Champ Car Media Conference: Long Beach Town Hall Meeting
Topics: Champ Car
TOMMY KENDALL: Welcome, everybody, thank you for coming out to the second 2003 Champ Car town hall meeting. I'm going to do my best, the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford town meeting. It's meant to be an exchange of ideas and thoughts, just to spend some time with you guys. We've assembled a panel some of the most accomplished people in the world of motorsports, then me. It's appropriate, I think, to have it in Long Beach because a lot of what's going on in Champ Car today was started right here with the Long Beach Grand Prix with Chris Pook. Chris had the crazy idea at the time to put big-time auto racing on the streets of a major urban city. After 28 years, don't let this get out, but I think this event might make it. You all know what Chris did with the Long Beach Grand Prix, and one of the things you might not know is how the model for this race is now the model for Champ Car racing and what they're trying to do to bring Champ Car racing back to the level that it was before and beyond. That's something I know you guys are very excited about. Very exciting times in Champ Car racing, tough times definitely. As long as there are Champ Cars driven by guys like Alex Tagliani, Sebastien Bourdais, Paul Tracy, there will be very exciting times. Really if it wasn't for guys like you, and the word "fan" comes from the word "fanatics." I think that word is misused in the world of sports, but the Champ Car fans have shown themselves to be fanatical. Without you, none of us would be able to make a living in the world of sports. Give yourself a round of applause. Tonight we're just going to try to get into it pretty quickly with free-form straight question-and-answer format for 90 minutes with this great panel we have assembled. Afterwards we'd like you to stick around and have a chance to come up and talk to us individually. If you're too shy to ask your question, come up, we'll be hanging around afterwards. Without further ado, I would like to roll an intro for tonight's panel. (Introduction played.) I'd like to invite the panel up. First, the president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, Jim Michaelian. The president of SPEED Channel, and my boss, Jim Liberatore. One of the hot new breed of Champ Car drivers, he's been a participant at Long Beach, driver of the Johnson Controls Rocketsports Lola/Ford on Bridgestone, Alex Tagliani. The next guy, a three-time TransAm champion and a guy that I hate, new Champ Car team owner, Paul Gentilozzi who won his first TransAm race here in Long Beach.
PAUL GENTILOZZI: We've got some special Tommy video later.
TOMMY KENDALL: Last but certainly not least, the founder of the Long Beach Grand Prix, current CEO of CART, Chris Pook. We have a lot of people here. We'll try to get to everyone. The way we'll do this, we have my assistant, vice president of communications for CART, Adam Saal, I'll be working the other side of the room. Get our attention. I will start a question to get things kicked off. Jim, last time I saw you, you were heading backwards over a guardrail at Daytona. You've been part of the Grand Prix here at Long Beach since the very first days. If you could, kind of share some stories from back then, maybe some stories that weren't so funny back then, but some of the odd jobs that Chris did, funny stories you could share with us from the early days.
JIM MICHAELIAN: It certainly was a challenging time in the history of the company. I don't think we're going to be included in the proverbial song "Those Were the Good Old Days," for sure. Back in 1975, to his credit, Chris put together and led a very small but energetic group of people who really didn't know a lot about what they were doing, but were intent on trying to run a street race here in Long Beach. We were successful in actually getting the first event off the ground. For those of you remember, that was the Formula 5000 race in September of 1975. Some of you might have been there that day. About 2:00 on that Sunday afternoon, we had the opportunity to look out over the crowd. We thought maybe we had a success on our hands here. All the stands were full. People were lining the fences all around the circuit. Used to go down Shoreline, up Pine, onto Ocean Boulevard. We put up like 45,000 seats. We figured all those are full, there's probably another 10,000 or 15,000 people wandering around. Maybe 60,000 or so. For a Formula 5000 race, that wasn't bad. We could see ourselves being able to make a little bit of money. We are also celebrating having a good time. Little did we know that we had basically hosted the largest free motorsports event in the history of mankind. A little later on that afternoon, we got the grisly details. There were 37,900 people that paid, meaning there were a lot of people there that afternoon that were our guests. To this day, I still run into a lot of people who tell me, "Yeah, I was there for that first race." I ask them, "Were you our guest or did you actually pay?" The numbers decidedly are a lot of free people who got into that race. That made it a little tough for us. We ran the Formula 1 race in March of '76. Whatever little money and goodwill we had left over we used up then. We went into the 1977 race with not a lot of anything left. But through some rather creative financing, legal but creative, a lot of energy, why, we got to '77, managed to get the race underway. That started us on our ascendancy. We've been going up ever since. This year we'll be doing the 29th version of it next month. Hope we all have a chance to see you out there.
TOMMY KENDALL: You've been with SPEED Channel since the transition when FOX purchased and made the transition from Speedvision to SPEED Channel. The second year of the Champ Car World Series has been on SPEED. Last year you received a lot of acclaim. Tell us about the numbers, what you think about Champ Car racing.
JIM LIBERATORE: I'm really here because I see Chris trying to defend us all the time, so I figured I'd come here and defend us ourselves. It's funny, because we are only a year and two months old. We're actually the fastest growing network in the country. What's happened is we started with about 33 million homes. At the time we said we're hoping to get to 60 million in three years. This is US we're talking about. We're up around 58 million right now after one year. It's just going to keep taking off. I think the thing that has really been most encouraging for us is in this past year, besides Champ Car, we've added F-3000, we're doing vintage F1 races, added some extended World Rally, ASA, the list goes on. Right now SPEED has every series except IRL and NHRA. Hey, I had to mention it once, at least, just to say we don't have it. I get even heckled for that. (Laughter). I hope I can get into this later. I know with this panel here I should be the one speaking the least, I should probably get off after I'm done here. I give CART and now Champ Car a lot of credit. The way we look at this, when we were starting, it would have been very easy for them to continue going with the safe road, which was ESPN. I tell a lot of people that I compare it to a relationship. ESPN was the sexy person to be in the relationship with, but it was someone that wasn't treating you right, it was going to cheat on you, it has a heck of a lot of other priorities besides you. Then there was us, who isn't quite as attractive, but we still think we're pretty attractive, getting more so every year. But we care. You are a priority. You're as important as anything else we're doing on the network. We want to see it grow. I think immediately you saw that after the first race last year. We received 16,000 e-mails after the race in Monterrey thanking us for showing the entire race, if you can believe that. We have prerace, postrace, podium, Saturday. Chris is looking down the road. He's not looking today. The ideal for us would be a few years down the road. A lot of races are on CBS. Champ Car is getting the right (inaudible). That's the vision. You're not going to do it by showing green flag to checkered flag. You have to know the personalities, know what's going on. That's why we have so much coverage. We can get into it more. But I really give Chris and everybody an enormous amount of credit for really taking the longer term. For us, it was great, obviously, because it was the first thing out of the box for us. We can talk more about that later if you want to, probably not. I'll turn it back to you, Tommy.
