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

Transcript of Town Meeting: Portland with Chris Pook, Jimmy Vasser, Bill Hildick, Lon Bromley and Scott Pruett Part 4 of 6 Q: Steve Berry, Portland. I have a quick comment for Jimmy, but I have a question for Chris. Jimmy, it's great to...

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

Part 4 of 6

Q: Steve Berry, Portland. I have a quick comment for Jimmy, but I have a question for Chris. Jimmy, it's great to see you with a good team again. Hope you win another championship.

Vasser: Me, too.

Q: Chris or anyone else on the panel who would care to comment. For us, the local club racers here, Portland International has become very much less user-friendly than it was even just a couple years ago. Assuming that this is happening in some respects with CART, is there anything that we the fans and supporters of CART could do to help out?

Pook: Well, that's disappointing to hear that it's becoming less user friendly. That's very disappointing. I would suggest -- I would just call Mark Wigginton, who I believe is the general manager over there. He used to be a newspaper writer in Long Beach years ago. I'd just get on his schedule and go talk to him, discuss it with him. If he's operating in a vacuum, not listening to you guys, that's a remedy for problems. That's kind of what CART did five years ago, operated in a vacuum, didn't listen to anybody.

You need to express yourselves, express yourselves. I wouldn't go out there and beat him up too much, but I'd certainly go and say, "Mark, here are our concerns." He's under pressure, too. I'm sure there are people squeezing the budget on his end. Communication is really important here in this sort of situation. That would be my recommendation to you. We'll make a point of just letting him know this question came up tonight. I'm sure Mike will be help to make the call or I'll make the call. We'll pass it on to him. He needs to know that.

Mark Wigginton" I know.

Pook: Steve Berry, meet Mark Wigginton. He's right here.

Q: My name is Jeff. I'd like to thank you for coming. First of all, Scott, sat on the pole, fast lap, and smoked them. It's a pleasure to watch you drive a Trans-Am.

Pruett: Thanks. They were talking about that earlier. I think Trans-Am should be a mainstay of all the CART races, all the road course CART races. What we should do is have -- I'm sure Mr. Gentilozzi will have the house car where we could put on any given weekend, whether it's a current Indy Champ Car driver, where it's a NASCAR driver, whether it's a retired guy. I talked to Bobby Rahal. He said, "I'd like nothing more than to jump into one of those cars." Make an interesting show Saturday or Sunday after the race.

Q: Chris, what are your thoughts about the Stars of Tomorrow program? What is its value to CART? Do you think it's going to help young American shifter kart drivers get into Champ Cars?

Pook: Absolutely. That's why we've embraced it. We need to start down in go-karts and create the ladder program, which we've got. Stars of Tomorrow, that's really important to us. We're actually going to end up the season at Fontana, have a Stars of Tomorrow race at that facility, same weekend as the Champ Cars are running. We need to make it easy for the guys out of Stars of Tomorrow to move to Barber Dodge, move from Barber Dodge to Atlantics. We have to start in go-karts. As Jimmy will tell you, you know, the reason the Brazilians are so good, just about every single kid when he's seven or eight years old, he's in a go-kart. He's racing every weekend in a go-kart. It's like little league baseball. That's how you use little league.

Q: It's not little league.

Pook: I'm not saying go-karts are little league. I'm saying the kids start in little league. We have to recognize it's before Stars of Tomorrow. It's when kids are eight or nine years old, we put them in a go-kart, take them up through the ranks, move them into the Stars of Tomorrow program. Very important to the series. Very important to the development of American drivers.

Vasser: They're out there. They're already there. You know that.

Pook: We just got to facilitate it for you. That's all.

Q: Dennis, I live here in Portland, Oregon. Chris, what are we doing to attract better TV coverage? Everybody in this room tonight is the hard core fan. For us to expand our series is to expand the market base, that is like getting better TV coverage. We've lost ESPN, lost Channel 2, ABC. What are we doing to address that issue? Target, Texaco, they've left because they don't think they get the bang for their buck. What are we doing to get that back? With that the money will come back and the popularity and success of our series will come back. Speedvision is 50 to a hundred bucks. That's price prohibitive for a lot of people.

Pook: We're sensitive to that issue. We inherited the Speedvision contract when we came in in December of 2001. We're growing our relationship with CBS. More and more you'll see more races on CBS. I think we touched on that a little earlier tonight. We are working with another network outlet for 2004. We do need to bring it back to the mainstream. We have to walk before we run. We have to build. We're sensitive to it. We will get it done. We've got to regain the credibility of the networks. That's what we're doing. I think Terry Linger, who produces the show for us, the standard of production now, we get hundreds and hundreds of e-mails just raving about the standard of the production. As you said, the problem is getting the signal into your living room on an economical basis. That's what we're working on.

Q: My game is Gary. I'm from Ashland. Long time fan. I grew up about a mile from the Indy 500 track. I've been following these cars for a long time. My comment is based on that, as a long-time fan. I'd like to help build this fan base. I think we all would. I hear a lot of comments and references to competing with NASCAR or trying to mimic what they do. That's a whole lot different fan. Maybe we can mimic what they do in terms of their personalities and that sort of thing, but our strengths are, when you go to the Portland race, you see that tent with the cutaway car, you can see the technology, those are the kind of people that are CART fans. That's what sets us apart. When you see the different driving skills that are required here as opposed to IRL or NASCAR, those are the things that set us apart. I just got this feeling that there's a lot of fans out there, a lot of people with those kinds of interests, that don't even know CART exists. Those are the kind of people I'd like to see us somehow reach out to. I know you're limited a lot by SPEED TV, what they can do, all of that, in terms of presenting your product. Maybe they could do something a little bit of Barber Dodge, show how the driving skills are required in this series are so much different than anything else, just focus on the things that set us apart.

