Champ Car World Series An interview with Christopher R. Pook, Al Speyer, Burt Diamond and Kathy Feeny Part 2 of 2 Q: The rule changes, the one thing that I would be interested to hear comments on specifically regarding the competition is ...
Champ Car World Series
An interview with Christopher R. Pook, Al Speyer, Burt Diamond and Kathy Feeny
Part 2 of 2
Q: The rule changes, the one thing that I would be interested to hear comments on specifically regarding the competition is the eight-minute penalty to drivers who cause a red flag during the sessions. In one respect, that's not fan friendly, since it can remove some of the contenders that the fans like the most who actually may be victims rather than attempting to prevent some sort of a fraud on the qualifying session. I would like to hear if there's any possibility that would be changed somewhere down the road.
Saal: I think it would be appropriate for me to go ahead and handle this question.
We've demonstrated a willingness to not certainly make weekly changes to the competition but always to take a look at rules and where they can be improved, changed or altered and improve the overall experience for both our fans and our sponsors and our competitors, then we would look at that. It's ultimately the Chief Steward's [Chris Kneifel] call. We have decreased in the past the amount of time penalties. We have allowed two key drivers on track. For example, you would lose your fastest lap in that session and still continue in that session in the event of causing a red flag stoppage, as opposed to having an eight-minute penalty.
So we have gone to the right direction in the past. We would definitely check - if something is working, we will keep it working and if something needs a look we will be more than happy to take a look at it.
Q: I did misspeak. I meant losing the fast lap in qualifying.
Saal: Exactly. That was done last year rather than park one of the cars for eight minutes so the fans cannot see one of their drivers in this action, in which you could lose the fastest lap. So we will always take a look at everything and improve.
Q: Your first race you got to implement everything you have been talking about for the last four or five months. Is there a sense of relief of what you and your people wanted to see worked?
Pook: Absolutely. You know, you laid out a strategy for getting from A to B, if you will, and our strategy was to get from the last race in Mexico City to St. Petersburg with a new fresh group of faces, fresh group of owners and to be sure that we had a good grid and that we would have an exciting race. At the same time, digesting the new engine formula which Ford-Cosworth have done an outstanding job on; and also making sure that our tire program at Bridgestone worked well.
When you accomplish all of your goals that you laid out as injure strategy planning four months before, four and a half months before, very clearly, you have a sense of relief. It also inspires confidence in your team because they now say, "Okay, we got that one done. Now let's attack the next one."
We will now start working on the next set of goals and objectives for this company very much earlier. To be honest with you, we probably thought that we would not accomplish all of our goals and objectives right away. We thought we might be at Long Beach or maybe Milwaukee, might be at a point where we would get that done. Now we have got it done and we are out of the chute now and on to the next set of things that we need to get done.
At the end of the day, of course, the hard work never stops, and we can't afford to rest on our laurels, nor can we afford to dwell on the problems of the past. The past is the past and we don't want to deal with it. It's there, we can't change it. Now we are moving on and moving to the future and being sure that we deliver value to all of the companies and sponsors who are involved in our series.
Q: You talked in your opening statement about the marketing program that you had with the local companies down in the St. Pete area, and you and I had talked before that, not only in the Bridgestone program, you do go after new customers and walk-ins, but you also like to see the morale of the employees and the people in the stores. Was there an impact on that?
Speyer: Most definitely. They were really pumped about the race, starting last year right after we made the announcement that we would be taking on a presenting sponsorship role and when they found out that Bridgestone would be the official tire of the St. Pete race, as well they went into high gear. Chris was kind enough, along with Jimmy Vasser to come up on Sunday morning to the hospitality area there for the top store managers and their families. A lot of their kids were there, their spouses and all and those managers and the store, lovely people, the sales floor employees, I have never seen them more excited before. It hit on all of those bases for us, and not only the associates, as well.
Q: Who were they happier to see, Chris or Jimmy?
Speyer: Since Chris was on the call, I'll say Chris. From a business perspective, I seriously mean the business people very much could relate to and hear Chris's story about how the whole marketing program, business of motorsports makes sense for all of us. The younger kids, they probably enjoyed seeing Jimmy a little bit more.
Q: Kathy, you talked about the fact that you were able to expand and enhance relationships past what you could do in a normal office climate. Talk about that, please. Were you as a company surprised about that?
Feeny: Yes, I personally was surprised that the relationships went so deep. A good measure of that is after the event is over; and the continuation of conversation well into Monday and into today.
When I look back on the weekend, it was the whole experience. It was the fact that people connected with the race car driver, with Bruno, with the various people at CART helping to bridge relationships with the racing experience. People got engaged and we were able to create venues where we could have business conversations in watching the race and you're watching the preparation and you're watching the detail that goes into everything that happens out there. That experience came into our business relationships, and we were able to nail some things down in a much more succinct and coherent manner than we would have been able to do in an office setting.
Q: Do you know how many first-time race attendees were there?
KATHY FEENY: I would say that 85 to 90 percent of the people had never experienced a race before.
Q: What's the next step in terms of developing the drivers to household names so that people experience better TV ratings by having, for the most part, fans worship heroes? I think in CART you may not have too many of those. I would like to hear from Bridgestone and Ford as to whether or not they plan on bringing the drivers into their advertisements so that these drivers names get out to the public.
Pook: One of the things that we have to do is we have to get off the sports pages into the lifestyle and the business pages of newspapers and those sections in the electronic press, and it's a very high priority of ours to do that. The very same formula that we are in these cities and these are markets; because about 20 percent of the fans are diehard race fans and the other 80 percent are the general public that comes to the event. That's where we have to build in name recognition and in that segment of the marketplace and that segment of the media marketplace.
