CART Media Conference
ADAM SAAL: We appreciate you taking time for joining us for an informative media session about the CART rider system and what Championship Auto Racing Teams and the Skip Barber organization are doing together to develop future driving stars. Again, we thank you for coming today. At this point, we would want to take the opportunity to formally introduce the eight 2002 Barber CART Scholarship drivers. Two groups of four flank each of our center panel of graduates, as well as two presidents, Chris Pook, and Skip Barber, who we will each hear from shortly. Each one of these drivers has received a full-paid season in either the Barber dodge Pro Series or the Formula Dodge National Championship. Before we meet them, we would just like to formally introduce President and CEO of Championship Auto Racing Teams, Chris Pook. Next to him is Skip Barber Racing School founder, President Skip Barber. And now let's meet our scholarship drivers from the Barber Dodge, which is the official entry level professional series of CART, in no particular order, please welcome Rafael Sperafico. He is the 2001 Barber Dodge pro series Rookie of the Year and he is from Toledo Pollana (ph) Brazil. Joining us from is the 2001 Barber CART scholarship winner from Miami Florida, Leonardo Maia. Leonardo, welcome. Also with us today is the 2001 Formula Dodge National Championship winner from Curitiba, Brazil, Julio Campos. Our scholarship drivers in the Formula Dodge National Championship, which is the official Amateur National Championship of CART. The first four drivers to win the Barber CART Carting Scholarship Shootout in January to secure their spots, from North Hills, California, Colin Fleming. From Bentonsport, Iowa, Craig Baltzer. From Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Ward Imrie. And finally from San Mario, California, Charlie Kimball. Welcome, gentlemen. We appreciate you being here. As well we have a fifth driver. He is the recipient of the National Championship Barber CART Scholarship, from Deerfield Beach, Florida, Scott Poirer. In all these drivers are receiving $825,000 in full season scholarships to further their careers and move up to the CART driver development ladder series. No small chunk of change in racing, and it's good to know we have a system in place for this. With us also are two drivers who have used the scholarship and the driver development system to advance their careers. One is the 1998 Barber CART Carting Scholarship winner, the 1999 Barber CART Scholarship winner, and the 2000 Barber CART pro series Rookie of the Year. After two successful seasons in the Barber Dodge, he is now competing with Hilton Motor Sports (ph) in the CART Toyota Atlantics Championship and if anybody saw the race last weekend he had it in the bag, until Milman (ph) stepped in. Welcome from Boca Raton, Florida. Ryan Hunter -Reay. Sitting next to him, alongside between Chris and Skip is a driver who came up through the ladder system starting with his very first Skip Barber Racing School in 1996. He competed in the Formula Dodge Regional Championship in 1997, the Barber Dodge Pro Series in 1998, 1999 and the Dayton Indy Lights Championship in 2000, 2001, and he won the championship last year, clinching it right here at Laguna Seca. He is now competing in the CART FedEx Championship Series with Patrick Racing and Visteon. From San Luis Obispo, California, Townsend Bell. We'll start with questions. I'll field a few, but we'd like to start with Chris Pook. The CART driver development ladder system is unique in the world of motor sports. Can you explain CART's commitment to developing assisting drivers in the ladder and why this exists?
CHRIS POOK: Thank you, Adam. Before I answer that question, I think we should point out, too, that Skip Barber not only develops drivers, but he also develops PR people. Adam started his first job with the Barber organization, and you can see that Skip is multi-facetted in how he serves our motor sports industry. Well, clearly, if we are to continue to develop professional motor racing drivers in the United States, the starting point has to be the barber operation. The kids come out of go-carts, if they are going to learn to drive race cars they are going to start in go-carts and there needs to be a system to pull them out of go-carts. And Skip has very successfully developed that system. Either they go straight to the Skip Barber Formula Ford system or whether they go straight into his Barber Dodgem system it doesn't matter. They go into the hands of a very good organization that puts their arms around their drivers and develops drivers. I think you've got to really classic examples sitting before you today. CART feels very strongly about this. CART is committed to this, this program, this concept. I'm not sure that we've done as good a job as we could have done in the past nurturing the relationship and the process to take drivers up through from Skip's organization into Atlantics and up to big cars, obviously Townsend Bell is a good example of that today. I think we need to do a lot more and we need to do a lot more, and the management team has been directed that they need to focus on this and to continue to work at it very hard. So we feel it's really important. Hunter did a hell of a job last weekend and he's going to do a hell of a job this weekend. Here is an example of a guy who has come through the system -- before you sit today and I hope you'll all make a note of the names sitting before you today and I hope you'll track their progress. Because these youngsters that are on either side of Skip and I, I'm sure in two or three or four years, that you're going to be seeing them sitting in -- one of them is going to be sitting in Hunter's position here and Hunter is going to be sitting in Townsend's position. And that's the way it should work. If you look at our carting in Mexico right now, they have got a tremendous development system down there. We have got three Mexican drivers in the series and they have come through the system. You go to Europe and see the systems that are over there; that's how they get developed. So we are tardy in the United States in getting -- in Skip's concept of bringing in these new drivers, but we are now embracing it and it's at hand and CART believes in it and we are going to go forward.
