CART Media Conference
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon and welcome to the CART media teleconference. Last year CART and Chicago Motor Speedway officials announced the inaugural Target Grand Prix presented by Shell, which will take place this weekend on the new Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero, Illinois. Our guests today are Chicago Motor Speedway President, Chip Ganassi and Chairman of the Board, Charles Bidwill III. Gentlemen, welcome and congratulations. In addition, to his duties as CMS President, Chip Ganassi is also owner of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing Team, the three-time defending FedEx Championship Series champions. He has been a full-time team owner in the Fed Ex Championship Series since 1989 and has won the past three series crowns with drivers Jimmy Vassar in 1996 and Alex Zanardi in 1997 and 1998. The accomplishment made Target Chip Ganassi Racing only the second team in CART history to win three consecutive championships, following Penske Racing, which won three straight from 1981 through 1983. Target Chip Ganassi Racing is well positioned for an unprecedented fourth consecutive series title this season, as rookie driver, Juan Montoya stands just one point behind Dario Franchitti entering this weekend's 15th of 20 rounds in the championship. Away from the race track Mr. Ganassi is Executive Vice president of the FRG Group, a Pittsburgh-based holding company with interests in telecommunications, manufacturing and computer business. He is also a partner in the ownership group of the Pittsburgh Pirates Major League Baseball club. Charles Bidwill III is the President of the National Jockey Club and is the owner and operator of Sportsmens Park, the site upon which the Chicago Motor Speedway has been constructed. He is also President of the Casino Queen Riverboat Casino located in East St. Louis Illinois, one of the largest gaming boats in the United States. And also holds casino interests in Deadwood, South Dakota and Patrai, Greece. Mr. Bidwill was extremely active in civic affairs, having been involved for the past eleven years in the Chicago Land Link Program, which sponsors and funds private Catholic education for inner-city boys and girl. And is also involved in Chicago baseball charities, the Casino Queen Foundation and the St. Joseph's Hospital Associate's Program. The Target Grand Prix presented by Shell, Round 15 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be broadcast on a one-hour tape delay basis by ABC TV on Sunday August 22 beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern time. With that, we will open it up to questions.
Q. Now that you've been involved in this process of seeing a track kind of start from scratch and coming to life, is this something you would ever want to be involved in again or is this kind of a one-shot deal for you?
CHIP GANASSI: I don't think it's a one-shot deal at all. Charlie and I have often talked about Plan B now that we have got Plan A underway. We like this business and obviously he has more experience in events than I do, but I think, no, we're always looking for business opportunities.
Q. Any idea where Plan B might take you?
CHIP GANASSI: No, not really, I think we are kind of waiting to get this one under our belt this weekend and come up for air. We've kind of had a stepped-up schedule in putting this place together. We are happy the way it's turned out here. We've really been on the fast track getting this place together. But right now our focus is on the Target Grand Prix.
Q. How are things going; are you guys going to be all ready to go?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: Absolutely. Yes, we are. It's fast and furious like Chip was saying earlier, but we'll definitely be ready when the fans hit the grounds.
Q. I guess both of you can answer this. Can you talk a little bit about the timetable; you talk about how fast you had to put this together. How much faster was this than other facilities you know of, and do you have any idea of how many advance tickets you have going for this race?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: On the construction side of your question, we were told by several people what we did in 14 months would normally be done in 18 or 22 months. As far as the tickets, we are down to around 4,000 left out of 60 -- just short of 65,000 total seats and the phones are ringing off the wall and we have walk-up traffic that's unbelievable.
CHIP GANASSI: Charlie told me he lost his private phone line here at the track because they needed the outgoing phone lines, the lines were too full coming in.
Q. The other question I had was there was some talk that maybe there would be lights added, maybe a night race. I know you are concentrating on this race now and it's not going to be under lights, but is that a possibility for the future?
CHIP GANASSI: We would certainly take it under advisement. We wanted to get one under our belt, let's say in the daytime, but if we had to go the night, we would certainly take a look at it. We're game for new things in the sport. We're game for new ideas. The interesting thing for a night race, it's fairly simple these days to light the track. I think the difficult part is lighting the facility for the night. The rest of the facility; the parking areas, the ingress and egress, the men's room and ladies room. I don't think it's necessarily lighting the track, but everything that's sort of connected to it. Keeping the fans in a well-lit enough area. You don't want dark corners and dark alleys and things like that.
