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CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix Americas

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Grand Prix Americas

CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix Americas

Chuck Martinez
Chris Pook
October 6, 2002


MIAMI, FLORIDA

ADAM SAAL: Tough act to follow as we congratulate Cristiano da Matta. However, a highlight of the year for us is a brand-new event, Grand Prix Americas, that we put together on a relatively short time frame in concert with Raceworks, the American LeMans series, as well as TransAm. We'd like to ask Chuck Martinez, the president and general manager of Raceworks, who came on board on a relatively short notice like everything else with this event to pull off a successful race, and Chris Pook, CART president and CEO, recognized as the founder of modern day street racing in America. A lot of energy, sleepless nights, Chuck. The event looked great. Give us your general thoughts.

CHUCK MARTINEZ: Considering, like you said, all the obstacles, the time frame, logistical issues, political, legal issues as you are all aware of, we feel great about this event. Our expectations were met. Very happy about the weather, even though we had a little rain yesterday. It turned out to be a terrific event. Our partnership with LeMans and CART was ultimately incredibly favorable. LeMans was very happy with the event, as I'm sure as CART was. We have TransAm going right now. I think we provided the fans a terrific weekend. Two great concerts. Stands were full. We're very excited. We think this is a terrific platform for future events in this community.

ADAM SAAL: What was your biggest challenge? You're well-experienced here in the Miami marketplace, have quite a few contracts. Coming into motorsports for the first time, what was your biggest challenge to bring this race off?

CHUCK MARTINEZ: Quite frankly, it was really the time frame. We really had a very, very short time frame. Obviously, putting together an urban event like this, urban street race, you're dealing with a lot of constraints, trying to find paddock space. Obviously, everyone in town knows you don't have a choice. Negotiating these things were difficult. The City of Miami, city manager's office, merchants, business people, Bayside, everyone involved downtown was really on our side. This was truly a team effort.

ADAM SAAL: Chris, these types of events are certainly something that you created the model for here in North America. Even your expectations, were they met today?

CHRIS POOK: Oh, I think it was just outstanding. I talked to the mayor afterwards, the commissioner. They were really, really happy. At the end of the day, when you do these events in a city, your partner, if you will, use the word "partner" in quotes, is very, very important. We come in, we tear their city up, and they're looking for benefits in return. Those two gentlemen were ecstatic and happy about it. I would be very remiss if I did not congratulate Chuck and his entire team. Chuck did come on board just three months ago or four months ago. He has a remarkable presence about him, and his ability to grasp things very, very quickly. He does have a knowledge of the event business, but I was pretty staggered. Jim was here on Friday and Saturday, from Long Beach, had been with me at Long Beach for 28 years, he was amazed at what Chuck had been able to achieve with his team. He's a great leader, not just because he's sitting here today. But the event came off well because of his leadership and his ability to deal with all the constituencies in the racetrack area, which at the end of the day this is what it's all about, your ability to work with your constituencies and make sure that they feel reasonable about what's going on. Job well done to you, Chuck, and your team.

ADAM SAAL: Focusing on CART in particular as you lead the company through a rejuvenation, how important is it to establish new events in which we can grab attention of fans, sponsors and even new competitors through a venue like this?

CHRIS POOK: As you know, it's part of our platform, part of our policy going forward that we're going to be in market in major cities in North America and other countries around the world. The fact that we can come here to Miami, which is as a stand-alone market in the United States is a very important market. When you look at what else Miami means in the sense of the ability to reach Central America and the Caribbean and Latin America, it's a very, very meaningful market for us. It's very much a strategic part of our whole plan. Miami is important to us. Tampa/St. Pete will be important to us. Denver was important to us. When we get back to Houston, that will be very important to us. Other major cities in North America, the NAFTA region, we have Mexico City coming up in the middle of November, that's another huge event that's very important to us. If you look at what CART's philosophy is, it's to go in market, and I mean in the market itself, not 40, 50 miles outside in the countryside. We want to be in the cities, let the non-motor racing fan, if you will, touch and feel our product. Hopefully they'll touch and feel our product by the television set on an ongoing basis which will drive our ratings up and get us back to where we want to be in the division numbers. Nothing new, just copying what Pete Roselle set in motion back in the early '60s.

ADAM SAAL: We'll start questions.