TOMMY KENDALL: You don't give yourself enough credit. You're talking about ESPN, kind of letting themselves go. You are hot. Speaking of hot, every time I look at this guy, I want to know how long it takes him to do that whole thing. Looks like one of the Back Street Boys. Is that guy smoking? Alex, fresh off a podium finish, your first one. A lot of people were questioning why a guy who has been with an established team like Player's would go with a new team. Your comments from the get-go were very positive. You were quick at St. Pete, great result already. Talk about your result yesterday and joining Rocketsports, Johnson Controls.
ALEX TAGLIANI: I should start when I met Paul the first time. I was thinking of having a business meeting. That's normally what you have when you're trying to get a ride and you meet a team owner. He was in Las Vegas. I live there. I go to his room. Right away I went in there. It's like 2500 square feet room. I'm like, "Holy shit, he's going to eat me alive right here." I sit down, and my hands are all wet. Five minutes later we're talking about shocks and wings and setups and everything. I felt really comfortable. When I left, I really wanted to drive for him. The deal came along. Later on I went to the shop, I (inaudible) the seat. I met Jeff from Johnson Controls. I didn't even know the guy was from a big company like Johnson Controls. The big story is that I felt really in a family right away when I started to work with the guys. You know, I was really happy yesterday when we finished on the podium because what I've seen for the last two, three months is a bunch of guys working six days a week and sometimes even Sunday to put this team together. It was really hard for them. At the end of the race, I was really happy for all of those guys. I think it's going to be a great boost going into Long Beach.
TOMMY KENDALL: Next up is a Champ Car rookie, Paul Gentilozzi, who really shocked a lot of people when he announced he was going to give up the driving full-time and launch an ambitious program to launch a Champ Car team. First of all, why did you decide to expand your business?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: There were two reasons. There were a couple people that were absolutely instrumental in turning me around. One is sitting next to me, Chris Pook. His staff, they were fervent. They smelled blood and came after me, they did. No, I mean, it's not a secret. In October we had decided that Johnson Controls needed to move on to another arena other than TransAm. We looked at how much money we had, where we could go. We said we could do a limited schedule. We need to pick a significant event. So we looked at another series because that's what we thought we could do. Then I really started talking to the CART staff, and they laid it out in a fashion that made it obvious that the right thing for Johnson Controls, the right thing for Rocketsports and Paul was to consider the CART family. So we did that. The momentum, it really was unbelievable. We knew we would be modest in our ability to have the resources that it takes to be a Newman/Haas or a Player's or some of the other great teams. We said that we would lower our sites and try to get by with competency and hard work. Of course, those of you who have been involved in motorsports, you spend everything you have, anything you can get, anybody you can convince to give you something because you have the disease, and the disease is to be competitive. That's all. We started it. I'm so proud. 98 days ago I owned nothing related to a CART program. I had 98 days. Our guys that we put together, took two people from our TransAm program, moved them to the CART program. But all of those guys worked hard.
TOMMY KENDALL: There's a number of reasons I hate Paul, but one is because he's such a tough competitor. I told him Saturday, when he hired Andy away from Roger Penske, I'm like, "Why did nobody else think of that?" That just showed me the kind of thinking that's gotten him where he is in business, and racing. The other reason I hate him is the 2500 square foot suite.
PAUL GENTILOZZI: It's actually 4,000.
TOMMY KENDALL: They flew in from Monterrey last night on Paul's jet. I went to Paul Tracy's bus, Paul was sick as a dog yesterday, started cramping on lap 30. He asked Paul Gentilozzi if he could hitch a ride back to Vegas with him. Alex and Paul had gotten into it on qualifying on Friday. Alex told Paul, "You can't bring Paul Tracy home on the jet." Paul was in his bus puking and all this stuff while all these guys were jetting off to Vegas.
PAUL GENTILOZZI: We were over at my place having a pity party for him.
TOMMY KENDALL: In the world of Champ Car racing, the most significant announcement of the last year and a half is bringing Chris Pook on as the president and CEO. He's been spending a lot of time plugging holes in the boat, but hasn't had a lot of (inaudible). He's finally got those holes plugged. Tell us about how you see things, what you have up your sleeve going forwards.
