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

Transcript of Town Meeting: Portland with Chris Pook, Jimmy Vasser, Bill Hildick, Lon Bromley and Scott Pruett Part 5 of 6 Q: I do want to thank you for being here. It's great to have you here so we can spout our wisdom, I guess. To...

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

Part 5 of 6

Q: I do want to thank you for being here. It's great to have you here so we can spout our wisdom, I guess. To follow up on this gentleman's suggestion regarding fans supporting particular cars or whatever, I suggest maybe -- I helped to sponsor a small formula here. There's a lot of small business people here that wouldn't mind seeing their logos out on a car, and bring their clients to the track, maybe not for a hundred bucks, but maybe for a thousand bucks. Obviously, not too many of us here would be able to pull out a hundred thousand dollar check. Maybe there's some way the smaller companies can sponsor a small logo on a particular car. How can you facilitate that for us?

Pook: Well, I think if we adopt the program, we've got to adopt it across the board in every venue we go to. I think that's what we've got to do. I think we have to evaluate that. I hear what you're saying. I can tell there's a level of passion with which you're saying this. The question from my perspective right now is where we are in the company. I've got to really prioritize the immediate things I've got to do which are critical, such as the television issue is a critical one. I need to prioritize that and execute on those priorities.

I don't want to brush off what you're saying as not being important. It obviously is important. But to take folks off some of these other issues right now and work on that, which will be very labor intensive, because putting together 25 or 30 people to each write a check for a fair amount of money, just so you know, for a one-off car, it costs about $150,000 a race for a very minimal effort, sometimes up to $200,000. Putting all that together, assembling all that, would be a fairly major task. If we can't do it properly, we're better not to do it at all.

At the moment, I don't have the resources that I could say, "Let's go do this in Portland or Vancouver or Milwaukee or Cleveland." I'd love to do it. But I also need to be very honest with you and tell you where we stand today in our order of priorities. I just can't say to you, "Yeah, we're going to do it tomorrow," and not do it. I'm going to say to you very honestly, can't do it right now, we'll think about it, put it on the back burner, keep it there, see if we can do it in the future. I don't have the resources to do it right now.

Q: My question is for Jimmy Vasser. It's rumored that you might be running the Indy 500. Please tell us you aren't going to be riding one of those crap wagons.

Vasser: Well, right now I'm not. I mean, I'm going to be in Europe at Brands Hatch, Lausitz the week after that. It makes it very difficult now to plan on that. Although I can't say that I wouldn't either. Make one thing here clear. The Indy 500 is still the Indy 500. It's a special race to drivers. If I had the right situation, with a car that I felt could win the race, rather than just to participate, I don't want to go there just to participate, I might take that opportunity. Right now, I don't have anything for certain sure. I know I'm going to be in Europe racing my Champ Car.

Pook: I just want you to know that we at CART have the greatest respect for the Indianapolis 500. It's a great race. It's a fantastic race. It needs to be respected. We would love to have one of our drivers participate. We wouldn't stand in Jimmy's way at all if he wanted to participate there. We would encourage that. Nothing would make us happier than if he won that race. Just as a point of information, we did have one of our drivers win that race last year.

Pruett: The politics weren't very good, but the race was.

Saal: We're getting backed up here. I think we'll power through past 8:30. I'm sure it's okay with everybody in the room. If we don't get to your question, I want you to see me, we'll give you an e-mail address, I guarantee you by the weekend we'll have an answer from one of our panelists. We have a Star of Tomorrow over here. We'll make him stand up on his chair and ask his question, show off his new T-shirt.

Pook: Great T-shirt, young man.

Q: My questions are to Jimmy. How do you like driving with the new team?

Vasser: I like it. You know what's cool about the new team is the theme of the team, and that's American spirit. We've had a lot of complaints over time that there aren't enough American drivers. You know, our particular team is American spirit. My teammates are American. Obviously I am. I'm very, very proud to represent in that fashion. The team is new, but throughout it's got a lot of experience. A lot of the members on the team I've worked with before, people that have been successful in Champ Cars over the years. While we might be new in days old, we're very, very rich in experience.

