CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland Town Meeting press conference, Part I

Transcript of Town Meeting: Portland with Chris Pook, Jimmy Vasser, Bill Hildick, Lon Bromley and Scott Pruett Part 1 of 6 PORTLAND, Ore. (February 27, 2003) -- What follows is the full transcript of the Champ Car World Series Town Meeting in...

Transcript of Town Meeting: Portland with Chris Pook, Jimmy Vasser, Bill Hildick, Lon Bromley and Scott Pruett

Part 1 of 6

PORTLAND, Ore. (February 27, 2003) -- What follows is the full transcript of the Champ Car World Series Town Meeting in Portland Wednesday night.

Scott Pruett: Hello, everybody. I hope I don't make too many mistakes. I haven't done this before. We'll get up here and get things going. God, what a great crowd, great crowd. I'll start out by reading just a few points.

First of all, thanks to everybody for coming. We're very pleased that you guys have taken time to come and participate in this first town meeting here in Portland. This year marks a season of milestones for the G.I. Joe's 200 at Portland International Raceway, for Champ Car, one of our new series sponsors of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, Ford Motor Company. This year's race marks the 20th running of the G.I. Joe's Grand Prix at Portland International Raceway. Pretty awesome, very awesome. This event comes with the 25th anniversary season for the Champ Car World Series. On top of that, Ford is celebrating their hundredth anniversary, which with my heritage with Ford, it's pretty awesome to be part of that. That will be in full swing as we move into the race come June this season. All those milestones, let's put our hands together, say what a terrific time it's been, and looking forward to many great races beyond.

Just a quick little piece for me. I think I came up here in the early '80s, racing go-karts, then throughout the mid to late '80s in Trans-Am. A lot of you guys may remember that one race with Willy T. Ribbs and myself got into a little punch-out at the end of the race. Then coming back here through the mid '90s with Champ Car, the Firestone car, the red, white and blue car, which I thought was probably one of the most beautiful cars I've ever seen. 1997, challenged for the pole, got the pole, took home that beautiful knife for achieving that.

Love this place so much, decided to call it home. My wife and I live down in McMinnville. A lot of guys come up here and say, "It's beautiful up here." We love coming, being a part of it. The weather is great. I know it can have a little bit of rain, but with that rain comes all the green that we continually see. We're calling it home and absolutely love it. The track here is probably one of the best in the nation. Good, close racing, high speed. With some of the changes that we're making in the rules, it should even be closer racing this year. Things like traction control makes it easier for the drivers. We'll probably hear more about that this evening. Getting back to the roots of racing, putting it back in the drivers' seats. With all that, I think it's going to be some exciting racing.

Tonight's program will be simple question and answer. For the next hour and a half, we'll have a lot of ground to cover, so we're going to take charge, rip through it. We'll not take any breaks, just keep going to the questions. Afterwards we'll invite everybody to stick around. I know Jimmy is going to have to bolt out fairly quickly. I know he's going to be catching a plane, but otherwise I think most of the rest of us are going to be staying around. More than happy for you to come up, we'll sign some stuff or just talk more about the racing. Let's just get on with it. Without further ado, one of the guys that has been a main staple and a good, personal friend of mine coming up here for many, many years, always talked to him about the racetrack and really seen a guy with a ferocious appetite to see nothing but success up here for the Champ Car race, Bill Hildick. Come up, Bill. Spent a lot of time, effort and energy.

Bill Hildick: Thank you.

Pruett: The next man on the panel is really the guy leading this charge. He's had his hands full. Being involved with Champ Car for as long as I have, especially from the late '80s. One of the biggest problems with CART, a lot of you know it, maybe some of you don't know it, has been the owners. They've run the place. We used to joke, "The inmates are running the asylum." Unfortunately, because of that CART hasn't fared as well as it probably should have.

I remember in the early '90s CART and NASCAR were head-to-head with TV ratings, with the number of spectators going to events, with everything. All of a sudden NASCAR is really at the foreground of everything else. Unfortunately, Champ Car has gone through a few struggles. Finally I think the owners realize that they needed to bring in the right guy to run the ship. I don't think they could have brought in a better guy. Really dynamic, a lot of foresight, a lot of good views, and downright just a guy that's willing to get the job done. Let's give a hand to Chris Pook.