Pook: If you've heard we're going to try to do mimic like NASCAR, no way we're going to do that. We're going to get on and run our own house. Our racing is very, very good. We'll focus on that. They tried to suck us into this IRL formula with the engines. We're not going there. We're not going there. We're not going to spend the rest of our lives doing that. We know what we've got, and you're absolutely right, we have to do some outreach. I think we talked about it over here, a question over here, we were talking about outreach. A gentleman asked how we were going to grow the market. We will grow the market. We will grow the fans that way. You know, we've just got to do one step at a time. We can't use gimmicks. That's not the way to do it. You just have to build it the old-fashioned way, and that's work hard at it, and that's what we're going to do.

Q: I'm Andy. I'm from Portland. I've been to all of the CART races here since '84. It's a great series, fantastic competition, fantastic memories, great stuff. My question is I guess for some combination of Bill and Lon. I'm thinking back to last year's race when Kenny Brack pulled out of the pits, he went one way, his wheel went the other way, rolled about a quarter mile down the track. Good thing that that happened at low speed, when he was not up at full song heading down the straight. I hate to imagine what would have happened if it had been at full song and that wheel went into the stands. The question is, are you satisfied with the level of safety that we have for spectators at PIR? Are there improvements that are being made, maybe should be made in that regard? Thanks.

Bromley: I think Bill was hiding from there, I don't know (laughter). I think you should never stop looking to improve on what you've got out there. You know, we're going to one meter block. We've got fence now that is 12 feet high. When you think and look at a race, you say, "Wow, that's really going to cover that problem." We all know in this room that when a race car brakes, you never know what's really going to happen. I guess the answer to your question, I think it's adequate for the time. I'll say this for all racetracks, not just Portland. But we need to continually look at what needs to be done to improve. The cars get faster. We need to look at how we're going to handle keeping all the parts inside so we don't get anybody hurt.

Pruett: From a driver's standpoint, I can make reference to this, Portland, over the past five years has made huge steps forward in making this track for the drivers and for the spectators a lot safer. There was a big push, I was actually head of the driver's group that had gone and worked with some of these tracks, looking for new improvements, and Portland was one of those tracks that made year after year after year continual improvements, a lot more for the safety of the drivers. You carry some high speeds on this track, you get off, especially in the rain, tire barriers, more barriers in general. From my standpoint racing here, no question that Portland has moved forward in making this track a lot better.

Q: My name is Dan. I'm from Bend, Oregon. Looking back years ago when Scott bought his first ride down in Long Beach, if a thousand Portland fans got together and chipped in some money, could they put somebody like a Memo Gidley or Bryan Herta in a spare car at PIR? If so, would that be feasible? What would it cost? Yes, I did bring my checkbook.

Vasser: I bet a hundred bucks for a thousand would probably get the job done, if you found the right team.

Pook: Yeah, I think there has been actually a discussion about having a car that would be available from time to time for venues that do want to put a driver in, such as Memo. I think that's feasible. It's possible to do. How far that's going, I don't know. The challenge is just getting the race car ready. Having it set there for one or two races is okay, but it is expensive to maintain that car all year. The problem is it's putting the crew together for the weekend, all this stuff. You've got to be so careful about compromising your safety issues. I mean, just as you heard about the tire coming off on Ganassi's car. That mechanic is on the dark side, so we don't have to worry about him. Those are the sort of things that we would worry about a little bit. But your idea is good. I'm sure if we have enough folks together, it would work.

You know, I hate to put the burden on the fans to write checks to put drivers in race cars. It's our job as the sanctioning body to make sure that the economics of our series is such that we can have drivers such as Memo in our series. That's our responsibility. I appreciate it very much, but we're not going to put the burden on our fans to do that. That's not correct. We'd sooner you buy tickets from Mike. Thanks.

Vasser: We should have Memo speak for himself on that one.

Q: I'm Scott from Vancouver, across the river here. My question is to the supporting series that could come along with CART to Portland. We used to have the Speedvision World Challenge, the touring cars, GT cars. What kind of say does CART have to attracting those kinds of series to accompany CART to Portland? Outside of CART last year, it was kind of boring. There wasn't a lot else going on on the track. CART was wonderful, but having a lot of those other things to fill up the time between qualifying, between racing, is exciting as well. The Rose Cup, a lot of us go to that. That's good, clean fun, it's good stuff. I'd like to see more of that during the CART racing. Do you have control over that or is there something you can do to bring that kind of racing and influence to those people to be with us?

Pook: Yeah, we do have control over it to a certain degree. Obviously, that's a communication issue between ourselves and our promoters. In our plans going forward, we would like to have a tin-top series, apart from the Trans-Am series that runs with us. We have had some conversations with Ford Motor Company about that, what we can do. I'm a firm believer in varying the menu as you've suggested. I think it's important we do that for the fans.

I would say to you we're a year or two probably away from that. It's something that needs to get accomplished. It also gives Ford Motor Company another opportunity to expose their products, which we're very interested in having them do. Part of the job is, the Ford engine, the Ford-Cosworth is in the race car, but we also have to explain that the bridge from the race car, which is open-wheel, to the Ford car in the dealer showroom, Ford stock is a good way to do that. I know Mike is listening to you. I'm sure he'll be bending my ear when I get outside.

Part V

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Memo Gidley , Bobby Rahal , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Scott Pruett , Chris Pook