Q: What's it like driving without traction control on your CART car?

Vasser: Well, it's like -- you know when it snows outside, and you live on a hill, and you try to go up the hill and you're wheels are spinning? It's kind of like that. To get the wheels to hook up, you have to back off the throttle until they grab the ground, then you have to apply the power a lot easier. It's a little bit slippery. It's more slippery out there. It's like slipping on a banana peel.

Q: So when it rains, it's going to be slippery?

Vasser: When it rains, in fact, we've already addressed that issue a bit. That's part of the reason we talked earlier about a rain tire fix. We're going to have a lot of power. That's why we get paid the big bucks, right? We're supposed to be able to control it.

Saal: I understand this young man is starting to race, too. Racing go-karts. A lot of encouragement from Jimmy, Scott and Paul. We'll see you up there in 10 years.

Q: John from Vancouver. Last winter there was a period when, after CART had dropped the Spa, I don't know how to pronounce the second word, that CART might go there. I would love to see Champ Cars running at Spa. Any chance of that happening?

Pook: It would be exciting. Not at the moment. We did have some conversations with Spa. There's an interest by the Belgians in us going there, without F1 being there. I think Jimmy would love to drive there. Have you driven there?

Vasser: No, I never have.

Pook: It's a pretty exciting racetrack. There probably would be a fairly substantial disparity in times between ourselves and F1 there. It's those very high-speed tracks that the F1 cars, with all their downforce, the grip they've got on their tires, their braking capabilities with those carbon fiber disc brakes they've got, can really make the difference bigger. We had a six-second spread at Montreal between F1 times and ourselves. At Spa, we could be looking at as much as 10, 12, 14 second spread. Maybe we ought to wait for a year or so and let the F1 race sort of disappear there for a couple years, then maybe we might appear. You never know.

Pruett: Jimmy, whenever you have to leave, give us a heads up. We'll continue on for a while until we wear these guys out.

Q: I'm Steve Emerson from Salem. I'd like to recognize Mr. Hildick's contribution to motorsports in the Northwest. On that note, I'd like to say how relieved I am to hear that that was a misquote situation in the Tribune. There was a lot of fear in the community because of that. Also to Mr. Pook, I'd like to thank you for the job you're doing and say, you've probably heard this, you can't necessarily comment because of pending litigation, but even though we're a long ways away, Road America is still important to CART fans out here. That's quite a unique course that holds a special place in our hearts.

Pook: It's important to motor racing in general. It's a great racetrack. It's one of America's great traditional racetracks. It's a delicate situation, as you pointed out. But thank you for asking me not to comment on it.

Q: Roger Davis, Portland, Oregon. For someone to comment on the television coverage. Frankly, I think when the big three cover the race, their interest isn't in the racing. There's no passion. These guys do it right (pointing to Scott Pruett). My wife Lisa and I were at St. Petersburg for 10 days or so, including the race weekend. We saw the buzz building up. I'm wondering if some sponsors maybe were kind of holding judgment until they saw what was going on? We saw logos going on cars between Friday and Saturday. If the buzz is building, might we see more cars in Mexico? What are your thoughts on that?

Pook: I think you're right. There's a lot of folks out there waiting to see. You can't blame them. It wasn't a very good situation last year at all. You're asking a company to come on in and put the money up in October or November. As Scott was saying earlier, they can only count to eight or whatever the number was they were trying to get to. That was a challenge for us. It is a challenge. But I think now people are starting to see what we've got. We came off a very good weekend, as you know. Thank you very much for being there. I appreciate that very much. The confidence is rebuilding. People are prepared to invest. We have a whole series of sponsor announcements coming out from teams here in the next three or four weeks. I think over the year as we move forward, people regain confidence in the series, you'll see sponsors coming back to the series in remarkably pleasant numbers. It's a rebuilding process. We have some solid foundations on this house we're rebuilding. I assure you.

