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Champ Car Media Conference: The 2003 Speed Channel Broadcast Team

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Champ Car, Speed Channel

Champ Car Media Conference: The 2003 Speed Channel Broadcast Team

Derek Daly
Calvin Fish
Tommy Kendall
Jim Liberatore
Terry Lingner
Bob Varsha
February 19, 2003


ERIC MAUK: Welcome to the Champ Car World Series teleconference presented by WorldCom for the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, as we continue to look forward to this week's season opener. Today we have some media on the call to re­introduce some old friends to you as we talk about the 2003 broadcast team who will be bringing you the action of the Champ Car World Series on SPEED Channel and also on CBS Sports. Today we are joined by the president of SPEED Channel, Jim Liberatore, along with the president of Lingner Group Productions Terry Lingner, as well as race analysts Tommy Kendall, Calvin Fish and Derek Daly. Welcome to the call and thanks for joining us today. Let's go ahead and start with Jim Liberatore and you can lead the rest of these guys into this. If you would, just tell us your thoughts about getting this thing started and starting off the season with your coverage on SPEED Channel.

JIM LIBERATORE: This is our second year and I think in conjunction with Lingner Group last year, I think we have set a standard of production that we are going to have to do our best to surpass this year. I think we really had a great year in terms of growth and we are really getting ready to continue what we started last year, and that is to present Champ Car in a way that the fans of this country are used to. And that again, will be live coverage and a lot of time with the drivers, as well as the race themselves. And then, you know, trying to do some different things production­wise that really can put you behind the wheel, which Terry can talk about anything that we are planning on doing there. Bob Varsha is not on and Scott Pruett is not on, I guess he's testing, but we are ready if you have any questions and want to know what's going on this year, I think we are real excited to get started again.

ERIC MAUK: Terry, like Jim said, you set the bar very high this year with a lot of innovations that people had not seen. Tell us a little bit about what you have up your sleeve this year for us.

TERRY LINGNER: Thank you. It was really gratifying and rewarding, and certainly Jim knows this, you can't do those things without the appropriate people at the top and the folks that will allow you to spend the money to R&D and do things right. So from that standpoint, SPEED Channel definitely needs to be commended for that. I think from the standpoint of this year, and Jim hit it on the head, and same thing I've been telling our staff, we have got to continue to innovate, but we have got to continue now. We have a new chore; obviously, with so many new personalities and exciting personalities nonetheless, with the folks we got to meet at Spring Training. You will still see the visor-cam and the aerial platforms that we have used in the past, the robotic cameras. We have hired a new on­board camera vendor, who is actually bringing back someone that had done it for years, Broadcast Sports Technology; and certainly Calvin and Derek will be able to speak to the thrill of having these guys back with us. They are certainly the recognized leader in the country of doing RF cameras and on board cameras. So, I don't know, I think we have got some really nice plans. The openings and some of the animations with the new logos have come out really, really strong. But above all, we still want people to just flat out know that we are enthusiastic to be there, and we want to communicate the fun and the excitement. If we can't tell a viewer, or if we can't communicate the feeling that when we get off the air, these people wish that, hey, I want to go to St. Pete next year- that should be our goal. I think the chemistry that the announcers displayed last year, and hopefully the fun that we were having in the truck, that communicated to America and the world. So we are really juiced up.

ERIC MAUK: One other point, guys in bringing the fun and excitement of the Champ Car World Series is Mr. Tommy Kendall, a former Trans-Am champion; first year back with the series last year and obviously brought a new insight and a lot of fun to the program. Coming back at it for another year, are you excited to this get this thing role up?

