CART FedEx Championship Series: The 500
Topics: The 500
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).
BOBBY 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 preeminent 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 system, our second rung, 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.
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.
ADAM 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?
CHRIS 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 instill 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's 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.
ADAM SAAL: We'll open it up for questions now.
BRYAN 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 things that's 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.
CHRIS 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, 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.
ADAM SAAL: Fair question about the dollars to get into this program. Bobby, can you speak about the entries?
BOBBY RAHAL: I think it depends on the nature of the event. On a national program of the type we're speaking of, there will be certainly well over a hundred entries. I think we're going to be a little bit different. Our view is that we're different than, say, what WKA or some of the other existing organizations are. We're going to focus on those categories, only a handful of them, that are truly internationally accepted and are in place because we feel that they're the best training grounds. We're not trying to be all things to all people. I just came from Las Vegas. There were 53 88-cc drivers in the race. I would think two-thirds of those young boys and girls were there because they want to be professional racing car drivers. Maybe I'm underestimating the percentage. Look at the amount of money, fathers, mothers, investing in trailers and everything else. If you look at the hard deliverables that our relationship with the Barber system will produce, it clearly will be the venue that you will attend if you want to start that climb to be a professional race car driver. As Bryan said, the TV program with the SPEED Channel is historic in this country. Bryan and I are working very hard to make sure that continues. We've had very good reception from companies that want to be involved in this because they appreciate the grass-roots nature of karting. I feel that when you come to our events next year, you're going to be seeing those who really are viewing this as an occupational desire. It will start from 12 years old on up to early 20s. If we have the best events, we deliver the hard rewards, we spoke of our relationship with the Barber system, that will drive American entries even further. We're going to have the best classes to learn from so these people can go forward and compete successfully into the future.
Q. From a skills perspective, what does a karter learn that a Saturday night stock car driver does not learn?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I believe that road racing produces the best overall driver. You look at Indy Car racing. While there have been some that have been successful that sort of learned their trade on the oval tracks, more often than not it's by far the people who come out of road racing that have been able to be successful at Indianapolis. All you have to do is look at the last 20, 25 years to see that. On top of that, I feel with karting, especially the classes we'll be depending upon, it teaches a driver the concepts of momentum, smoothness, anticipation, what have you. More than anything, I think what top-notch karting produces, it takes young people and puts them into very intense situations, intensely competitive, pressure, you name it. When these young people get to be 17, 18 years old, going into a race is no big deal. If you look at Formula 1, everybody has expressed surprise over guys like Raikkonen, who did 23 car races before he went into Formula 1. He came out directly out of the most intense levels of the karting world, Jenson Button, Jarno Trulli, many of the most competitive people in Formula 1 have come from karting, maybe they went to Formula 3 for a year. Today, Pat Long is here. Pat drove in karting in this country, he's been competitive in Formula Renault, finished second in the Formula Ford Championship in England. Ryan Hunter-Reay is here. I'm probably missing a few others. This is the curriculum that allows you to be competitive or successful into the future, I firmly believe. While there will always be the odd great talent that comes out of other forms of racing, I think clearly road racing and karting is the key way to go.
Q. Harvard graduate school of racing?
BOBBY RAHAL: Absolutely, at the junior level.
ADAM SAAL: Bryan, if you could add to that. You did your time in the open-wheel formula style ranks, quarter midgets.
BRYAN HERTA: No, Jimmy Vasser did. I think the thing I'd say, though, there's been a lot of comments. People say there are so many Brazilians coming up through the ranks, so many drivers from Europe. There's a reason for that. It's not because of what they did in F-3000, it's because of what they did in karting and the selection process that started in their careers when they were 15, 14, 16 years old. Really the selection process doesn't seem to start here until you're in Formula Atlantic. I think you miss some of the talent that way. We want to provide a way for teams and drivers, people who want to bring young people along, to figure out at a very early point in their career who to put their support behind.
ADAM SAAL: Chris has to leave us in about five minutes. If there's any questions for Chris, we'll take them now.
Q. (Question regarding Elkhart Lake.)
CHRIS POOK: This year we had a CART race at the Elkhart race next with our Champ Car race there. He stimulated some thinking a few minutes ago saying, "Here is what I think we should do at this place, that place, what do you think?" That dialogue has already started. Absolutely, we would want to do that. It would make all the sense in the world. We clearly want to introduce the kids and put them into a big weekend, such as the Elkhart weekend, but we also want to let our public know the importance of this at the same time. It's a two-way street. There will be expansion.
BRYAN HERTA: We have six classes on our schedule for next year. I think five of the six are CIK-based classes. We're grandfathering one class in. That's a one-year grandfather. You know, the class structure I don't think we anticipate will ever be more than six classes. If you break it out, we have two senior classes, one shifter, one non-shifter; two junior classes, junior ICA, one shifter, one non-shifter for the juniors; then we have cadet, younger kids, six to eight years old. The new class is a class being supported heavily in Europe, the move is going towards four cycles. It's called the World Formula. It's an entry-level class, low-cost alternative. It has an electric starter on the kart. That will be our entry level class. We're really going to try to help kick that off with the CIK in this country next year. That's our class structure. In terms of numbers, I don't ever really see it increasing. Over time there might be changes depending on what happens there the CIK.