Pruett: On the TV package. The only thing we don't have going for us is exposure like a CBS, NBC, ABC. The heart and soul, Terry Linger is a new group leader for TV, and his heart and soul is racing. It's all about racing. Between Tommy Kendall and myself and Bob Varsha, Derek Daly and Calvin Fish, our passion is racing, as well, telling the true story, not flowering it up, changing it.

I ran in Winston Cup in 2000, then did some races for ABC for CART in 2001. They were very specific about, "We don't want you to say this, be careful doing this, we don't want you to do this." Yeah, the race goes on at the green flag, goes off they checkered. Being a driver, Jimmy knows as well, when you get to victory circle you deserve those accolades, whether it's on TV or whether it's at the track or whatever the case might be. It was such a rip-off when we didn't get to see as fans the guys pop the champagne, tell the story, what happened, the exciting moments. We got nothing. We got maybe a little interview on the parade lap. It was total bullshit. Excuse my mouth. The passion is there from the group that's doing it. Now we just need -- as Chris has said, we just need to get the outlet to move it forward.

Q: I'm Vick Wright down from Seattle, Washington, Auburn actually, south of Seattle. Thank you, Jimmy, for stalling the car at St. Petersburg. That was the greatest drive I've ever seen from the back of the field.

Vasser: I'll do it again (smiling).

Q: The race was incredible. How about a point for fastest lap? It's usually not the guy that won the race. Let's tighten the points up a little bit. Fastest lap point. Where was Paul Tracy's helmet cam? We missed it. We need foot shots, head shots. Let's see what's going on in the car, like NASCAR does. It's the one thing they do really well, the in-car camera. Great to watch. For anybody that thinks speed isn't doing the job, SPEED Channel has never preempted one of my races so I can watch Tiger Woods' mother wave. Buy a satellite dish.

Pook: I think the point for fastest lap is a good concept. It's just on the fix list. I think that will move to the top now that you've jogged everybody's memory tonight with that. The helmet cam. It's ironic you should bring it up. On the airplane coming over here, I was responding to an e-mail, to Terry Linger, about helmet cam, visor cam, additional in-car cameras. They want cameras going forward and back. We fixed the weight rule this past season. Now the guys are saying, "Wait a minute. If I have these extra cameras on, they weigh a pound or two pounds, that's extra weight." Horse manure was going on this last race. My e-mail said, "Exempt cameras from the weight rule situation and get on with it." That's what we'll do.

Q: My name is Nancy. I'm from Aloha, Oregon. Chris, I wanted to know, Ford you said was going to do more sponsorship. Are they going to do more commercials that include CART? I get tired of watching last year FedEx, and they constantly did their thing, but they never said anything about CART. That's something it seems like it would be a good tie-in. And, Jimmy, is there going to be a sponsor on your car anytime soon?

Vasser: Yeah, I am. Well, I know my team is working on it. They're in the sport for the long haul. They're focused on getting a real long-range solid sponsor. I think they've been approached by some sponsors that might not be as deep-rooted with a long-term plan. They're going to wait for a sponsor that comes along with those kind of qualities and characteristics.

Pook: Ford Motor Company, we've had over the last eight weeks some very productive meetings. I think you will see them start to emerge very strongly. We are now starting to talk to the regions in the Ford Motor Company, to engage the dealers in our program. Obviously, the objective is to drive traffic to the dealers and let people understand the Ford product, and hopefully buy the Ford product. We'll have an integrated conversation with the Ford dealers in the various regions around the country as we go forward. I'm very, very confident that you will see the sort of things you're looking for to emerge from those conversations. This agreement with Ford was only signed in November. We've just got to work our way through that process, as well. But thank you for your input on it.