TOMMY KENDALL: As my old friend Dale Earnhardt said, "let's drop the rag, I'm ready to go." Last year I had a great time. I can't say enough about the team, both the on­air, which I think that was obvious to everybody how we worked together, but really it starts with Terry and trickles down with where he kind of turned me loose. And I knew that being myself was exactly what they were asking, and I knew I was going to be supported in that. Having said that, I have to say I was eight-tenths in terms of some of my candor last year, and I wasn't really totally aware of it until I thought about it going into this year, kind of from about midseason on, I made the conscious decision to try to scale it back a notch in terms of that eight-tenths. I knew Chris Pook had a lot of fires he was trying to put out and manage. And I know that when I'm totally frank, I can start some more fires for him to deal with. There were a number of times when I wanted to say this team owner or that team owner was acting like a jack­ass and didn't; and this year, rest assured, that I will. The owners are kind of notoriously high­maintenance, and so I think that- not saying they are good or bad -but sometimes they are jack­asses and sometimes they are superstars, but it's up to me to when I think each and so I feel like I can kind of have got the green light, at least for myself to go for that. As far as the drivers themselves, I mean, a lot of new faces. I think if you keep losing guys over and over and over, it's hard to grow a series, but having said that, before Dario Franchitti came here, before Tony Kanaan came here, before Alex Zanardi came here, we don't know who any of those guys were and we fell in love with them. So I'm sure that there are some in this crop who will separate themselves from the pack as far as the kind of guys we are going to look to. And I'm sure there's going to be some dead wood, too. I'm going to be there with both barrels, and if guys are not doing their job, I'm going to be pointing that out, as well. I think we'll have plenty to talk about both good and bad.

ERIC MAUK: We definitely look forward to it. Calvin, as Tommy said, a lot of new faces. What are your takes on some of the early news stories we need to look at from pit row?

CALVIN FISH: I think there's going to be a lot of excitement, and the pit windows with the new XFE engine program that will allow the series to control some of the races and certainly get away from the few economy runs that we had a couple, three years ago, so they are still in control of all of that. I think that the new rules packages will try and make sure everything is a bit more exciting, working on the final downforce issues with that. We are just moving forward. As Tommy said, a lot of new faces and some of the guys we've seen for the past five, ten years came out of nowhere, and in the four days has been very spectacular, and I'm sure Newman/Haas has come out of the box even with a different engine program and been very strong. I think those two boys [Bruno Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais] are going to keep themselves on their toes. So that's going to be exciting to look at. A potential new star in Ryan Hunter Ray, with Rob Hill and Stefan Johansson, and he has probably got the ultimate teammate, Jimmy Vasser. So he's going to be strong, and some of these other guys, Darren Manning coming over, he showed what he can do in the one race he did last year, he's back. And some other new names, such as Lemarie, so there is a lot to look forward to. I think it's going to be very exciting when you mix that group in with some of the veterans such as Jimmy and PT [Paul Tracy] and Patrick [Carpentier]and some of the guys who have been there for a couple of years, I think it's going to be a very exciting mix. A lot of the great teams are still with us. We lost a few, certainly, but with the stability with the rules package and the financial incentives that Chris [Pook] and his team have really laid out there, it's become attractive for a lot of new teams to come into the series, and we are certainly seeing that with some new teams and teams moving over from other series as well. So, I'm really looking forward to it. A great place to start in Florida where the sun will be shining all weekend and can't wait to get going.

ERIC MAUK: Your partner in crime this year will be Derek Daly down on pit row. A lot of good positives about the series this year coming out of Spring Training and pretty good feelings throughout the paddock. Obviously, this is not your first Champ Car rodeo; do you think the positive buzz is warranted for this 2003 season?

DEREK DALY: I think it is, definitely, because there's an intrigue about the unknown, and we are going into an unknown season this year, unlike anything in the last, probably, 15 or 20 years, with CART. Going back to what Terry said earlier, one of the things that SPEED Channel allowed us to do this year was basically turn us loose. If you ask me, memories of last year, why I think some of the reasons why we had so much fun doing what we did, when we had that much fun, it got transferred into the living rooms of the fans watching. I mean, I still get people that come up and talk to me about Long Beach. I mean, getting on the pit wall inside the hairpin leaning over virtually in the cockpit, we had never had access like that before, yet everybody got together and said let's bring people to where they have not been to before. Our ability I think to read situations and what comes right to my mind is when Chip Ganassi got on and said that [Cristiano] da Matta should be thrown out of the series when he had the qualifying incident in [Mazda Raceway] Laguna Seca, we have the freedom to just jam a microphone in a guy's face; that they trust us enough to know that we are not ambushing them, just capturing the live television that you don't normally see. To me, that epitomized from my point of view the different approach we took last year. And we'll do the same again this year and uncover more unusual stories and just enjoy the ride along the way. If there are no stories, we'll talk about Tommy's girlfriends, or as he calls them, his two­legged show dogs.

