CART Media Conference
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thank you all for joining us this afternoon and a special welcome to our guests today Mr. Andrew Craig, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Championship Auto Racing Teams; Mr. Chip Ganassi, owner of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, Mr. Ed Duffy, Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Motor Speedway at Sportsmen's Park; Mr. Jimmy Vasser, driver for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, and 1996 PPG Cup Champion; and, Mr. Charles Bidwill, III, the Chief Operating Officer for Sportsmen's park. Good afternoon to all you gentlemen, thanks for joining us. Earlier today officials from CART and Sportsmen's Park located in Cicero, Illinois announced that the new Chicago Motor Speedway at Sportsmen's Park will host a CART FedEx Championship Series event on a yet-to-be-determined date in the fall of 1999. The race will take place on a one-mile oval, part of a dual purpose facility, which is being built to host both Championship Auto Racing, and horse racing events. Mr. Ganassi will serve as co-manager of the new facility in partnership with the National Jockey Club. He is the owner of the past two PPG Cup Championship teams with drivers, Jimmy Vasser in 1996 and Alex Zanardi last year. The Sportsmen's Park reconstruction project is scheduled to begin early this summer. With that, we will open the floor to questions.
Q. Chip, this is a bit out of a play book of Chris Pook taking an existing property and converting it into a racetrack. And, of course, they have a very close relationship with the Casino Queen who is partially owned by Mr. Bidwill up there, so it should be a good deal. Tell us about it.
CHIP GANASSI: Well, here we are in Cicero, Illinois today. We are atop the restaurant at Sportsmen's Park and as I look out over at the existing horse facility, I can tell you we have some big plans. I mean we are going to have a 7/8 mile horse track with a one and an eighth mile asphalt surface on the outside of that. And, we are going to be here in the fall of 1999 like everyone has said. Throughout the process, I was involved -- I met Charlie through the -- a couple of years ago, I guess, through the -- you know I was trying to be involved in the Dupage project that was up north of here and throughout that process became acquainted with Charlie and the National Jockey Club and, really, they had a facility here that they were looking to do something with and the rest is history.
Q. You are also part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, right?
CHIP GANASSI: Yes, sir.
Q. We look forward to seeing you in St. Louis.
CHIP GANASSI: Thank you.
Q. I just wondered, you guys -- will this be just a CART race? Will you try and get a Busch Race, a NASCAR race? Is it too early to took about that? Seems like most race tracks can't just survive on one event.
ED DUFFY: It is never to early to talk about that. Our plan right now is to design a facility that will accommodate racing of all sorts here. We have not had any discussions beyond the CART, but we have made our intentions of our desires known, so that will be our next step in trying to put that together.
Q. While you were on, do you think if this thing would happen in the fall on Labor Day which is maybe the talk - they tried years ago in Ontario - they tried Labor Day. Do you find that is a bad weekend in Chicago or do you think that is beneficial; you might be bucking football?
ED DUFFY: I think any weekend in Chicago will be a good weekend for auto racing. This is something that doesn't come to Chicago all that frequently, so, I don't think there will be any problems with either Labor Day or any of the other weekends.
Q. Chip, how important was it to get this thing rolling before France Family had an idea for racing in that area and Tony George, how important was this to get your track going ahead of that idea?
CHIP GANASSI: Well, the fans around Chicago, I think have been clamoring for a race of some sort since I have really become in this sport in the early '80s. I can remember a press kit and some talk with Mayor Byrne years ago about a race in the city streets of Chicago; about CART being on Lake Shore Drive, you know, over the years we have heard all of these sort of -- all these sort of different ideas and different projects. I just -- I got involved with Charlie and his group and really just we had our schedule and I really wasn't -- I don't know where these other projects stand, really, I am not that close to them.
Q. There has been a lot of talk that CART has been too Midwest-heavy. Would this race replace another race in the Midwest or would this be in addition to it?
ANDREW CRAIG: I take the view that Chicago is, of course, it's in the Midwest, but it is a special market in its own right. I think coming to America's third largest market, a market with over 80 billion dollars in retail sales, I don't regard that as adding another race to the Midwest. I regard that as adding a race in a very, very important part of the States where right now there is no racing on its doorstep. And, I think it fits just well with everything we are doing right now. So I am very, very confident and comfortable about coming to Chicago.
Q. Also the other question I had was about sponsor involvement. Any talks now of any companies that would be involved or what a name of a race would be; anything like that or is that too early?
ED DUFFY: We have already had discussions with members of the corporate community who have indicated their willingness to provide sponsorship opportunities here. In fact, today, Target announce that they want to be actively in this upcoming race.