Q. For both of them, there was all this talk in the last three or four years about A.J. Foyt and John Minard (phonetic) building a track in Chicago, then Tony George and then Chip Ganassi. When did you finally talk about it and say let's pull the trigger and go for it. Then talk about the process of who actually said let's sit down and let's do it.
CHARLES BIDWILL III: We kind of both did that at the end, but we probably talked for about a good six, eight months trying to plan this thing out. And then in the end, we went to our respective leaders, Floyd Ganassi on his side and Stormy Bidwill on my side to get their seal of approval, and they said you want to what.
Q. If there is a track in Joliet, it sounds like they're breaking ground, have you guys thought about what you would like to run with the CART race every year to keep this thing going and make money, of course, you've got horse racing, but what about race cars, any ideas on that yet ?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: We are open for all and everybody that wants to race at this place. If it's got wheels, we want to race it. Cars, trucks, stock cars, sprint cars, modified, you name it; this place is good for everything.
Q. For either or both. Obviously Chicago, the market is desirable because of it's size, does that necessarily make it a good place for CART to be?
CHIP GANASSI: I think it does. I think, Dave, you have to look at the -- you know, you have to look at what Chicago's made up of. If you look at the CART schedule, it's obvious to me that you have races that are fan participatory and you have races that are corporate participatory. We're hoping this is going to be a blend of both. I think we like the idea that we can bring a track to the fans, per se, much like the street races of Long Beach or Toronto or Vancouver where you are in an usual environment, yet the simplicity of a permanent facility and close to a metropolitan area, so you have the corporate involvement as well. What we try to do here really is try to blend the best of both worlds.
Q. Chicago is a very busy town, is this going to be something that's truly special or do you fear it getting lost in a busy town that's got a million things going on?
CHIP GANASSI: When you talk about truly special, I think you have to look at the events kind of surrounding the Target Grand Prix. We have a motorcade, as we speak, the transporter motorcade going on through the streets of downtown Chicago. We have show cars out at Navy Pier. We have an exhibition at Daily Plaza. Fireworks at Navy Pier. We have a Laramie street festival here. We have a two-seat Indy car we're debuting. Christina Aguilar is singing the National Anthem. When you go down the list of things that make the Target Grand Prix an event as opposed to just another race, hopefully that's what the Chicago land people want, and that's what we're going to try to give them.
Q. Could either of you discuss the ways you took the fan safety into account when building the track?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: That was dealt with the CART officials, with the architects, with the experiences that unfortunately happened with some of the other tracks and the redesign that they did, the higher fences, safety road that separates the track from the actual stands, so we worked very, very hard on all of that.
CHIP GANASSI: In all fairness too some of the other tracks where there have been some safety incidents, we all have worked together on improving safety and everybody sort of has an open-book policy on safety. Our fencing, we're as high as anybody I think right now.
Q. Actually, I wanted to ask Chip a couple of things unrelated to the track; is that okay?
T.E. McHALE: Sure.
Q. Chip, you are on one of the really great runs in Indy car racing history as a team owner. What do you say to those people -- A.J. Foyt is one of them -- who say that the accomplishments don't mean as much because you haven't had a chance to prove your metal at Indy?
CHIP GANASSI: Poor A.J. What would I say to A.J., I put my results of the last five years up against his results of the last ten. A.J. is a friend of mine, and I'm saddened that he has to say things like that.
Q. Forget A.J. for a moment. That's kind of a common thought. What do you say to the fact that you are on this great run, you've had great success, but you probably haven't received the acclaim that you might have had you been at Indy these last four years?
CHIP GANASSI: I mean, you know, I'm not in racing because I want to see my name in the headlines or because I want to get accolades myself. I'm in the sport for other reasons, okay, and I don't -- it doesn't bother me that -- yeah, certainly I wish we were there and I think we're working toward that goal, but it doesn't take anything away from the performance our team's had the last three or four years at all.
Q. The other thing I wanted to ask you: Have you seen enough of Greg Ray (phonetic) to have any type of opinion as to where he ranks among open-wheel drivers?
CHIP GANASSI: No, I really haven't. Certainly there are good drivers in all series. Everybody always wants to talk about the split, but one of the products of this split is there are certainly some good drivers that have come to the forefront and he's probably one of them.
Q. One for both. Charlie, first with you, how worried are you that the conversion back to horse racing won't go as smoothly as Duffy is telling us about; are you concerned at all?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: No, I'm not concerned. We have been studying this thing. We've brought in experts like Butch Leer, from Churchill Downs, probably the most renowned track superintendents in the country. We've been studying this thing. We had a test track down in one of our asphalt parking lots approximately for about eight, nine months. We're very confident with the results of doing the various experiments on it. We're very confident that this thing is going to be laid down some time in October and we'll have horses running on it starting in November.
