CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach Town Meeting report

Champ Car players answer key questions from Long Beach crowd as Town Meeting hits the site of series' oldest street race. LONG BEACH, Calif. (March 24, 2003) -- In many ways, Long Beach, California is one of the cornerstones of the success that...

Champ Car players answer key questions from Long Beach crowd as Town Meeting hits the site of series' oldest street race.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (March 24, 2003) -- In many ways, Long Beach, California is one of the cornerstones of the success that the Champ Car World Series has had over the years. The Southern California town annually puts on one of the key races on the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford schedule and will do so again April 11-13 with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

But three weeks before the 750hp Champ Cars fire their turbocharged engines in the Long Beach streets, the local fans that flock to the event on Race Day got their chance to query the key players in the series. The second Champ Car Town Meeting of 2003 saw a large crowd of Long Beach fans asking questions that covered everything from the diversity of drivers to the direction that the series will take in future seasons.

The fans got the chance to ask their questions directly to many of the policy makers of the open-wheel series and took the opportunity to heart as an overflow crowd hit the Grand in Long Beach Monday night. The panel answering questions was led by Champ Car CEO and President Christopher R. Pook, with SPEED Channel President Jim Liberatore, Long Beach Grand Prix Association President Jim Michaelian, Rocketsports Racing owner Paul Gentilozzi, Champ Car driver Alex Tagliani and SPEED Channel television analyst Tommy Kendall joining Pook on the dais.

"It's appropriate that we have this here at Long Beach," said Kendall, who hosted the program. "Because it was right here where most of what we have in Champ Car began."

Pook has a long history with the Long Beach residents as he was the driving force in bringing racing to Southern California, and despite the fact that he now resides in Indianapolis where he leads the Champ Car operation, he immediately got back in their good graces as he told them of how strongly he felt about the series.

"I took this job because I believe that this is great racing," Pook said. "And I was going to be damned if I was going to see someone stomp this into the ground because he couldn't get his own way. We believe very strongly in the fact that we have the best open-wheel series in this country and we will make believers out of everyone else."

Liberatore was quizzed often about his network's coverage of the Champ Car World Series and he told the gathering that he has many new ideas that will play a key role in helping build recognition of the series.

"We care about Champ Car as much as anything we do and I think that shows with our coverage of pre-race, post-race and the Saturday qualifying," Liberatore said. "We want to help grow the sport and let people get to know about our drivers. That's how you grow the sport and that's what we want to do."

Michaelian regaled the crowd with some humorous behind-the-scenes stories of the times when the Long Beach race was just getting off the ground while Tagliani -- fresh off a podium finish Sunday in Monterrey -- talked about meeting his new team owner as well as the days of running Formula Fords when he was trying to make a name for himself in racing.

The well-informed crowd asked the panel about most of the key topics in Champ Car racing, such as how to get younger drivers involved and the status of new tracks as well as new night races in Milwaukee and Cleveland. A major hot button for the throng was the lack of minority drivers in Champ Cars, something that the panel said was being addressed -- while pointing out that it was a concern that is not exclusive to Champ Cars.

"There's only a number of opportunities every year and owners look at a number of factors in deciding who to take on their team," said Gentilozzi. "We don't necessarily need more of a certain race or type of driver, we need more good race drivers. If you want to get involved, you can't just say that you want to start in CART, you have to start in the lower levels and work your way up. You have to win and if you win, someone will give you a chance."

The evening went over so well that the panelists agreed to stay on for an extra half-hour to take more questions from the crowd. The evening ended with a chance for the attendees to meet and greet the panelists as preparations for the April 13th race in Long Beach officially got underway.

Interested fans that did not get the chance to travel to Long Beach can hear a radio-quality replay of the entire Town Meeting by visiting the series' official website

Town Meeting transcript, part I


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Alex Tagliani , Jim Michaelian , Tommy Kendall