Next we have a hard-core competitor, guy that put on a beautiful race at Fontana last year, just a dynamic guy. Past champion, a friend of mine. Started out last weekend in St. Petersburg. The thing you don't know is the fact that he had to go to the back of the pack because he couldn't get his car started, cut his way up through the field to finish sixth in just a superb drive. Let's welcome Jimmy Vasser.

And lastly, but certainly not least, a guy that you really don't want to see on a weekend, but if you know he's there, you're going to be well taken care of. A resident of Oregon, as well. A guy that really sees the opportunity in making sure that the drivers are going to be well taken care of. Believe me, from my position, as well as Jimmy's, all the other competitors, when you have somebody like that on your side, it's good to see them if you happen to get in harm's way, Lon Bromley .

Let's get on with the program. Adam Saal will be running around, he and I will be out in the audience getting your questions. I'm going to start off with one question for each of these guys just to get things going. The first one will be for Bill. There's a lot of things I think that a lot of people have been wondering what's going on with CART, where we're going, how does it impact the Portland race. I know we as competitors love coming up here, we love participating in this event. There's an element of rain or shine, which is always good for Oregon itself, but you've been involved in this from the start. From the initial aspects of rolling out the race numerous years ago to where we were five years ago to where we're going, let's hear what are you seeing out there?

Hildick: Well, I've been asked a lot of questions tonight. I think the first thing I need to say was I was totally misquoted last year, for those of you who remember what happened last year. It's very satisfying to be here with Chris tonight on the potential 20th anniversary of CART racing in Portland. I was mesmerized by CART when I first met John Frasco many, many years ago. I can't impress enough upon everybody in the audience the support that Portland, Oregon has had from CART from day one. I mean, it has been unequivocal. We've always gotten the best. We may not have been a Long Beach but we were treated exactly the same. And the race fans in Portland got what everybody else got, the very, very best. We've had full fields, the best drivers, tremendous marketing support. It's never wavered.

It really is I think on a threshold, as I look at this coming year, Portland, the Northwest, we really need this event. I mean, we want to have the very best kind of racing that we can have at PIR. And Chris and his group are going to give that to us. It may be different than we've had in the past. We've had awful good stuff in the past. I have no reason to believe we're not going to have really terrific racing. I think all of you maybe saw St. Petersburg this past weekend. I just told Chris a few minutes ago, the first five laps I thought were as good as anything I'd seen in a long, long time.

To be able to look forward to that in June I think is terrific. I think we may get into this as the evening goes on, but you're sitting here tonight, and this event is taking place because Chris said it's going to happen. "We are going to be in Portland." You need to talk to him and ask him questions about that as the evening goes on. But I think it's just totally up from this point.

Pruett: Great. Next on to Chris Pook. Chris, obviously a lot has changed in your life. We rolled out away from Mexico City last year, we knew we could count eight for sure teams that would continue on in this season. I think there was a lot of speculation where CART was going, a lot of people thought CART was dead, it's not going to happen, they're not going to have the teams, not going to have the drivers. We roll out to St. Petersburg, 19 entries, a lot of new drivers, a lot of veteran drivers. That says a lot about where CART is going.

Chris Pook: Thank you, Scott. First of all, Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd like to thank you all for being here tonight. I really appreciate your coming out and visiting with us. It's an important evening for us here in Portland. It's a major commitment to this market that we have, and I just happen to love being in this city. It's a great city and a great racetrack. Scott, probably the major reason why you guys could only count eight is because you guys can't count.

Pruett: Come on (laughter).

Pook: No. We knew where we were going pretty well. If you remember, it was here at Portland last year we made the engine announcement that we were going to stay with the turbocharged Ford-Cosworths. We could see very clearly out there that we had 18, 19 cars available to us, and we just had to put the packages together to make sure it was viable for the guys to race.

A great deal of thanks on this goes to John Lopes, our vice president of operations, because he worked tirelessly literally from last August actually in Denver all the way through to spring training. In fact, when Emerson made his announcement right after spring training, that was the kind of the icing on the cake for John. Bill said it. I mean, there's nothing wrong with the racing in this series. The racing has always been good. Our drivers have always been superb. The combination of our road courses, our ovals and street courses works. Jimmy can talk to that, you can talk to that. Lon can talk to that because he works in all those conditions.

