CHAMPCAR/CART: Milwaukee Champ Car Town Meeting, part 3

Q: Let me add my voice to the chorus of fans that are really happy to make such a strong return to the Midwest. Really appreciate it. And thanks for all of the hard work you're doing on many fronts. Last week Mario Andretti was quoted as saying...

Q: Let me add my voice to the chorus of fans that are really happy to make such a strong return to the Midwest. Really appreciate it. And thanks for all of the hard work you're doing on many fronts. Last week Mario Andretti was quoted as saying he loves CART, he's not a fan of the IRL but he would like to see the two get together. He went on to say that he was very interested in doing whatever he could to make that happen, but realized it could only happen if other interested parties threw something up against the wall and made it worth the while. From each of your perspectives as a promoter, organizer, racers and commentator, I would like to get your views on what reunification would mean in the face of the strength of NASCAR and how quickly it's drawing away vital dollars from open-wheel racing.

PAUL TRACY: I don't really see, at least from the end of my racing career, getting back together and I don't mean to sound negative or anything. But I've been involved with CART a long time and I've been involved with teams that have been on the inside, working for Penske, Newman/Haas, with Barry (Green), both Barry and Penske since the split were very involved in trying to get the two to come back together. So I kind of know some of the things that have gone on behind closed doors, and I guess in my own opinion, I think CART is trying to take every step to get back together, to try to work something out with Tony George. And every time things would get close, he would move the ball somewhere else. You'd work at it, work at it, work at it for six, eight months and he would move the ball somewhere else.

I think it just really goes to show, I mean, that league was supposed to be for young American drivers, all American-based series, keeping the cost low. Now you've got races overseas and majority of the field is European and Brazilian drivers. It's very frustrating. I think for CART, I guess they have exhausted every avenue of trying to make things work and we just got to go on and do our own thing. Maybe it will all come together in the end, but right now I don't see it happening.

JOE CHRNELICH: Interesting question. I don't want to claim to be a racing expert by any stretch. There are experts here in the panel and all of you. But the one thing I could relate to is if you look back in the history of sports, whether it be racing or whether it be football, basketball, you have leagues. And throughout the history of a lot of sports there have been break-offs or branch-offs, if you will, where people have a difference of philosophy. So you know what, we think we should go in this direction. You have another group that wants to this direction.

I don't think the IRL and CART situation is any different. A lot of very strong-willed and powerful people that want to see a certain direction go a certain way. And I think ultimately at the end of the day, it will be a business decision on both end of these parts whether they are stronger together or whether it is a better business decision to stay apart and actually provide additional product throughout the country for all the fans. I can't say over the years since the split has occurred, at least from my advantage point it seems that the two enemies are doing a lot more subtly together that is a lot less overtly competitive, if you will, as least from the promoters standpoint.

If they do come together, I think what will really force them in that direction will be the fans, because actually you and racing fans around the country are what drive the sport so. That's what I'd watch as an indicator. But at the end of the day if the two leagues cannot get back together, I don't think that's going to hurt one bit. Both will find their way and both will stick to their philosophy and hopefully that will benefit the fan.

ADAM SAAL: The CART Champ Car product works. It's a model that some say doesn't have history on its side the way the Indianapolis 500 portrays it, but it's really not true because Champ Car races were run on these grounds 100 years ago, and we need to continue it with the international mix we have. Because, face it, everybody, this world is getting smaller and we embrace that. If we can take this package and take an American product and just bring it around the world, it may be viable everywhere. We're going to do it. This kind of position is what I would call a "world party," if you will, because we're ready for it. We embrace it and we don't apologize for it. As Paul said, there's a different look to the IRL now than what they originally professed it would be.

Maybe people are there because it looked like a business decision for them, but I tell you, you've got to follow your heart. If you just follow your business sense, you know, sometimes the common sense will go out the window and you've got to make sure that you stay -- I know when Mario speaks, he speaks with passion. Mario is passionate about it. Paul is clearly passionate about it, and what we have is a passionate offering and we need to continue it and we are ready for the embrace that comes around. We don't think you should lower the mountaintop like some other series have done that makes it easier for people to get to the top. We think we should keep Mt. Everest there.

And face it, I mean, it should be -- this is a sporting competition. We want these cars to be faster than all of the best drivers so it means something and it's worth something. Do we think we can continue on our own? Absolutely. We just need to get to work like I've said about ten times around, promote it and make sure all the people around the world know it. A couple of weeks ago, we had a video on American Idol. I don't know if anybody watches that program, but we actually filmed one of the little gimmick videos they do between each session, the Visteon car and Michel Jourdain and (Oriol) Servia, but it took like six hours to put that entire 45-second spot together, so you had a lot of time to get to know people and they had never seen anything like what they saw in Long Beach.

