Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
ADAM SAAL: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for a special CART Champ Car teleconference. I am Adam Saal from CART Champ Car communications. We're delighted to have with us today Champ Car legend Mario Andretti, Champ Car President and CEO Christopher R. Pook, and the general manager from Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, George Bruggenthies. Yesterday, amongst other news, we did announce that CART Champ Car and Road America did reach an agreement to hold a 2003 race as part of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, and will be named the Mario Andretti Grand Prix at Road America, which is symbolic of Mario's support and efforts in basically bringing this race back. He feels very passionate about it. No doubt, Mario, needless to say, you were in the news yesterday. This teleconference will be about the Champ Car's returning to Road America, that is the topic we want to discuss. We would like to ask the cooperation of all our journalist friends in supporting that. But it would be appropriate to say, Mario, how are you feeling as we get started here today?
MARIO ANDRETTI: I feel great. Actually surprisingly so, you might add. But, you know, I just came away just totally unscathed. I just got a little, you know, (inaudible) on my chin. Just very lucky. I might sound a bit congested, but that's something else. It's just my allergies acting up. I'm just groggy. But, again, I didn't even have to go to the medical center. I got in the ambulance, and they dropped me off at the pit, and that was it. And there was no need for anything else. So from that standpoint, we're in good shape.
ADAM SAAL: Mario, obviously you had a good day going up until what was just a bizarre incident for even motor racing extremes. But what brought yesterday about in the first place and what was the purpose of your on-track activity?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, I'll tell you the story in brief. I think it's worth repeating actually because it started out -- the thing picked up some life because April Fools Day, there was a column by Paul Reinhard, the Allentown Morning Call. And he had Mario Andretti going back to Indy, and he was quoting Chris Pook, he was quoting Tony George, the whole thing. It actually was one of his best pieces. I even started believing it myself. And my daughter jumped me, said, "Dad, I wish you would tell your family those things, you know, and discuss it." So, you know, it got to be a bit of a joke. So we were having pizza up at Michael's house, and Barbie was there. And she said -- she started brokering this thing. She said, "You know, Michael has two walking wounded, with Franchitti and Kanaan, and he needs some help." One thing led to another. Michael says, "Dad, do you think you want to give ate try?" Well, do I ever back away from a challenge? No. Is this smart? Probably not. But it kind of got my juices going. And so he talked with his team and they all embraced the idea. One thing led to another. There was the rookie orientation going on, so it was perfect timing. Right the day after the board meeting, the CART board meeting on Tuesday, which was yesterday, I was able to just participate. It was turning out to be just a fantastic day. Quite honestly, I surprised even myself in the sense of, you know, picking up all the feel, all the things I needed to pick up in the car. I felt we were quite productive all around. We found out certain things that needed to be found out, so Michael can react on it in the engine area. Then this bizarre situation where, you know, I was just following Kenny the last run of the day, two minutes from 6:00. I thought I was going to pick up a bit of a tow from him, give him a PR run. All of a sudden something happened, his engine locked up, he goes into the wall, scatters stuff all over the place. When I arrived there, you know, telemetry showed that I arrived there around 2:25. By the time I hit the piece was like 2:21. It was just a millisecond. And the piece that I hit apparently wedged under the car, just lifted the car enough on the front, and the car just flew, just became an airplane. Just an incredible situation. But luckily, you know, (inaudible) Michael the car. Everything else all right.
ADAM SAAL: The sacrifices you make for your family. All is well that ends well. Mario, good you're here. Of course, the purpose of this call is to talk about yesterday's other news, which was the return of Road America.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Absolutely.