CHRIS POOK: Before I do that, I think I would like to say thank you to some people, particularly Jim Michaelian who has been here since I started in 1975. You can't do these things alone. You need a really strong right arm. He was really outstanding from the word go with our event and continues to run it extremely well. Long Beach is in very, very safe hands with Jim. I can assure of you that. I also want to thank Jim Liberatore. When he and I (inaudible) in New York back in January of last year, it was obviously a concerned Jim Liberatore that had breakfast with me because CART was literally in intensive care at that point, concerned it would not come out of intensive care. We got it out. I really want to congratulate Alex on a terrific drive over the weekend, and Paul, to get on the podium in our second race in this series, you have no idea how competitive it is, it's brutal, a tremendous accomplishment. For Alex to have a team owner like Paul, I think that put as real platform under Alex and he can demonstrate what a great racing car driver he is, and he will even get greater. I want to congratulate them both on a terrific performance. 98 days and you're on the podium. That's virtually unheard of. Gentilozzi is no easy guy. He wants to win all the time. If you watch him drive a TransAm car, you'll get that understanding real fast. Where we are with the series, Tommy, I truly believe in this product. It's a great product. There's a combination of streets and road courses, ovals. It certainly makes for the best teams and best drivers in sport. It creates an unbelievable training ground for not only team owners and teams themselves, but also for drivers. It is the best and quite candidly I took the job because I was damned if I was going to see somebody that just wanted to stomp this thing underneath because they couldn't get their own way in life. So that's why we're here. The future is very, very bright. The critical decision obviously last year was staying with the Ford-Cosworth engine. That was a tough decision that had to be made, but we made it, started to go forward from there. Bridgestone and Ford, God bless them, they came forward when it was needed for them to come forward. They were under huge criticism, huge heat everywhere they went not to do a deal with us. But they did the deal with us and they stood behind us. It created a tremendous platform underneath us for the next two years where we have solid relationships with tires and engines. You don't go racing without tires and engines, folks, let me tell you that. We're very happy there. I'm looking forward now. I'm very fortunate again to have another tremendous right arm that joined me in David who worked for Bernie Ecclestone for nine years. You can't have any better training than that. David runs now the day to day of the company. I'm able to go back now and do the things that I really like to do, which is put deals together for the future. So I'm working really on 2005 right now, engine manufacturers, tire manufacturers, gasoline companies, all the bits and pieces that we need to take the series right up to the very top of the ladder again. We will always be No. 2 to Formula 1. That's where we want it. That's where we'll always be. We'll certainly be the top open-wheel series in this country once again. We have the talent to do it, we have the team owners to do it, we have the drivers to do it, and we are a very attractive place for new young talent coming in. I'm sure you're going to see some of that testing our older talent, older in the sense of having been with the series, not older in years, with the series now. That's where we are. I'm pumped about the future. I'm excited about the future. From my perspective, I just want to get the bits and pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and turn it over to someone who is slightly more energetic than I am.
ADAM SAAL: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Jim, we miss Friday Night. Tommy needs to supplement his income so he can get a better suit. Chris, my real question is, we need to know, what's going on with Bernie? Is he going to take over? Go private?
CHRIS POOK: Well, you know, one of the problems of being a public company is I can't give you answers when you want answers like that. I can just tell you he's doing well.
Q. What about this scenario? If you do merge and he does take over, is CART going to become a feeder series for the F1? If so are they going to run the races on the same weekends or different schedules?
CHRIS POOK: First of all, I don't think we'd ever be a feeder series. I think where we want to be, we want to be a series that develops tremendous talent in racing car drivers and be a breeding ground, if you will, for youngsters to come to our series if they want to demonstrate their skills. By the same token, if there are drivers that are unhappy with Formula 1, want to come back down through the series like Mansell did, we would be delighted to have them here. It would be healthy for our series. As far as scheduling is concerned, we're both in the open-wheel business together. They're obviously in a league far, far higher than ours. It wouldn't make sense to go head-to-head on the same weekend with each other. You try and make sure that one weekend will be Formula 1 someplace in the world, and we'd be someplace either in the NAFTA countries or occasionally we'd go to Europe or the Pacific Basin. That would be the ideal situation. We'll see what happens as we continue down this road.
Q. I'm from Victorville, between here and Vegas. Last year I watched the Atlantic and Barber Dodge. We had a talented crop of guys, yet Ryan Hunter-Reay is the only one we see here. I look at that and say, what steps can we take, how can we get some of those guys like Jon Fogarty, I don't know where he is this year, how do we get guys into the series? I miss Friday night qualifying.
CHRIS POOK: I need to defend Jim on this. It was not Jim's decision not to do Friday Night Live, it was our decision. We know that, we recognize that. We'd like to have it back, but it was a decision we made from a production point of view. We probably in retrospect know it was a mistake. We'll try to get it fixed next year for you.
PAUL GENTILOZZI: The driver thing is a thing that happens every year. It's easy to say, "Why aren't the Atlantic champions here?" There's only X number of seats that become available in the economy of driver opportunity. It's a combination of dynamics from the owner's view. I talk to young drivers, old drivers, and you evaluate from the owner's side: What does he bring to the table? What does he cost me emotionally and physically, technically with the car? There aren't a lot of new seats. If there are three or four new seats, you evaluate in every series, whether it's Formula 1, CART, what does that driver bring and how do we use him? I think the complexity of a series like 3000 where Bourdais came from, means that the drivers are more technically advanced. Those cars are more difficult to drive. The Atlantic series is a great series. It's been around a long time, but it isn't perfect. It doesn't necessarily relate. It's underpowered and overtired compared to CART. The 3000 guys race a lot more and they race in the rain a lot more, under adverse conditions. The level of engineering is different, so they come with more technical expertise.
JIM LIBERATORE: One of the things we looked at is: How do we support the series? Like I said before, my feeling is this country is personality driven on what (inaudible). We have dinner, David, Chris and I. We are trying to figure out what we can do that will introduce the drivers to the fans. Really in this country again that's what it's all about. That's what makes NASCAR so successful. You go to F1, you see the Ferrari, McLaren. You go to the juniors. This is a personality driven sport. We haven't abandoned that. You have to look at what is the right thing to do.
Q. I think we like the full package about CART, but also we like to see the new drivers. Last year Casey Mears, Mimo Gidley, I didn't like them to leave the series. My question is, what are you doing in order to hold those new American blood so we can identify with them? The second question is about going after different manufacturers. Right now you have only Ford. You are making some deals ahead of time to work again with Mercedes, Audi, Volvo?
CHRIS POOK: We're clearly working on manufacturers, but you have to also understand that we have a relationship with Ford and we must respect that relationship with Ford. Don't forget that within Ford there are other brands within that family. There's Mazda, Jaguar, Volvo, things like that. We are clearly working with Ford on those subjects. But we're also working with other manufacturers, as well. We have to open the whole game up for everybody in 2005. That's what we're doing. I'm sure that sort of towards the end of this year, maybe the middle of this year, towards the end of this year, you'll start to see one or two cars slipping out, you'll understand what the brands are going to be in 2005.
