CART Media Conference
March 16, 1999
MIKE ZIZZO: I'm pinch-hitting today for T.E. McHale. Thanks for joining us for today's CART teleconference that will open with Mario Andretti and will follow with his son, Michael. We invited Mario to join us today to be a part of a special announcement on behalf of CART. CART proudly announces today that it has established an annual driver All-Star team which will be known as the CART All-Star Team. CART also will create the Mario Andretti trophy to serve as the team centerpiece award. The All-Star program will begin this season. The team will consist of five champions who are selected through balloting from a voting committee comprised of a select panel of 50 motor sports media, full-time FedEx Championship Series drivers, and three celebrity panelists who follow the sport. The media and celebrity panelists will be announced at a later date. The voting process I'll go through briefly: Each panelist will select five champ cars on their ballot, rank them in order of merit, and they will receive points -- 1st driver will receive ten points; 2nd, seven; 3rd, five; 4th, three, 5th, one. The champ car drivers who earns the most points on the ballots will be awarded the Mario Andretti trophy, the showcase award for the CART All-Star Team. The trophy was created as a tribute to one of auto racing's legends Mario Andretti. And right now I'd like to welcome Mario, as well as congratulate him on have having the trophy bear his name. Mario, thanks for joining us today.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Good morning, Mike. Thank you for having me. Obviously, when CART came to me with this idea of naming of a trophy after me, you know, I was taken aback, and there's no question that I feel very honored to have been considered. You know, you have to take into consideration most of these trophies like the Huysman and so on and so forth usually, they are named after someone that has long passed away; so, I'm still alive and I'm really going to enjoy this. Basically what I said in my release is, you know, I can't really say anything more than that or improve on that, to be honest with you, but I think it's something that is very meaningful, that CART is doing. I think it's great for the drivers. Great incentives here. And I think it will be interesting how it shakes out.
MIKE ZIZZO: Great, and I'd like to thank you for being a true icon for auto racing, and this is just a small token of CART's appreciation for all you've done for us. At this point we'll open for questions. We have Mario for half an hour, due to travel restrictions, and then we'll have Michael follow at one o'clock.
Q. I just wondered if you thought about and sort of legend's circuit or anything, get and you the Unsers and Johnny Rutherford and any of those guys together. Has that been ever been brought up or is anything going on in that direction?
MARIO ANDRETTI: You mean like a seniors tour?
MARIO ANDRETTI: That's something -- that's another subject. We're not getting any younger so somebody better start organizing something like that. I think that's -- there is some movements in that respect, but again, that's probably going to happen maybe down the road IN the season. That's what I heard. Again, it's been somewhat not clear as to the direction that this new organization might be taking. But I expressed long ago, I said, "If we're going to be driving, you guys better hurry."
Q. Having this trophy named after you is this something that you think that Indy car racing, champ car racing, whatever you want to call it should do more of: Get the former greats, you know keep them involved in the sport somehow or keep their names out there?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, I think the legacy of the sport is very important. This is a sport that has strong history. And I remember when I was coming through the ranks even back in the 60s, you know, where was I getting my inspiration? From the idols that preceded us, that preceded me; so I think -- I assume that a lot of these youngsters derive a lot of that inspiration from guys like you know the Unsers and Floyd myself that have been there for so many years. And I think we obviously should be part of the system, part of racing. I am very much present at all the events, because I spend my life and I'm still as interested as ever, even though I wear a different hat. And of course, you know, I have another specific reason to follow it, because of Michael being involved, being active. But again, I like to -- it's good to be appreciated and be recognized for the work that you've done. I don't think there's a greater compliment than that that you receive when people just express something to you along the way, fans or media, and they remember; they name specific events or whatever. You know, let's face it, a lot of hard work has gone into a career, and to know the people still remember it and appreciate it is wonderful.
Q. Could you just, if you will, and this is branching out only slightly, but can you just give me an update on your take on the series as it stands today and where it's going and what elements still need to pick up for this to be everything you want it to be? Obviously, there's an awful lot of success going around.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, I think the CART series, the FedEx series, as you said is very strong. I mean, it's -- the fact that you look at the attendance records that were established last year along long the fact that you have venues just drooling to get more dates is testimony that the series is certainly growing, still growing and going forward in a very strong fashion. You have great -- I think you have very good strong sponsor support base. All you have to do is look at hospitality activity at all of the events; and then you look at the health of the teams; I mean, the depth in the field, which is phenomenal. Look at the manufacturers that are involved, like auto manufacturers. You've got the biggest manufacturers in the world: You've got Toyota. You have Ford. You have Mercedes. You have Honda. And I mean, they are officially involved, exposing themselves and wanting to be a part of this because of the worldwide coverage of this series. So, yeah, we go back and we can always be falling back to "Why aren't we at Indianapolis," and I wish we were there. I wish that -- you know, that CART would be better off being in Indianapolis and we all know that. And so would the Indianapolis be better off having CART because we know clearly that after the absence of what, three years now, Indianapolis has lost tremendously. It's lost its mystique. It's lost coverage and lost fans and lost everything. You know, I think we could reinstate that if CART, you know, if we could come to some common ground where it would become part of the series again. And I don't think we should have stop working toward achieving that goal again for everybody -- for the benefit of everyone. But again, the series as you can see stands on its own very solidly. You don't need Indianapolis even for the series to survive. No other series will survive without Indianapolis. And you know which one I mean.