ADAM SAAL: I know certainly some personal pride for you as you bring this race back to the schedule. Talk a little bit about that process, why Road America is so special to you as a driver and other drivers, basically how you feel about the whole turn of events.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Yeah, of course, I was very, very sad when I all of a sudden saw Road America disappear from the schedule. And I was not surprised at the reaction that I was seeing and hearing in large, fans and competitors alike. And I don't think you can ignore that. I think you should pay a lot of attention to that. There was more noise out there than I even expected. To me, justifiably so. Because I feel that Road America, in my opinion, let's take it from the competitors' standpoint. From the competitors' standpoint, it's by far probably the most satisfying road course you could run, probably almost anywhere. And then as a venue, I look at this thing, I think Carl Haas and I probably made the best deals with CEOs at Road America because it sounded very palatable to be there. You have great accommodations, I mean, first class. The American Club. And then you want to play golf, you want to recreate in any possible way, it's there. You want to have family outings, you go to the lake, all the traditional parties that they have. It's just a different life, but it's something that's been there for so long. And I remember from the Can Am days, it was a good thing. Again, I always said, and I will say it forever, it takes a lifetime to build tradition. And 20 years is a good chunk of a lifetime. And CART has been there for that long. And I think you have to look at it really hard before you pull away. And there's always a reason. I think there was a compelling reason probably on both sides at the beginning. But like everything else, I think if you come down, sit down, start reasoning things out, I'm a great believer that there's always an answer. I asked Chris, I said, "Chris, do I have your permission to contact the folks at Road America and see whether there's any grounds for us to be able to just start discussion and try to get this thing back on track?" And Chris says, "You got the green light." And then I called George, called several other board members, I wanted to get everybody in the loop. I said, "Let's start talking. Let's see if we can come to an agreement, something that can be win-win for everyone considering what we're facing, what everyone is facing today, the economics of it all and everything, the realistic fact that we've had some drop in attendance there for whatever reason." And one thing lead to another. The thing that was worthwhile from my standpoint was the fact that I really -- I mean, George and Chris knows, I was a pain in the ass to them. I was very persistent because I was focused and bound and determined to make this thing happen if there was any chance at all. And each side gave me a total feel that there was definitely a chance. So I pursued it. I mean, I stayed on the damn thing until the very end. They both can verify that. I got on the lawyer's ass and everything else to make sure it doesn't get screwed up on that point. And at the end of the day I think there was a good compromise reached. And I felt that it's really a well worthwhile effort to be where we are now. So I'm totally, totally happy. As a matter of fact, the deal was pretty much done finally on Tuesday, and that put me in a great mood when I went to Indy, you know, to do my thing over there, because I had enough pressure to deal with from that side. And knowing that, you know, Road America was definitely on, at least I knew it, you know, it was really a good feeling, because I think it's the right thing. I'll tell you something else that I must tell you. I walked the pits. I walked the paddock. I went to talk to teams, so on and so forth. Some of the rumor was out pretty strong, you know, that we were talking, even among the competitors. And I never, ever once -- I remember we had lost Cleveland, it was a fight back, but nothing -- there was never a reaction like Road America. And the prospect that the thing may come on, the reaction I got from engineers, from drivers... I was talking to Dario Franchitti yesterday. You could see he's not even no longer in CART. He says, you know, Oriol Servia talked to me the other day. He said, to me, one of the best enjoyment I get out of the CART season is Road America, and it's gone. Now, you know, it's back. So there isn't a single soul that I've spoken to out there that wasn't happy about this thing coming back on track. I think we really have something to work on, something we can sink our teeth in to make this damn thing really, really good, and create the interest here that will support our energy here, what we believe in.
ADAM SAAL: Chris Pook, Mario admitted he was a tough customer, pretty much full-bore in trying to get this race back. He proved to the world that he's tough in more ways than one yesterday. Chris, talk a little bit about the return of Road America, the event in the first week of August, from the CART Champ Car perspective and the process from your point.
CHRIS POOK: First of all, I think it's important to thank Mario for his perseverance. I'm grateful to him for that, and I thank him. I mean, he is a true world champion and a true Champ Car champion. He is a diligent board member who pursued what he felt was correct for both Road America and the company. So we're obviously very happy that it's resolved. And obviously we're happy that we're going back to Road America. As Mario's pointed out, it is one of the great racing circuits in the United States. The drivers love it. They can demonstrate their skills there. And I think it's a positive for everybody.
ADAM SAAL: Outstanding. George Bruggenthies, now you have one additional race August 3rd, the Champ Cars will be back there at Road America. From your point of view, how happy are you with this decision?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: We're very happy. We always wanted the event on our schedule. I would have to thank Mario also, and also the fans. We're really happy for the fans and for the sport, that we were able to resolve our differences and put this event back on the schedule. I think it's great.
ADAM SAAL: Outstanding. We only have Mario for a limited time as he's got a busy schedule, as do Chris and George. We are going to open it up for questions. Again, I want to stress this is about CART Champ Car returning to Road America. Mario spoke about other issues earlier, and we'll let that stand.
Q. Guys, obviously the crux of this matter was money. That's what caused this thing to be called off in the first place. Can anybody address how you overcame that?
CHRIS POOK: Well, I don't think it's appropriate for us. I know you want to know the answer, but it's not appropriate, I don't think, for us to go into the details of the agreement and the resolution. With all due respect, I think you need to leave that the matter was resolved. You heard George's comments, you heard my comments, you heard Mario's comments. I think we just move on down the road and say Road America is back on, let's move on with life.