TOMMY KENDALL: I talked to a reporter earlier about why aren't their more American drivers. Certainly nationalism is a great thing, but CART is really more than just a United States series. It's a North American series that participates in other places in the world. We're a country with great representations of all kinds of nationalities. I'm a little offended sometimes when people say, "We need more Americans." I think we need more good race drivers. Alex is French-Canadian-Italian. We have some problems communicating because his English really isn't that good (laughter). But it doesn't matter. You have 19 or 20 seats to fill. You want 19 or 20 of the best guys that you can find that can work within the structure of your team. Alex's parents are Italian. Does that mean the 20 million people in the US that come from Italian heritage should cheer for Alex? I think they do. They absolutely do. It doesn't matter. We were in Mexico last weekend, yesterday. We had a huge following. That's a phenomenal country, and they love racers from America, just like the Canadians love the racers from there. It's our job at the other series like TransAm, Atlantic, World Challenge, to make good race drivers. We'd love to have Mimo Gidley and Townsend Bell, the Mears kid who is out practicing to come to CART, those guys will all get here when they deserve to get here. We want the best guys, then the rest of it will happen.
PAUL GENTILOZZI: I'd like to speak to that a little bit. I was one of the guys that beat my head against the wall. Part of the problem with not having Americans, we're experiencing late-stage symptoms of the prior mismanagement. If the series was healthier, the teams would not have to consider as many different things in their choices. What I mean by that is funding, to be quite honest. A lot of funding comes from the places where the fan base is expanded. I don't have to preach to you, you guys love this stuff, but there aren't enough of us that feel that way in America right now. This new model, as it gets stronger in this country, that will start to take care of itself. To explain and say, "Well, these guys are great," they are great. But you say you like Mimo. I'm a huge Townsend Bell fan. We might see him back again with couple years. As the series gets stronger in this country, I think that problem will fix itself both with the support series and with guys having more support to get into some of these seats. I think as the series gets stronger, everything emanates out from there, and they're having to undo a lot of the stuff. Everything that we're seeing that needs to be addressed is somewhat a function of the years of poor decisions. Now those are being undone and it will take a while for it to come back.
JIM LIBERATORE: We air F-3000, Toyota, Atlantics, we're airing all these series that have not gotten much TV play at all. Now they're getting a lot of TV play so you'll start to know who these people are as they start to come up one way or the other. That's all part of the thinking, as well.
Q. What are you doing in the feeder groups to bring in new talent? I come to South Central or Long Beach, put your race on, yet we still see a non-diverse series of drivers in 28 years. Is there anything to be done about that or is this something we have to live with? When I look at the war, I see the diversity of who is fighting. When I see this race, this grid, it's not very diverse.
CHRIS POOK: Let me just say to you your timing of the question is quite interesting. I was on the phone today with a young African American who can drive a car fairly well called George Mack. George is a kid that game out of go-karts. He participated in the Indy Racing League last year, in the Indianapolis 500. He basically called and said, "Is there an opportunity for me in your series?" The answer is, "Absolutely." What I said to George was, "The first thing you have to do is you have to come around the paddock and start introducing yourself to our team owners and start to tell them who you are and what you've done and ask for a test drive. You get a test drive, then an owner will evaluate you." I guarantee you there's not an owner in a paddock that if a young man comes along, doesn't matter if he's black or Mexican heritage, Italian or German or American, if he's got the tools to get the job done, he'll get in the race car. George I believe certainly has the ability to drive a race car fast. For our part, we will open the door for him. As with all young drivers, the sanctioning body can only open the door. At that particular point, the driver has to strap it on and get the job done. If he does it, succeeds, he'll be there. We are sensitive to this. We are also sensitive to the fact that we don't have females in our series. Danika did a good job this weekend, she finished third. That bodes well for her. But we hope she'll be able to grow and come to our series as well. This is not a question of us turning our mind off on this subject at all. We are sensitive to these issues. On the other hand, we also have to ensure that the talent is there.
Q. I see no diversity on SPEED whatever. What happened to Willie T, Chris Miles? These guys were adequate in the things that they did. All of a sudden they vanish.
JIM LIBERATORE: It's funny because there's two things. I think even more so in NASCAR that's really mystifying in a lot of ways. When you look at CART, just trying to get younger people involved in the sport at all, of any color in this country, is a challenge. I'll speak a little bit for NASCAR just because they have an emphasis on diversity. But it is pretty stark when you go to any of these tracks for any of these races and it really is not representative at all. I know NASCAR is really trying to look at the diversity problem. To me a lot of it starts at the lower levels. When I grew up, it was basketball, baseball, football. That's what we played. We met with the karting people specifically talking about Champ Cars and how we can start opening up to the tracks to minorities, to kids, what can we do to get kids in these to go see the tracks. It's got to start at that level. Motorsports, unlike others, it's not all of a sudden -- I think it's great that we see a couple kids here today, but it's not something that you are just going to adopt later in life. I think the issue starts, "How do we start reaching these kids so it's integrated a little more?" I don't really have a good answer for those questions.
Q. There is no answer, so there's no (inaudible)? I've been in motorsports way before most of you. You say basketball, baseball, people were organizing races on the street in Los Angeles because we were not accepted at racetracks. We represent over 2000 individuals that have lost their dreams behind their cars. Is this not going to come to an end or is this what we have to live with?
JIM LIBERATORE: I would ask you, since you've been involved so long, what you would do to suggest to make a change. One of the things to make the change, I have had many discussions with NASCAR. Chris probably recognizes me. I can't snap at him too much because if it wasn't for Chris, we would have had those '65 Chevy's going through the guardrails. I want to thank you for those years for that. The reality of that, that was in 1975, too, when we put those guardrails down there. Do you realize since then not one person from out of that black community has come to a professional level, not one? But Jim with SPEED, the diversification of your commentators, it should work there. This is one of the things that's very, very simple. We offered the same thing with NASCAR. Honestly, I don't think the sanctioning bodies want the diversification.
CHRIS POOK: Hang on a second. If I may, there's an across-the-board problem I think we have compared to other countries. One of the things that happened in this country years ago was the motoring organization used to be AAA. AAA used to run motor racing in this country. AAA went off on its own, does its insurance stuff, bits and pieces. The sanctioning bodies kind of took over the sporting side. If you look at the European countries, particularly this kid, Sebastien Bourdais, he is backed by the French Federation of Automobiles. That's where his money came from. They embraced him, paid for him to go driving in 3000, they supported him. We have another kid in our series from England, Darren Manning, RAC written on the side of his car. RAC is the Royal Automobile Club. The Royal Automobile Club, that is the sanctioning body for motor racing in the UK. What they've done is they've gone into their coffers and taken money to support Darren Manning and his career. We are sanctioning bodies. We carry this burden. The Sports Car Club of America carries this burden. We all carry this burden of developing young people no matter where they come from to give them a chance. One of the challenges the our sport, it is expensive. Go-karts today, used to be you could run a go-kart for your kid for a thousand bucks a year. Kids in go-karts, it's five, six, seven thousand. It's very much an issue that has to be addressed. It will be addressed as we move forward.
