Do they get a rebate or something?

Chris Pook: No. Why should they?

Q: I don't know.

Chris Pook: It's within the contract.

Q: Conversation yesterday about the stock price, what would happen if it bottoms out? Is that a bad thing? Taking it private again, is that in the plan at all?

Chris Pook: I don't know. I am not going to worry about that right now. The stock is what it is. And people who buy the stock, I appreciate it very much, but buying stock in a company might as well back up a horse in a horserace sometime. I am going to work hard as far as I am concerned. Yes, we are concerned about some of our shareholders, all of our shareholders, but I am going to focus upon the issues that really count at the moment and that's give me the management team moving in the direction we want to keep them moving forward and keep the selling operation going and keep the teams happy and bring in new life into the series.

Q: (Inaudible)

Chris Pook: You've got to run a business by the business discipline and the business disciplines are the same for a private company or a public company. I don't know if it would make my job less easier - maybe I would get less phone calls - but you know, the disciplines of running a business are the same, public or private, that's what is going to count.

Q: Can you talk about the progress for next season on trying to get a new venue into the Orient and any other new markets?

Chris Pook: Our team's working at it. They are working on it. I can't comment anymore than that, but Japan is an important market for us as is China. I told that to you before. And these countries are an important market for us as well, so we'll keep pushing. You are going to see a new race - two new races - Denver and Miami, and another new race next year is Tampa, St. Pete, and Montreal so I mean, we're continuing to go into bigger and better markets. I hope you guys haven't overlooked that. You seem to sometimes overlook some of those things.

Q: I can't see you from back here, Chris, it seems to me that there's sort of a balancing act here on the one hand saying that CART needs to do what is good for CART and yet at the same time, come away from about a six-week layoff where CART wasn't racing and everything was happening at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Again, a lot of that was done so that some CART teams could participate in the Indy 500, but in the interim, a lot of them lost momentum. CART, correct me if I am wrong, seems to have been a loss, do you have a different perspective on the calendar for next year, or as we go into the future about clearing much of the calendar for Indianapolis or what?

Chris Pook: Well, the answer is yes and no. Final answer is stay tuned. I owe you a beer, David.

Adam Saal: We'll have a happy hour reception in the next couple of races then.

Q: How can you still keep CART in people's minds, yet still allow the teams to compete at Indy?

Chris Pook: Steve, you are in a rock and a hard place on that one. We are in a rock and a hard place. My predecessor left the month of May because it was suggested that it would be good to have our drivers back at the Indianapolis 500. Since I have been in Indianapolis, living there, I am stopped from time to time by Indianapolis people who think it's unbelievably good that our drivers are there, and thank me for them being there. The hotel guys call and say, you know, geez, it's really great that your guys are here, you know, we're finally getting our hotel room counts back up to where they should be. So all that's positive for Indiana and positive for Indianapolis, and positive for the 500.

On the other hand, as David so eloquently put it, there's a big hole in the schedule. So we are in a rock and a hard place on that and we need to go back to our teams.

But on the other hand, we intend to manage this company ourselves and not be managed by others and I think part of our problem has been that there have been one or two individuals or companies who have tried to manage CART in the past for their own personal gain. We're going to take a look at that whole thing.

Q: What do you think about the results and the controversy at Indy last weekend?

Chris Pook: You are really trying to get me in the mix, aren't you?

I don't think there could have been a better driver under those particular circumstances in the position challenged for the lead, Mr. (Paul) Tracy, and I certainly wouldn't want to have been Mr. (Helio) Castroneves with Mr. Tracy up my ass with two laps to go.


Chris Pook, part II

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Chris Pook