CHAMPCAR/CART: Toronto: Pook, Singleton press conference, part II

An interview with Chris Pook and Bob Singleton Part 2 of 2 Q: Similar to F-1, I don't know if they have an undertaking required, but you said you will take a notice of a sponsor. Will you require any other financial undertakings to make sure...

An interview with Chris Pook and Bob Singleton
Part 2 of 2

Q: Similar to F-1, I don't know if they have an undertaking required, but you said you will take a notice of a sponsor. Will you require any other financial undertakings to make sure that they are viable for 16, 18, 20 races?

Chris Pook: I think -- we know most of these teams pretty well. We know their capabilities. I just want to be sure that they do have sufficient sponsorship to be able to make the season work for themselves. And that's not interfering in their business because it's becoming clear to us that there's a very strong possibility that this thing may get cut off at 22 cars and the one thing I don't want to do is a guy who has gone out -- particularly a new teams for example, has gone out and worked very hard to put together his sponsorship program and all of a sudden he's outside in the cold looking in. That's what we want to avoid.

Q: That was actually my question, I mean, what I am getting is that you would actually turn away teams if you had your 22 maximum signed?

Chris Pook: That's what we're saying today. That's management's recommendation to the Board of Directors, and the reason as you know is that we have many venues where space is an issue in the paddock. I have to be aware of that. We have good space here, however, as successful as Bob makes this race and it could well be some development in this area, and I don't want nobody to be in a position two, three years from now saying: Bob, you have got to create more space because I have got 26 race cars and you've got to find a place to put them. I went through that with CART at Long Beach for six or seven years and it just -- it turns the joint upside-down. And so I'd much prefer to have 22 really solid good race cars competing very competitively and a promoter who can manage his venue in an efficient manner so that the entertainment product that we together present to the public is well presented, well operated, and the people enjoy themselves.

Q: You mentioned that things had been worked out with EuroSpeedway is that just for this year or for multiple years because I believe their contract was originally for like four, five years?

Chris Pook: It is a four-year contract, you are absolutely right, but under these conditions you take one year at a time. You don't get greedy. You just take one year at a time and give them a chance to breathe, get themselves stabilized. So it would be very incorrect for us to go in and start hammering at the table saying we have a four or five year deal here, we want you, Mr. Administrator, to do this. We know the stress and strain they are under, so we will take it in a sensible approach, we'll do the race in September and then on the Monday following the race we will sit down and say: What do we do next year. You will see Germany on the schedule and it will probably have a little asterisk beside it that will say, maybe Lausitzring; maybe someplace else. Have I avoided answering your question.

Q: You answered it fine. Will we see a 20-race schedule and will there be any surprises?

Chris Pook: I don't think so. I have said to you guys for the last six months that one of the intents of this management team is to stabilize this company. I believe we have stabilized the company, and to do something silly in the first year of stability would not be a sensible thing that a responsible manager should do.

Q: Curious why do you think Americans are so enthralled by oval racing right now, any ideas?

Chris Pook: You obviously haven't been reading the attendance numbers. I don't -- you said why are Americans so enthralled? My answer is you haven't been reading the attendance numbers. Because if they were enthralled they would be going to races. They are not going to oval races. If you look at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway you will find now that the second largest attendance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an open-wheel race. The largest attended event is a stock car race.

Q: I guess that's what I was alluding is the fact that they are enthralled with stock car oval racing right now; why do you think that is?

Chris Pook: I think stock car racing, that's a phenomena that has been built over the last 50-plus years they have done a wonderful job. You have got to acknowledge that the work the France family has done in that arena has just been huge. And they have worked at it a step at a time, building block, by building block. And they kept it very well under control. They have kept the costs under control reasonably. They have tried -- they put in cost-cutting procedures, I think, last year they started for the first time to try and keep the costs under control at a reasonable reach of the sponsors. And they do an outstanding job of marketing and they have done a wonderful job of presenting the characters of the Winston Cup scene. You go all the way -- I mean, when I first came here in the '60s, there were the Joe Weatherlys of the world and I think you had Junior Johnson out there at that time and you had Richard Petty just starting his career, and they jumped on the Petty bandwagon, the Petty name, they marketed it, merchandised it and promoted it. Did an outstanding job with that. Then you had (Darrell) Waltrip come along and they got him nicknamed Jaws, and doing all kinds of things. They really -- they maximized the assets they had. From Waltrip - it just went on and on and on, you know, to Jeff Gordon and now you have got this young kid (Kevin) Harvick, they have got. They lost Dale (Earnhardt). What they did with Earnhardt was truly remarkable. They turned a bad guy into a good guy. I am not says he was bad in sense of being a bad character. I am just saying he was a tough character on the racetrack. We're going to be doing the same thing. We're working hard now. We have got a great guy in Tracy here that, you know, is a real character, but he's also one heck of a racing car driver, and you know, we're going to start to work some more with Paul, and his character.