Q. Jim, you're in a position that can change the situation much faster than Champ Car. How many homes are you into now?
JIM LIBERATORE: 30 million. I hear what you're saying. I think the announcers we have are the best in the business. I think to think it's going to start at an announcer level and trickle down, maybe that is one way to think about. It's something that we can talk about afterwards, if you don't mind. I think there are people like you who have been in this business, are minority, who have a much better idea of what to do than what I do. How do we reach these people? I don't know. I have no answer to that, I'll be honest. I would like to talk to you after.
Q. God bless SPEED channel. Chris, as far as the ladder series, you talked about having a clear path to Champ Cars. I have a son here who wants to be the next Michael Schumacher.
CHRIS POOK: Teach him German.
Q. Don't think we haven't explored that already. Paul made the comment about the Atlantics being underpowered and overtired. When you look at the current rookies in Champ Cars, a lot of F-3000 there, F1 test drivers. Does there need to be something between Atlantics and Champ Cars? Do we need a US F-3000?
CHRIS POOK: We're on that now. Just bear in mind one thing, though. The gentleman sitting next to Paul comes from Atlantics. He came through the Atlantic program. So did Jaques Villeneuve come from Atlantics. So does Patrick Carpentier come from Atlantics. Atlantics is a good series. But today we have to recognize, with all due respect for Toyota and the Atlantic Series, the race car is way too easy to drive. I got myself in serious trouble in Portland for saying this stuff. Paul is trying to cover my ass tonight. It is overtired, there is too much downforce on it. We need to make these cars difficult to drive. It is very high on our priority list. We've had some very interesting meetings with Toyota on this subject. I'm sure we're going to get an answer from them very quickly. One of the sad things about CART was the Indy Lights Series because it was a great series. In the history of Indy Lights, all but two of the champions made it to CART. The only two guys that didn't make it up were Robertson and Empringham. The only two champions that didn't make it up to CART. Those cars were horrible to drive. They were brutal. But if you learned how to drive one of those race cars, stepping into a Champ Car was like stepping into a Rolls Royce. We'll fix it. It's very high on our priorities. It will get done. Whether it gets done in 2004 or 2005, I don't have that answer for you tonight. But I can tell you, the ladder system and the development system all the way up from go-karts to Barber Dodge, to Atlantics, no matter what Atlantics will be, then to Champ Car, will be a very, very clear path. We've got to make the growth and availability of the talent so compelling to Paul and his colleagues that they will look at that talent, just as Haas said when he tested Bourdais, "I have to have that kid in my car. I don't care what it takes, but I have to have him in my car." We will get to it. I'm very interested in the sport, getting started in the sport late. I've called CART, they're very receptive. Everybody wants to help you out, giving me all the advice they can. Talked to somebody named Robert in charge of driver development. Bobby Hamilton, he's helping out African Americans. I think African Americans need to get involvement, start going to the races. I went to Laguna and they let me into the pit. I wasn't supposed to be there. I'm standing there taking pictures of you guys. As far as the sport being receptive to African Americans, they've been very receptive. Skip Barber. There aren't many African Americans in the audience. Me coming here is a step. I'd like to get more people coming out here with me. I live in South Central. I tell all my friends about it. They're starting to get interested in it. I've been talking to African American companies because they're not interested in the sport, but now they are. Is it takes people like myself saying, "Can you start a team? Get Magic Johnson or something, somebody to give me some money to get those companies to be more interested in it." I think it takes people like us, whoever, just to promote on that ground level.
PAUL GENTILOZZI: I agree a thousand percent. I ran Willie Reds in 1990 on my own nickel, (inaudible) in two races in 1994 on my own nickel because those guys had talent. Willie was a legend when I started in the TransAm series. He's been a friend for a decade and a half and will be till the day we all hang this up. Now, he is one of the worst announcers I ever heard. Willie, I hope you're listening because you know I love you, but that hat's got to go. Everybody in the world has a prejudice of some sort. But this is the most open. If you can drive, if you can win, you'll be a race driver. I got a stack of resumes from people who want to drive two feet thick at home. It doesn't matter whether they're 10 years old. Everybody wants to be a race driver. You know, there are 62,000 members in SECA. I was just having this discussion the other day. There are less than 3000 minority members. It's a problem we can only fix by participation. But believe me, if you are fast, and you have enough desire, you'll get a ride. It will happen. But don't say, "This week I'm new in auto racing and I want to be a CART driver." You got to start somewhere. If you win, these young guys, they want to be race drivers, you got to win at every level. Even TK got a job. Really, I learned in 1998 the way to win a championship in TransAm was get rid of TK. When my brother and I went to Laguna together, I was rapping with Carpentier. We've been following CART since we were 10. We liked it because it was so diverse. You get people from Canada, Brazil. It's cool. You see Americans. They're going head-to-head. That's what makes it so cool. If it's All-American, yeah, yeah, yeah. But imagine, "We just beat the guys from Brazil, beat the guys from here." Instead of racing each other, we race everyone from around the world. That's what I loved about the whole thing. Again, when we were around, when we were in Laguna, it didn't feel like one door was shut in our face. We were talking to a guy that had the Bridgestone shirt. He escorted us into the pit. We talked to the engineers, the Lola guys were walking around. They came to us and were just talking like setup and whatnot. "What does this do on the car?" It was really cool, a cool experience for us. Once again, I guess it's all about getting the people in, sharing it with people and getting them in. My brother are a few in a big crowd of people that just don't know about it. I already have like friends that are into motorsports just because we shared it.
Q. Paul, do you have a nickel for me?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: I spent my last charity work.
Q. Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to do this with you. I'm here representing downtown Long Beach. Tag, I got a question for you. How do you feel about racing in the night in these upcoming two races? For the SPEED Channel guys, how is that going to affect how you show the two night races? For Chris, how do these two night races come about? Is there going to be any more in the future?