The problem quite candidly has been over the last five years, and the troubles with CART didn't happen overnight, this is something that's been coming on for four or five years, the problem is that management was not paying attention to its core business. The company went public, and they just started to get enthralled with Wall Street and got totally distracted, took their eye off the ball. Doesn't matter what you do in life, if you don't focus on the subject at hand, it's going to get off the track. That's exactly what happened. The racing is strong, the commitment is strong. We've got excellent drivers, we got excellent venues. We're going to have a great season. Believe me, with the management team we've got, we're going to take this company to levels higher than it ever was before.

Pruett: Well said. Well said. Next, Jimmy, I know you've had a lot of great memories coming up here to Portland. You were in the driver's seat last weekend at St. Petersburg. A lot of changes with the rules. Ford has come on as the spec engine. I think a lot of it, I'm sure you can answer this better than I can, a lot of it is getting put back into the drivers' hands. No more traction control, no more limiting of the fuel. A lot of those things that were taking the racing away from the race has gone by. How did you feel rolling out at St. Petersburg? Secondly, as you look forward coming to Portland, how that is going to change the racing as we see it in June?

Jimmy Vasser: Make no mistake about it, you can ask anybody that's driven a Champ Car and other race cars, including Formula 1 cars, the Champ Car is probably hands down the most exciting pure racing car that there is on the planet today. Any time you strap yourself into one of these things, it's exhilarating, it's a lot of fun, it grabs your complete attention.

Last season we had some tools, the electronics of the engine management system, that really made it a lot easier to drive. A lot of that is traction control. Taking that away this year, getting back to where we have full control over 800 plus horsepower with our right foot, with a turbocharging system, getting boosted up, there's a bit more of a lag, it becomes even more and more difficult to drive. I think you're going to see more passing opportunities like you did at St. Petersburg because it's more difficult to control the power application, and thus you're going to have more rear tire wear. With traction control, it controls the amount of rear wheel spin and you didn't have a lot of tire wear on the rear. Now tire wear is an issue again. Some cars don't handle as well, drivers don't know how to utilize that horsepower, they're going to burn the tires off and you'll have more discrepancy of lap time. I think the end product for the fans is you're going to know in your heart that the driver has got full control over the race car, and also you're going to see probably a lot more exciting racing. I think you can expect to see that when we come back again in June.

Pruett: Great. Better racing, closer racing, can you believe it? A resident of Oregon, Lon. We alluded to this earlier. From a driver's standpoint, this is a guy that would be right there, Simple Green Safety Team, right there to get us out of the car, out of harm's way. When you look at what to expect this season, especially looking at the track here in Portland, they made a lot of updates over the years, made this track a lot safer. From your knowledge of a lot of years, how does that unfold here in Portland, all the effort, energy that's gone in on your part?

Lon Bromley: I think you see a great deal of movement forward in safety with the Simple Green Safety Team here at Champ Car. We're always trying to improve and move forward in our industry. I like to compare safety basically like the medical field. If you don't keep up and you don't make changes, you don't stay on top. That's what you need to do at every racetrack you go to. You have to take each track as an individual place and deal with that place. Of course, some of our drivers do better at certain racetracks than others. After a while, you learn who does good and who does bad (laughter). Anyway, we're looking to improve, improve. We've gone to better head surrounds, the HANS device is in play right now, we're looking at new strapping, we're looking at new materials for helmets right now also. We're trying to stay on top, be a good provider for our drivers.

Pruett: Just to put this in perspective, I raced CART for eight or nine years, went to Winston Cup, as well as all the other series I drove in. It's amazing, I know Jimmy was racing a Busch race down in Daytona. It's amazing to me that a series like that, with all of the resources they have, it's actually a joke, racing there and getting helped off like Jimmy. He's gotten helped off once, I got helped off about 13 or 14 times during that season (laughter). Unfortunately, I had to see the safety team more than I liked. Actually, they didn't have a safety team. They had local doctors. That says a lot for this sport, what it does, the emphasis it puts on the actual athlete, all those elements. Without further ado, let's get into it. Adam Saal is running around right there. I'll jump in the audience myself.

Part II

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Scott Pruett , Willy T. Ribbs , Chris Pook