MARIO ANDRETTI: We all decided to do it for free (laughter).
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: It might have been about money, but I think it was more a misunderstanding. We really want to focus on, you know, producing a good event and put what's in the past behind us.
Q. Mario mentioned the importance of this being a win-win situation. Obviously, had a little problem with attendance last year. Sounds like the racetrack lost a little money on the event last year. What sort of ideas are there out there to try to rebuild the Road America event, especially with this setback that you have had over the last couple months? How do you go about rebuilding this into the successful event it was just a few years ago?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: I think with the noise that Mario referred to, with the press reaction, I think we've reenergized the fans here. They're really aware of this event, and I don't think they're going to miss it. Mario's involvement as a spokesperson for the event and as grand marshal, it's going to be wonderful.
MARIO ANDRETTI: I agree. I might add that we talked about this. You have to talk about the positives and negatives. And I really am a great believer that, you know, behind every negative there is a positive. And the positive here is the fact that we were able to discuss, talk about the event much more than normally we would have. If it would have been just on the schedule, period, okay, it's happening again, so be it. Now we have an excuse to, again, reenergize and say, you know what, we don't want this thing to go away. Let's roll up our sleeves and make sure that this thing -- that we're justifying our effort here. Again, I think we'll just keep on making noise about it in a positive way. You know, I think at the end of the day, promotion is promotion. You either promote or you don't. And promotion usually pays off. So just maybe this little extra noise that we'll be making, as we keep saying, should make a difference.
ADAM SAAL: We'll certainly get with George's people right away and come up with a promotional plan that will take us through the summer right in that first weekend of August to make this event the success we know it can be.
Q. Middle of last year, Mario, when you joined CART's board, there was a lot of talk about how it was as much a PR move as anything else. Are you surprised at how involved you have been?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, no, because I don't think this was a PR move at all. If you'd be at the board meeting, you hear, you know, that I kind of get pretty involved in these things, and I don't mind expressing myself, as Chris knows, for whatever it's worth. So I'm engaged. Again, it's just another voice, another mind, you know, at work here. So it's a product that I certainly believe in, and I've expressed that abundantly. So, yeah, I mean, I felt that -- I said it from the beginning, I never needed another thing on my plate, a responsibility of any kind. And I said that it would be an interim situation. I will not be a long-term board member. It just doesn't work for me. But I think it was also important to show that, you know, you have a commitment to try to rally, you know, some potential competitors to come on board and say, "You know what, we're all together here, we're all serious and committed." That's why it all happened.
Q. Chris, are you surprised, in his own words, that Mario has become as much a pain in the ass as he has been?
CHRIS POOK: You know, I just want to continue on the other point. I mean, Mario's a very active board member. He's got a tremendous amount of experience. There are very, very few people in the world of motor racing today that have the experience that Mario has. I mean, you know, apart from being the winningest driver in Champ Car series history, he's won the championship, CART, several times. He's a world champion, one of two American world champions. And he has right now some great experience. He provides tremendous input to the independent board members on board. And when this incident came up, he spoke up as a board member should do, that's what board members are about, and expressed his opinion. He got the support of the independent directors and he talked to me about it and we said, "Let's go." He conducted himself exactly as a committed board member should conduct himself, so it came as no surprise.
Q. George, obviously you and Chris have been involved in discussions over this event back and forth. What was it about Mario's involvement that finally brought this thing to a close?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: Mario just wouldn't take no for an answer. He was committed to making this work. He was behind it all the way. He was available, like he said, 24/7. He always followed up, and he always came back with a response. It was his persistence. I credit him totally.
Q. Mario, just in general terms, could you tell us what do you think Champ Car's strengths are? What are the primary challenges it faces going into the future, in your view?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, in my view, the strength is what the product has always been, what it's known as, a diversified product. And the challenge in the future I think is to continue to be diversified. I very much believe in that. You know, there can be differences of opinion here. Obviously, we know how successful the series has been with urban events, so forth. There's no question that should continue to be cultivated. But I don't think CART should ever lose sight of what differentiates the series from every other, you know, primary series in the world. Again, that's something that's very precious, very unique. That's the challenge, in my opinion. I think you need to make some of the venues -- some of the ovals need some work, and some of the venues, natural road courses, I think need to step it up. It's all about work. It's all about promotion. It's all about being creative. You know, you can blame economy. You can blame a lot of things all day, have all the excuses in the world. But the bottom line is that, you know, you got to grab the bull by the horns and say, "You know, this can be done." I do the same thing , you know, I got a general manager at a car dealership. He can have a thousand excuses about snow, about this, about that. I don't care, you know. "It never rains here." That's the attitude. So if you maintain and have that attitude, I guarantee you a lot of things can happen that normally haven't been happening. A lot of these promoters have to get off their duffs and work harder because you need to work harder today. There's more competition and there are more choices out there. You have to believe in what you're doing. That's contagious. That's the way I see it.
