CHAMPCAR/CART: Milwaukee Champ Car Town Meeting, part 1

Transcript of Town Meeting: Milwaukee with David Hobbs, Adam Saal, A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Tracy and Joe Chrnelich DAVID HOBBS: Welcome to the third Champ Car Town Meeting of 2003. Obviously Milwaukee is going to be a great place to have one of...

Transcript of Town Meeting: Milwaukee with David Hobbs, Adam Saal, A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Tracy and Joe Chrnelich

DAVID HOBBS: Welcome to the third Champ Car Town Meeting of 2003. Obviously Milwaukee is going to be a great place to have one of those meetings this year in particular because the Milwaukee Mile celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, the oldest ongoing racetrack in the world. Absolutely incredible achievement for Milwaukee to have. Everybody thinks of Indy or Le Mans, but 100 years ago this year the Milwaukee Mile opened for business.

This year, another twist. The Milwaukee Mile Centennial 250 Presented by Miller Lite is going to take place on Saturday, May the 31st at night, so that's going to be right here in Milwaukee. Very exciting times in Champ Car racing, been a bit tough over the last couple of years but nevertheless it's no pain, no gain and we are making a lot of gains. And it's really because of people like you that Champ Car has done so well this year; this year they have had nearly half a million people in those three races and I am expecting a turnout for the Milwaukee Mile. You fans, are what it's all about, if it wasn't for you there would be no racing at all and no sponsors so I want you to give yourselves a big round of applause. Well done.

Well, thanks for taking the time to join us today, tonight. A good turnout, no doubt about it, and we have a great panel tonight. We're going to cover a lot of ground. We'll charge straight through; no pit stops, no tire change, and no gassing up and after, you are entitled to stick around, have a beverage, an adult beverage or not, and say hello to the members of the panel that we've got here to night. It's going to be a memorable evening. Let's look at the video. Let's roll the tape. (Video played.)

DAVID HOBBS: First off we have the CEO of Wisconsin State Fair Park, Mr. Joe Chrnelich, is going to come up.

Vice president of communications for CART Champ Car, Adam Saal.

One of most exciting drivers that CART has ever had and the points leader of the Champ Car World Series, the winner of the first three events, Paul Tracy.

When Paul was just 16 he won the National Formula 1 Championship in Canada. He moved up the ladder and took the Indy Lights Championship by storm. And now he's got another hot-shot trailing behind him and that is A.J. Allmendinger, who has won the second race in the Toyota Atlantics Championship this year, A.J. Allmendinger. Now I know with such an enthusiastic audience like yourselves we'll have lots of questions, but I'll start with one before we throw it open to the floor, and I'll start with Joe.

Joe, a very ambitious undertaking, obviously with the $20 million we spent here and now the first race is going to be at night.

JOE CHRNELICH: Well, Dave, first of all we're pleased that all of you have come out here tonight to support us. We think the event will be a tremendous success. We've done a lot of work over there and if you come out and look at it, you'll see that there's not a bad seat in the house. We put a lot of effort into it because you fans deserve it.

Q: The first thing I want to say is that I'm really happy for Paul and the statement he made last year that "anything I can possibly do to stay in a Champ Car, I will do." (Applause). Along those lines, I think probably the most difficult thing that I think Champ Car racing faces is fan loyalty and identity. How else could you address the volatility or balance the volatility between the promotion of drivers to various teams and drivers leaving for other series and stuff like that? If you're driving down the highway and you see number 24 on somebody's bumper you know that's Jeff Gordon so how could we promote a little bit more stability for the fans?

ADAM SAAL: To answer the question on promotion, my boss has asked me this every day as the vice president of PR, basically the process starts now. We have to get the stability that was so important to establish now and we have to take a group of strong veterans, as well as a group of young rookies who are coming in who are ready to establish their names and start the process. We need to promote them. We need them to come out and visit with their fans like they are doing now, we need to boost our existing talent and future talent. We need to advertise and get stories and work hard with what we've got because I can tell you, the product is there. A lot of these drivers you have not heard of yet, such as Sebastien Bourdais, Mario Haberfeld, Darren Manning. But if you just look a few years ago when a couple of guys showed up, Dario Franchitti, Pablo Juan Montoya, nobody heard of them, but once they get it done on the track, it's up for us to promote that, get it out there and we will do just that.

I will never forget back in 1995 when Chip (Ganassi) had an opening on his team and I think Bryan Herta had drove the car the year before and Herta moved on and they said, they are bringing over another foreigner, typical CART, it's awful, nobody gives these Americans a chance, here comes yet another foreigner probably writing a check to get a ride. And this guy was Alex Zanardi or somebody like that and nobody knew who he was. And now they come to us and say where are the drivers like Zanardi and so forth. We point out, look, they are here right now. But it's day one and we have to start the process and we will build them. I know we are going to work hard to do it and we share your concern and we are on it.

DAVID HOBBS: Paul can be a little bit outspoken from time to time. And that attracts fans as well. Most of all, they are attracted by his driving and you have good driving. Next question.

Q: I think you get the most loyal CART fans that are in this room tonight, and we are all concerned with CART has a problem in terms of support from the promoters. Many cars are running without any advertising and nobody is putting money in supporting those cars. My question is: How are the potential advertisers reacting to the new format and do you honestly expect them to be able to replace the cash drain that you've seen in the CART series?

