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

An interview with CHRIS POOK Part II ADAM SAAL: As Chris mentioned there's an all-day meeting going on at the Embassy Suites Hotel as we meet with all of the constituents to basically get everybody on the same page, and we don't have a lot of...

An interview with CHRIS POOK
Part II

ADAM SAAL: As Chris mentioned there's an all-day meeting going on at the Embassy Suites Hotel as we meet with all of the constituents to basically get everybody on the same page, and we don't have a lot of time to do that. We need to move and we need to move now.

But very generously, three of our promoter partners agreed to step out of that meeting to join Chris here today. We would like to ask them to come up here today to make a very brief statement and take some questions along with Chris. I would like to ask Bob Singleton from Molson Indy Toronto, Michelle Trueman Gajoch from True Sports Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Mike Mealy from Portland International Raceway.

Thank you very much for coming. (Applause).

CHRIS POOK: Mike Mealy is worried about sitting next to me because I might pick his pocket.

ADAM SAAL: Chris knows their side of the business, but at the same time, as he mentioned, these people represent 52 percent of the revenue to Championship Auto Racing Teams, and it would also be a good opportunity for us to thank the operators of SCRAM, Laguna Seca Raceway for hosting this event today. It is with a great deal of enthusiasm that Jill Campbell on everyone on her team has approached this meeting here, and we do thank them.

Mike, you and I were speaking very briefly and you said it might be appropriate for you to say a few brief words as to what's going on over there and where the promoters are -- admittedly, and again our administration for lack of a term is not going to pull any punches. There was a lot of turmoil in mid-December prior to Chris's arrival. Let's talk about the progress we've made since them.

MICHELLE TRUEMAN GAJOCH: I'm going to make a very brief statement, and then I'll defer to Mike.

We are here representing the entire promoter community here this morning and I think it is very important that we share with you our confidence in Chris and the new CART. There has been a tremendous amount of momentum and very positive step forward from our perspective, and obviously the series as a whole, just in a very short order. And we thought it was very important for us to be here this morning and to answer questions or dispel any concerns there might be regarding the promoters.

ADAM SAAL: And we do appreciate it. We will have some questions right now. Again this is CART's opening press conference and Chris Pook's opening statement; so we are not going to put our promoters in a position --

CHRIS POOK: So you all understand, Michelle is chairperson of the promoters' group. Michelle and I have known each other for a number of years. Though she probably does not want to admit she has known me as long as she has. She's a very capable woman and I have a very high level of confidence in her chair role of the promoters' group.

MIKE MEALY: The only statement I would make is that as Michelle said, the three of us said we represent the Executive Committee of the promoters' group and we are encouraged by what we have seen, just the basic things, in terms of realizing the importance of the promoter group, realizing the importance of the partnerships that we have with CART, and even in the reorganization that he's done with his own staff, giving us clearer channels of communication and things of that nature, really give each and every one of us a reason for being encouraged and to be optimistic.

And I think also, for us, it's probably the first time that I can think of where, especially for CART, that we have had somebody has close to the promoters ranks as Chris that understands our side of the fence as well as the sanctioning bodies, and we are thankful for that.

BOB SINGLETON: In closing, team work and partnerships is the way we run our businesses. And it's good to see that CART now, through Chris's leadership, is going to go the same way, and I think as a team, partners, we can make this series grow and grow big, and so, we are excited about that.

ADAM SAAL: Do we have any questions right now for Chris?

Q. Chris with what happened in Chicago this week and losing Miller as a sponsor, there's talk about CART being co-promoters at some of these tracks. Talk about that; will that happen? Is it good business and is it a sign of the times? Will there be more and more situations like that if it does happen?

CHRIS POOK: First of all, Chicago. Yeah, Chicago made the announcement that they are going to close the doors. Our staff is in discussion as we speak with Chicago right now to see what we can do to keep the Chicago date on the schedule. It's an important market. We want to be there. There are some challenges with it, but, you know, challenges are there to be overcome. So, stay tuned on Chicago.

On Miller, it's disappointing that Miller made the decision they did, but I think you have to look at the big picture with Miller. As you know, they have been all over the Wall Street Journal lately and there's a change in the chairmanship of their parent company and there's been comments about whether Miller should stay within the Phillip Morris Group or merged into another brewery in this country or whether Miller should be sold to another entity.