ADAM SAAL: Chris, some of our critics and there's a lot of exchange going on at times these days, but we've been criticized by others in motor sports saying that we do not have a development system. What do you attribute that to? Obviously, we have produced an incredible amount of drivers who practically spent swept the top spots in the Indy 500, and what you see before you today. Do you think it's a matter of we're just getting started, or just failing to recognize what we have?
CHRIS POOK: Well, I think what happened, Adam, over the years, one of the difficult things about motor sports, the higher you go up the ladder, the higher the costs are to go racing. I think that one of the things that has happened is that the sanctioning body has not created the right environment for a youngster to come to the system and have the availability to either get into a completely funded team where he can race, or, the ability to put him together with a sponsor who can help him get into that team. I think that's the real issue here. We have been shown up pretty well by our neighbors to the south -- I'm talking about South America now, the Brazilians, who have the ability to get supported by Brazilian corporations and then come into the series heavily funded or partially heavily funded and they get into one of our high-profile seats. It's not to say that they are not talented. They are extremely talented, and with all due respect for them, our guys are just as talented as they are. But we just haven't used the mechanism properly or haven't got our arms around it and grasped it properly to get the job done, and that's what we have got to do and I think that's what we are doing. Now what we want to do is have a good competition. It's great to see a young man from Brazil with us here today. We still want to encourage Brazil and Columbia and Chile and Argentina and Mexico and all of the countries of the world to participate and come over here and run. But at the same time, we have also got to understand that we have got to create the right environment for our own kids, be they Canadians or Americans, to get across the goal line and realize their dreams. And then demonstrate their skills, which they are very able to do. Townsend, his rookie year, that's pretty respectable, in a one-car team, which is a handicap for a rookie driver. Not to give him any excuses, but having a team partner in the level of competition that we have today is important, and to do it on your own as he has is significant. So I hope that answers your question.
ADAM SAAL: I think Skip can certainly add a lot to it. An accomplished driver in his own right, Skip is an inspired American who had great success in his career but realized there was a need to establish opportunities for drivers. And the proof is in the pudding, you're doing a great job here. Your official relationship with CART was established a couple of years ago and you have a good program in place, but what has the relationship of CART added to the already successful program.
SKIP BARBER: I think the only thing Chris missed in that is that we have to really promote these kids as they come along. It's not really a talent issue. When you look at any other sport, be the NBA, with the playoffs going on right now, every NBA fan knows who the next stars are, the kids that are place in college, and some of those real fans know them when they are in high school. And we have got to really create that environment. This is the start of that, where hopefully you'll get to see these guys for three or four or five years before they get in a champ car and really know who they are. As a great supporter of all of the Brazilian kids that we do get, and one who hears the criticism of lack of American drivers, yes, we need the American drivers, but we have to know who the Brazilians are, and that's something this will take care of. That's part of the issue, I think, for CART, guys that seem to fall out of the sky.
ADAM SAAL: Skip, you've got enough experience, I think to speak to this issue. You see in baseball an international talent such as Ichiro come over and captivate baseball in the City of Seattle. Or you see the jockey from Mexico, Victor Espinoza, who may win the Triple Crown today; he's become an instant superstar. International folks in just about every other sport are both received and celebrated and not questioned. Nobody said Sammy Sosa's accomplishments a couple of years ago were not any good but he's not American. But occasionally we see that in this sport. Do you attribute that to this sport or do you think it's a train of thought that just needs to be completely battered down and done away with?
SKIP BARBER: I don't think it has anything to do with the sport. In fact, it is ironic when you look the starting grid in the IRL where most of those folks come from. We need more Americans, but we absolutely need the best competition in the world. And as Chris said, we need the fastest cars, if they come from Brazil, that's great, that pushes the guys.
ADAM SAAL: Essentially we celebrate our international drivers, yet at times, we are asked to almost apologize, unlike other sports, where if an international star comes in, they are celebrated and accepted universally. I guess it's wrong to say that only certain international drivers are fine, but like you said, I think the key thing is you want an environment where you have the best drivers in the world compete on an even playing field.
