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

Transcript of Town Meeting: Portland with Chris Pook, Jimmy Vasser, Bill Hildick, Lon Bromley and Scott Pruett Part 3 of 6 Q: Phil from Portland. Chris, how important is Portland International Raceway to Champ Car, being it's the only ...

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

Part 3 of 6

Q: Phil from Portland. Chris, how important is Portland International Raceway to Champ Car, being it's the only permanent road course inside a city limits? What can the people here in this room as supporters of that race do to make sure that Champ Car keeps coming back after this current contract, but year after year?

Pook: Let me just tell you that Portland is very, very important to our whole business model. It's a critical element being here. We're trying to establish a North American business model. We have three races in Canada, three largest cities, two in Mexico, two largest cities there, and we need to be in the major market areas of the United States. We will never be able to race, I don't believe, in Seattle ever. But Portland for us is the Pacific Northwest. Portland represents that. Mike actually this year is going to be working hard on Seattle with G.I. Joe's. They have stores up there. We're going to go into the Seattle area and promote that very, very hard.

So it's a very important market. Yes, you're right. It is part of our urban model. It is in the city. I mean, it's a fantastic place because you're downtown in 10 minutes, you're literally downtown in 10 minutes, or coming this way you're three or four minutes with these hotels here and the restaurants and things. When we're trying to bring world corporations and national corporations to our series, these are the sort of things that they're looking for. When they entertain their guests and bring them in, they want to be able to take them out to nice restaurants, and they don't want to be in traffic for 40, 45 minutes out in the countryside. Portland is a wonderful racetrack, as Jimmy said. Bill has played a major role in that, as has the Rose Festival over the years. So it's very, very important to us, indeed, the whole presence of being here. That's why we're working so hard with Mike to continue this racetrack for the next 20 years because we want to be here for the next 20 years.

Q: Ken Hatfield, Portland. My question is for Chris. I have about 15, but I'm only going to get one. I'm going to key on what Scott said. NASCAR is kind of a joke. I believe it is. I'm passionate about this series. But CART markets like nobody else. The France family understands marketing. What is CART going to do to try to market itself?

Pook: Thanks for the cue on that. I appreciate that. When we were here to announce the renewed title sponsorship of G.I. Joe's, that was put together by the Oregon Sports Authority. They are very much involved. The Portland, Oregon Visitors Association is also now involved here, as is the Rose Festival association. We're bringing those three groups together, together with the members of the city commissioners, and we are going to engage the city much more in this event.

The city really needs to market this event itself. I mean, last weekend in St. Petersburg, for example, the Mayor of St. Petersburg had 600 guests on Sunday. The Mayor didn't, but the city had 600 guests. Those guests were people who could do business with the City of St. Petersburg. There were several cruise line people there because they were trying to convince a cruise line to stop in the city. There were a whole bunch of hotel developers, financial institutions that were brought in, developers brought in. There were folks from Tallahassee, government types, because the city has to have a relationship with Tallahassee. There were federal types that were brought in. There were people from Pinellas County brought in. The city was building its relationship.

It's similar things to what Long Beach does, our Canadian friends do, our Mexican friends do. Folks did that in Denver this year and Miami. So we're trying to engage the city more in the event and show the city how they can use this event. When we do that, then we'll bring more corporations to the event and create a greater awareness of the event in a greater market area. Reaching to Seattle is another very important one. We need to market there. We need to market down south to Medford. We need to probably go inland eventually to Idaho and those other population centers, create the attraction here in Portland for those folks to come here. We need the Port of Portland to get engaged. The Port of Long Beach is engaged in the race down there. They measure what they do every year. For the last seven years, they've been able to bring new shipping business into the port. They average about $80 million a year in new business as a result of bringing people to that race, entertaining them, asking them for the order to do business with the Port of Long Beach.

That's what we're going to do. It isn't one single thing that's going to grow. This is going to be a whole bunch of things together, where we engage everybody, as we're engaging you this evening. We're hopeful this evening you will listen to all these answers we're giving, you'll go back and be able to talk to other folks about it and let them understand what this is all about. Yes, this is a race, this is an event. What Mike did last year downtown, I don't know if any of you went to the concert downtown last year, those things all make a lot of sense. The pit stop contest he did, that was engaging people downtown, making them aware of what goes on out here. It's an outreach program that we've all got to do. The Frances have been doing it very successfully for 50 years.