ERIC MAUK: Well, we all definitely look forward to it. Let's open it up to questions and see what everybody wants to talk about, about the series this year.

Q. Jim, an offbeat question here. We see so much of this sport on television, and as you say, you've got to try and break the mold and try different things, yet at the same time you've got to show them who is leading and who is in the pack, etc. Is there one thing that you would like to do with this telecast in covering this series, covering the sport, with CART that you haven't done yet that you would like to be able to do that you have not been able to do for whatever reason?

JIM LIBERATORE: Yeah, one thing we are very interested in doing is a program after the race. You see a lot with NASCAR, NASCAR gets this type of coverage, where you have a race and you have an evaluation and you talk to the drivers. For example, if you look at Inside Winston Cup which we do with Rusty Wallace, we could talk about that with Chris and [Champ Car COO] David Clare. The problem is there isn't a Charlotte where all of the drivers live, but in a perfect world, we would get drivers together who would talk about the race, go through the highlights and would be able to really break down the race. Because in this country, it is the understanding of the race and the community behind the fans or the drivers. It's understanding the drivers, knowing the drivers and that's what makes racing work, in my opinion, in this country. When you look at an Inside Winston Cup and everyone knows Michael Waltrip and his personality and things like that, that's what makes the sport grow. We talked about a fender­free TV where we would talk about open­wheel and evaluate it, we were not yet at that point, and really logistics is the biggest reason to be able to do something like that.

Q. Derek, you were proud of the fact with Jim and Steve that you were going to plank the camera and get to places where you have not gone before and you mentioned that, what's in the back of your mind in a little shopping list this year, if you said there's a wreck you want to be right there tied into the driver, what's on your shopping list this year that you really want to go with a camera that no man has gone before?

DEREK DALY: There is a little difference this year because last year I was in a host role which means a free flow and almost go anywhere I chose. This year because I will have more of a pit assignment role; it will be a slight bit more limited. However, you bring up the crash season. I discussed this with Terry many times last year about how many people do you know that have actually been brought to the crash scene and understand how violent it can be out there. Now, don't get me wrong, we are not interested in the gory details. We are interested in trying to take people to see a bit of the unknown. What I did for example, at Vancouver, when [Adrian] Fernandez had his crash, I was there pretty early. We knew that he was essentially okay; that there was nothing life­threatening before we ever did a report from there. If we ever get a situation where we can even go deeper or some of the wrecked cars, we are not looking for gory, we are not looking for tabloid stuff, but we are looking to just bringing you somewhere you have not been before, and I have not seen any other television entity take you to those type of places. So, there's no script, but we are going to try to take advantages of trying to get to the unusual places. We even discussed last year me having access to a pace car to go to the scene if we could take advantage of it, for the right reasons, for the right journalistic reasons, not for sensational reasons.

Q. Was there any temptation once this thing gets rolling and we find out all of these rookie guys indeed can race and are going to be very fast, but for all of those critics who are ready to bury the series, there would be a natural temptation, you want to be as objective as you can, but is there a temptation to say, "I told you so," how are you going too avoid that?

DEREK DALY: All of the people that said it will never survive or they will never get 18 cars, many of them will stand up and say, "I was wrong, Pook, you did a good job." I hate the people who jump on the bandwagon, all of these followers who say, yeah, it's dead and they complain, complain, complain; and two or three years down the road they are saying we have no work, no job, no photographers have any work anymore because they helped bury the series, if that happened. So I'd like to take a completely different approach to it and go into this thing looking to be another building block. There won't be one of CART's best­ever seasons, but it's going to be a building block proving that is Chris Pook's grand plans has that is slowly unfolding, does have legs, does have teeth, and I think it's a bit of an intrigue to see where he's going to take this thing.