Q: I'm from Beaverton. I was wondering, one of the things that really first attracted me to CART was the wide variety of tracks, with the ovals, non-ovals, road courses, street courses. I know there are all kinds of different reasons why the ovals have been falling off the schedule. I was wondering, is there a plan to work towards restoring the balance between ovals and non-ovals or is this going to be now more a series that basically focuses on the road and street courses?

Pook: No, we really want to have the ovals in the series. We also have to be very careful about where we go. I'm not sure at the moment that open-wheel race cars can compete with stock cars as far as audience attendance on ovals. We've got to find the right circumstance. We had a very good race down in Fontana last November, which Mr. Vasser kindly won for us. It was a terrific show. I mean, the race was a terrific race. The guys could actually race each other, which is something they had not been able to do up to that point on high-speed ovals or even on the one-mile ovals. But we're addressing that issue. But we've got to find the right circumstance to put ourselves into markets that make sense rather than just force feed it for the sake of doing it. That would not be sensible for us to do for the future of our sport.

Pruett: Young race fan over here. What's your name?

Q: Stefan. I was wondering why we don't call CARTs Indy cars anymore?

Pook: If you go to crapwagon.com, you'll get the answer. It's a trademark issue. It's a very good question actually, young man. Excellent question. It's an issue that is centered around a trademark, an agreement that CART made a few years ago, I think it was five or six years ago, with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that they had the proprietary right to the name Indy and Indy Car in the United States. In Canada, by the way, they're still called Indy cars. In Australia, our cars are called Indy cars. It's very confusing. But that is the reason why we can't do it in this country. That's really why we've gone back to our heritage of calling our series Champ Cars, because that's where we came from. Good question, young man. Thank you.

Saal: Jimmy, thank you very much. How about a nice round of applause for Jimmy Vasser.

Vasser: Thank you very much. What a great turnout. Hope to see you guys in June.

Saal: We can take a few more questions, then we want to have time to meet and greet our remaining panelists.

Q: Pat from Hillsboro. I noticed this year in your schedule you have a few night races. Wondering what the thought process was in going to a couple of those night races? Jimmy isn't here to answer that as a perspective from one of the drivers, maybe we can get that from Scott, the difference.

Pook: Let me ask answer the question about why night races. Milwaukee is a great traditional racetrack, but the promotion started to go away a little bit in the last few years. Over this last winter, they've completely rebuilt the racetrack, brand-new grandstand, everything. It's going to have a whole new look. We basically said that these cars are incredibly spectacular. At night, under the lights, when they go on compression, you have blue flame coming out of the back of the turbo chargers, you have the brakes blowing. The paint schemes are incredible on them, they look so beautiful.

We've got the ability to light it with Musco Lighting out of Iowa. They said they could light it. We're going to run Milwaukee under the lights, step up the pace and go to Cleveland. The lady needs a new dress in Cleveland. We decided to go to Musco again. They're going to light that entire airport. It will be the single largest outdoor lit sporting event in the world. It will be pretty exciting. If you will, it's repackaging, representing the product in a different format.

Pruett: From a driving standpoint, one, I think every race should be under the lights. Saturday night racing is just one of the most awesome things that I've ever seen or have been a part of. It changes perceptions a bit, doing the stuff in Cup, doing the stuff in sports car, all the times we've run under the lights, I think especially these guys are going to get spoiled. Racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway, for instance, Musco does such a great job at lighting the place, you really didn't know the difference between night and day once you were on the racetrack. The job that's going to happen is going to be terrific. It's not going to be like a Daytona 24 hour where you can hardly see the racetrack, you're trying to drive the car with the headlights. What do they say, you're not supposed to overdrive the car? Impossible. You end up feeling what you're doing instead of seeing what you're doing. How they're going to do it is going to be spectacular. I know we're racing Trans-Am that weekend. I don't know if we're under the lights. I know it's at that time of day where it might be changing. I think it's awesome for the sport. I think more races should be under the lights myself.

Part VI

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Paul Tracy , Scott Pruett , Calvin Fish , Chris Pook , Tommy Kendall