You mentioned the Simple Green Safety Team, how good they are. I can't tell you how important this is, how dedicated Lon and his troops are, Dr. Steve Olvey, Dr. Terry Trammell, they are absolutely outstanding. This medical unit which I inherited when I came in as CEO is light-years ahead of anything else that's out there. These guys are superb, absolutely superb. Yes, Alex is walking around today, he is walking around today, believe it or not. In Toronto he got up on the starter's stand, climbed up on his own, started the race, took a pit stop break in the middle of the race, went to the bathroom, came up again and gave them a checkered flag. It's thanks to Lon and his crew.

Jimmy will tell you, they're in a high-risk business, these guys. It's very, very comforting to the drivers and much more comforting to the management team to know that we've got Lon and his crew out there on the ready, constantly on the ready, to jump in and do whatever they've got to do to take care of our drivers. They don't only take care of our drivers, they take care of all of us when we're on the road. Our mechanics twist an ankle, chop their finger. I'm recovering from a cold and sore throat. It's easier and quicker for me to wait till the weekend to go to the medical unit than hang around waiting for a doctor to come see me. That's how good they are.

Pruett: Following on the heels of what you're talking about, you would be one to answer, the economic impact for the City of Portland when a Champ Car comes to town, touch on that a little bit. I don't think people here understand the kind of economic impact a race like this has.

Hildick: Well, it's huge. I always used to use a figure of $35 million. When you measure economic impact, there are a lot of different ways you can measure it. You take a certain amount of money, you can multiply by two, you can multiply by three. But the bottom line in Portland, Oregon is that it's huge. The best part about it, coming from the industrial east maybe I appreciate this more, is that this thing rolls into town, used to come on Wednesday and Thursday, now I think it comes on Monday or Tuesday, it does its act, it puts all this money in the community, and it leaves Sunday night. There are no smokestacks, there are no problems. It's really pure economic dollars. It fills the hotels. It fills the airplanes. It fills the restaurants. It's the very best economic development that any community could possibly have. That's really why you want to do everything in your power to maintain this event in a city like Portland. I happen to know that there are some concerns, particularly after last year, that some of the hotels weren't as filled up as they had been in the past. They came to management. They came to Chris and said, "What can we do to make this thing work?" It's very, very important.

Q: Jeffrey just from across the creek in Camas, Washington. As a segue actually from the F1 question over here, we talk a lot about F1, I know you and Bernie have at least had coffee, if not beer. Talking about one event that happened last year in Miami, the doubleheader, between you and IMSA, discuss about your relationship with IMSA. Also, is there anything else, any other major organizations that you guys are thinking about pairing up with and running double-headers? I think it's exciting for sport, our sport, to be with different groups of fans running together, except those NASCAR people (laughter)?

Pook: You're talking about Jimmy's future employers here (laughter). We'll let him go down there a couple times and run, but we want him to come back in one piece. The American LeMans series ran with us in Miami. It was very successful for both series. That's good and healthy. We're talking to the American LeMans series about potential other venues to run. Trans-Am we run with, Scott, four or five times this year, right? We're going to run with Trans-Am, which is another very good, viable series. We think that's positive, and we'll look in those areas, if we can. The more we can vary the menu that we give to you on a race weekend, not all open-wheel, give you closed-wheel at the same time, show you the various disciplines of motorsport, and also show you the young drivers coming through those series on their way up, introduce you to them, I think that's good for all of us. We'll continue to do that.

Q: Gus from Portland. Firstly, what are the prospects of CART doing events on more permanent road courses like Road Atlanta? Secondly, there's a lot of baseball fans here in Oregon that are trying to borrow like a quarter billion dollars to make Portland a major league city. I'd like to on behalf of Oregon offer a fraction of that to make our world class racing facility even better. Thank you.

Q: This is directed both to Jimmy and Chris. It seemed like we lost a lot of camaraderie and talent to the Irrelevant Racing League. What is your comment on that as far as you want to make it more household names like Jimmy Vasser already is? It seems like a lot of the new rookie talent coming up, we're kind of steering towards F1 and the lack of camaraderie.

