CSOT: Stars of Tomorrow - Fontana press conference, Part I

Stars of Tomorrow Press Conference November 3, 2002 An Interview With: Chris Pook Bobby Rahal Bryan Herta Part 1 of 2 Adam Saal: We have with us today Bobby Rahal, three-time CART champion; Bryan Herta, Champ Car veteran, race winner in...

Stars of Tomorrow Press Conference
November 3, 2002

An Interview With:
Chris Pook
Bobby Rahal
Bryan Herta

Part 1 of 2

Adam Saal: We have with us today Bobby Rahal, three-time CART champion; Bryan Herta, Champ Car veteran, race winner in his own right; as well as surrounded by His Greatness Chris Pook, CART President and CEO, no slouch himself.

We're here to announce a partnership between CART and the Stars of Tomorrow karting program. I think it would be appropriate to hand it to both Bobby and Bryan, in that order, to talk about what we're announcing today, how it came about.

Bobby. We'll start with you.

Bobby Rahal: Thank you, Adam. Good to be in the shadow of greatness here (laughter).

Chris Pook: Adam, your ass is grass (laughter).

Rahal: Anyway, it's great to be here. I'm very proud to be associated with this effort and involved in because I believe in it so much. Really, it's nothing more than taking what Bryan started a year or two ago - probably feels like a lifetime - but I don't think there's question that for the United States to create the kind of drivers it will need in order to compete on a worldwide stage, you have to have really the best karting program possible.

Adding on to what Bryan stated, myself, Paul Zalud, up here on the left, who is really the pre-eminent person in the shifter kart industry in this country, and who has run up-and-coming drivers in the past, and Glenn Holland, who has E Karting News, which is the Internet website for karting news issues, you name it, forums, the three of us just felt that we wanted to become involved, to help take karting to the level that it needs to be I think in order to create the kind of drivers that we will need in the future.

We got together with Bryan, who had started, as I said, and we're off in running. This association with CART is really a huge deal for us because clearly now being the official first step on the ladder, which has been so well-defined now with the Barber [Dodge] system, our second rung, [Toyota] Atlantic Cars, then Champ Cars, it's going to be the place the young drivers in this country and Canada and Mexico will know that for them to get to the top, this is the best place to start.

We anticipate a basis, classification basis, for the classes based on the CIK. If you look at who is who in Formula 1, that's the way they teach them in Brazil, that's the way they teach them in Europe. For our drivers in the future, in order for them to succeed, they have to go to the same college, they have to have the same curriculum. We will embrace the same class structures that they have in Europe, South America, around the world for that matter.

I'm going to hand it to Bryan. I am very pleased about it. Next year we will have seven races total, seven weekends I should say, on a national basis. The first one will be in Las Vegas on April 25th through the 27th. The second one will be in Sears Point, May 16th to the 18th. Round three will be in Denver, a circuit we've been talking to several people there, June 12th to 14th. The next is the new circuit near to Pittsburgh, Beaver Run, July 25th to the 27th. That's a full CIK-designed race circuit. Round five will be with CART at Elkhart Lake in August. Round six will be in the Texas area on September 12th to the 14th. Then the Grand Nationals, a place to be determined, we're looking out here in southern California, November 6th through 9th. We can certainly answer any other details about that later.

We think that's a great schedule and we anticipate, with the class structures we have, not only a full field, but the best karters in North America at these events.

I'm very pleased to be associated with Glenn, Paul and Bryan in this. I truly believe this is a great way for us to create the kind of talent that we need to win in Formula 1, CART.


Bryan Herta: This is a proud day for me. This has been a labor of love in a lot of ways. I came out of the karting ranks. I bought a track in Las Vegas a few years ago. What I realized is the sport really hadn't progressed. There was a lot of fragmentation. There were 190 some national champions every year in the United States, which meant it really didn't mean anything to anybody.

I had this idea. It started with one race with CART support three years ago. Last year we ran four race championships. This year we expanded the program and ran nearly 45 events regional and national. I think this is really a breakout year for the series because now, with the significant support of Chris and CART, Bobby Rahal, Glenn and Paul, who have come to the series with Bobby, I think we're finally in a position to claim true status as a karting championship along the lines of those championships, as Bobby said, in other countries.

It's a proud moment for me to see it grow. It's also a proud moment for me to have some help because it's been a big load. I think we've got a lot to offer these young drivers now, and not just in support. They're going to be watched, they're going to get credibility, they're going to have real exposure, not just karting publications, not just the karting industry. I think also we're going to be positioned very well to help grow the next CART champions and also help grow the next CART fans.

With that I guess I'd like to turn it back over to Chris and thank again everybody, Chris, Bobby, for believing in the program, believing in the original concept I had, getting behind it in such a strong way.

