CHAMPCAR/CART: Road America press conference, part I

Cart Champ Car teleconference transcript: Chris Pook, Mario Andretti and George Bruggenthies. Part 1 of 2 Adam Saal: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for a special CART Champ Car teleconference. I am Adam Saal from CART ...

Cart Champ Car teleconference transcript: Chris Pook, Mario Andretti and George Bruggenthies.

Part 1 of 2

Adam Saal: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for a special CART Champ Car teleconference. I am Adam Saal from CART Champ Car communications. We're delighted to have with us today Champ Car legend Mario Andretti, Champ Car President and CEO Christopher R. Pook, and the general manager from Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, George Bruggenthies.

Yesterday, amongst other news, we did announce that CART Champ Car and Road America did reach an agreement to hold a 2003 race as part of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, and will be named the Mario Andretti Grand Prix at Road America, which is symbolic of Mario's support and efforts in basically bringing this race back. He feels very passionate about it. No doubt, Mario, needless to say, you were in the news yesterday. This teleconference will be about the Champ Car's returning to Road America, that is the topic we want to discuss. We would like to ask the cooperation of all our journalist friends in supporting that. But it would be appropriate to say, Mario, how are you feeling as we get started here today?

Mario Andretti: I feel great. Actually surprisingly so, you might add. But, you know, I just came away just totally unscathed. I just got a little, you know, scrape on my chin. Just very lucky. I might sound a bit congested, but that's something else. It's just my allergies acting up. I'm just groggy. But, again, I didn't even have to go to the medical center. I got in the ambulance, and they dropped me off at the pit, and that was it. And there was no need for anything else. So from that standpoint, we're in good shape.

Adam Saal: Mario, obviously you had a good day going up until what was just a bizarre incident for even motor racing extremes. But what brought yesterday about in the first place and what was the purpose of your on-track activity?

Mario Andretti: Well, I'll tell you the story in brief. I think it's worth repeating actually because it started out - the thing picked up some life because April Fools Day, there was a column by Paul Reinhard, the Allentown Morning Call. And he had Mario Andretti going back to Indy, and he was quoting Chris Pook, he was quoting Tony George, the whole thing. It actually was one of his best pieces. I even started believing it myself. And my daughter jumped me, said, "Dad, I wish you would tell your family those things, you know, and discuss it." So, you know, it got to be a bit of a joke.

So we were having pizza up at Michael's house, and Barbie was there. And she said -- she started brokering this thing. She said, "You know, Michael has two walking wounded, with Franchitti and Kanaan, and he needs some help." One thing led to another.

Michael says, "Dad, do you think you want to give it a try?" Well, do I ever back away from a challenge? No. Is this smart? Probably not. But it kind of got my juices going. And so he talked with his team and they all embraced the idea. One thing led to another. There was the rookie orientation going on, so it was perfect timing. Right the day after the board meeting, the CART board meeting on Tuesday, which was yesterday, I was able to just participate. It was turning out to be just a fantastic day. Quite honestly, I surprised even myself in the sense of, you know, picking up all the feel, all the things I needed to pick up in the car. I felt we were quite productive all around. We found out certain things that needed to be found out, so Michael can react on it in the engine area.

Then this bizarre situation where, you know, I was just following Kenny (Brack) the last run of the day, two minutes from 6:00. I thought I was going to pick up a bit of a tow from him, give him a PR run. All of a sudden something happened, his engine locked up, he goes into the wall, scatters stuff all over the place. When I arrived there, you know, telemetry showed that I arrived there around 225 (mph). By the time I hit the piece was like 221. It was just a millisecond.

And the piece that I hit apparently wedged under the car, just lifted the car enough on the front, and the car just flew, just became an airplane. Just an incredible situation.

Adam Saal: The sacrifices you make for your family. All is well that ends well. Mario, good you're here. Of course, the purpose of this call is to talk about yesterday's other news, which was the return of Road America.

Mario Andretti: Absolutely.

Adam Saal: I know certainly some personal pride for you as you bring this race back to the schedule. Talk a little bit about that process, why Road America is so special to you as a driver and other drivers, basically how you feel about the whole turn of events.

Mario Andretti: Yeah, of course, I was very, very sad when I all of a sudden saw Road America disappear from the schedule. And I was not surprised at the reaction that I was seeing and hearing in large, fans and competitors alike. And I don't think you can ignore that. I think you should pay a lot of attention to that.

There was more noise out there than I even expected. To me, justifiably so. Because I feel that Road America, in my opinion, let's take it from the competitors' standpoint. From the competitors' standpoint, it's by far probably the most satisfying road course you could run, probably almost anywhere. And then as a venue, I look at this thing, I think Carl Haas and I probably made the best deals with CEOs at Road America because it sounded very palatable to be there. You have great accommodations, I mean, first class. The American Club. And then you want to play golf, you want to recreate in any possible way, it's there. You want to have family outings, you go to the lake, all the traditional parties that they have. It's just a different life, but it's something that's been there for so long.

And I remember from the Can Am days, it was a good thing. Again, I always said, and I will say it forever, it takes a lifetime to build tradition. And 20 years is a good chunk of a lifetime. And CART has been there for that long. And I think you have to look at it really hard before you pull away. And there's always a reason. I think there was a compelling reason probably on both sides at the beginning. But like everything else, I think if you come down, sit down, start reasoning things out, I'm a great believer that there's always an answer. I asked Chris, I said, "Chris, do I have your permission to contact the folks at Road America and see whether there's any grounds for us to be able to just start discussion and try to get this thing back on track?" And Chris says, "You got the green light."