JIM LIBERATORE: It's interesting you say that, because from a TV perspective, half the time when we started SPEED Channel with this deal I read, and there's one person I remember the quote quite well, that said the deal with SPEED Channel is a death nail for CART. It's on my personal brain bulletin board, but that was 23 million homes ago that that comment was made, and if you look at our numbers, they are in the same ballpark as everybody else, sometimes better. And it's the only way it's going to keep going in that direction is to keep- you knew when you turn on SPEED Channel you should see a better race and better production than you're going to see anywhere else because that's all we do and that's going to be the goal going forward as well.

Q. What's it going to be like shooting those night races in Milwaukee and Cleveland, Jim?

JIM LIBERATORE: It's going to be- the whole prime time aspect from a television perspective, you get there and the lights are on and it's dark. If you really do it right, I do think the excitement is brought up a level. If Terry Lingner can't do that, then no one is going to. So we are pretty excited about that. We would love to talk to Champ Car down the road about having more prime time races because I think in general, the competition is lessened and it has that whole exciting atmosphere to it.

ERIC MAUK: We are now joined by Bob Varsha. He will be the lead play­by­play man on the broadcast this year. You have been quoted in many publications already about how excited you are to get this thing going and looking forward to the season. Tell us a little bit about that.

BOB VARSHA: I'm sure I'll be reiterating what the other guys have said before me. I think everyone realizes this is a unique and critical and different year for CART. I agree with what TK said on our last broadcast last year, the biggest opportunity comes from the biggest uncertainty, and we have certainly seen that during the off­season. CART has come back and done what they said they would do in terms of getting cars out on the grid, and from what I'm hearing, in testing, unfortunately I have not been to any tests, but the cars look great, sound great and they are at least as fast as they were. I'm just really excited about the whole deal. I think it's going to be great fun. I can't wait to see the guys again and the crew, but it's just going to be great fun. I can't wait to get started.

Q. I know SPEED Channel is local and American, but can any foreign countries point into your feed or are they to get it?

JIM LIBERATORE: Yeah, we are in 5 million homes in Canada. How we have been working that because they do have a feed up there in Canada, but they have not carried some of the Saturday events, and we work with them. They don't do some of the events live up there, so we work with them to try to match our schedules. So the Canadians are getting the best coverage they can. In general, we don't have the races because they have a deal up there.

Q. Terry, I want to ask about the new Ford-Cosworth engine. Do you know what the rev limit is on the new engines? And can teams change the gear ratio for various races?

TERRY LINGNER: Yeah, I believe they are able to change gear ratios. I do not know the rev limit. Cal, do you know?

CALVIN FISH: Yes, about 12,000 which is about 4,000 less than the guys were running last year, but it's got 41 inches which of boost, which is up. So through the mid range, we understand that the engine actually has about 100 horsepower more but will struggle more at the top routes and lower routes. As Bob said before, the times have been very fast and the fact of the matter is these engines will run 1,200 miles, and certainly the engine budget has been reduced by probably about 60 to 70 percent over what the teams have spent in the past few years, which is going to have an enormous effect.

TERRY LINGNER: Apparently the change in revs means the power comes in several thousand revs lower than it used to so they accelerate very well at the top end. I think that's going to be evident on street circuits, such at St. Pete this weekend and anywhere you have tight corners. Bear in mind they won't have traction control, so we are going to see sawing away of the steering wheel and a lot of rear ends stepping out, so it will be exciting.

Q. So will engines be rebuilt each race?

DEREK DALY: Basically they cut the engine bill by a third and they last three times as long. That sounds like a great formula. How come they never saw that?

BOB VARSHA: If you want to test cars in Formula 1, what we need to do is a common chassis, common engine and away we go.

DEREK DALY: But don't they already have a common engine and chassis? (Laughter).