Q. I know what you're saying.
MARIO ANDRETTI: That's not even surviving.
Q. You mentioned this, but at any time in your career did you conceive of a series, which this one is just on the verge of starting a new season with more potential champions, more potential winners?
MARIO ANDRETTI: No. Absolutely not. Even you could go back, even the last five years or so, you could always make the comment, the unpredictability. I keep using the word electrifying. You know, being on the sidelines, I never thought I would get too excited about really watching practice start, qualifying start or the races, but there's so much electricity. So much good, solid excitement in the air, and every CART series whenever they start would turn the engines on because there's so much activity. You watch practice -- I watch the monitor and I see being Michael is coming in after a practice run and he's up say first second or third, and I say oh, good. And about two minutes later he's 17th, and it's unbelievable. It was never close to that. In fact, I used to set quick time and then I'd go for a sandwich and then I'd still have a quick time. I'd say, Why do I want to go out; wait. Today, it's right down to the last minute. It could be quick time at the end of a practice period with one minute to go, and if you get out of the car you'll probably be 12th; so that's excitement. You could not have any better than that, and you could see it was strong last year. It's going to be stronger this year. Wherever this is -- look at the activities going on. Next week here in Nazareth, you're going to have 11 teams practicing. Laguna Seca, they had like ten teams or so. Everybody is out there And I tell you right down to the end of the field, everybody feels they have a shot at the championship. How good is that?
Q. Any thoughts of team ownership?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Team ownership, well, I will always have that as an option. I would -- I don't think I'm old enough to own a team yet; so, again, it would have to be the proper opportunities to come my way. But it could be very much certainly in the play in the future. I don't know how immediate future. But again, I'll just keep that open probably as long as I still have this bug that I could still run like Le Mans or Daytona 24 hours. As long as I have that in my head, I'll probably not become an owner. But as soon as all of that is out of my system, I might consider it stronger.
Q. Mario, I guess one of reasons you are a really icon of the sport, not only here in the USA but around the world where you're probably the most well-known American driver, is because you race the one in everything from midgets and spring cars to stock cards to international sports cars, Formula 1 as well as Indy cars, championship dirt cars, the whole thing. But that is what makes your reputation so big around the world, and in this day and age where both NASCAR has become a bit more specialized in its way and Formula 1 likewise, the CART series is actually -- and it's something that everybody talks about. You race on all of these tracks, a wide range of tracks. It's more of a wide-ranging challenge like you faced in your career. And, you know, just could you talk about that, about that aspect of the FedEx Championship and CART and what that makes about it, you know, in relation to NASCAR or Formula 1 or racing as a whole.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, there are a lot of factors here. A lot of the -- I would suspect that -- let's say this: Times have changed dramatically. But the probably the underlying factor for keeping drivers in one particular discipline once they reach that stage, a lot of it is the money, I mean economical, the economic side of it. Because when I was racing, I mean, I was earning well but I could always feel that I could pick it here, pick it there. I say, okay, you race for the money; that's part of it, too, of course. But is that the only motivating factor? No. That would be the strongest motivating factor? No. But you always use that as an excuse or the reason for the risk that you take. Now, having said that, today a driver is committed to a series, like say the FedEx, the CART FedEx Series. His time is pretty much taken up. You know, would I think that Michael would have time to race somewhere else or do something else? No. Because, you know, a lot of people in the off-season, we all know he's testing. I mean, flat out, he's just testing every week. So you can see there's much more intensity today in -- you have much more responsibility to your team than ever before. In my days, I used to look at my calendar and say, Gee, I've got an open weekend, and I'm going to throw something in there a midget, a spring car, a sports car, something. I always had people that, you know, would take me in with open arms, and I was taken in on those opportunities. But I think those days are long gone, only because as I say, because of the commitments that you have. The other way to put, my contract was like three pages in those days like back when I was doing a lot of the different driving. Today it's like 170 pages. But at the same time, the team usually as far as what you're costing the team, they have much more rights to you than ever before, only because of that.
Q. Seems to me we were talking about how the racing is so great these days, and yet the guys -- today's drivers aren't known I think the way you were known at the peak of your career. What's your take on that? Would it be the same in baseball -- too, that the heroes aren't big they used to be? What do you feel?