Q. Congratulations, Chip, and Ed, Andrew. Is Jimmy Vasser there?
JIMMY VASSER: Yeah.
Q. I guess one of the things that I have heard that is in the mix with this facility is that because you are basically going to be able to not so much start from scratch, but start with a clean sheet of paper, anyway, in building the paved oval, that there is going to be room to install the energy absorbing barriers that were first used last year at Rio. If that is the case, I wonder what your take on that is from a driver's perspective.
JIMMY VASSER: I think it is fantastic. That is my understanding that that is the plan at this point in time. From the drivers group's standpoint we have been talking for many years about moving the technology along rather than just putting up the standard cement walls that have been going on recently with all the new tracks. So, if that does come into fruition then most certainly this will be the new benchmark in safety as far as new circuits go. Also, personally, it is nice to see another one-mile oval back on the circuit. We lost a couple with the split with the IRL, and, I think, technically, with the design of a real small amount of banking - I think it is 5 degrees and real wide corners - I understand it is also going to be one of widest tracks that is being built. It is going to promote real good solid wheel-to-wheel racing on the outside and then with the wall, so, I think most definitely this is going to be something that all the drivers are very excited about.
Q. Mr. Craig, we have had a lot of oval tracks come into the schedule over the last couple of years here. We have had Rio and Motegi, St. Louis, Homestead. You can go on and on and on. Here is another one now. Plus there is also -- I think you addressed it, sort of the fact that there is two other races pretty close there, Milwaukee and Road America not too far away. Just how many races do you want on the schedule, first of all, and how many oval races do you want?
ANDREW CRAIG: Let me answer the second part first. We want to keep a good balance between ovals and road courses and you are absolutely right, we have added a significant number of ovals recently. We are actively looking for good road course venues right now to make sure we keep that balance, looking to the long-term, to make sure we keep that balance where it should be which is around about 50/50. With regard to how many races can we run: Well, we have taken the series, with the addition of this race, up to 20 races, which is a significant expansion. I think it is very important to make it clear that its expansion is very much dependent upon the ability of the teams to raise the appropriate levels of sponsorship. So, any growth has to be done in lock step with the race teams providing the race teams are acquiring the sponsorships, they need to expand the series, then we can expand the series. Obviously it is something that has to be done with great care and has to be done over time and not overnight.
Q. Quick follow-up. Perhaps to Chip, with regard to the crews here, I don't know whether anybody really considered the crews here, that they are working 19 races this year, which is three more than they had a couple of years ago; another, at least, one for next year, probably two. That is going to put a heck of a burden on your team Chip; isn't it?
CHIP GANASSI: You know, my crew is fully aware of the plans here in Chicago and they have been for a long time and they are certainly in favor of it, I can tell you. I think they are looking forward to the quality of races that we are adding more instead of the quantity, if you will.
ANDREW CRAIG: Bear in mind this year following the season, we have put in place a testing blackout, that was done specifically with the teams in mind. We put in place this year, as you know, a time certain schedule. Now, there are many groups that benefit from that. But, again, that was -- one of the groups we were thinking of there was to get these cars rebuilt overnight as quickly as possible and not leave mechanics hanging around in the garage area until two and three in the morning. So, these issues have been addressed. It is not something which -- you know, in the end we want to go racing and so obviously has to be some compromise. We are not blind to these issues. .
CHIP GANASSI: I think what you have to look at is the number of miles that the teams are doing on a year-round basis. And, I think the greater majority of owners are in favor of, you know, of -- if we are going to do the miles, you might as well be at a race, if you are going to be doing the miles anyway. So, therefore, you know, there has been some talk of knocking -- increasing the test band, if you will, and replacing it with races.
Q. Jimmy, just carrying on with the last question there, what about you, as a driver, and how do you feel about driving perhaps in 20 races or even more?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, I don't really have a problem with doing more races. I think CART is looking right -- looking down the right avenue in, you know, perhaps taking some of the leeway we have in testing away and adding races. Then you don't have -- it is not really a time increase, not only on the drivers and mechanics and their families, but on the whole series together. So, I think that, you know, our product is showing well when we are racing, in showing it to the fans, and a lot of the time that we spend with our race teams right now is not really showing it to the fans. We spend an awful lot of time at the race tracks in the middle of the week testing. Spending an awful lot of money trying to catch an edge over the other teams. So, if we throttle back in that area and step it up on the racetrack, I think it is probably going to be better for our sport overall.
Q. If I may add to this: Andrew, other sports have been criticized for expanding the number of games, like hockey goes on from September until the 1st of July with Playoffs extended and that. What is the ultimate limit of auto racing -- of an auto racing season before you start facing similar criticism because maybe your product will go down?