Q. Just after the halfway point you and I almost ran into each other. I don't think I've ever seen you so relaxed while a race was still going on. Were things just going that good for this race today?

CHRIS POOK: Well, when you have a guy that runs the racetrack like Martinez, you can go and have a beer. I was pretty relaxed today. There's a lot of stuff here we need to fix. Chuck knows it. We'll talk about it. I think one of the important things that I've got to remember to do is just to stand back and let him do the job because I was in his job for 28 years basically. I need to stand back and let him into the job, then quietly suggest some of the things to him that I see from the experience I have. That's how we work. The one thing about Chuck is, you only have to say something to him once. It doesn't take many words. He grasps things very quickly, goes out and gets it done. That is very reassuring if you're the CEO of a sanctioning body going into a race for the first time.

Q. On Tuesday when we talked, the American LeMans series and CART, this weekend being exploratory. Have we gone past the exploratory stage? Do you think we'll see more companion races next year?

CHRIS POOK: I think we're past the exploratory stage. We danced together this weekend. We didn't stand on each other's toes. We had a good, productive meeting this morning. We are going to talk. We wanted to see what happened this afternoon before we made a final discussion point. But we'll talk to the American LeMans series this week and see where the next dance floor is going to be.

Q. Will you be in Atlanta next weekend?

CHRIS POOK: I will not be in Atlanta next weekend, though. Thanks for the invitation, though.

Q. Are you guys going to have an attendance figure for today?

CHUCK MARTINEZ: We will have an attendance figure. We're still putting that together.

Q. There were some legal challenges, sort of a protracted battle to make this race happen. There was speculation that there might even be a request for a last-minute injunction. Is that all done? Are you going to be able to move forward with some kind of long-term commitment from the local authorities?

CHUCK MARTINEZ: I can't speak for the Homestead folks, but I can tell you that CART is committed to this event. American LeMans is committed. City of Miami and everyone involved, city manager's office, all the merchants. I think people will see what a great event this was and what potential is here. I'm pretty confident. I know we're moving forward. I think we've shown this is a viable event. It can only get better.

Q. Chris, because of the politics, I don't believe you have a contract past this year. Can you talk about the message you got in your conversation with the mayor and also the message you might have gotten in your conversation with Panoz? Will there be a firm contract sometime soon or is the politics still a matter of concern?

CHRIS POOK: Well, I think there will be a firm contract very soon. We'll see if that contract gets legally challenged again. In the meantime, I'm sure Chuck is going to work on pulling a permit for next year as soon as possible. We will continue to walk down those two roads, the one road being the annual permit road and the other road being the long-term contract. I'll leave that to Chuck to discuss with the city, what his best advice is on that.

Q. And your conversation with the mayor, what was his reaction, and Panoz?

CHRIS POOK: I think very positive. I can't talk for the mayor, but it was a very, very positive conversation. I have every reason to believe that he was absolutely delighted with the weekend. He sees the opportunity for growth of the event, both economic growth in the sense of economic impact for the City of Miami and the presentation of the event itself to South Florida.

Q. You said you don't have attendance figures, not today. Do you have a sense of whether you're going to meet your expectations?

CHUCK MARTINEZ: Yesterday was a great day. Friday was light. Fridays tend to be. Yesterday was a great day. Stands full of people, very happy with everything. It was pretty busy. Today was even more so. We're looking at the numbers right now. If we don't meet them, we're going to be pretty darn close.

Q. When do you expect to know for sure?

CHUCK MARTINEZ: My job in the next 12 hours is going to be to dismantle this track and make sure the city is working tomorrow at 6 a.m. I'll probably figure out numbers soon thereafter. By the end of the week we'll have something.

Q. What were your expectations? What would be a successful event going in?

CHUCK MARTINEZ: Numbers-wise?

Q. Yes.

CHUCK MARTINEZ: I think between 75 and 100 over the three days. I think we're definitely at the low end of that, at least. We just have to tally everything. If you were out there, if you took a walk, our grandstand area was full, our GA area was full, our suites were all packed. I'll tell you, in the last two weeks, our suites accommodate 40, we were getting requests non-stop to add more. We exceeded all the way across the board in our suites.