Q. Chip, for you when Sunday comes, you don't have to worry about tickets being sold you have to worry about the one guy in your seat. How is this race going to play out do you think and can you use Milwaukee as a template for how you are going to approach it?
CHIP GANASSI: I'm hoping by Sunday -- for me to be doing my job on Sunday, I'm certainly going to have to separate myself from what's going on here at the track. And I'm going to have to put me team hat on. I think the only way to properly answer that question is to ask it on Saturday. We have a new racing surface here, it's wider than any track in the country, it's nine furlongs, so it's a little more than a mile for those of you who don't understand horse lingo. I would be better off to answer that on Saturday night because the idea with a wider track was to create some racing lines and make it more than a one groove circuit, if you will, so hopefully that's going to happen. But I'll be better off to tell you after the first practice.
Q. One more. You mentioned you're working in the direction of trying to get back together. Do you see anything imminent with CART and IRL that says you'll be back together soon?
CHIP GANASSI: The only thing I see imminent is there is certainly a willingness now on both sides and I'm encouraged by that. That's about all I want to say.
Q. Chip, or both of you perhaps can answer this. Was there any consideration of running a street race in Chicago at all? You mentioned, Chip, earlier how successful Toronto, Long Beach and Vancouver have been.
CHIP GANASSI: I think that subject was approached years ago during the Jane Burn Administration (phonetic). I admit it's certainly a little different now with Daly (phonetic) in there. Certainly Chicago is an event town, like was said earlier. These street races, the reason you like a permanent facility is just because of that word "permanent." And hopefully, like I said, Rick, we're trying to get the best of both worlds by having it this close to the urban area.
Q. We journalists like to put figures on things. Can you tell us what this whole establishment has cost you people?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: A lot of money.
Q. Can you put a ball park figure on it?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: $65 million.
Q. One last question. Can you explain for us who haven't been there and seen it how this is going to be transformed back into a horse racing track; is the dirt going to go on top of the asphalt that's going to be there for the cars?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: The dirt will go on the inner asphalt. No dirt will go on any part of the actual auto race surface. It will all be on the inner circle --
CHIP GANASSI: Basically the warm up lane and the pit lane gets an overlay, but nothing on the CART racing surface.
Q. When does the horse racing season begin?
CHIP GANASSI: We will find that out on September 21, when we go in front of the Racing Board. Probably some time. Probably some time in February or March we'll start horse racing here. We'll actually have the surface down in September for horses to practice.
Q. There aren't many open weeks on the current schedule; how do you like the timing of this event in mid-August?
CHIP GANASSI: When we first started talking to CART, we were talking about an October date. I think if you had Utopia, you would pick some other date. It was important to be on the calendar this year, it was important to get this race under our belt and expose this type of racing to the Chicago land area. And you know, I think -- if I had my choice, there are plenty of good dates in this market.
Q. What about the Labor Day weekend specifically?
CHIP GANASSI: That was talked about at one point. I don't think Labor Day is on my radar screen right now.
Q. Chip, are you running other superlatives for describing Juan's driving, he's tied the rookie record; he's got a shot at the overall record for victories?
CHIP GANASSI: Not only did he tie the rookie record, he tied it quicker than the guy that set it before him. I think that's a bit of a record in itself that he did it in fewer races, fewer opportunities, I should say. Yeah, you know, those superlatives that's for you guys to come up with.
Q. I would like to ask you if there has been any contact between you and Alex this season. And the second part to that, whether it disappoints you that in some quarters in Formula 1, there is almost some kind of delight that somebody from CART who is a champion comes offer and doesn't do too well in Formula 1?
CHIP GANASSI: On the first part of the question, yeah, I talk to Zanardi probably every 10 or 20 days or so. I don't know, it is kind of funny, I've had that question a few times recently. My relationship with him has never been about racing, per se. It was more of a -- it was -- I don't want to say it was above racing, but it was on another --
CHIP GANASSI: I never talked to him about racing, per se. It was more of a personal relationship I would say, so. I think to the casual fan, it may look one way, but I think to the people within the sport, it looks another. And you know, I don't think it looks so negative when your within the sport and, you know what cards he's been dealt. That's a question you can ask this weekend. I think Frank Williams is going to be here in Chicago, you can ask that question this weekend.