MARIO ANDRETTI: I don't know. A lot of it has to do with longevity, too. In that sense was I ever fortunate that I was able to have a career as long as I have? You're darned right. Do I know it? Yes. Many potential champions in those days were never able to mature or able to accomplish what they should have or could have because you know where were a lot of fatalities; so again, it takes a long, long time to establish any kind of -- any knowledge on a particular name, if you will, to follow you. If you're a flash in the pan, that's it. But you've got to be able to grind and grind and grind, and people all of the sudden get used to you and they say oh, gee you know, we expect this and that from you; and then they start following you. And then it's thrills and disappointments and all those emotions that the fans experience along with you; so it's a long-term deal. It's a long-term situation. You don't make stars overnight, really. It's very seldom that you do, and sometimes when undue publicity comes onto a certain individual, it really makes it tough because so much is expected of them and then they don't have the experience to really support what is expected or be able to obviously back up what -- what people think they should be able to accomplish; so a lot of these factors. But believe me, today these guys don't go unnoticed. And I mean here is a perfect example of instituting this particular -- this trophy and this All-Star team where here it would be very good reason for the press during the season to start taking notice of who is really up there, who is really performing in the eyes of the various judges that we have that we'll have in place. I think it's going to up a whole new awareness factor, which I think is good. It's going to be great for these guys, great carrot for them to go because they will see that they will be rewarded purely on their performance; whereby, yes, the champion, the points champion, ultimately could very well be the one to be rewarded anyway. Most of the times you will, because you have to be formidable to be a champion. No question. But then there are times where a guy that probably finished 2nd probably had more victories, led more laps, but had more spectacular driving but was not as lucky or consistent; so this guy ultimately may be the guy to be awarded with this -- with this new trophy. So just exactly what CART is doing now is probably going to enhance the awareness of the drivers I think in the future and from here on.
Q. Since the trophy is named after you and with your long career, how would you describe an All-Star driver?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, you've got to look -- first and foremost, the driver is behind the wheel. And you watch -- it's easier to be able to assess the ability of a driver, his skills, by just watching how he just -- how he makes his moves. There are drivers that make some moves at the expense of others and bully their way around in a very unreasonable way, and I don't think that takes a lot of finesse. And there are others that accomplish the very same thing and have the respect of their competitor, and I think it's going to bring some sportsmanship on board because they know they will be so closely scrutinized. So you're going to watch for all of these things. As the season goes on, you will see that there may be guys driving something that doesn't have as much power but somehow he's in there, on and on. The criteria is -- how does the guy -- you're going to judge some of his personality well, how he's dealing with fans. I think the fans will probably start expressing themselves, too. So I think all these guys will want to be part of the team and they will all be on their best behavior, I guarantee you.
Q. They could not have picked a better person to name this trophy after, because I have been following you just about the same time you started. We all started about the same time.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Thank you.
Q. And you've driven everything and always been a class gentleman as you've gone through the sport. I'm going to tell you something: It's going to be mighty hard to pick someone to be the big driver to get the Mario Andretti Trophy, and best of all, I still regard you as one of my closest friends. Thank you.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Thank you, Walter. Thanks for saying that.
Q. First of all, maybe should I first of all ask Mike: Is there any financial reward to go along with this trophy?
MIKE ZIZZO: At this time there is no plans for that. We feel that the trophy stands on it's own, especially if it's named after Mario.
Q. It certainly does. Mario, could you tell me, as we pointed out here, this trophy and the race in Hawaii all raise the CART series this year. But what do you feel that the series must do to close the gap in popularity that NASCAR has opened up this gap? What are your thoughts on that?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, I think a lot of it is in the marketing of the series. I think everybody is trying to step that up to create awareness. That's what NASCAR has done and they have done a great job in marketing. And of course, in the United States here we are not obviously going to race as many times as NASCAR; so we have to probably again be a little more aggressive in the marketing. But something we should also remember that when you compare on the big picture CART and NASCAR on the world picture, you know, CART is so much bigger because of the TV exposure that it receives and the appreciation that there is around the world for this type of racing rather than stock cars. You know, stock cars are phenomenal, but outside of these shores, there isn't very much interest. There's not enough technology there to interest a lot of the sophistication of the fans abroad or the press. They look for that a little more, the purest sense of motor racing. And so I feel that not everybody can have everything, but CART can be very proud of the worldwide awareness of its series; and again, it should never stop. You should never stop cultivating the very ingredient that you have working for you, the drivers, to strengthen the teams, the technology, and on and on.
MIKE ZIZZO: Just to add to what Mario said, we are broadcasting a 195 countries and we reach nearly one billion viewers per year.
Q. You won all besides the La Mans where you will probably participate soon. What other goals do you pursue in life?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, in life just cultivating a lot of my business interests that I have in place now, and there's a goal every day to go after. It's just you want to be successful and everything that you do nothing I think totally specific. You just want to continue to be successful and what I'm trying to do is be involved in the type of business that I can really feel that I have a passion for that I look forward to going to work or doing work for. And that's not easy now but we're accomplishing that and that's important for me.
MIKE ZIZZO: Mario, always a pleasure. And I'm sure everyone -- I can speak for them that we wish we could have you for a few hours to chat. Thank you very much for joining us, and we'll see you down in Homestead.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Thank you.
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