CHRIS POOK: I think it's really important to remember one of the philosophies of CART and its promoters that we do business with in the first-year events is to make sure that we execute on the event well for the spectators and the sponsors who are in attendance. We prefer to have lower numbers, but a top execution, because that's what brings customers back next year in added numbers. What Chuck is trying to do is build a business. Businesses don't get built in one year or in our case three days. These events take at least three years to get to any reasonable level of maturity. You have to build them solidly block by block as you go, not just throw it all together and hope it comes out right.

CHUCK MARTINEZ: Our goal for this event was, number one, make sure that CART and ALMS and TransAm were able to work smoothly in all areas, pits, paddock, manage everything, make sure it's at seamless of an operation as possible; two, to be very, very high-end and very, very fan friendly. I think we were able to achieve that. We were working with luxury brand sponsors like Cadillac. That was our intention to show this is a premiere product, separate ourselves from the rest of the marketplace.

Q. You said there will need to be changes. The drivers talked about the track. Can you talk about what kind of changes you expect at this point?

CHRIS POOK: We're going to make some suggestions to Chuck on the track layout. We'll probably talk about a different victory circle location, things like that, the TV compound will move. Some of the big things you'll notice, some of the small things you won't notice. Hopefully the small things that you won't notice come about as us noticing things we want to change but you haven't seen them. It's a whole variety of little subtle changes, how we move people around, how Chuck moves people around, make sure the people can move throughout the infield and the other areas.

CHUCK MARTINEZ: We've done a lot of research. We have plenty of shots, pictures of flow, to give us an idea of what we're going to need to do. We're going to be examining those things closely in the next couple weeks to sort of give us a direction on how we're going to proceed in the future.

Q. Chris, with the show that CART got to put on this weekend in front of manufacturers like Audi, Chevrolet, Porsche, did you get a chance to get a feel for what their impressions were of CART? Does that help you with maybe getting some of those guys involved in the future?

CHRIS POOK: Yeah, I mean, it was very interesting to see today there were several of the major manufacturers from the ALMS hanging around to watch what was going on today. They were watching yesterday and Friday. It was a shame that our qualifying got dampened down a little bit yesterday. They got the picture, they got the feeling for it. I think it was very positive. I think Cadillac, they got some pretty good exposure today. That's what we're about. We're about delivering value to our sponsors and our promoter's sponsors.

Q. As a student of Miami Dade, students in general here, slightly inconvenienced from the event, but in return we received free access on Friday. For the next year, will we be receiving any additional access or any student discounts or anything like that?

CHUCK MARTINEZ: I can tell you that for us, being able to take care of our primary constituents, which is downtown merchants, Miami Dade Community College, Bayside, those individuals are very important. We will absolutely look at ways to do that. Miami Dade has been an incredible partner with us. Obviously, we're here in Miami Dade right now, in these facilities. They're terrific. They've been with us all the way through this whole process. Absolutely we will be doing things along those lines. We want to make sure we promote attendance. We want to get people interested. Hopefully come on Friday, be excited, come in for the rest of the weekend. Yes, we definitely will be doing those things.

ADAM SAAL: Several of the drivers did make inquiries about the students they saw walking through. We did remind them to keep focused on the job at hand. The college has been an outstanding facility.

Q. Has the permit for 2003 been formally applied for yet?

CHUCK MARTINEZ: We have applied for dates with the city. We'll be finalizing everything as far as permitting everything else within the next 30 days, 35 or 40 days.

Q. Indications are that Homestead are planning on filing as early as tomorrow. What is your preparation for that?

CHUCK MARTINEZ: I have no idea what home Homestead is going to do. I would say anything they do proceed with, we feel very confident that we're on the right side of this issue. The City of Miami deserves an event like this, as evidenced by today. I would love to work with Homestead. Let's do co-promotion, let's build a motorsports fan base down here. I'm going to extend that offer to them. I do want to work with Homestead. They have a great, great event there. November is going to be very exciting for NASCAR and the Winston Cup. I'll probably go. As far as I'm concerned, these two events can do very, very well. Homestead and City of Miami, downtown Miami, Grand Prix Americas, can both do very, very well. I think it is in both of our interest to promote this sport as much as we can because it is exciting and people really enjoy it. There is a good fan base with the South Americans and Europeans down here that we can build on.

Q. Have you offered what you might consider an "olive branch" at ISC and Homestead? I remember seeing in the transcript of the teleconference about some of that. Could you amplify about the types of olive branches you might have offered?