ALEX TAGLIANI: I think they're going to have the tough job. For us it's going to be easy. I was in Cleveland talking about the race. I heard that the football field is lit up with four big posts with those big lights. Around Cleveland racetrack, we're going to have 22. It's going to be like in the sun. I'm already trying to figure out which visor is going to be the best, what kind of sticker to put on the visor to not get burned up underneath those light bulbs. I think for us it's going to be pretty much the same. I think Cleveland is a difficult track on its own because you don't have any reference points. It's pretty flat. I think the only concern of most of the drivers is how much the light is going to create some shadows and if you're going to be able to see the rubber down on the track, if you're going to get blinded by the post when you're coming down the straightaway, where you're going to be positioned. Those are all things that we ask ourselves. But we're going to know when we get there. I think it's going to be a great event. For myself, if I have the chance to be on the timing stand and watch some of the guys qualify, the first thing I will look for is (inaudible).
JIM LIBERATORE: As far as we're concerned, Speedvision is not carrying this race. It's funny because there's still people at work, we took a ton of production people with us (laughter). We're psyched because it's a prime-time event. The way the Linger group does everything, this is going to be great. I hope it works. It's going to be fantastic. One of the things we want to work with CART is trying to schedule their events away from NASCAR and away from Tiger Woods winning a tournament. If I am Tiger Woods, I will play in every tournament there's a CART race that Sunday. He won the Masters, US Open, Bay Hill, all up against car races. At least he was killing everybody. Prime time, it's going to be an event. It's prime time. It's going to be great. We're really looking forward to it.
CHRIS POOK: The reason why we decided to do that is, first of all, Milwaukee is a great facility. It's actually the oldest racing facility in the United States of America. It will celebrate 100 years this year. They rebuilt the grandstand there at Milwaukee. Unfortunately, over the last two or three years, the promotional level at Milwaukee slipped a little bit. It started a little bit of a downhill slide. Basically Milwaukee needed a new suit of clothes. We decided we'd run at night there. We went to Musco, the folks that do most of the lighting. They do the golf tournaments, the Battle of Big Horn I think it's called, and they're also the folks that lit Ground Zero during the process of taking those buildings apart. They're very, very capable. That was the decision to go there. Then we just kind of looked at Cleveland and said, "4th of July weekend." Cleveland needs a little bit of a new suit of clothes. It's a very important market for us. Milwaukee is a very important market for us. "If we've done Milwaukee, let's just do Cleveland, too." We called Musco. 22 units is pretty monster. But we'll do it. Let's get on. In fact, we were there last Thursday night I think I was in Cleveland. They brought one of those units out. Shut the airport down for an hour, fired that thing up. It's absolutely amazing. Just to give Alex a little bit of comfort here, Musco do all the lighting in the United States at all the racetracks that run at night. They're very sensitive to the shadow issue for drivers. There will be lots of time to test the lights and have the drivers under practice sessions on Thursday night. They'll get their feedback and listen to them. These lights, they're amazing. They can adjust every single light itself. In the bank of lights, there are probably 20, 30 separate lights. Each one can be adjusted by remote. It's very, very sophisticated. It will be really very, very exciting. As Alex pointed out to you, when these go on compression, the blue flame starts to come out the back, when the brakes blow, it will be something pretty emotional, pretty romantic. I think it will be a lot of fun. We want to make it fun for those guys. We'll put lots of usual things, traffic lights, stop signs up, so they can know what they're doing (laughter).
Q. Is there a chance Paul might suit up? Maybe we can slide you into one of those.
PAUL GENTILOZZI: Yeah (laughter).
Q. Mr. Pook, thanks for all your help in continuing to straighten the series. My question for you, Tag, congratulations on your podium finish. Is there any specific moment in your life when you remember that you decided you wanted to be a race car driver? Can you tell us about that?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Actually, I don't think for anybody in the room that wants to be a driver that there's any rule to follow. I think if I tell my story, I don't think anybody should follow my path because it's a question of timing. I'm sure you need to be fast, to prove yourself, to get into a car, but you have to be there at the right time. I raced go-karts for 14 years and I didn't have the money to go in Formula Ford and Formula 2000. What I did is I saved up and I rented a car for the last race of the season, no testing. I showed up there, qualified third, so people looked. It was okay. Then in Formula 2000, I ran one race, and I decided to race (inaudible). I heard Player's was going to do a driver development program. I was thinking of showing up there, do something good. I qualified sixth. I was third on the first lap, then I lost all my wings and I finished like a Formula Ford, I finished sixth. It was good also. I got some phone calls. I decided to save even more. So I continued to run in go-karts. I got a ride in Formula 2000 in the (inaudible). I decide to took the money instead of going to race there. I tried those cars and I thought they were kind of slow. I decided to continue in go-karts. What I did is very strange. I decided to run 100 ccs and 125. I did two classes in the same weekend. I trained physically to get more fit. Next year I raced only seven races in Formula Ford. After that I ran in Atlantics by raising $300,000 doing a lot of benefit dinners, selling a lot of T-shirts. I know that that year I raced in Formula Atlantics, the minimum budget was $600,000. With $300,000, I was really low. I had one engine. Lucky my engine lasted very long. I could run the series like this. Then I end up at Player's in Atlantic. If you look at my past, I don't think you want to follow that (laughter). It was very difficult.
TOMMY KENDALL: These kids down here are like, "Oh, crap, I got to sell T-shirts?"
ALEX TAGLIANI: There's a lot of things I don't say. My family was good to help me and provide support to race go-karts. My dad had to create a business to be able to support me for go-karts. Then when I was doing my first Atlantic race, when I came back with the bills of the rental car and hotel, all we do is like start fighting in the family. I'm crying all the time because my dad was saying you can't win your own bread that you eat at the house, and you want me to pay to go to hotels and rental cars? Is there a bus you can take to save some money? Hard times, things like that. It was tough, very difficult (laughter).
PAUL GENTILOZZI: I'm going to hire your dad (laughter).