BRYAN HERTA: Eight to 12 is the cadet age. Actually this year we had a kid kart class that started at five or six years old. We felt that that was a little too young and really didn't fit in with the overall CIK structure we have for next year.
BRYAN HERTA: Those are some discussions that still need to be had. I don't know if you want to call CART a sanctioning entity, but they are heavily involved with us. Stars of Tomorrow is operationally controlling the series and all the sponsorship. When you say, "Who is sanctioning," I don't think we have that answer completely figured yet.
BOBBY RAHAL: I think it's really through CART. SECA has different categories under their auspices. That would be the same in this case. It's interesting you speak about the age. It's amazing. You can be 16 now and race cars. You'd be amazed how many 13- and 14-year-old kids are being tested in Formula Ford today. That's where this level of professionals is so needed because these young people have to have the maturity under fire to be able to handle a race car at a very, very young age. The only place that comes from, the only place that will be achieved is through the most intense, most professional karting event you can have. For me, since I started racing at 20 years old, it's hard to believe. When I was thinking back when I was 13, there's no way in hell I could have gotten into a race car. But it's a different world. We talk about the Red Bull scholarship program. If we want to have an American at the US Grand Prix in five years, that person is 14 years old today. That's why the necessity for a very focused, very professional karting series is so important in North America.
BRYAN HERTA: We've been very involved.
BOBBY RAHAL: We already have.
BRYAN HERTA: Obviously, I have been for quite a long time. Give Bobby a lot of credit. He's not just sort of sitting up here lending his name to it. He has been very involved, very helpful in creating the right structure for this program to be very strong next year.
BOBBY RAHAL: Just to clarify, Paul Zalud will be in charge of the operations of the series, which is probably the least glory and the most grief. Glenn is in charge of the PR, marketing, sales of the program. They will have people that will work with them, under them. Then, of course, there's Bryan and I. What I think Bryan and I can bring more than anything is our contacts, whatever influence we may have, to help these guys create the best program. With my name attached to it, it's not because my son is in karting, he's already bugging me about a Formula Ford, and he's 13. He's going to be gone. But my interest and I think Bryan's interest is this is the right thing to do. I'm tired of everybody always complaining about no Americans, no Americans. The reality is, as a team owner, you're going to hire whoever can win. We need to produce talent that clearly can compete on an equal basis with anything the world has to offer.
ADAM SAAL: To clarify, Stars of Tomorrow are in the CART ladder system, but we're not going to take it upon ourselves to write some CART rules. It's part of CIK, we would defer to them. We have enough to work on and continue to work on at the top level.
BOBBY RAHAL: The boiler plate, the principles of the arrangement, has been agreed to.
ADAM SAAL: Pinch-hitting for Chris, we'll be making this announcement from the CART point of view. As you know in racing, sometimes too many things are proclaimed too soon, not accurately. We want to give you an accurate portrayal of where we're at.
BOBBY RAHAL: There's always a period of time between an agreement and an actual contract. It's just a matter of going through the boiler plate, as I say, but we're going forward.
ADAM SAAL: It's the real deal.
BRYAN HERTA: I don't think we want to pin ourselves into that. You have two different types of karters. You have guys, there's several of them, you have this in Europe as well, who compete in karts. That's all they want to do. They're very good at what they do. They're career karters. Certainly we don't want to lock ourselves into those awards with somebody who isn't on that career path to take advantage. It will be a bit of a subjective criteria. You'll have to make an impression upon the right people to earn a chance, and there will be some type of run awe. The Skip Barber scholarship program that they've done for many years, of the 16 picks, I think 10 or more of those came directly out of our Stars Program this year. I think you'll see competition from Stars next year.
BOBBY RAHAL: I had a meeting the other day with the Barber people. I don't want to give all the details yet. Just so you know, we will be having a meeting with the karting industry itself next Thursday in anticipation of Bryan's Stars event at Bryan's track. But I think the relationship will be extremely strong. The problem is that some of the awards that people get, you win a championship, it's like, "Now what?" It doesn't achieve you anything other than the fact that you can say you won a championship. There's no way to get to the next step. We anticipate being able to deliver those kinds of steps. If we do that, that will drive participation of the right people. In Mexico, Adrian has been very much a promoter of this kind of program. There's probably more young Mexicans than ever before in international racing today, some in Europe, some here. In Vegas, there's a young fellow with Telmex on his helmet and everything else. They obviously see the value. That's, again, why we're going to the CIK, we've been there with Bryan long ago. On an international basis, people from all over the world can compete here if they so wish. That's definitely the way to go.
ADAM SAAL: The 2002 Stars of Tomorrow national finals are next weekend at the Las Vegas. Any one of the four principals here can tell you about it. Thank you very much, gentlemen. Congratulations.
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