CHRIS POOK: I had a conversation with Jim. In that conversation, I -- actually I had two conversations. I suggested we could work together as a team to help promote Homestead, that it would be beneficial. I recited that in Long Beach back in the early '70s when Riverside was concerned about us as a temporary circuit coming on, we worked with them. Actually, Riverside had their biggest crowds as a result of that. As Chuck said, let's work together as a team. Hopefully there will be a change of heart after this weekend. If there's not a change of heart, rest assured we stand ready to defend our business.

Q. While you were putting this together, did you have a chance to go to any other city and see how they put their weekend on?

CHUCK MARTINEZ: Absolutely, I went to Toronto, Montreal, Milwaukee. I came to this race eight, nine years when it was put together down in downtown. As a casual fan, I enjoy racing a lot. I've learned a lot about the business of racing, which is very different from being a fan. You know, CART and American LeMans have been very, very instrumental in educating me on this process. I come from the event business. I come from working in Miami. I know my focus was being fan friendly, providing good customer service, getting the client what they want, putting the logistics of it together. There are certain idiosyncracies to the motorsports world that I learned. I learned a lot of stuff this weekend. This has been an education, no question. I've got a book full of notes. I'm going on vacation two days from now. When I get back, we're getting back to work. We have a lot of plans. We're going to have a big debrief. We are going to make this event better. It is our intention to make this a premiere motorsports event, something that people will look forward to on a year-round basis, something that people in Miami and motorsport fans alike are going to see as something special.

Q. If an injunction is filed, will CART join with Raceworks in fighting the legal battle or will Raceworks have to fight that battle alone?

CHRIS POOK: No, CART will join with Raceworks and fight any actions here. We'll help defend our territory along with Raceworks. I would assume the city will be with us, as well.

CHUCK MARTINEZ: The city will be.

Q. The city will be involved as an interested party?

CHUCK MARTINEZ: The three groups would defend themselves against anything that comes down the line legally. Each entity has its own legal representation, and they work jointly. I was hoping after this race we could sort of let these guys go. If that doesn't happen, so be it. We'll have to move forward. The city is committed to this event, absolutely unequivocally. CART is committed and Raceworks is committed to making this an annual affair.

Q. With the number of Formula 1 folks in town this week, including Ferrari this weekend, knowing you as a businessman, did you use that opportunity to talk to any of them about future relationships?

CHRIS POOK: Well, I think we probably passed the time of day and said what a nice view the place had.

Q. That's all you're getting out of me.

CHRIS POOK: That's about all you're going to get out of me (laughter). No, it's not appropriate to discuss those conversations.

Q. Where do you see CART in the future with all these drivers changing competition?

CHRIS POOK: Well, I don't have any difficulty. Other sports, baseball, basketball, football and hockey, they change athletes on a regular basis, go from one city to other city. I'm particularly happy about the da Matta situation. I wish him well. He's a tremendous champion. If he can get to Formula 1 using CART as a platform, that's a big feather in our hat. If you look at Dario, no one knew who Dario was here three or four years ago. They all thought he was an Italian that showed up in America. Come to find out he was a Scotsman. That happens. You build stars up, they move on. If you looked around the paddock this weekend, there were an incredible number of names that unless you follow international motorsports on a very, very close basis, they wouldn't mean anything to you. You probably had here this weekend I would say eight of the fastest young racing car drivers of the future all walking around this paddock inquiring about rides here. If you saw a couple of them, you would think they were still in junior high the way they look. These kids are really young. They're getting younger and younger. They're getting faster and faster. We'd love those sort of guys to come into our series. We'd love to be a series that nurtures youngsters and takes them to the next level, puts them back into Formula 1. If you want to know about the series, you have to listen to what Montoya and Villeneuve had to say. They didn't mince their words about what they think about this series. You don't like to lose people, but we're in the business of professional sports, and professional athletes come and go. For every door that opens, another one closes, and every one that closes, another one opens.

Q. Is there a place in the United States for two competitions, like Indy Racing League and CART?

CHRIS POOK: As far as I'm concerns, sure. We don't compete with the Indy Racing League. People tend to think we do. Some people think we do. We don't. We're in the business of pretty intense racing, which requires you to change gears, brake, accelerate, turn left and turn right and use your head on a full-time basis. That's the business we're in. It's completely different.

ADAM SAAL: Gentlemen, thank you very much.



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