ADAM SAAL: I'm going to need another bottle of water pretty quickly. (Laughter). We have sponsors responding quite well. Do we need to continue work in that area? Of course. If I deliver no other message tonight other than that, we can never act as if we have accomplished something. Again, when I mention the false positive before, too frequently, CART kind of rests on their laurels in the past. You walk through the paddock, it looks great, you see all of these marquis sponsors and companies. If you want to have lobster or steak for lunch at the hospitality tent, it was looking very good and very comfortable.

But we have to make sure we never get into that situation again where we kind of rest on what appear to be laurels because that's not the case. What we need to do is make sure that the companies that have signed on in this sport get a return on their investment. We need to make sure they do. As David mentioned, we had about 470,000 come to the first three races and that includes St. Pete, Long Beach and Monterrey. What we need to do is continue to work with SPEED Channel to develop our television ratings. We have a CBS program coming up and we have to deliver.

Johnson Controls is an example and we want to thank them for allowing us to be part of this tonight and providing their show car for us. Johnson Controls took a look at what was available in open-wheel racing, and to quote Paul Gentilozzi who spoke on their behalf, he said the Indy 500 is a great race, it will always be a great race and it's a great marketing tool, but it is one event a year. Our sponsor wants to do business 365 days a year through a platform that offers them a variety of markets like we do in CART. There's other companies that share that. Visteon is here because they want to do business the same way. There's other sponsors. We have some cars that need to have some spots filled.

DAVID HOBBS: I recognize the voice of the questioner and he works for a big Milwaukee conglomerate, huge, biggest maker of small engines in the world, and I really think they should be heavily involved in Champ Car racing. (Laughter).

ADAM SAAL: This is why we have David, this type of insider information. You have to know the market. Thank you, David. So, are we done? No. We still need to work hard to make sure that these sponsors get a return on their investment and we are working hard on that every day. There are already some great companies, not the least of which are the companies on Paul's car who decided, look, this is our sport, this works for us and the marketing model fits us and this is something else we'll keep working very hard on.

DAVID HOBBS: Questions about sponsorship and CART and where CART is going. We need some questions for these drivers to answer.

Q: Comment and a question. Comment No. 1, thank you for putting Road America back on the schedule. (Applause) Wisconsin residents were very fortunate to have what I think are the two hallmark circuits for Champ Car racing right here in our own state: Road America and the Milwaukee Mile.

My question for Paul: Favorite driver, you are so awesome, you're great. Want to talk to you about the direction of CART going towards street circuits and how vastly will it differ for a driver versus a natural road course like Road America here in Milwaukee? What are some of the difference challenges, Miami, a real short, straight circuit, Denver was very bumpy; what do you have to do as a driver to prepare yourself and your car for taking on those types of circuits, and is it more of a challenge than something like Road America?

PAUL TRACY: Well, to answer your question, I like the mix of all the tracks we have. I think what CART has done is, in some ways its quite difficult to get the people to come to a lot of road courses because it's so far out of a major metropolitan city and we are lucky enough here in Wisconsin that we have hard-core fans that love open-wheel racing and will come out for it. But in a lot of the areas that we race, it's difficult to get people to leave the big cities because of so many other things going on, whether it be basketball or football or baseball or hockey or whatever. So what CART has done is they have been able to get together with these cities and basically put on a race in front of the people, and it makes it a lot more accessible to get a broader audience of fans there.

Do you have to prepare any different for that type of race versus Road America? No. It's really the same and in some instances setting up one of these tracks makes it more difficult because you don't get any opportunity to test on it. Like we'll come up here later this spring to test out a car for a day and get a feel for what it is like here and get a pretty good understanding if there's any issues we have to deal with race weekend, where a lot of the tracks that we go to, we have no opportunity. So the setting up for these street courses is actually tougher than going through Road America or Mid-Ohio or the Milwaukee Mile.

Q: This question is also for Paul. Some critics say one of the reasons you've been so dominant so far this season is because the field doesn't seem to be as strong as previous seasons. How do you respond to such criticism?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I've had that question asked to me a couple times this year. I guess really my only answer to that is nobody -- I don't discredit what Sam Hornish has done or Gil de Ferran from the IRL. They are great drivers. We've got a handful of really strong drivers in our series and the IRL has a handful of really strong drivers. I guess as much as I don't like the IRL -- I support CART -- (applause) I don't discredit somebody's accomplishments for winning because no matter what, no matter what level you're racing at whether it be a Formula Ford or club event, if you're winning consistently you are doing something. You're beating the other competitors, and that takes being committed and not making mistakes and everything going right. I think it's unfair for people to say, well, he's winning because there's no competition. I think there's still competition out there. I don't take anything away from anybody.

ADAM SAAL: If I can jump in here. I'm up in race control talking to television just giving them tidbits to keep their great coverage going, and we have all kinds of data available up there. At the risk of getting punched by Paul, (Michel) Jourdain was the guy to beat at Long Beach. And Bourdais, he was hustling at the other tracks, too. And really, they've got to develop their team work perhaps, and they will, and it could happen next weekend, look out.

But there's clearly guys out there who are fast and it's not just a question of Paul. He's said he's run some of the hardest races of his career, and if you watch him, there's no question about it. Critics are going to point that it's a thinner field but at the same time I don't think it's thin on talent at all.

DAVID HOBBS: It's a very good field this year and we have some great drivers out there. Paul has just got off to an incredible start, and obviously he's hoping it's going to continue that way, but it's going to be tough for him. Next question.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Mario Haberfeld , Darren Manning , Gil de Ferran , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Bryan Herta , Paul Gentilozzi , Sébastien Bourdais , David Hobbs , A.J. Allmendinger , Sam Hornis