So I think that whenever you have that sort of thing going on, Robin -- and Miller has had its challenges over the years, as I think we all know. But any time a company is going through that sort of metamorphosis, they tend not to renew their relationships. They tend to step back, because usually they have a new CEO or new boss coming in and they want to step back and look at the direction. The middle management that's in place there making those sort of decisions kind of steps back and says, let me have a clean sheet of paper and we'll take a look at that.

The third question was, whether these joint ventures and sort of co-promotions, I think you put it, would be something of the future. I think very much, they are not only something of the future; they are something of the present. I think, you know, we have to look at how we do business. This is nothing new, Formula 1 has been doing these sort of things for a number of years. Indirectly, I suppose NASCAR does it with their relationship with IFC. It's a similar sort of setup; although, they are two separate, distinct companies.

We will look at that. You heard the comments from the folks on my right about partnerships. I think Bob Singleton said, you know, partnerships are a way to do business. Strategic alliances are a way to do business. So, absolutely. We are going to do that. Under the appropriate circumstances, it's going to make sense for our strategic partner and it's got to make sense for us. But we've turned a new chapter in the book and we will move forward with that new chapter.

Q. Inaudible?

CHRIS POOK: I would not want you to use the word, "Co-promoter." I would say have a strategic alliance with.

Yes, I suspect there are, and you will see those announcements emerge as we move forward. But we've got to be sure to get our partners comfortable with the process first. I don't want to go any further than that with you now, other than to say you will see some strategic alliances.

Q. People have been saying CART is in trouble, it's dying; how do you overcome that perception in the general public and more importantly, probably with your sponsors?

CHRIS POOK: Well, I think you're the key to that. If you feel we're dying, then you have to write that. I know I'm 60 years old, but I'm not dead yet. I suppose there were some things that took place that gave that perception, but it is what it is. I can't change the past. But I'm going to change the future.

Q. How do you intend to do that?

CHRIS POOK: By being proactive. By dealing with the issues. We had procedures that were very concerned in November -- well, they were concerned before November and December, but they were concerned. I mean, I'm creating an outreach program to talk to them and get them on board. I mean, we can't build this sport without them. We need them and they are the best people to do it.

So we are going to start with our promoters. We started with some of our sponsors. You are going to see some announcements on sponsorship renewals very shortly. We are out getting our arms around these folks. We are starting to listen to them and understand their needs.

Rome was not built in a day. And we are just going to take some time to do it. I think if you look at how we are going, you are just going to put one foot forward at a time and put it down solidly and then move the next foot forward. We might put one foot forward and take half a step back in some cases, but believe me, we are going to keep going forward.

We are pretty focused. This reminds me of 1983 and 1984 when we made a change from F-1 in Long Beach to Indy cars. The headline of the Los Angeles Time read: "Last Grand Prix in Long Beach." No one ever said that the Indy cars were coming in '84. We went from 803,000 plus spectators on the last Sundays in the last F-1 race in '83 to 48,000. The next year in '84 with Indy cars and three years later we went by the 83,000 number with Indy cars; we were banging on an 86,000 and 87,000 on Sunday.

It's just a question of being sensible how you approach it and executing on a game plan. You know, you all write in your notebooks the doom and gloom today of the early part of 2002. And anybody who wants to have a bet on how we are going to be in 2004, I'm happy to take your bets. Let's just put them in an envelope and write them down and put your name on and I'll put my dough in another envelope and we'll see who picks up the money in a couple of years time.

Can't do it alone, though. You've got to help us. If you see we're doing something bad, you tell us. If you think we are doing something good, you tell us.

I don't -- I will tell you one thing: I'm very direct and very forthright. I don't like newspaper folks or television folks or radio folks that write one-sided articles with third-party quotes they won't put names to. I'm referring specifically to the Car and Driver article now, which I thought was a bad article and bad journalism and was totally biased. And I'm extremely surprised that Tony Swan, the editor of that publication, who is a seasoned long editor allowing something like that to go in his publication.

It is what it is. It's a cheap shot. I remember cheap shots. And we'll move forward. But you've got something bad to say about us, say it. If you've got something good to say about us, say it. Don't hold back. But just make sure it's balanced. That's all I ask of you.

Q. How are you going to bolster -- racing a highly technical sport and your technical resources in your corporation are non-existent. What are you going to do about that? And in my little newsletter, "idiot owners" became one word. How are you going to keep those jerks off your back?

CHRIS POOK: Are you talking about my respected board members? (Laughter.)