All they know is NASCAR and they don't know CART racing at all and they really got into it. There was a long standing -- at the end of the day we are driving back from our promotion and I was describing -- you could tell that they were starting to get into the whole urban festival atmosphere and so forth. I said to Ruben, it's kind of like a world party and he says "world party, baby, yeah," and you could tell they were getting into the concept and this was something that works, and it will work around the world, too. Kind of a long answer but I get fired up about it, too.

DAVID HOBBS: No doubt Champ Car World Series is a tremendous championship, but the fact remains at the same time they split up, it was absolutely appalling. Winston Cup is taking many of the viewers but I think if IRL and CART Champ Car did get together again, you have all the best drivers in open-wheel racing together, it would go a long way to addressing the problem of our sponsors and it would go a long way to addressing Joe's problem about TV ratings. It would fix both of those. It would certainly make a bigger chance -- like you went off the rail and down the road. We don't have any American drivers, no American cars, no engines and other than that, it's all American.

A.J. ALLMENDINGER: For Champ Car, talking about not enough Americans being in there; for myself I think I have to speak, I hope one's coming in next year, and that would be me. (Applause).

As a young driver coming out in the Toyota Atlantic Championship and with Chris Pook and all Champ Car and CART is doing, I'm really excited to be a part of it and I am a part of it. I'm in the ladder system, highest pinnacle in the ladder system of Champ Car and I know my Atlantic team, their heart and my heart is in open-wheel racing, especially road racing and that's something I want to be a part of, and I think with what they are building towards, I think camp car is going to have a bright future for me to come into. If Paul keeps winning all of these races, hopefully somebody is going to come in next year and try to take him down. Hopefully I'll be one of the guys to be able to do that.

DAVID HOBBS: Paul giving that slightly critical eye there --

ADAM SAAL: If I could make one final comment, because it is obviously an important question. You've heard Chris Pook say many times if they want to call, to sit down we are open and ready for them, but in the meantime we are getting on about our business and I'm not going to give you a British accent as I say it, but I think you've heard him say it, this is a model we've proved can work in Long Beach and it can work all the way around the world and we are behind it and we'll make it go.

DAVID HOBBS: No doubt about it, Champ Car, Chris Pook has got the top operator in the United States.

Q: Paul, I was there when you landed on your head in turn one in Elkhart. I was there when you had your infamous run-in -- with Dario in St. Louis and your win here last year. I've gone to a Champ Car race everywhere I've ever lived. Number one, what can you do to ensure your presence in the Midwest, which differentiates yourself from NASCAR?

ADAM SAAL: So what will we do to ensure our presence in the Midwest and what we'll do to differentiate ourselves from NASCAR?

Q: I've heard rumors of a downtown New York City race and further extension throughout the country to increase the profile?

ADAM SAAL: To answer the first question, Milwaukee Mile, I mean, this qualifies as the Midwest perhaps, Joe. We are here. This track represents the history of our sport to the core and as you know we are going to be running under the lights which is no small commitment and we can only do it through the cooperation of a great promoter partner and it's going to take a lot of work but it only mirrors all of the work they have put into this facility. We definitely plan on having a huge presence here in the Midwest. I mean, really, the Midwest isn't an area that we are most concerned about. We probably need to get to the northeast before the east and certainly New York City would fill that bill but that would be a huge undertaking.

It fits the model -- it doesn't matter what type of track it is, whether it's a great oval track or a street course or a permanent road course. It has to be in a major urban setting or the model as Paul said at the beginning where the fans can get out and attend. As far as NASCAR, I mean NASCAR is doing their own thing and they are doing an incredible job at it, no question about it. But I'm not sure we need to necessarily get NASCAR's audience to be successful. I think they are completely different products and we appeal to a completely different set. That doesn't mean you can't have people who also are NASCAR fans who are CART fans. But I don't know if we necessarily judge our success based on what happens at NASCAR. But they are doing fine and doing an incredible job, but I really believe that there's a different audience out there for CART.

DAVID HOBBS: Some references you've had over the years with various drivers, I'm not quite sure what the question was because unfortunately we couldn't hear it correctly. Do you have any comment about the people you've run into?

PAUL TRACY: I couldn't understand it. Selective memory, too. (Laughter).