Q. Mario, is there not any part of you that says, "Well, maybe you shouldn't attempt whatever bad could come by coming back in the car?" Nothing comes to your mind that says, "Maybe I shouldn't do this"?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, everybody else around me was telling me that, yeah. Do I listen? No. I think I have such a passion for these things. But now and then I have to stop and use the slight bit of wisdom I might have in my 63 years, start reasoning things out. You know, am I trying to revive a career? No. Do I really need it at this point? Do I need to risk? No. Yesterday was a bit of a wake-up call in the sense that no matter how careful I tried to be to do my thing correctly, and not overextend unless the car was correct, all of a sudden I get caught up in somebody else's mess. It certainly wasn't poor Kenny Brack's fault, but he had his own mess and I got right into it. So it's the things you have no control over that are there. When you're active, you've got a career, you know, that's part of it. You've got to accept that. In my position, maybe I should review and say I don't have to take that risk any more because I don't have a future as a driver any more. Did that yesterday satisfy my itch, if you will? You're damn right. Do I feel better that I did it? You're damn right. It was a glorious day for me to be able to get back and do flat all the way around. I hadn't been there, you know, since 1994. I picked up on all points. That was a great satisfaction. If that's the only day that I will have in the Champ Car for the rest of my life, it was a good one.
ADAM SAAL: Mario did challenge us for aggressive promotion at Road America, so perhaps we'll put a car together and see if we can entice him to take a lap around the four miles of fun up there. I probably just got in trouble with Chris.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Talk to Chip Ganassi, loan me a two-seater, I'll take some of these boys around there.
ADAM SAAL: We'll see if we can come up with something a little bit better.
Q. Mario, when you were in Phoenix last week, you already knew that you were going to be doing this?
MARIO ANDRETTI: No. I mean, no. The negotiations were good and very vigorous on both sides. But it wasn't really until Tuesday late in the day that finally things got buttoned up. I felt very optimistic, but certainly there were always just a few little things that were nagging up there on both sides. It was just a matter of talking it out, you know, being reasonable. As I said, the communication. I wanted to be sure that that continued, that it didn't get lost, that all of a sudden it didn't just go into, you know, the legal oblivion, if you will.
Q. Mario, I meant getting back in the car.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Let's see. When was this? Yes, I knew that. I kept it a secret from you. The press wasn't supposed to know, but somehow it leaked out.
Q. Just wondering if in addition to all that you've already done if you envision putting yourself to some degree at the disposal of the fine professional forces that are going to be promoting this race, if you might be making some additional personal appearances in and around the area of Road America in the upcoming months?
MARIO ANDRETTI: I said this from the beginning: I'll do whatever I can. However, days are at a premium. Even before I got into this negotiation, my commitments with the companies that I work with, so on and so forth, are pretty well set. That plus, you know, making the car races, I don't have a life, if you know what I mean outside of that. I told George and I told Chris I'll do whatever I can. I'll do long distance calls, I'll do all that. To pick up extra days outside of the race weekend would be very, very difficult. Will I try if there's something that comes up? You're damn right, I'll try to accommodate. But that's going to be the toughest part. But I'll continue to preach the gospel because I feel responsible in some ways, and it would be I think a real feeling of a lot of satisfaction if we all come away, you know, at the end of that race weekend feeling like, you know what, the race, it was a success, the event was a success. I think that would be the ultimate payoff.
Q. Mario, since you were successful at bridging the gap of a reported $1.75 million, can you use that to bridge gaps between CART and IRL?
MARIO ANDRETTI: I wish I could. I'd do it in a minute, you know, to try to sit down and see if there was any kind of common ground there that could exist between the two series where they both could probably start pulling in the same direction. I think everybody would benefit there, as well. But, you know, I'd be willing to listen to anything, if the other side would be probably willing to, you know, sit down.
Q. Do you get any sense of that in the day or so you were over at Indy?
MARIO ANDRETTI: No, we didn't get into the politics at all. That's one thing I really didn't want to. You know, some of the reporters tried to steer me in that direction because they always know that they get some kind of a quote out of me. But, you know, something, that was the furthest thing from my mind. I was there to, you know, support. Certainly not that Michael needs it. I felt like I was supporting that team. I will always support Indianapolis. I don't care what sanctioning body is there. And, again, I just didn't need to get into the politics of it all. I'm sort of getting a bit tired of that, too, anyway. It's been counterproductive to some degree because it flares up all sides. I think it's time now to sort of buckle down and see if we can reason things out. I think you can get a lot more accomplished that way. I'll never say anything derogatory about anything anymore. Just hold me to it, guys.