Q. Exactly.

CHRIS POOK : Well, first of all, with all due respect, Paul, Lee Dykstra has come on board our company and I would respectfully suggest that he's a very bright, intelligent guy that understands what he's doing.

But we don't need committees to run this thing. We need guys making solid decisions listening to the outside and making a decision and giving leadership going forward. That's how you lead. You know, you lead by input and then someone making a decision and moving forward.

So, Dykstra is a very bright guy, very smart man, and he will listen and he will make a decision and hopefully he makes 90 percent of the right decisions. You know, he will make some bad decisions. But, you know, we've got to recognize how many good decisions he makes versus bad decisions. And let's praise him when he makes good decisions and let's kick his butt when he makes bad decisions. You're going to do that to me; so let's go in that direction.

In technical side, Jeff Horton is probably one of the brightest guys around. He's an incredibly intelligent man, very bright guy. Yeah, he's one man, but we don't need a committee. We need strong guys, intelligent guys creating leadership and making decisions, and they will do that. They report to John Lopes (ph), who is new to this side of the industry, but John Lopes is a manager, he's a very smart, intelligent guy and he's a manager. He understands how to manage people and that's what the real job is here.

You know, it may sound a little dictatorial and basic, but it's just all about people. You don't have anything else in life but people, and you've got to motivate people and you've got to get their around arms around them and build respect and consensus and then you go forward.

As far as the owners are concerned, or the members of the franchise board, you know, if you look at it like a pack of lions, if you have a bunch of young lions, they are all trying to bite each other and claw and scramble and do something and it's out of control. But you get one big old lion in there that's tougher than hell and he bites the crap out of the young ones that step out of line and gives them leadership and guidance, the young lions tend to fall in line a little bit.

So I think that probably it's management's job here to go to our owners and give them a very clear and succinct game plan and path of where we are going down, and that's the process we are doing. We are spelling out a very clear path.

The board of directors of the Delaware Company buy into it and say: Yes, Management you are doing this right; or no, Management, you're doing this wrong; or change this, Management. But that's what we are doing. We are developing the strategy and path that we are going down.

And on Friday, which is tomorrow, we will present that to the team owners, and they will buy in or they will object. The important thing as far as management's concerned is that 51 percent of them buy into it and we go down the road. If only 51 percent buy and 49 percent don't buy, then management's job after that is to get our arms around the 49 percent and make sure that we get them back in the fold and they understand the reason why their colleagues on the 51 percent voted for whatever they voted for. And there's reintegration; and if there are any hard feelings in that board room, when they leave that board room, are ended and we go back on the racetrack and we go racing again.

That's the society we live in. The majority have to rule. And you saw what happens -- a perfect example of the minority trying to rule, unfortunately, was September 11. A very small minority tried to do something and that small minority now are getting their butts kicked.

So majority has to rule in a democratic process, but management's job is create the right environment, the right focus, the right goal and objectives to be achieved.

I hope that answers the questions with regard to our board members.

Q. It seems for the last few years that we have not had too many daily reporters coming to CART racing, every CART race. We've had Rick Matsumoto come to almost all of them and a few Japanese writers. I don't know that there has been hardly anyone who has been to every single CART race writing for local or national papers. What can you do to improve that?

CHRIS POOK: We are going to improve the standards of the lunches and provide Black Label scotch come in the evening. (Laughter.)

No, I'm being very facetious. It's part of the outreach program that I talked to you about at the start of the meeting.

Daily reporters, they are inundated with stuff. Their bosses, the editors are pushing them hard, you know, giving them extra work, cutting down their budgets. The newspaper pages are getting thinner, and as you know, they are driven by advertising. So we have got to fight real hard to get our share in these newspapers and we are doing that. And Adam understands all about that and he's very capable of doing that. Nate will be the executing -- Nate's team will be executing with him on this whole program.

There's no magic to this. This is pretty simple stuff. We have just got to address it and do it. We have to set the table correctly, make sure the table cloth is clean, the knives and forks look good and there's flowers on the table. And when we do that, that discipline, like every other discipline, then we'll be fine. They will come back. They will come back to us. We have got a good product and they will come back.

ADAM SAAL: Chris has said Nate; it's actually Merrill Cane.

To expound on what Chris said, Chris did my PR plan for me, which is nice because it saves me from the work that we have to execute. And basically it's a no-frills, get-back-to-the-basics. Basically broaden the focus on every market we go to get more people interested in the sport, and we need to do it. And it's going to take a lot of intensive calling, but we need to get away from the emphasis that was on lifestyle and entertainment. That's all very good, but "Cooking with Tony Kaanan" only works with people know who Tony Kaanan is.