Vasser: I think camaraderie is hard to build. It just kind of has to happen. It's like a chemistry thing. That's going to come and go. Certainly it wouldn't be interesting or fun if it wasn't natural. But I do think that there is still quite a bit of that going on in CART, a lot more than there is anywhere else I see in other racing series. Make no mistake about the guys that are coming up, they're very, very talented. That's the one thing about CART, is that it's always been highly respected for the talent that's in there. We've had some names leave the sport, but the guys that have come in to fill those seats are well-respected throughout the world, not just here on our own soil. You know, always be proud of the fact as a CART fan that the talent out on the field is second to none as far as formula car driving goes.

Q: A fan had asked a minute ago, what about permanent circuits like a Road Atlanta.

Pook: We've looked at Road Atlanta because we need to be in the Southeast. It is very challenging for our type of cars. Road Atlanta is very high speed. For the American LeMans series cars, they're a handful there. We just don't think in the current format, layout of Road Atlanta, we're comfortable subjecting our drivers to that circuit. It's a shame, it's a great circuit, it's in a great location. But you cannot underestimate just how powerful and how fast these cars are. I mean, Jimmy talked about it a little while ago. You bolt yourself in one of these things, you're in a rocket ship.

We have to respect that. We think about that. Our engineering folks and our operations folks are constantly doing simulations about what turn speeds are, where is the margin for safety. When one of these things lets loose, if a suspension failure happens at a hundred plus miles an hour, they're passengers, they're just hanging on. We've got to take those things into consideration. The sport is tough enough as it is without us putting them one step closer to a disaster. It's a constant discussion, and we discuss it with our safety team, we discuss it with our engineers, we discuss it with our drivers. We need to be conscious of this. We need to be very conscious of this. We'd prefer to err on the side of a little bit of caution rather than bravado, from our perspective.

Q: I'm Mike from Aloha, Oregon. My wife Sandra, we actually met at the race a few years back before we got married. Two-part question. Has there been any more discussions with Tony George about reuniting? What about the teams that have defected to IRL? How long do you think it's going to be because those guys get tired of going around in circles?

@!Pruett: I know Franchitti is not happy about it.

Vasser: Some of those guys are already tired of it.

Pook: I'm on record on numerous occasions. My office door is open. My phone is available to be answered. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for that phone to ring. I'm going to get on and do what I've got to do in this series to get on with what we've got because it's too good to wait around for somebody to pick up the phone and talk to us. It's going to be very difficult. It's going to be a very difficult situation for us if those teams decide they do want to come back because we have got new teams that have come in in good faith, put themselves on the line to join our series and invest in our series. We have got guys that are guaranteeing loans. One guy's got his house on the line. He's really committed to building a team.

As much as it would be nice probably to have those teams come back, I don't want to do that. Morally it troubles me that I would push someone that's come to help us when we needed them to then later shove them out the door just because there's a big name that decides they want to come home. If they want to come home, they can come home, earn their way to come home. But I'm not going to trample on someone that's reached out to us and is part of our new family. That's the way it's going to be.

Q: Maybe I should direct this mainly at the fans here, great number of attendants, which I'm really amazed. This is beautiful. I'd like to show my appreciation to Jerry (Boone) and Trackside Edition that appears Thursday in The Oregonian. I think that's very informative, excellent.

Pruett: Jerry has been a great supporter of motorsports here in Portland, ever since I've been coming up here.

Q: But I think I'm the only one that's calling the sports editor on Monday morning and complaining about the coverage that The Oregonian is giving CART on Monday. Monday's edition of The Oregonian, five paragraphs supporting the NASCAR top column. Nice picture of Paul Tracy, nice picture of his car, big headline. You know, I call and call and call. I guess it's falling on deaf ears because they refuse to call me back. I think everybody else should be calling, too, to let them know, as stated earlier, this city needs to get behind this, we need to get behind this. They need all the support we can give. The only way you can do that is to voice your opinion. I just feel that instead of sitting home and complaining, bitching like I may be doing now, maybe you should call, e-mail or what have you. I would love to see coverage like this every Monday in The Oregonian rather than Sunday, June the 23rd or 24th, whatever it will be. Thank you very much.

Saal: As I'm in charge of the media relations, I can definitely support what Jerry Boone does from The Oregonian. But he is only one person. If you want to see improved coverage, call them and thank them for what Jerry does, but also tell them to grab it off the AP wire and get it in the paper.

Part IV

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Paul Tracy , Scott Pruett , Chris Pook , Tony George