We just have -- this is not a reflection on any of our PR folks. We just have not given them the right direction yet to start building these characters up. We have got some real characters too. We just haven't marketed them yet. We are going to start doing that. The guy that's sitting on the pole today this guy has turned into one heck of a racing car driver. And you can say, yeah, he's got a great car. Yes, he does but watch him drive that car. He's driving that car at ten-tenths, he's on it. He's on it every moment he's out there, his foot, his right foot is on it - in it and on it. And you watch him, you know, the braking areas, he's by far the shortest breaker and he's early on the fuel. He's on the gas pedal before anybody else and he's last on the brakes. And he's confident in the race car, and he's driving it incredibly well. And you are going to say to me next, well, gosh, you are going to lose him to Formula 1. Absolutely. He deserves to be there. I have no difficulty whatsoever if he joins Formula One and he joins the Montoya and Villeneuve because they are tremendous ambassadors for this series and it just proves once again the strength of this series. And if he moves on, I guarantee you there's going to be youngsters that will come along from wherever in the world, hopefully some Americans that will also stand on the gas early, and late on the brake pedal.

Q: Quickly, just following up, do you think more Americans -- if there are more American drivers in the CART circuit would that increase the popularity of CART in the United States?

Chris Pook: I think the popularity of CART is strong. Look at our attendance numbers. We're going to be putting out here, I think in ten days time, a comparative of attendance, sort of situation, so you guys can truly understand the facts here of what the real fact are versus what the spin is.

But yes, it will help, but at the end of the day - at the end of the day this sport is no different than football or baseball, or hockey. You are either good at it or you're not. If you're good at it, no matter where you come from, the public will accept you because they appreciate the finesse of the athlete involved. I mean, who knew who Sammy Sosa was when he arrived at the Chicago White Sox ten years ago. No one had a clue who he was. Here's some kid that came out of -- who knew and then all of a sudden this guy start whacking the ball out of the ballpark and people were, oh, Sammy Sosa, yes, oh, yes, he was like there long lost cousin that came home all of a sudden. Racing car drivers are the same thing. No different. Our job is to project them to you guys and convince you guys that you need to talk and write about these guys. That's our responsibility.

Adam Saal: On our attendance we will break one million this weekend on a three-day attendance numbers, we are at about 800 grand through our first seven races. Those are 3-day attendance numbers combined. The healthy crowds that were here on Friday and Saturday certainly combined with today's race gate crowd will easily have us surpass the one million 3-day attendance.

Chris Pook: These are not massaged numbers. These are real numbers. No spin on these numbers.

Q: Do I understand this correctly that there will be a schedule basically published next weekend by the end of the weekend?

Chris Pook: For the first time I think in CART's history, we will have a dialogue with our teams about the schedule during the weekend, and then listen to their input and then publish a schedule during the week.

Q: Do you intend to follow the France family model and be here for another 50 years?

Chris Pook: That will make me 112, David, so thank you very much. (Laughter) You bet this series is going to be around for the next 50 years.

Q: If you cannot announce the date of next year's Toronto Molson Indy, what date would you like to see?

Bob Singleton: That's an easy question to answer. We moved this year for one reason and one reason only, it was us because of the World Youth Day coming to Toronto, so we moved to this weekend. I certainly didn't want to argue with him. So what date would I like -- plus I stand up two goals, that's why it's not raining. (Laughter). We'd like to go back to our old date and we are negotiating that with CART right now, and that is not finalized but we'd like to get back to the second weekend of July. That's what the fans in Toronto are used to; that's what we're used to.

Chris Pook: And we're listening to him.

Q: Do you think with hindsight - I know you weren't involved in any of this decision - but the decision to open up the month of May so that teams can go to Indianapolis, do you think in hindsight that that was a mistake?

Chris Pook: Yes and no. No, it was not a mistake and I will answer this question with my Indianapolis residency hat on, it was not a mistake because the hotels and restaurants in Indianapolis had a very, very good Memorial Day weekend. From the economics of the city our guys made a big difference in the number of people that stayed there, went there, et cetera, et cetera. Now, leaving the entire month of May open, not very bright. Not very bright. But you know, hindsight is foresight, there was a genuine effort in the compatibility, a genuine effort to outreach - everyone was saying the two series are going to come together, so, we for want of a rude term dropped our trousers and there weren't any takers, so we pulled them up again and we moved on.

Adam Saal: Ladies, and Gentlemen, I am afraid we are out of time.

Chris Pook: What can I say to you? (Laughter)

Adam Saal: I always told Chris I'd never leave him hanging, but boy it was hard. (Laughter) We are indeed out of time. Bob and Chris, thank you so much, we do appreciate it, gentlemen.

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Pook, Singleton press conference part I

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Chris Pook , Junior Johnson