I say that with the highest praise for all of the initiatives that have taken place before, but we are back to the basics here. We have to build the core foundation of this sport, and it starts with the media. We know that papers have shrunk, the amount of space you have in your sports pages have plunged, and in motor sports the allocation for that has shrunk. There's more motor sports to cover than ever about, we are keenly aware of that and we need to build relevance as to why they should report on the FedEx Championship Series, and that's our main mission this year.

Q. International promotion in the racing industry has gotten really big with CART, and the European races seemed to do well last year, even with the weather challenges that were overcome. First, if you can direct the domestic races that are on the horizon, as far as Miami, is that a possibility this year? St. Petersburg is looking pretty good. And also, is there a push to get back into Brazil and maybe international markets like China?

CHRIS POOK: Well, I think the most important thing we've got to do is review what we've got at present and make sure we fix that and do it well before we start to push into the next area.

I would be less than honest with you if I did not say there's a high interest level in Miami. There's a high interest level in Tampa/St. Petersburg, in that market area, because if you add Orlando into that market mix, you find yourself in No. 5 in the nation, and that's important to us and our sponsors.

It's very easy for me to say, gosh, we're going to go to Brazil next month; let's do it. But I think we have to step back and understand truly the logistics of that and who is our promoter down there and what is the role of government down there. I think we need some major assurances on the issue of government in that country. I think we need some major assurances on the issue of safety -- I don't mean saved on the racetrack but safety for our personnel. I think these are some of the things that we have got to look at.

China, everybody talks about China. I mean, it's sort of fashionable to talk about China. I'm not into fashion; I'm into fixing the company and going to the right places where the company needs to go and where the sponsors and the engine guys need to go. If FedEx comes in the door and Toyota and Honda and Ford come and say, "China next month," we'll probably going to China.

But we've just got to be -- we've got to be careful. We can't knee-jerk react to everything. We've just got to think it through very carefully. And the most important thing, we've got to make sure is my three colleagues on my right and their colleagues, we've got to make sure they are solid and up and running and our house is in order at home before we charge up any further. We have got four races overseas in great markets and we have to solidify those, as well. We are working on that on the international PR side. You will see an announcement about that, and about our overseas television coverage, but Adam is being charged and Steve Fusik (ph) is being charged with a very, very clear initiative as it pertains to supporting our race in Japan, supporting our race in England and Germany; and we are going to get them right and we are going to do it properly first before we start stepping out further. Got to get the house in order at home first before you start looking at somebody else's house.

Q. We've been in here 45 minutes and the word Indianapolis has not get come up. You have lost some teams to the IRL, you have some others on the fringe, you've got equipment. Can you talk about some of all that as it relates to the IRL?

CHRIS POOK: I'm not sure we have any teams on the fringe. I think the teams that wanted to go are gone and obviously Roger went with his two cars, and we wish him well.

Mo split his house in two camps, and I think one of the new teams decided that they wanted to split up. And I think Arciero stayed with us and Blair moved forward and it is what it is. If you want to go to oval racing you should go to the IRL. If you want to go to the true championship of road, oval and streets, you stay with us. If your customers want to buy Ford and Chevies and Dodges, go to the IRL. If you want to buy Toyotas, Hondas, import cars, stay with us. If you want to smoke Winston cigarettes, go to the IRL. If you want to smoke KOOL cigarettes, stay with us.

This is all about demographics. This is all about marketing. This is all about where we fit and where they fit. We know where we fit and we know what we are going to do. If you are a multinational company and you want to have a tremendous NAFTA marketing platform, come to us. If you are a multinational company and you want a NAFTA platform plus the orient plus Australia plus the EEC, come to us. If you just want to sell in the United States, the IRL is where you should be.

Indianapolis is the greatest race in the world. I hope all of our teams have the opportunity to participate in it. And if any of the IRL teams want to come across and participate in one of our races, I know that we will welcome them with open arms and we'll be delighted to have them.

We are not looking to get in a war with the IRL. That's absolutely not where I'm coming from. My management team, we know what we've got to do and we are going to execute on our game plan, and we are not in the slightest bit distracted by that, by the IRL at all. We do want to make it more economical for our teams, in the sense we do want to have a common on engine and common chassis and that makes all of the sensibility in the world; so they have the flexibility to go where they want to go.