CHRIS POOK: And hopefully the majority of them being American or Canadian. I think that's the problem.
ADAM SAAL: Well, again I think we've got an outstanding format and, two drivers who have come through, both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell. We'll start with Ryan because the scholarship program has been incredible for you as far as helping with you your career. Talk about where you would be without the scholarship funding.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I would probably be going to -- I would probably be looking towards something other than racing. I would not be race being at all if it were not for Skip Barber and his program who tries bringing young drivers along. It all started right after my Formula Dodge days. My dad helped me out in Formula Dodge and everything like that, but that's about all you can go. The Pro Series is a whole different deal. I went through the big scholarship run-off and won that, and that just started the whole thing for me. From there, it was a ride in the 2000 Pro Series and I did great there and the next year I did great. That opened the doors for me and proved that I could actually drive, and now I'm in the Atlantic Series and everything is just going wonderful. It's been everything.
ADAM SAAL: A job well done. You've been on formula this weekend, too. The Toyota Atlantic Championship is the top rung in the CART ladder system and we look forward to seeing the race at three o'clock this afternoon. Townsend, you had a championship in Indy Lights which ended at the end of this past season, and it still played a big part in the ladder system before we merged in with Atlantic. Talk about the importance of the system you came through, and as a guy who basically woke up every morning and said, "I'm not going to let anybody tell me I can't achieve my dream," does it have as much to do with brains, ability? Do you just put it into your head and just say, "I'm not going to let anybody tell me I can't do this"?
TOWNSEND BELL: Well, I think if you look at the challenge that each one of these guys up here faces in making it, the most intelligent people would have probably stopped a long time ago because it's so damn hard to actually make it happen. While I think every one of us up here shares is an intense desire to succeed and sometimes I think that supersedes what might be the rational thing to do, the realistic thing to do. That's not what racing is about. Everybody in this room, whether you are a media person or a sponsor, your work in racing is for that reason, because we are all passionate about motor sports. And the drivers are perhaps the most extreme example of having that desire. The fuel for my efforts was strong will to try to succeed and make it happen. But I also want to thank to the media for coming out. I've been in Indy Lights the last few years and sometimes we would have a press conference and only one of you show up. It's very important that you guys come out and learn about who these next drivers are and what they have accomplished, and also take notice in the sessions that go out on the track. I know the limit I drive in CART right now to succeed and what you have to do on the track to run in the sharp half of the grid, but I'll tell you, there's times in the lower levels where I took a whole lot more chances to be in the sharp half of that grid because there's such few opportunities to move up. There's eight or nine guys sitting up here right now, and in all likelihood there might be just a couple that make it to the next level. And that makes for some fantastic on-track action in Barber Dodge, in Atlantics. Just because I am a champ car driver doesn't mean that I hang it out any more than these guys do in the lower levels, but I really thank you guys for coming out. And I'm also real impressed with CART and Skip Barber for continuing to improve the exposure these guys get. When I was doing it, they were just starting to put in place a really clearly-defined ladder system. That was a big benefit for me because I have a strong desire to succeed, but I needed a platform and a foundation to guide my efforts. The Barber Dodge program, the Skip Barber School, the Formula Dodge Championship that I ran, they were an excellent platform and really the only place to look when I was trying to make this happen. Barber Dodge is televised, it's well marketed, it's extremely professional. I worked hard to get some corporate sponsorships early on that grew with me as I came up through the ranks. Now that's changed where the team (inaudible) has the sponsors and they just picked me because the car has good potential to do well at the next level after showing well at Indy Lights. I'm really happy to speak on behalf of Skip Barber and the program because it was really effective for me, and I'm really happy to see the direction that things are headed in, in making an even more clearly-defined ladder for the drivers of the next generation.
ADAM SAAL: We have drivers here in every category, save our friends in the Mazda Miata Championship, and Townsend, we wish you well in the feature show tomorrow, the Laguna Seca Grand Prix Featuring the Shell 300. I would like to get a few questions from our scholarship drivers. We'd like to ask Leo Maia, Leo, explain what it meant to your career to win the Barber CART Scholarship Shootout and then advanced from the National Championship into the Pro Series, you seem to be taking the steps needed. What has it meant to your career and how do you feel about where you're going?
LEO MAIA: It's obviously meant a lot to my career in that I do have one. Other than that, think I would have run in the Pro Series. I think I would be trying to find money to run the Pro Series. I really have to applaud CART and Skip Barber's system for putting something like this together. It really does help the young drivers make it in their career and it really helped mine out and I can't thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to be sitting here talking to you guys in racing in the Pro Series race, Barber Dodge Pro Series today.