Q. I wish I was in Chicago.
CHIP GANASSI: That's right.
Q. I was wondering what the most difficult aspect of getting the construction project finished would have been?
CHIP GANASSI: Paying for it. That was a joke.
Q. I understood that.
CHARLES BIDWILL III: Probably the new grandstands and getting the steel here on a timely basis, that was a bit difficult.
CHIP GANASSI: The people that build these grandstands today aren't exactly falling out of the sky and there isn't building resurgence going on in race circuits. I think the people that build the grandstands are right up on the red line, when it comes to their performance.
Q. So you replaced, the existing grandstand there?
CHIP GANASSI: Oh, yeah.
CHARLES BIDWILL III: But we added to it. The canopy was taken off and we built the new grandstand adjacent to that.
Q. The old grandstand how many seats did it have?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: 7,000.
Q. What is your capacity now?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: Right around 65, 64.
Q. Have any cars run on the track yet?
CHIP GANASSI: Juan was here for a couple of press days; once in his L-Cart race car, and once in the mid-Ohio car. If you know anything about racing, you know those weren't exactly set up for oval track racing, so nothing really at speed, more or less just lapse to look for bumps in the asphalt and everything.
Q. I am wondering if your perfect dream has changed now with your first race coming up. Is the perfect dream to see everything sold out and two Target drivers sitting on the podium; one, two?
CHIP GANASSI: That would sure be something.
Q. How much do you think about that?
CHIP GANASSI: I don't know. I'm trying to take a larger, when you get into this race track business, you try to take a larger view of things and not so single-faceted in terms of your own goals. You sort of have to look at the sport and look at my partners and -- but when I'm done looking at that, certainly I would like to see my two cars up there. It's more than that, it's the dream of the Target Grand Prix has always been in the back of my mind. And when you have a partner like Target and you can put that together with a partner like Charlie, you know, it just makes for some great outcomes and, you know, we have a great group of people down here. And you know, Target, I think Target's kind of led the way in terms of what they've done with our team. And I think they're doing the same a bit with this race with their promotion of this event. There's been a lot of new, sort of innovative ideas that were done, and it's great to be a part of that.
Q. Do you feel any pressure, and I know how you work -- well to be successful, you have to be a perfectionist. Do you feel any pressure that maybe some time over the weekend another owner or another driver will come up and say, Chip, why did you do this this way?
CHIP GANASSI: I'm sure I'll here that 67 times this weekend, because I don't have any bashful piers in this business.
Q. Are you related to the Arizona Cardinals Bidwill?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: Yes, that's my uncle.
Q. Actually one for Chip and one for Mr. Bidwill. Chip, Juan himself said the car was dangerous to drive, but yet he finds a way to win. How wonderful is that having a driver who can find a way to win and especially a rookie? I'm sure he has exceeded all of your expectations. And for Mr. Bidwill, so far how has your experience with CART been different from what you have experienced with horse racing or any type of event management.
CHIP GANASSI: I don't now how you describe a guy like Juan driving your car. I think it was probably a year ago now or maybe even a later that I met him for the first time. You sort of think in the back of your mind, especially coming off the years that we have, the last three years before that. You think well you are certainly going to give it every effort. And hopefully you can win a couple of races. So that was really my only plan going in. So to say he's exceeded our expectations, I think -- if anybody in the world told you that they would have expected this I think it would be a late lie, if you will. It's a lot of fun having a guy like that to drive your car. I can tell you as a car owner, he makes things happen. And as a car owner I like guys that make things happen.
CHARLES BIDWILL III: CART has been always very good to work with. But also Target, this being the Target Grand Prix, Target has really given us some great insights on how to market this event. They've been wonderful. It's always nice not to deal with the state regulators. I probably like that the best.
Q. This question is for Mr. Bidwill. I just wanted you to comment on the reaction from the thoroughbred racing community or the horse racing community as to all the changes that have gone on with the track and the advent of kind of a dual season, if you will?
CHARLES BIDWILL III: There was a lot of concern that we weren't going to be putting enough attention into the horse racing part of it all. But we have built brand new barns that the horsemen love. As we've put down this new racing surface and test service out on the parking lot, we invited them to come over and to participate. So it's actually been very positive because they also see we are making a move to better ourselves in horse racing. And not waiting around, for instance, slot machines to be passed, like Delaware and Dover an so on. I think in general it's been very positive. When they first see the horses going around the oval, I think they'll really be very please.