But they are two different products. Two different sets of market demographics, and sensible business people will make sensible business decisions.

Q. Can you talk more about your comments on engines and chassis; and it stands to reason that more of your teams would go there on a regular basis than over here ?

CHRIS POOK: Well, we've got 19 cars here and I believe we are going to probably start Monterrey with 21 cars and probably see 22 cars by the time we get to Long Beach.

I feel that, you know, if we have 20 solid race cars, that's all we need in our series. We want 20 really solid guys, maybe 22, but 20 solid guys would be just great for us.

As far as traveling is concerned, all of these things, that affects costs and there's a balance, is 16 a right number, maybe Long Beach is 16 when we had a 1.8 mile circuit, that would be fine. Road America with 16 cars would be a bit of a yawn. There is a balance there and I think 20 is a fair balance. 22 is a fair balance.

There are other issues, we have paddock space issues at racetracks. It's all very well to say, gosh, let's have 30 race cars, but, you know am I going to turn to my colleagues on say, by the way would you mind producing another five acres of space in your paddock because they have more race cars; their costs go up exponentially, too. We have to be sensible and create the economic model to work for all of our constituencies. And that includes our teams and our promoters and our transportation specialists.

Q. You said you didn't want to go to war with the IRL. Do you have to make peace? Do the two series have to come back together to succeed?

CHRIS POOK: I don't think so. I mean, it would be nice to sort of it -- I don't think we have a war right now. I mean, I haven't talked to Tony since I have been in this role, not because I don't want to talk to Tony, but I have nothing constructive to say apart from, "Good morning, how are you."

You know, I don't think it makes -- we are not at war. It's just a different philosophy. He made it very clear that he espoused the philosophy he wanted to do. He wanted to bring down the cost of oval racing. He wanted to put American drivers into the series. And he wanted to, if you will, make it more of an all-American sport, stars and stripes sport. And then -- terrific. Yeah, why not.

That's not our business model. Our business model is different. We are multinational. We are a combination of street, oval and road. And we have a different philosophy about what our racing cars should do.

So, because we have different philosophies, I don't think it means that we need to go to war or throw rocks at each other. I mean, he's got to get on a run our series and he's got to run his series, and hopefully one of these days we may have a commonality where we can say, gosh, let's choose three or four races, maybe, that we can get together on and cooperate together on.

But I don't think that that's where we are now and I don't think that's where he wants to be. His spokesman and -- I saw the other day was quoted, because we are considering moving to Indianapolis, that were we moving there because we want to have a merger. No. We want to move to Indianapolis because we want to be close to our teams. And Indianapolis is the center of a lot of motor racing, not just Indy cars. There are stock car folks that originated out there. There's midgets, Sprint cars, even drag racing as folks based in Indianapolis. So it's definitely the motor sports capital of the nation and that's where we need to be. That's why we are going there.

And the other reason is it's close to in Cincinnati where you can fly on Delta from.

Q. The philosophy of let's embrace the Toyota Atlantic series, Indy Lights before it went away, Barber Dash, let's take care of the guys on their way up, sounds great, but very few guys follow through. You've got a guy like Buddy Rice who won the 2000 Toyota Atlantic; Gidley did a really good job last year is out, Ferran has to go to the IRL. Are you willing to step in -- or can you in your position step in and spend some of CART's money in the kitty and help these guys get into this series and give them a place to be for ten years so you can go out and promote?

CHRIS POOK: I'm not sure that it's correct for the public company to spend money in that area.

But what I am telling you is that we are going to embrace that and we are going to make it happen and we will create the right environment and right incentives for those guys to come through the system.

We are paying attention, Robin, we are going to pay a lot of attention on our marketing side to making sure our teams are financially healthy, and with that financial leverage.

Q. You spoke with the media that you wanted to reach out to radio, TV, daily and weeklies. You did not mention online services.

CHRIS POOK: That's because I'm so frigging old. (Laughter.)

Obviously, I mean, the Internet. You have to understand when I'm on the computer, I just hunt and peck all the time. Obviously, we mean the Internet.

ADAM SAAL: Rightly or wrongly, we categorize that as broadcast.

Q. I mention that because some entities don't recognize that.

CHRIS POOK: We recognize you.

ADAM SAAL: We are going to pay attention to it.

-cart- Pook interview part I

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Buddy Rice , Chris Pook , Tony Swan