ADAM SAAL: Again, we wish you and your colleagues well in your races this weekend, as well as your races in the future. Colin, very basic step notice beginning with the ladder system. How has winning the scholarship helped you make the transition from go-carts to race cars?
COLIN FLEMING: I think it gives me a good basis for learning how the transition goes, learning different setups on cars and stuff. Just generally, learning the ranks and how things work, marketing seminars and stuff, it's all been really helpful. Every race I go to, I learn more and it's training me for the rest of my career.
ADAM SAAL: Even this is training. And we're going to step up to the curriculum now and ask the media if they have any questions for our drivers. I could ask them all day long.
CHRIS POOK: Obviously, today's professional athlete, and particularly the motor racing driver, does need to be skilled in public relations. He clearly needs to be skilled in marketing because he is raising dollars for his own career to get to the top -- where Townsend is right now as a professional athlete, he has to be sensitive to the sponsorship relationships in his team, and he has to be understanding of those sponsorship relationships and he has to have the ability to talk to the CEO of the company that's involved and conduct himself in a manner, with a dialogue that that CEO will understand and recognize that he is representing that company. So, I'm not sure whether it is the responsibility of the sanctioning body to put these young men through marketing and public relations schools. I suspect that the ones that are really determined to succeed are going to recognize that this is part of the skill set that they need, apart from the athletic skill set to drive a racing car. They need the personal discipline skill set in how they handle themselves PR-wise and marketing-wise, and I would hope that they would look to their own personal careers to get themselves into a program, be it in a junior college or a regular college, to learn and understand how the business world works in this area of marketing and public relations.
SKIP BARBER: Just to add to that, we ran a seminar two days ago for all of the Pro Series drivers and we are making that a regular part of this program. As Adam said, this is practice.
ADAM SAAL: Just to add to what Skip said I've been asked in my previous role at Indy Lights when I had the same job I had a few years ago to participate in Skip's organization seminar about public relations and marketing and setting the example there. And Chris maybe we can learn from that and need to do a couple on our own.
Q. A question for Skip. You racing has a hard time getting media coverage. Is it inconceivable that a go-cart series couldn't be started at the high school or college level and become a collegiate sport, a team sport where these drivers and let the media get involved and interested at the go-cart level or is it just too expensive to do that?
SKIP BARBER: I think that would be difficult to get the attention, but I don't think we have to go that route. I think if you took the fans that are here this weekend and made them aware as best we could of the people in Atlantic and the people in our series and those fans come back next year and see those guys moving, I think they will pick favorites or pick people to root for much earlier, hoping they get into a champ car. I think that's the way to make it happen.
Q. When you're going to help people to get sponsorships, which is the direction you're going to look at, get sponsorship for a team or get sponsorship for a driver?
CHRIS POOK: I would suggest it depends on where they are in their career. As Townsend pointed out, when he was starting his process, he was seeking sponsorship for himself because he has to find funds to pay for his motor racing education. So I think that they need to start, certainly, going into -- when they come out of go-carts -- usually in go-carts, the dad tends to be the sponsor, right? He tends to write the checks. When they move up to Formula Ford, probably dad is still there in Formula Ford. But once they move to the next level up in Skip's program, I think that that's where a young driver needs to understand he has to go out and market himself and bring outside funds to the table. And as Townsend said, you know, you grow that sponsor as you come up. The driver has to grow that relationship with that company accordingly so he can stay racing. And then, of course, I think that invariably what happens here is when the driver gets placed into a team, his personal relationships with those sponsors probably continue and he becomes a spokesman for that company, and whether or not that company decides to take the next step up to a sponsor role for the race car he's in today, that's something that he and that sponsor will discuss between themselves. But the bottom line answer to your and question, I think it has to start with the driver seeking sponsorship for himself when he first starts, and he must be dedicated as he goes through the process and growing that sponsor up to a point where he achieves -- where Townsend has achieved today. And Hunter, also. You heard Hunter say that he went into Hilton Motor Sports because he was taken into Hilton Motor Sports. I'm sure he had to find funding to get himself up to that level where he could say, okay, Ryan, I'm going to put you in my race car and see if you can push the button or not. Obviously, it pushed the button because you would not be sitting here today if he had not pushed the button.
ADAM SAAL: Chris has proven how long he's known us because we first did things together when we had Formula Fords and we now have Dodge motors in them.
CHRIS POOK: I have Ford on the brain these days.
ADAM SAAL: Gentlemen, thank you very much.
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