Q. You're not even sore from yesterday?
MARIO ANDRETTI: No. I was really lucky. You know, these cars today, all around, they all feed a lot of information back and forth because engineers interchange. So on both sides of the fence, the cars are, you know, quite a bit safer than ever before. And they can take quite a bit of an impact, believe it or not, before it affects the driver. So apparently the soft walls really, really worked for Kenny Brack. He said he was expecting a real, you know, blow, and he said it was a non-event. I seen the way the car came apart. I figured, "Oh, my God." First thing, I came out of the car first, before he did. And then somebody said, "Oh, he's trapped inside." But then he came out. But his car was, you know, really worse than mine. But, again, it's testimony to much more vigorous work has been done in making these things safer. They are. They definitely are safer. Thank God for that.
Q. Mario, when you look back over your career, you see what you have done, you look at what you just recently have done, of course with the help of everybody else involved with Road America, the fact that you were so bullheaded and as you say, would not take no for an answer, where do you rate this accomplishment among your other accomplishments in motorsports?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, great satisfaction because there's nothing more rewarding than be able to finally get the point across as to how important something is. I think I just felt that I got that feeling that both sides all of a sudden realized that it was a well worthwhile effort. You know, different times it looked like undoable, to be honest with you. But, again, if you persevere, sooner or later you just find the answers. And everybody just reached. I think everybody reached, definitely. I mean, both George and Chris, they both have board of directors to answer to. So it's not a unilateral decision to make. So, you know, at the end of the day, once this thing came together, it was a big victory for the sport, it really was. And, again, I will always say how important and stimulating the reaction is from the fans and the teams, how much they really, really wanted this. And you cannot ignore that. So now the thing that's left is to have 110,000 people there on race day.
Q. Did you do this or take on this responsibility for the track or CART or for the fans, which was most important, or the competitors?
MARIO ANDRETTI: I hope I did it for motor racing, period, because everybody's equally important in my opinion. The equation doesn't come out, you know, without anyone. It's the tracks, it's the facilities, and I would say it's the fans first and the facilities, which is the theater, and CART provides the players. So they're all important. But I think the reaction there was just unanimous. I will never tell Chris, but even his own people, his own people in the office, were coming over and said, "Boy, we're happy with this happening," and he will never know who they are. And that was a good thing. You know, Chris will be loved even in his own office now.
Q. Did you get to wave the green flag?
MARIO ANDRETTI: I don't know what the real duty of marshal is. I'll do whatever. Whatever George says, I'll do.
ADAM SAAL: Again, we will work on that promotional calendar. Mario, good comments to say goodbye to you today. We wish you farewell. You'll visit with the media once or twice before we head to Road America.
MARIO ANDRETTI: I look forward. Thanks, guys, for participating.
CHRIS POOK: I need to go, too, Adam.
ADAM SAAL: Chris, we appreciate the time you had. Good news, back on track in Road America. Have safe travel.
CHRIS POOK: Thank you, everybody, for participating.
ADAM SAAL: George, last man standing here. Any final comments?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: I would like to thank Chris for this, too. I know he's incredibly busy. He's got other challenges in his business. He probably didn't need this thrown in in the beginning of his season. I appreciate him working with Mario and resolving the situation.
ADAM SAAL: Thank you, George. You were definitely a major player in this, as well. We appreciate it.
Q. Will the race still be on CBS or has that time slot been lost?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: We're still working on those elements as we rebuild the event. I can't answer a lot of those questions. We're researching the TV opportunities right now.
Q. Has it ever been investigated or does it make any sense at all to do any co-promotion with Milwaukee, both events being a little soft in attendance? Does that make any sense at all?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: We did a triple promotion when the Chicago Speedway came on line, Milwaukee Mile, Chicago Speedway, Road America, we had a three-way ticket promotion. We actually have different fans, Milwaukee and Road America, we discovered that. I think the Mile discovered that also in some of their forums that they've had there. We don't have anything planned like that this year.
ADAM SAAL: I think we'll end this, gentlemen. We appreciate all the time. Thank you so much and we'll keep you posted on what's going to be going on as we get ready for the Grand Prix of Road America as well as other CART Champ Car news throughout the season. Thank you very much.
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