In regard to television ratings, another reason we are in these major markets is simply that we do have a lot of folks that come to these events for the first time or maybe only go to one or two events a year. With the volume of people that are in these major markets, we haven't reached a far greater quantity. Even though you don't come to the race itself, if you are in the major market area, you are certainly very much aware of it and you will turn your television set on and look at the race and watch it.
Gradually, step by step, the structured PR plan, we will be able to make these names fairly household names. It takes time, but we have a very clear mission and we have a very clear focus and we will get there.
The final point is, I think that we have a youngster that sat on the pole down there, Mr. [Sebastien] Bourdais, that is a pure rookie, and a tremendous riding talent. I think you will find that as when [Juan Pablo] Montoya showed up on the season, no one knew who he was or [Alex] Zanardi came over, not too many folks knew who he was, he will be rapidly embraced and that will help him. Certainly when you have, or the potential of being the media outside of the sports pages will be interested in finding out about it and talking about it, it's our job to facilitate that. When you get the media talking about them that draws the public's attention to the sport and they can start to look at some of the other names in our grid.
Q: Do Ford or PacifiCare have plans on doing any of that kind of stuff?
Speyer: I can speak from the Bridgestone perspective. We've already done some of that. One of the key things is step by step, prior to the event is part of our promotion down there, we have drivers make appearances at our stores and these were the Tire Plus and Tire Stores locations. I know Mario Dominguez and Bruno made store appearances and those appearances were preceded locally by us which gets their names in front of the fans down there. We have seen so many times before that when those fans can meet a race car driver, get an autograph, that connection is long-lasting connection and they feel part of the sport.
We also have a print ad campaign that was out prior to the St. Petersburg race just prior to it, that ad really features right now Adrian Fernandez, because he is one of the long-standing drivers in the series, and that will rotate to show the different winning drivers throughout the 2003 season.
We don't have any plans to do a television commercial with the drivers and we have that kind of on the wish list. If funding becomes available, that's certainly something we would like to do.
But it was mentioned earlier and I think a large part of this is the media and the excellent coverage that the local media gave to the event folks, the television and newspaper that I'm aware of, I think are a large part of this. I think when the local media starts covering it and you have a full separate section in the newspaper on nothing but the race, I think that's the type of thing that everybody takes notice of and it will start to get national attention.
There are some things that we are doing and obviously we could be doing more. I think as a selection of sponsors. If we all keep working on it, we will reach the ultimate goal of making many of these names household recognition.
Feeny: I'd like to underscore what Al said. We are not planning television at this point but as we go from race to race, get more of the nooks and crannies of the environment and from our first time out we know very well from our internal people and our external customers the plan should go as we get into states that we are currently into with similar membership to expose our membership over 3 million people to our race car drivers.
Diamond: We do have a media and a strong presence. As I have mentioned before, we have already hired two full-time people to work on that and media relationships. And obviously one of the things they will be doing is working with CART and obviously that means the drivers that that participate, as well as the team and the sponsors.
I think getting back to the point you made about NASCAR about quote unquote stars, I think that's true, but I think a lot of that developed over time and it developed a lot, I would say, in my opinion recently, as the sport really exploded. So I think a lot of the stars that you look at when you are talking about NASCAR, there were a lot of elements that came together and worked together a long time to create that phenomena. A lot of it was team sponsorship, a lot of it was the growth of the sport from regional to national. A lot of it was the recent major TV programming package that was put together.
Basically we like to work with the drivers on a local basis because as I mentioned before, we want to get our local dealers involved, so that at the end of the day, we are using this as a marketing platform to highlight our products and to sell more of our products.
I think that one thing we will be looking forward to doing is what Bridgestone did, is bring in a driver, bring in a Jimmy Vasser, bring in a Patrick Carpentier or any of the drivers that actually interface with the public and that are supporting the sport. Over time that may lead to what I call more of the "star" type of phenomena that then makes a natural connection or more of a natural connection and more of a recognizable connection to having these people actually get a medium like TV side by side with our products.
Right now as our TV exposure rises, the vast majority of our TV exposure, no matter what kind of programming that's on, it's there to highlight and educate people about products that they can buy at our dealerships.
ADAM SAAL: We obviously at the Champ Car level support the plans that Ford identified with their vehicle. We do have a Pace Car program, fully-tired on Bridgestone, and we will see what we can do to help out PacifiCare in that area, as well.
Q: Maybe for Chris and Adam, what can CART do to make that great event even better?
Pook: Well, clearly the standard of the competition on the racetrack will increase as we go into the season. I think you have to recognize here that this is the first race out of the box with the newly-configured Ford Cosworth environment in its 750-horsepower format on Bridgestone tires. I think that that area and the competition area will improve over the season as we go and we will have another very intense race.
I think the racetrack itself is a very raceable racetrack. I think the fact that we have got the driving of the car back in the hands of the driver and we have had a debriefing session on Sunday evening. We had another session with the folks at Dover Motorsports. You'll see many, many more folks in the harbor beside the racetrack. You will see a lot more grandstands. You will see a lot more activity. You will see a lot more merchandising of the event, not just in the St. Petersburg city itself; in Tampa, Clearwater and the surrounding areas. That's really how you start to grow an event, you create the excitement level, take it up to another notch and the happening starts to occur and it gets marked in everybody's calendars.
The good thing how I think about this is that on Sunday when I walked around the racetrack, I walked around the whole place with my wife. We were constantly stopped by the folks that were in the general mission areas saying that, "Gosh, it was great and we are going to buy a seat and bring our friends." That's pretty positive.