CHAMPCAR/CART: Chris Pook Sneak Preview press conference, part I

An Interview With: CHRIS POOK CHRIS POOK: Good morning. Thank you for being here, first of all. It's great to have you. And good to be in Laguna Seca, one of the all-time storied racing facilities in the United States. Let me just touch on ...

An Interview With: CHRIS POOK

CHRIS POOK: Good morning. Thank you for being here, first of all. It's great to have you. And good to be in Laguna Seca, one of the all-time storied racing facilities in the United States.

Let me just touch on Adam's initiative, first of all. Since this is a public relations group we are talking to, PR and press relations, press promotion, media relations, is a very, very important part of my philosophy of how we go forward, and what I've asked Adam to do -- Adam, who I have great, great confidence in, he worked for me back in the late 80s and early 90s.

ADAM SAAL: Early 90s.

CHRIS POOK: He was just a whipper-snapper then. He's a very capable guy and I have great faith in him and great trust in him, and he's very direct and he understands that when I ask for things to get executed, I expect them to get executed. He is putting together a team -- and we are delighted that Nate has stepped up and joined him in the number two spot. He's a very capable guy.

You're going to see a very, very focused media team out of this administration. We're going to drive probably the team PR folks crazy. We're going to drive the track promoters folks crazy. But we are going to bring everybody into the fold and work as one unit. And we are probably going to drive you guys crazy because we are going to have a flood of information going to you on a regular basis, not only about our racing car drivers, but also about our team owners, our crew chiefs, and any other personalities involved in the sport.

And any of who you write about one them, you will see that following having written about that person, there will be a continuing diet of information about that individual as we continue through the series, so your file can become complete about the person that you wrote about or that you broadcast about.

It will be a full-service media operation, and it won't just be dealing with the dailies, it will be dealing with the weeklies, and it will be dealing with the monthlies, and it will be dealing with the radio shows and it will be dealing with the television magazine shows. It will be very complete and we will -- this is nothing new. About 20-some years ago when we introduced Formula 1 to the western part of the United States and we had a whole bunch of racing car drivers that folks had never even heard about in this country. We did the same thing.

And if those of you who can remember back to the late 70s and early 80s in the western part of the United States, we dominated the media when the Formula 1 show came to California and we dominated it west of Chicago and Mississippi and we got coverage on the East Coast following our races. And the way we did that was by reaching out to the media in a very proactive manner and servicing the media and getting our arms around the media and making sure that -- reaching out and making sure that -- you are clients of ours, we are a service organization. And that is part of my philosophy and part of our philosophy, and of the management team's philosophy.

This sport, called Championship Auto Racing Teams, is probably the finest form of motor racing there is in the world today. When I made the commitment to my board of directors and gave me the direction in 1983 to move from Formula 1 to CART, we came to learn very quickly that when a driver wins this FedEx Championship, that driver has accomplished a huge amount. That driver has accomplished racing an ovals, and being successful; racing on road courses, permanent road courses, being successful; and racing on street courses and being successful. And I would say to you: That is the mark of a true driving champion. And it is also the mark of a winning team, because a driver, as you know cannot do that unless he is supported by the team. It is truly, truly an effort and we need to remember that, and I would respectfully ask you to also remember that. But it is a great product, and we will grow this product.

Between the walls, the standard of competition will remain high. The intensity of the races will remain high. Tomorrow we will ask the regulatory group of CART to look at some adjustments in how we present the product going forward.

I will be so bold as to tell you they'll ask that Friday qualifying be re-established, and there will be some other changes, as well, we will be asking for. We will also be asking Wally Dallenbach to return as our chief steward, and Chris Kneifel, who came on board this year, has very graciously agreed to stay on board; and Will Berger will join Atlantics to help and will also be with Wally as we go forward. But we are going to go from within in this company and not from without.

You are probably aware of some of the things that has happened here in the last month or so; it seems like an eternity so far, but we have made some major changes in the management structure.

But I think the biggest change we have made is in the philosophical structure in how CART operates. Yes, we are a sanctioning body; and yes, we put on motor car races; and yes, the competition is fierce and the activity between the walls is fierce. But once we go outside of those walls, we are now a service -- servicing organization. We are a marketing company. We are a facilitator. Our job is to facilitate the environment in which we are in for all of the companies, sponsors, engine manufacturers, tire manufacturers, media, so that everybody can do their job, and everybody can obtain their goals and objectives around this sport called Championship Auto Racing Teams and the FedEx Championship.

We need to understand the goals and objectives of everybody involved around this sport, and we need to deliver the vehicle so those goals and objectives can be achieved, be they promoter goals, be they FedEx's goals, our engine suppliers' goals, tire manufacturers' goals, your goals in the media, televisions goals; it doesn't matter. We are a delivery mechanism and we need to recognize that and understand that. And we need to be humble, and we need to understand that you, all of you, are clients of ours, and as clients, we must respect you and we must service you and we must deliver to you.

That is the message I have given to the company since December 18th when I joined, and that is the message I will continue to give to our company as we go forward. It is the philosophy that I explained to our board of directors at our board meeting in St. Petersburg on January 22; that I wanted this company to embrace, and it is the policy that the board of directors has now embraced, and it will be the policy of this company going forward.