ALEX TAGLIANI: The last thing I want to say, I already told them, to get money to pay for tires and things like that, I was thinking of dancing. It was like really, really bad. If I would have be at different timing, probably I would have had it easier. But I end up in Champ Cars. I'm very happy now. For other guys that I support also in karting, I have a couple of kids that now race, and I pay their ride. My dad supports them also at the go-kart track in Canada. I mean, I cannot tell them what to do because it's all a question of how much they want to put effort in.
Q. SPEED, any chances of high-definition broadcasts for CART races? We talked about driver development. Is the message to the current crop of Toyota Atlantic and Barber Dodge that for the next two or three years they have to look to Formula 3000 in Europe to get their experience in order to come back and do CART then?
CHRIS POOK: No, I don't think that's the message. We're sensitive to the issue of Atlantic and what we've got to do. But if you can go to 3000, it's not a bad place to go. It's pretty intense over there. It's much more intense than Atlantic Series because in 3000 basically they get two 20-minute qualifying sessions, they don't get practice. You get two 20-minute sessions, then you race. You learn to adjust pretty quickly. If you can go there, great. There's a young American over there, I don't know his name, he came from go-karting, he rolled up to 3000 the other day and asked for a test drive. Somebody had said, "You should really test the kid." He jumps in the car, never been to the racetrack before, never been in the car before, and he was second quickest of all of the 27 guys that were there that day. He was 3/100ths off the fastest guy. So when you hear Paul say, "If you can drive, you're going to get it..." He's going to be in 3000. Atlantic is very good. Don't get me wrong. When you come from Barber Dodge up, there's a very good learning curve. There's a young man in Atlantic this year called AJ Allmendinger out of central California, he's pretty damn good. He's being watched by a lot of big teams. We have a responsibility to a lot of young people to make sure we create the right environment for them to learn our sport. That's our job as the sanctioning body.
UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: In Atlantics or Barber or whatever, you need to dominate. Alex in Atlantics, it was so clear he was the guy. If you're in Barber Dodge, you need to focus on not winning two races, you need to win six races like AJ did last year. That's kind of the message. That's what Paul keeps bringing it back to is: Can you pull the trigger and get the job done? F-3000, probably because of the environment at this moment, tends to produce better guys. There's no reason that a guy can't stumble in out of go-karts. More than likely it's the guys out of Atlantics that have better training. A guy like me, my education, my brother went to Stanford, he has a real paying job, I don't.
JIM LIBERATORE: The high-definition question, we did two in high definition last year. I think it's a perfect format for us obviously. To be honest, it's expensive. We are still in the block-and-tackle phase of our careers and our lifespan right now. Someday we would love to do it, but it's not a real major priority right now. So everybody knows, Formula 3000 is live on SPEED Channel.
Q. Chris, some of your most popular races were in Canada, Australia, but they still call themselves Indy car events. It's really upsetting to me. What are you doing? Why have they not called themselves Champ Car events?
CHRIS POOK: The reason we can't call ourselves Indy car anymore is simply because of the settlement made about four or five years ago with Tony George and the Indy Racing League. My predecessors continued to call them CART events, took over the name CART. That doesn't do much for us when we're in Europe or the Pacific Basin. We decided that Champ Car was the heritage of our sport, this is where it came from, we are just going to keep moving the brand forward and call it Champ Car.
Q. Can't you get them to call themselves Champ Cars?
CHRIS POOK: We're working on it. Molson invested a huge amount of money in Canada in that name, Indy car, up there. We're trying hard to move them to Champ Car. Same thing with Australia. It will probably happen in the next two or three years. You have to be delicate about that. We've got to recognize that there are companies making huge investments there. We have to move them over very gently. Changing brand names is not an easy thing to do. If you remember there was an airline called United, changed its name for a while, silly name, went back. It cost them a fortune. We're sensitive to this issue. We get of e-mails about it, believe me. We get a lot of phone calls about it. We're working on it. Where I am in the process with the company now, I really have to prioritize my issues, really get them in line. It's not that that issue is not important, but it's not a critical, vital issue for me today. I have some other ones in front of me that are critical and important to move on, then come back and look at that one tomorrow. You raise a very good question. I thank you for it.
JIM MICHAELIAN: As a promotor, to assist you in how you want to approach that, name recognition and branding is quite important. Quite frankly the guys in Canada and Australia have both done an excellent job of creating a lot of excitement around their event. I think it's difficult to ask them to make a major transition at this particular time because they're still at the stage where they are trying to create as much excitement around the thing as they. Keep in mind, I don't think it's confusing to people who watch the event or fans that are attending that it's not an Indy car event. Obviously, it's running on a street circuit. It symbolizing all of what Champ Car is all about these days. I think that's the story you're telling. In those key venues, both Stateside as well as the other NAFTA countries, as well as Australia, you're starting to key the formula if it's applied in a successful way. To tinker with that right now would be more detrimental than it would be positive. In Toronto, they say, "Are you going to the Indy?" They call it the Indy. That's a function of how well they've done. Obviously for the people that are hurt by the split, they have strong feelings about that. It would be like all of a sudden changing the name of Coca-Cola to something that was not what they were used to. The real key is when people are leaving the facility, if they have a smile on their face, they're satisfied with the product.
Q. How are you going to market this for television because I know it's a problem, the ratings, even SPEED Channel, God bless them for what they do, but there's still not enough promotion it seems for the television audience to know there's a Champ Car race on. Could you two speak to that?
JIM LIBERATORE: I will tell you, I came into the business, I actually still haven't been to a NASCAR race, so don't tell anybody. I really knew nothing about it. It was really interesting to me to see the passion associated with the racing, then see how that translated into no ratings. I still think that's strange because the passion is greater than any sport out there by a longshot. But open-wheel racing is struggling right now. What's interesting to me when I got in here, CART was kind of looked at differently than IRL. Like IRL is in good shape and CART was in bad shape. I'll tell you, the TV person, they both need a lot of work to get where they want to go. The difference is Champ Car gets it. They understand. We have a lot of work to do. I get the feeling some other people may not understand that. It comes to your point about marketing and promotion. The environment that we are in, SPEED Channel, now Champ Car is in, is all motorsports fans. That's all we are, motorsports fans. I know to a lot of people NASCAR is the evil empire, I know that. What we've seen happen, this doesn't happen overnight, when we have a NASCAR event that leads into a CART event, there will be a huge percentage of those people stick around. That is what we offer. We take out USA Today ads, do a lot. But it really is a struggle for us. We had a karting meeting about how to get kids involved. You look around the room. If this were a NASCAR person, there would be a hundred children in this room. How do we get this to the next generation? That's the thing we are thinking of. The only reason I share that with you is because I don't want you to think we put a race on, run three spots, we're done with it. That's why we do Saturday, that's why we do prerace, that's why we do podium. That's why Chris is on Wind Tunnel. Our news this week had five of the drivers interviewed. We did segments with them. That's what's going to grow the sport. We're talking to the motorsports audience. That's what our goal is. Then I leave to Chris and the rest of his guys the greater audience because that's where we feel we can help is in the motorsports audience.