Saal:  Bryan, we would like to acknowledge your efforts.  A lot of
blood, sweat and tears went into this.  Congratulations, outstanding.

Chris Pook is in charge of all things CART, as you know. This solidifies the foundation of the ladder system that will take some young child up through the Champ Car ranks five, six, seven, ten years from now.

Chris, speak to this on the importance to CART, but also as a go-kart team owner, and talk about how you see the go-kart community playing such an important role through your personal experience as someone who used to take a go-kart around? What do you think it can do within the CART family?

Pook: There's absolutely no doubt about it, go-karting is the foundation for any racing car driver in his career. That's where the kids start. That's where you teach them the hand-eye coordination and how to feel a race car. In a go-kart, the kids start to feel it in their backside when they're driving it, they start to understand it, how it relates mentally. That's where you've got to instil that first hand-eye coordination, hand-eye-foot coordination, hand-eye-foot-body coordination.

I think, as Bryan and Bobby have said, there's a lot of go-karting in this country that goes on, but it's very fractioned, pieces all over the place, different championships here, different championships there. There's no real methodology to it. There's dozens of kids out there, dozens and dozens of very capable kids that can drive, but there's no methodology where they can go to the next level.

I think what this program does, why for CART this is so important, this creates a structure where we can bring the talent, the young, raw talent out, and we can get them focused and they can see a very clear path where their career as a professional racing car driver is headed - not a confused path, but a very clear, distinct path: from go-karts into the Barber program, into the Atlantic program, up to Champ Cars, then obviously into Formula 1. That's our goal.

I've made it very, very clear in the last 90, 120 days that if we can deliver young Americans or any young drivers, no matter where they come into the world, into Formula 1, that is a huge, huge asset for this company and this series. It will speak to our ladder system.

We just have not, I think in the past, treated young Americans the way we should treat young Americans in the system. Everyone says, "What about American drivers? Which American drivers are you going to have in the series next year?" We will have Americans in the series next year, probably three at a minimum. That's just next year. What about looking forward? We have to start thinking now five, six, seven, eight years out. Where are our new young Americans going to come from? How are they going to compete with the Europeans, with the South Americans? This sort of program for us is a very, very solid stepping stone.

I think the fact that Bobby has stepped up to the plate and joined Bryan in this program gives it the credibility and the support that it needs to have.

The other part of what's so important is this will be a CIK program. CIK is the karting arm of the FIA. We will be doing this within the structure of international motor racing. This is the structure we have to live within. Both Bobby and I have had conversations with Yves Lyon, who runs CIK, and we've explained to him what we want to achieve, what we want to do, we've asked him to embrace the program. That process is ongoing as we speak, the political process, and we're well on our way down the road.

For CART, this is yet another piece of the puzzle that's getting put together as to where this company is going, what this company needs to make it go to even higher levels. I think the fact that we have two drivers, one in semi-retirement on the right, and another one that's in retirement on the left, who is also a karting dad now, I think speaks well to the commitment and how fortunate we are to have the commitment of these two guys to the program. The program will be in good hands, passionate hands. That's what we want. We want people who believe in our sport and believe in what we do as we go forward.

Saal: We'll open it up for questions now.

Q: What is really significant about this program, the focus?

Herta: I think what's significant is what we're offering in terms of exposure. Our grand national, which is next weekend in Las Vegas, is going to be televised on the SPEED Channel. We have a one-hour show, with five airings just in December, possibly more in January.

The focus of this is to bring outside sponsorship dollars. We had Snap-On.com as our presenting sponsor this year. We look for relationships like that to continue and to bring more outside sponsorship into the series.

The thing that has always happened in karting in the past is it's always been on the backs of the competitors. You want to have a great street event. That's great. You have to pay a $500 entry fee because it costs that much to set the track up. What we're trying to do is to take the burden off the competitors. It's still going to cost money, of course racing always does. But to offer them real exposure and offer them cost controls that make it reasonable to compete in our series.

Pook: There is a very well put together business plan, fiscally responsible business plan that's been put together to make sure that the series can operate successfully.

Obviously, as Bryan said, sponsorship is important to every little part of motor racing. They're clearly working on that area. But within this whole program, of course, is the outreach by the Barber Dodge program which has a very, very effective scholarship program and is out there looking for candidates to go into their program. This will dovetail right into that Barber Dodge program.

It's been designed that way, and from our perspective at CART, the CART element of this is being managed by Robert [Dole], in the back of the room here. He's responsible for our ladder system in CART. You'll see that this whole thing has been put together with the necessary protocols in place to make sure that we're all reading off the same sheet of music.


Part II

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Series Kart
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Bryan Herta , Chris Pook