And then I called George, called several other board members, I wanted to get everybody in the loop. I said, "Let's start talking. Let's see if we can come to an agreement, something that can be win-win for everyone considering what we're facing, what everyone is facing today, the economics of it all and everything, the realistic fact that we've had some drop in attendance there for whatever reason." And one thing led to another.

The thing that was worthwhile from my standpoint was the fact that I really -- I mean, George and Chris knows, I was a pain in the ass to them. I was very persistent because I was focused and bound and determined to make this thing happen if there was any chance at all. And each side gave me a total feel that there was definitely a chance. So I pursued it. I mean, I stayed on the damn thing until the very end. They both can verify that. I got on the lawyer's ass and everything else to make sure it doesn't get screwed up on that point. And at the end of the day I think there was a good compromise reached. And I felt that it's really a well worthwhile effort to be where we are now. So I'm totally, totally happy.

As a matter of fact, the deal was pretty much done finally on Tuesday, and that put me in a great mood when I went to Indy, you know, to do my thing over there, because I had enough pressure to deal with from that side. And knowing that, you know, Road America was definitely on, at least I knew it, you know, it was really a good feeling, because I think it's the right thing. I'll tell you something else that I must tell you. I walked the pits. I walked the paddock. I went to talk to teams, so on and so forth. Some of the rumor was out pretty strong, you know, that we were talking, even among the competitors. And I never, ever once -- I remember we had lost Cleveland, it was a fight back, but nothing -- there was never a reaction like Road America. And the prospect that the thing may come on, the reaction I got from engineers, from drivers...

I was talking to Dario Franchitti yesterday. You could see he's not even no longer in CART. He says, you know, Oriol Servia talked to me the other day. He said, to me, one of the best enjoyment I get out of the CART season is Road America, and it's gone. Now, you know, it's back. So there isn't a single soul that I've spoken to out there that wasn't happy about this thing coming back on track. I think we really have something to work on, something we can sink our teeth in to make this damn thing really, really good, and create the interest here that will support our energy here, what we believe in.

Adam Saal: Chris Pook, Mario admitted he was a tough customer, pretty much full-bore in trying to get this race back. He proved to the world that he's tough in more ways than one yesterday. Chris, talk a little bit about the return of Road America, the event in the first week of August, from the CART Champ Car perspective and the process from your point.

Chris Pook: First of all, I think it's important to thank Mario for his perseverance. I'm grateful to him for that, and I thank him. I mean, he is a true world champion and a true Champ Car champion. He is a diligent board member who pursued what he felt was correct for both Road America and the company. So we're obviously very happy that it's resolved. And obviously we're happy that we're going back to Road America. As Mario's pointed out, it is one of the great racing circuits in the United States. The drivers love it. They can demonstrate their skills there. And I think it's a positive for everybody.

Adam Saal: Outstanding. George Bruggenthies, now you have one additional race August 3rd, the Champ Cars will be back there at Road America. From your point of view, how happy are you with this decision?

George Bruggenthies: We're very happy. We always wanted the event on our schedule. I would have to thank Mario also, and also the fans. We're really happy for the fans and for the sport, that we were able to resolve our differences and put this event back on the schedule. I think it's great.

Adam Saal: Outstanding. We only have Mario for a limited time as he's got a busy schedule, as do Chris and George. We are going to open it up for questions. Again, I want to stress this is about CART Champ Car returning to Road America. Mario spoke about other issues earlier, and we'll let that stand.

Q: Guys, obviously the crux of this matter was money. That's what caused this thing to be called off in the first place. Can anybody address how you overcame that?

Chris Pook: Well, I don't think it's appropriate for us. I know you want to know the answer, but it's not appropriate, I don't think, for us to go into the details of the agreement and the resolution. With all due respect, I think you need to leave that the matter was resolved. You heard George's comments, you heard my comments, you heard Mario's comments. I think we just move on down the road and say Road America is back on, let's move on with life.

Mario Andretti: We all decided to do it for free (laughter).

George Bruggenthies: It might have been about money, but I think it was more a misunderstanding. We really want to focus on, you know, producing a good event and put what's in the past behind us.

Q: Mario mentioned the importance of this being a win-win situation. Obviously, had a little problem with attendance last year. Sounds like the racetrack lost a little money on the event last year. What sort of ideas are there out there to try to rebuild the Road America event, especially with this setback that you have had over the last couple months? How do you go about rebuilding this into the successful event it was just a few years ago?

George Bruggenthies: I think with the noise that Mario referred to, with the press reaction, I think we've reenergized the fans here. They're really aware of this event, and I don't think they're going to miss it. Mario's involvement as a spokesperson for the event and as grand marshal, it's going to be wonderful.

Mario Andretti: I agree. I might add that we talked about this. You have to talk about the positives and negatives. And I really am a great believer that, you know, behind every negative there is a positive. And the positive here is the fact that we were able to discuss, talk about the event much more than normally we would have. If it would have been just on the schedule, period, okay, it's happening again, so be it. Now we have an excuse to, again, reenergize and say, you know what, we don't want this thing to go away. Let's roll up our sleeves and make sure that this thing -- that we're justifying our effort here.

Again, I think we'll just keep on making noise about it in a positive way. You know, I think at the end of the day, promotion is promotion. You either promote or you don't. And promotion usually pays off. So just maybe this little extra noise that we'll be making, as we keep saying, should make a difference.

Adam Saal: We'll certainly get with George's people right away and come up with a promotional plan that will take us through the summer right in that first weekend of August to make this event the success we know it can be.


Part II

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Dario Franchitti , Oriol Servia , Mario Andretti , Chris Pook , Tony George