Q. How do you work on improvement each year?

TOMMY KENDALL: I see a shrink. (Laughter) Last year, I think we came out blazing last year and really, like I said, I think if you listen to what people say, it really kind of set a new standard in production for these types of races. So we are starting from that point. Just, I think another year, working together, behind the scenes people technically and the on­camera people, Terry mentioned a major component with the new vendor, on­board. People wondered why we did not use the on­board as much last year, and the reality was a lot of times we could not get them to work because of the equipment we were dealing with. That may not seem like a new deal but the new vendor means a lot more on­board. As far as myself, I think like I said, people look to me for not pulling any punches, knowing what I'm talking about, but also coming at it very candidly. And so I admitted that I pulled a few punches last year in the interests of trying to have everyone pull together, so this year, I'm actually looking forward to being a little bit more unplugged in that regard. So really the quieter I get in terms of just sitting back and deserving it, calling the race like I'm sitting in my living room with some buddies is the mindset I try to recreate and I know that I am going to be asked - when I'm at home I'm a very demanding viewer and when I'm watching TV, if I see something that the guys calling the race don't see it, that ticks me off, and I know that's the standard I'm held to. Everybody on the team having so much racing experience helps out to such a large degree, you get more insight of the questions, you are able to make forecast some potential situations developing because you understand. Things like that, which are small. But I think over the course of the year, into our second year, we'll improve.

CALVIN FISH: A lot of it comes with the continuity of the broadcast team staying together. It comes from the chemistry that gradually happens throughout the year. Certainly through the year we were fine­tuning things and at the end of the year Scott went up to the booth for a couple of races and really seemed to click up there with his expertise, being a recent Champ Car driver. Terry and Doug and Jim and everyone involved with SPEED made that decision to keep Scott out there, and I think it's going to be a great lineup for this year. The more you work together, the more it clicks. I think at lot of people thought our last show was the best at Fontana, but I think maybe one of our best shows was Australia where we had several hours where with the cars running around in the rain but we were still able to keep it entertaining with the chemistry of the guys down in the pit lane and the guys up on top.

Q. When did you decide it was detrimental to be going full­boar?

TOMMY KENDALL: I think I was probably still beyond the limits of what most guys would do, but I made the conscious decision, it stems from the fact that all of the team owners had a gun to Chris Pook's head. So like I said, when I come on and say that guy is acting like an absolute jack­ass, he's going to come to him and say, "This is the kind of treatment I'm getting I'm out of here," which most of them were out there having anyway. If there was a chance for Chris, I didn't want to put a monkey wrench in anything he was doing so. I pride myself on being the guy that pulls no punches, but all things considered, that was probably the right call. I think I probably still said some stuff that most people would not say, so I don't think it ever got vanilla. But I think there were times when I just didn't say anything when I could have embellished sort of thing.

CALVIN FISH: I think one of the great ones was in Cleveland when you put Wally Dallenbach on probation. (Laughter).

Q. Let's talk about education of the fans, Derek. We've talked about this in the past, bringing more people into the fold, how do we go about it this year?

DEREK DALY: There is no doubt in my mind that the foundation of every sports franchise is it's personalities. If you look at any baseball team or a football team, pick any one, pick the Chicago Bulls, you never went to see the Bulls; you wanted to see Michael Jordan or [Dennis] Rodman. So this thing, again, is personality­driven, just like NASCAR, its personality­driven. The love/hate relationship that people have with their drivers or hate with some other drivers, and we are, I believe, still, our job is to bring forth the personalities. Find a way to actually bond these personalities with particular viewers because there is no doubt you don't watch a race to see how good the competition is. You get a link or a bond with some driver, whether you like the way he looks, he's got flare, he had a big crash, he's from your hometown, your country, whatever it is. So digging deep and to bring out these personalities is what we were all good at last year. The biggest problem with racing is there's a corporate veil over these guys where they are afraid to say anything. They are afraid if they don't say the right thing that the sponsor does not look good because he didn't say the right thing. That is crap for the type of thing that we are trying to produce which is the genuine person, which is why we tried to grab Chip Ganassi; immediately, he reacted - that is why you get him, before he composes himself. Personality drives everything, and that's what I believe will ultimately drive the ratings up.