CHRIS POOK: One of the things we're doing in this administration, is to help grow this sport we are going to more urban events. I was in Houston today. You'll see Houston back up on the schedule in 2005. But we're going to the mass markets. It's kind of what Pete Roselle did when he took over professional football in the early '60s. He took it to the major markets. When he went into the major markets, even though there were only 50,000 or 60,000 folks that went to the game, everybody in that market knew there was a professional football game going on that particular day. So when we go into urban markets, the market size may be five, six, seven, eight million people. We'll maybe only be putting 70,000, 80,000 folks into our event, but rest assured the entire market will know about it. Then the next challenge for us is to connect that market, the greater market, even though they're not at the event itself, with the television set. The more we go into it, the more we drive people towards the television set, then the ratings will come along together, then Jim and I will be happy and we'll go and have a beer together.
JIM MICHAELIAN: One of the advantages I think will be the night races. You're going to be able to establish an identity with an audience that might not be available because so often Champ Car finds itself being programmed opposite NASCAR and some of the other motorsports. It really demands that the viewer develop a real following for a variety of different kinds of motorsports activities. Quite frankly, after a while, people have other activities in their lives. It's difficult to devote the amount of time they need out of a weekend day to watch a whole variety of motorsports. So hopefully the night programming that will emanate from some of these night races will be able to start to build an audience and a following and that will precipitate a following that will lend itself toward greater ratings even in the non-night events.
TOMMY KENDALL: A dream would be a live night race. Obviously, what it did for football. You know, I know that doesn't really work in your world, but it would be really neat if there's a way that you separate Champ Car from everything else on the weekend. That's probably a pipe dream, but it would be pretty nice.
Q. What are the chances of Road America in 2004? Is it gone forever or is there in a good chance?
CHRIS POOK: Oh, dear.
Q. This is my 21st year at Long Beach, but Road America is the race.
CHRIS POOK: It's one of the most beautiful tracks in the country, one of the most challenging driver tracks in the country. You won't get any opposition from any of us about the race circuit. However, that having been said, we are in a business, and when I do a business deal with somebody, I expect the other party to keep their side of the bargain. If they don't keep their side of the bargain, I'm not prepared to go down the road again. Catch me once, if you can. Catch me twice, no ma'am. Till we fix that little issue there, I doubt we'll be going back to Road America. It's not that we don't want to. We realize it's a great racetrack. I'm just not prepared to step into the hot house the second time.
Q. My second question.
CHRIS POOK: Easier than the first one (laughter)?
Q. Merchandising, you talk about NASCAR. You can go to almost any store, any sporting store, and find NASCAR galore. It is impossible to find CART. I have a party when I find something CART. It's hard. What's the possibility of more merchandising just so we can get it for our kids? You can find 10-year-old stuff on eBay.
ALEX TAGLIANI: You can go to Tagliani.com. I have clothes.
CHRIS POOK: It's very much on the to-do list. It's up there. If you saw my to-do list of priorities, it's pretty horrific. One of them is Casey coming home to Long Beach. It's very much there on the list. We're aware of it, painfully aware of it. We were in Monterrey this last two or three days. We had merchandise down there, one trailer. You know, you couldn't get near the place. The line was so huge. It's on the fix-it list. We are addressing it with some level of intensity.
Q. I sincerely hope Road America will come back. She got that covered. I certainly hope it doesn't become an IRL race. The other question I came up with while I was waiting, is there any chance to get a Champ Car video game going for the PC? The recent forays of Champ Cars, when it comes to video games, particularly the aracde stand-alone game, dying thing for most people, was a really embarrassment. I played the game once, just never again. The most recent Champ Car game that was for PC was the Microsoft game, which was good. That's about six years old now. The question is if there will be any future Champ Car video games for personal computer? Second of all, is there a chance of a full race on the Brands Hatch circuit? I've seen the Indy circuit. It's really a very short loop on the infield of the circuit.
CHRIS POOK: Thank you for your question. The licensing situation, yes, the licensing has been -- a deal has been cut in that area and you will see games coming out with a very, very sophisticated software program whose name you mentioned just recently. You'll see that shortly. Secondly, at Brands, there are some huge safety issues with the long circuit. No doubt about it, it's a wonderful racing circuit. The guys would love to run on it, I'm sure. Alex would love to run on it. Paul is beating me up daily to run on it. However, with that having been said, we have a huge responsibility to our drivers in the area of safety. I'm certainly not prepared to wave the rules on the safety issues for them. If the safety issue gets fixed, we'd be delighted to go there and run on the track. In the meantime, I can assure you, if you want to see something incredibly exciting, you watch these guys perform on the short track at Brands, because it's going to be truly spectacular. Those of you who remember when Champ Cars were at Phoenix, these guys were doing 19-second laps. It was truly a remarkable show. You're going to see something very similar at Brands. One particular corner, the paddock, which was very, very famous old corner, it's downhill, off camber, it's hang-onto-your-hat time in that one. The entry speed is about 175 miles per hour, according to the computer, the exit speed is 165, 155, excuse me. It's going to be very, very interesting. The one thing about Brands, as with Phoenix and Nazareth, 95% of the spectator area at Brands Hatch can see the entire circuit. I can tell you, these guys, when they are on a tight, close circuit like that, they get going, their skill is absolutely remarkable. You develop a terrific level of respect for when they're running hard and fast, how close they run together and how exciting it is. Brands on the short track will be one of those shows where the people will be on the edge of their seat the entire time.
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