Q: Thanks for being here tonight. A.J., you've been pretty quiet tonight. Congratulations on your year last year -- very well spoken and you've got a heavy foot and I think you'll go very far in your career. A.J., being a good young driver, is there anybody you use as a mentor like Paul Tracy who has been there, done that, who you can go to who is just a welcome experience, who you can go to and say, hey, look, I'm struggling with this, I've got problems with that? And Paul, you were good close personal friends with Greg Moore and at the time of his death, he had signed on to drive with Penske Racing and you had driven for Roger Penske. My question to you is have you talked to him at all about that and what advice can you give?

And Adam, it's been said in very many publications that Chris Pook and Bernie have had a lot of talk but nobody really knows what those talks are about or if they have even happened. My question to you is: Can you fill us in a little bit on the details of those talks and if CART is going to be an international series, how are they going to go head-to-head with Formula 1 or what is the plan to do that?

A.J. ALLMENDINGER: For my answer, it's been well documented how big of a help Paul has been to me, starting out with karting, helping me and sponsoring me full-time in karting and then through the ranks just having him there in a race has been a huge help because any problem I've had, I can go talk to him about the racetrack, car setup, anything general, just driving, what he would do and learning from his experiences. That's been a great deal of help to me. And just because of that, I think that it's great, even now, especially with the ladder system now with Barber Dodge and Toyota Atlantics, pretty much every Champ Car race in North America -- I can't think him enough and hopefully he knows how much that's helped my career and helped me further on. As the years go on he can still be there and help me whenever I need it. So, yeah, he's probably been the biggest mentor to me. Since I've gotten to know him the best out of any race car driver that's well known. So it's been a great deal of help to me.

PAUL TRACY: For the second question, if I had any advice for him, race drivers are pretty funny people when it comes to talking about their contracts or who they are talking to or what they are going to get paid. Everything is like triple secret so nobody really knew what was going on with Greg and at that time, I had a contract with Forsythe and Players and had a pretty good place there but I guess I was ready to make the move and all of a sudden he was signed with Penske. I think it was announced in Detroit; wasn't it?

ADAM SAAL: It was the Detroit Grand Prix race.

PAUL TRACY: Really early in the year making announcements -- normally everything happens in September, October and this was like June. I was happy for him. It was an opportunity for him to drive for one of the best teams in the world but ultimately it didn't happen which was sad. That's part of the sport, it's always there and that's what intrigues the fans to watch. There's so much uncertainly when you sit down to watch a race. Drivers go up there to race and we do it because we love it, because we also do it, because we're kind of thrill seekers and if it was boring, it wouldn't interest me psychologically or mentally to do it. I think that's why we all do it and why all of you sit down on Sunday and take time away from your family to say to your wife or husband, hey, don't bug me, I'm watching this race; because you want to see some excitement. That's why we all love the sport.

ADAM SAAL: I think it's great we're spending all of this time remembering Greg. This is where he led it off, his first win and he was a racer's racer and a lot of us got the privilege of working with him from the very onset of his career. Those are true stories about him sneaking into the pits here. He was so young and it happened here at the Milwaukee Mile. True story. He wanted -- couldn't get into the pits to drive his race car and we had to escort him around to sign deals -- establish relationships, rather with the security personnel to let him in on the weekend to let him drive his car. That was back in '93, true story.

As far as Chris Pook and Bernie, they are long friends. We may even see him in Monday at Brands Hatch; you never know. It is just a friend relationship right now. As you heard Chris say over and over, and you won't hear me say much more tonight, that they maintain a close relationship. They are both in open-wheel racing and if they can bounce ideas off each other and continue to improve both their products, then so be it they are going to continue the relationship they have had for 30 years but beyond that, there's really not much to say. They are good friends. Will CART ever go head-to-head with Formula 1? Absolutely not. Formula 1 does and is the ultimate. We will never be in a position before we battle with Formula 1 at all. We are definitely a notch below. Certainly an alternative. There has been a lot of talk about a feeder system as you've heard Chris say over and over, but we want to be complimentary which is why -- going to our own. A couple of tracks that used to run Formula 1 races or a couple of markets where they are no longer racing, so be it. Really can't come on it anymore.

DAVID HOBBS: Friends for 30 years -- previous 29 and a half years -- oh, well. There's no smoke without fire as my old mom used to say. But I think there's they should be complimented, we had a world Champ Car series and World Formula 1 no reason why one should be lower than the other and the other one -- I think we can have as many as is good for all of us. That way A.J. can race every weekend.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Paul Tracy , Mario Andretti , Chris Pook , Tony George , Greg Moore , Michel Jourdain
Teams Team Penske