Q. You did a great job with CART Friday Night. Anything similar we'll see this year?

TERRY LINGNER: CART Friday Night is a Friday qualifying and we are not doing it this year. The issues were, quite frankly, the costs associated with going in on Friday. And what we started to do when we talked to Terry, okay, are we going to do this, and if you are, Saturday and Sunday starts us off, just because of the realities of the economics of the way things are today. So the decision was made to keep on Saturday and Sunday and make those as good as possible and SPEED Channel is going to be starting a show on Sunday nights called Wind Tunnel that will be covering the races, as well, not exclusively, but what we are looking to do - when we look at open­wheel, quite frankly, in a global manner. We have added F3000. We are going to be doing the Saturday/Sunday at CART. We want to try to blow it out a little bit more. So we are trying to grow the sport in a more organic and overall manner across the network. But Fridays, you can look at all of the spin or anything else, but truth is Friday we are cancelled strictly because of economic reasons, and we want to keep Saturday and Sunday at the quality we need to.

JIM LIBERATORE: The thing is, too, the fans ­ this is a testimony to Terry and our talent. Our first race last year, we received 16,000 e­mails thanking us for finally covering Champ Car the way it deserved and it's amazing how educated these fans are. They know exactly what's good, what's bad and it's something that helps us throughout the season because we are accountable.

Q. Do you find you don't have to dumb down the broadcast for CART fans?

TERRY LINGNER: That's an interesting dilemma for us because we want to attract more fans. I think CART's biggest advantage, quite frankly, is that they are struggling, because you read about CART struggling, CART struggling, but you don't read about open­wheel struggling. So maybe there's a sense in the IRL or F­1 that they are not struggling but CART understands they have to make this better. That's why we have a team of five guys. That's why we do Saturdays and that's why we get into the personalities because Champ Car understands that the world of open­wheel right now is not acceptable as it is. And that does not just mean Champ Car; that means everybody. These ratings have got to go up where they deserve. So we have a dilemma of dumping down the telecast and bringing in new fans. We have that dilemma. Thank goodness we have guys like Bob who understand both sides of it and we try to play that in the middle. The ratings have got to increase and we have got to make that happen, and I think that Pook and Champ Car has done their part, so now we have to do ours.

TOMMY KENDALL: When I first started listening to the Jim Rome Show, it was Greek to me. I didn't understand anything that they were talking about, but instead of saying you know what, I like the overall flavor of it, it excited me. And instead of saying you know what, I don't understand it, I'm going to tune it out, the way I am, that's just a challenge to dig in and learn more about it. And there was no patronizing because I think that's something that we need to not just give fans, but potential new fans, a little bit of credit is if you present something and show something that's exciting, even if it's a little bit Greek to them, I think if it interests them enough to watch it, they will be interested enough to investigate it a little. You cannot be too super­insider but that's something against dumbing it down. That's my experience, and I find that in other types of things. I'm a naturally curious person. If I see something that interests me, I'm not put off, I'm challenged by that. That's kind of my take on that.

BOB VARSHA: I think what Tommy just said, that reflects the challenge of any broadcaster to reach out to everyone and give them something that intrigues and entertains them. You are never going to be able to speak to one element of what Jim rightly describes, a very sophisticated audience and satisfy everybody. There are a lot of casual viewers who need to be intrigued and other folks who know nothing about it who need a basic primer without turning off those sophisticated fans that we have an enormous number of at SPEED Channel. This is the drivers, they are not cookie cutters. They are not, jump into a car and racing for wins and champions. There are young guys, older guys, everybody may be in a different place in their career, their team, some guys get along great. At the end of last season, some guys were not getting along well at all with their teams. Everybody has an individual story to tell. And within doing that, within the time and budget constraints of a race, it's a challenge to everybody.

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