Yes, there will be bumps in the road and yes, there will be glitches, but we will address those bumps in the road and we will address those glitches, and there will be resolution. They will not be pushed aside in the hope that they will go away.

The management structure is quite simple now. We have gone, as I said, from ten layers of management to five. I have five direct reports, plus a chief financial officer, Tom Carter, and a chief legal office, Dave Schneider. My five direct reports communicate with me on an hourly and daily basis. If they cannot make a decision or don't want to make a decision on something, I am available to them to help them, but we will make decisions.

Hopefully, 95 percent of the time, we make the right decisions. But we will make some decisions that will be not correct, but that is better than no decision at all. And we will empower our people to make decisions, and we will change this environment to a positive environment that moves forward and meets the challenges.

Yes, we've got a lot of issues to tackle. Yes, we have tackled a lot of issues. But we are going to do it, and we are going to get it done and get it behind us so by the time we get to Monterrey, you will see a different organization, a different company. The same great product on the racetrack, but the environment around it will have changed, I hope for the better, and I hope you agree.

This morning, we opened our first meeting with our promoters, and as you know, I come from the promoter side of the business. So obviously, there is a certain tender part of my heart that is there.

But on the other side, I also know they are going to be testing me, because they are going to say, "Oh, he used to be one of us and now he's one of the others, so let's try him out and see how good he is." Which is fair enough.

But the promoters represent 52 percent of the revenue of this company, and they are very important to us. More importantly than just the 52 percent is the fact that they are the conduit and our vehicle to the general public in the markets we serve. If we think that we can reach the general public, if we think CART and its very small staff can reach the general public of the constituencies, the geographic constituents we serve, which is basically NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Association of Canada, the United States and Mexico, plus our overseas countries of Japan, Australia, Germany and England, or really Germany and England as the ECC, they represent that now, if we think as this small company we can reach these people, we are wrong. We are flawed in our thinking.

The way we reach them is through our promoters. They are in touch with these markets. They are in touch with these people on a daily, daily basis on the regions they operate in. So we must get our arms around and embrace these folks and come together as a team because that's how we are going to reach the general public in those areas.

We would love to be able to afford to take ads and buy television spots and radio spots and tell everybody the name CART FedEx Championship, but we do not have $200 million a year to do that, because that's what it takes if you're going to make an impression.

But we do have 19 superb promoters in 19 solid markets. And we can come together as a team, in a strategy that will reach our public, and together with you, the media, we will wrap that into our relationships. We will be effective in getting the message across of what this product is.

Now, I'm simplifying it, but it's important to keep it simple, because if you get it too complicated, we are going to lose sight of what the mission is. And the mission is: Get the message of what the FedEx Championship sanctioned by Championship Auto Racing Teams is all about, what driving a racing car is all about, what driving a FedEx Championship racing car is all about.

And how we build going forward: Where are we going to get our talent from? Well, we have associated ourselves with Skip Barber. There's probably nobody in this country who has produced more racing drivers from the young ranks than Skip Barber has. And some members of our community kind of go, "Well, you know, that series is, it's a junior series." Let's me tell you something, it's a junior series and it's probably the most important junior series the United States has, because that is where talent for tomorrow is coming from, and if we don't embrace that, then we are crazy. So we are going to embrace it.

We are not going to try to go below that right now because we don't have the resources to do effectively, but we do have the resources it to effectively embrace the Skip Barber series, and we will embrace it. And we will embrace the Toyota Atlantic Series and we will get our arms around it. And we will bring the youngsters in and we will impress upon our teams in the big series that they need to pay attention to the series below them and bring these kids out and up.

It's nothing new. Baseball has been doing this for years. If you think to September and October each year, the number of young players that come out of the AAA teams that arrive on the Major League rosters in September and October as a tryout, and the effort that the teams put into telling the media about this kid that came out of AAA farm club in Albuquerque, New Mexico and how high the manager is, what this kid did and where he comes from and where he went to school and how he came out of baseball and where he went to university and was in A ball or AA ball, there's a huge effort there.

We are going to put the same effort into the racing car drivers. And you are the vehicle, members of the media, to help us do that. You are the folks that can condition the public to accepting who our new racing car drivers can be.

It is our job to feed you with the information in the media to do it. It's our responsibility. But I ask your help as we start to bring new youngsters coming forward, be they youngsters from Australia or Japan or Germany or England or from Mexico or from Canada or from the United States. We are a multinational series and we need to embrace that and we need to recognize that we have a very, very unique product, and we are a unique delivery vehicle.

This weekend, I think, is an important weekend. I know it's an important weekend. It's a little bit conflicted for you because there's a lot going on in the southeast and there's a lot going on in Pomona down south; so I appreciate the time that you are giving us here this particular week. I know it's busy and I know there's a lot of pressures on you. Going forward, we will structure it slightly differently in the future, and you will see spring training, you know, less conflicted media time frame; or better said, a more convenient media time frame for you.

So I thank you for coming here today. And we'll get to some questions and answers, I'm sure, in a minute. But also, I think it's appropriate now, to introduce three of our promoters.

Pook interview, part II


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach , Chris Kneifel , Skip Barber , Chris Pook