Q. Chip, you gave the sense or at least listening to your comments you feel that this track may be actually able to expand the fan base for CART. Given the fact that the Chicago market-- by Milwaukee and Road America and I suppose in the abstract, historically Indianapolis as well as MIS; do you think that is going to be the case or do you think that's going to have some sort of impact on the surrounding areas?
CHIP GANASSI: If you look at our corporate involvement here this weekend. I can tell you that there are probably -- half of the people involved from a corporate side are probably new to the support. You know, so, I mean, if you want to look at the suites up there and who is involved in the suites, there's some non-auto racing regulars, if you will. There are people that I'm sure have never been to Michigan or Milwaukee. It looks to me like we're doing that. Again, you probably wouldn't be able to have a good gauge of that for some time. That's something that happens over a five or ten-year period. So call me ten years from now and I will a give you a better answer.
Q. Chip, quick question for you. At the manufacturers forum last week, there was a question that came up about a three-year freeze on chassis possibility. Can you give me your comments on that from a team owner point of view?
CHIP GANASSI: We are trying to -- you know, you have the team owners that want that chassis freeze and ones that don't. It's basically while this sport is in this sort of state of flux, if you will, with what's going on down at Indianapolis. I think it's important to -- we just want to keep an eye on our cost and make sure what we are putting out there is not exceeding what it's worth to somebody. We're the only race series in the world right now that gets new cars every year and really has no carry-over parts the following year. We are trying to assess how much sense that makes. That's probably the route of it.
Q. Chip, you mentioned Frank Williams, is he going to be your guest this weekend?
CHIP GANASSI: Yes.
Q. Will you be discussing among other things the future of your former star and your current star?
CHIP GANASSI: I've talked to Frank within the sport for years. So I don't think our discussions are going to be set around any one particular item or one particular driver or another.
Q. A second question. Do you have any aspirations -- it's been written that you were quote seen sneaking in and out of the NASCAR garages; do you plan to do anything in that an arena?
CHIP GANASSI: Certainly, as a participant in auto racing, you have to take a look at it, and at least keep one eye on it, if you will. And I think, you know, I think I'll have some involvement down there as time passes, whether it's this same sort of two-car, full-blown race team involvement that you see in CART right now is maybe some question. But I think some involvement down there in one capacity or another would be good.
Q. Being the Target Grand Prix, I gather that your drivers and the crew and such will be doing a few more PR-related things this weekend; do you think that will affect the teams performance?
CHIP GANASSI: Somebody just put something in front of me not too long ago, over the past week that talked about the Target Grand Prix Watch and Win Game. I don't know if you know about this. They've given out 1.2 million game pieces. You say, okay, it's another game for the people to watch. If you read the fine print you'll see that on the drivers leading laps 50, 100, and 150 are going to receive a 25,000 dollar bonus. That's something that's new to this sport, and that's going to put some added incentive, if you will, to people's strategies I'm sure. Again, you're seeing some different things that is -- that Target's going outside the box over there on their promotions. And I tell you what, $100,000 to give away or $75,000 to give away says to me the Watch and Win thing might change the way people approach this race this weekend.
Q. So you are saying that if your car's in the lead and your on lap 49 --
CHIP GANASSI: A lot of times in a race you can stop on 49. 49's real safe. Maybe 50's not so safe. 50 can look a lot safer with $25,000 staring at you.
Q. And finally I've been talking to Rich Rutherford. What are your thoughts about having drivers from other series and particularly from which series?
CHIP GANASSI: I think I am in favor of opening it up to other drivers. I think it helps the promotion of the race. I it will put an end to the question that man from Scotland had earlier.
Q. What do you think were the problems because people are saying: Oh, no, no, no, it's just going to be for other CART drivers?
CHIP GANASSI: If you want to call that problems, where they came from. I think everybody understands now it's probably better to open it up for everybody.
Q. Chip, I remember if my memory's not to faulty, about 15 years ago, you tumbling down the back stretch in Michigan. Did you ever think 15 years later you would be in the position that you are in now?
CHIP GANASSI: I guess not. I just hope I'm not tumbling down the back stretch of this place on Sunday night.
Q. I remember seeing you as a tour driver and as a struggling owner, you've come a long way.
CHIP GANASSI: You always want to grow your business. And it's nice to be able to expand it in areas that are connected. And if you find the right partners to do it with, it seems to make sense. I mean, yeah, it's really two different things when you are driving and promoting. It's probably closer to be an owner and a promoter than it is a driver and promoter. When I was driving I wasn't thinking about track ownership much less than team ownership.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|