COLUMBUS, Ohio, (February 18, 2003) -- Racing legend Bobby Rahal sat down this week and answered some tough questions about the 2003 Snapon.com 'Stars Of Tomorrow' karting series. Rahal, the three-time CART Champ car champion and the 1986 Indy 500...
COLUMBUS, Ohio, (February 18, 2003) -- Racing legend Bobby Rahal sat down this week and answered some tough questions about the 2003 Snapon.com 'Stars Of Tomorrow' karting series. Rahal, the three-time CART Champ car champion and the 1986 Indy 500 winner, brought in a new team of associates to assist Bryan Herta in the Stars program and made some candid comments on the current and future status of the national karting tour.
The Snapon.com 'Stars of Tomorrow' karting series is the official first level in CART's driver development system and an officially sanctioned series of WKA/SCCA Pro Racing. Founded by Herta and now owned in conjunction with a group of racing veterans, including Rahal, the Stars of Tomorrow serves as the first step for the CART driver development ladder. Stars focuses on recognizing the skills of the drivers rather than the technology development within the machines, using FIA/CIK International standards. More information can be found at www.cartstars.com.
Q: After all your success in the motorsports industry, why are you involved with Snapon.com Champ Car Stars?
Rahal: I have always believed that North American drivers can compete at the highest levels of motorsports. I just know that our Americans can compete at the international level if given the proper opportunity. I believe the Stars Series is the right path to create the type of competition to produce successful drivers in international competition. That's what attracted me to this series and I believe in Bryan Herta's initial ideas. We have based the Stars program on International karting regulations. Using those specs gives our racers the chance to learn the way karting is run worldwide. You know that process has produced drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and other F-1 drivers. People of that racing level. We need to step up in this country and help build a series to the same level as Europe and South America. I think we can produce the same level of talent given the right system. I see an exciting future for the Snapon.com 'Stars of Tomorrow' and, with a new national sponsor and a solid organization, this series will grow tremendously.
Q: Why follow the CIK rules format when there has been such inconsistent application of these rules in America?
Rahal: If you want to compete in a world karting environment, you have to run what the world karting community has to offer as regulations. A racer needs to learn from the same curriculum and those are the CIK specs. The CIK regulations provide a sound and stable rules platform that will enable young American racers to compete with the same packages as possibly against these drivers at the earliest opportunity. There is no doubt that the CIK regulations produce the best drivers. The CIK regulations have been developed over a long time and produce professional levels of karting. It also provides much needed clarity and stability to the American karting economy. Some may scoff at this but it is incumbent upon us to make it work.
Q: Where do you see Stars growing in 2003 and the next few years?
Rahal: The karting community is taking notice of the Stars program. Bringing on a national sponsor like Snapon.com to a three-year commitment is big step to raise our series. An association with CART and being a part of CART ladder system is a major attraction for teams and drivers. And we have more announcements planned for the future. These types of things will produce an environment that will raise the level of karting, not just the competition. It will also enhance karting to the mainstream public. While karting is growing, it's a still very small niche even in racing. There has been a lot of lip service to karting in the past. Now we need to raise the awareness and I think we are working hard to reach a new level with the 'Stars of Tomorrow.'
Q: Is there anything about Stars today that is different from its past?
Rahal: I believe we have put together a strong organization that can take karting to another level. In Paul Zalud, we have a highly respected individual who understands the karting community. Glenn Holland has created the premier karting website and understands how to promote the products and the series. Bryan and I both have a passion for this sport and we can work hard to bring in new involvement to the series. But I feel we have formed stability with the organization that we can perpetuate into the nation's top karting series. Bringing in the WKA was very important to us. This alliance also makes a strong operation throughout the country. Randy Kugler has created a strong company and has associated with the SCCA to develop a strategic plan that didn't exist previously. Our commitment is to produce the best schedule, make economical incentives to the teams and increase the promotional activities with television and at-track promotions. We want the best teams and drivers and to raise the awareness of karting to the general sporting public. We have a mission and vision statement right in the front of our rulebook and we invite anyone to read it and understand where we want to take the Stars program.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 3 years? Are you still going to be supporting Stars?
Rahal: I certainly plan to be involved for the long term. I have tremendous motivation to see the Stars program grow and grow. While my son Graham will move on to car racing, I will remain heavily involved in this organization. I want to help grow this sport into a solid North American racing campaign. That means working with TV, developing public awareness and making it economically viable to the teams and drivers. That's easy to say and hard to do. If karting is to producing the best drivers for the future, then there are will be stability for teams. Without teams, there are no drivers. Without teams, there are no races. We want an environment to grow the promotion of karting and that's long term in nature. We want to develop a valid economic base for teams and drivers and have the best venues for the races. We try to run with major CART events and attract more money to karting. If you run with the CART races, it's easier to sell to sponsors, both nationally and locally. I am very committed to the Stars series and I know that our entire organization will work hard to expand the series and karting in general.
Q: What is Stars' affiliation to NAKA?
Rahal: There is no affiliation with NAKA with our new 'Stars of Tomorrow,' formal or informal. I was not involved with Stars when there was a prior involvement with NAKA. That was the previous management so I can't say what went on there. We have created a totally different company in the past few months and this management is strong and aggressive. I think everyone will see that in the near future. I even thought about changing the name of the series. But the name 'Stars of Tomorrow' is so accurate that is explains what we are doing with karting.
Q: Why should someone run the Stars program over other karting options?
Rahal: As our mission statement says, our primary goal is to provide the best organized, best administered and most professional karting program in North America. We have made some announcements already to show that and we are about to make new announcements that will be historic in karting. We want to raise the level of the Stars series and the participants. In a little over two months, we have made some moves that have opened many eyes in the karting community. We have merged two national series into one, thanks to our friends at the WKA and SCCA. We have signed a multi-year sponsorship with Snapon.com. We have published a rulebook and have one of the best tech directors in all of karting in Scott Evans. Scott and his staff are outstanding. We want rules that are fair and create a competitive environment. We are developing programs in the areas of additional sponsorship, purses, awards, mass media and strategic associations. We have brought on Tom Blattler to assist in media and PR relations. Tom is one of the most respected motorsports PR people in North America. We think Tom can get karting to new areas with the media. I will let our actions and announcements in the coming weeks continue to show that any kart racer who wishes to race against the best, earn the most, and be seen by the masses will choose to run Stars in 2003 and for many years to come.
Q: You talk about racers moving up the CART Ladder System, but what about karters who want to be just a pro kart racer and that as far as they want to go?
Rahal: There is definitely a place in Stars of Tomorrow for the racer who has karting as the ultimate goal. That's why we want to make Stars a total professionally operated series. We want to form an organization that gives a racer and a team a chance to make a living in karting. We want pro karting racers. We have to give karting the credibility that can add sponsorship and purses to have strong teams. That means we want a series in which they can secure sponsorships and win prize money. Sure, we have classes like ICA and ICC where drivers can transfer into the cars later in their careers. But we want the best environment for the pro karting racers too. If someone is inclined to continue in karts, they should be able to compete against the best and have the best chance at making a living doing it.
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