ANDREW CRAIG: Well, I don't think any fans in Chicago are going to criticize this move from what I have heard today. I think this is going to be a very, very popular move indeed. Certainly, I have never had a fan contact me asking for less racing. I think there is a thirst out there for more racing. Our fans love what we do. Obviously we have to grow the thing very carefully to make sure the teams have the funding necessary. I don't anticipate any of our fans being concerned about more racing - quite the opposite.
Q. Is this a step to go beyond North America to Mexico and Germany? Is that your next step? Are you just about filled out as far as America is concerned or North America?
ANDREW CRAIG: We are here today announcing a race in Chicago. I am really not going to speculate about what we may or may not do in the future. But, suffice it to say, we are always actively looking at all the venues that are out there to see what is on the horizon so we can plan our series for the future. But I really wouldn't want to speculate about where we may or may not go.
Q. Chip and for Ed. Given what has happened in Illinois so far, with Kankakee and Dupage and the problems experienced there with financing and zoning and all that sort of thing, was this a logical next step for you to go to a venue which -- already has that all in place?
ED DUFFY: Let me respond to that first. What made this very exciting for us is the fact that, as you mentioned, we have got a great deal of the infrastructure in place already. In fact, if someone were to come in and try to replicate what we have here now, it would cost upwards of 60 million dollars, just to get what we have right now. Now build onto that the additional requirements for auto racing, and it makes it an extremely costly project. We are excited because with this announcement of the CART race, this instantly becomes a successful project financially. So we are very pleased that we are at this position and it was a natural step for us to take under the present circumstances.
CHIP GANASSI: One of the nice things that sort of fast-tracked this one was there is really no public money involved here. The infrastructure is already here. The highways are here. I think we are within one mile of the way the crow flies, we have eight interstate interchanges. That sort of solves the access problems and you don't have to go to the State with your hand out and, you know, ask for some help.
Q. You introduced the newscast for this teleconference by saying the date for the Chicago race next year would be yet to be determined. I think one of the callers mentioned "Labor Day." And, also, I think there was a report on ESPN on Monday that this would be a Labor Day race. If you can look on your CART Calendar you will see that Labor Day has been occupied by the Vancouver Race for the past eight years. And they are quite adamant about keeping that date. I think their agreement with CART lasts until the year 2001. So is this something that the new motor speedway is desiring, that Labor Day weekend, or will there be an accommodation made to Vancouver or a reshuffling of the schedule in the fall because of the introduction of this new track? Maybe Andrew and Ed could comment on that.
ANDREW CRAIG: As you know in our world of motor sports, there is always immense speculation, rumor, so forth, about every decision. Really, all I can say is that at this stage we have not made any determinations about the dates for this race in 1999. And what you read in the press or may have seen on ESPN is just pure speculation at this stage.
Q. Could I ask Ed, I actually talked to you yesterday about this, but is that a date that you would like to have or would you be satisfied with the end of September or first weekend in October or do you have a specific date that you are trying to target?
ED DUFFY: No. In fact, it really doesn't make any difference to us at all. Chicago is a great sports city and this is the kind of event where it truly will become not only a race, but an event. So, I don't think it makes a difference what weekend it is held on - whether it is Labor Day or some other weekend. Our goal here is to fit into the success of CART and success of this sport and bring it to Chicago people. I think they have come out any time we asked them to see something of this nature.
Q. Chip, apparently the site that this racetrack is going to be on is extremely cramped. I think it is only a 65 acre site, and I think the infield at the Fontana track alone is about 100 acres. Were there any unique problems or unique solutions to building a race car track on such, you know, a cramped piece of real estate?
ED DUFFY: The track is nearly 100 acres. The way it works out is that it totally consumes the racetrack grandstand. That doesn't include parking that is adjacent to the areas here. So, from a perspective of this work as a racetrack on the site, it really works quite well. Only problem we have had is the fact that because we have the infrastructure of this incredible city here right next to us, we are limited to the size of the race track. That is why it is going to be a little over a mile oval. But, beyond that, the site itself works quite well for all the needs and accommodations for auto racing.
Q. Ed, maybe you can answer this: You just mentioned how you guys are butted right up to us here downtown Chicago, what is going to happen with the congestion and traffic in that area; are you going to be working with the city to make things easy for the fans to get to the track?
ED DUFFY: Oh, yeah, it will be real easy. The fact is horse racing, some years back, perhaps before you were reporting here, but some years back, got 45 to 50,000 people out for horse racing. Now that hasn't been the case in the more recent future, but all the same, it did occur. The key for us here is to have a good plan on traffic control rather than: "Do the streets handle it." The streets have already handled it and it has done quite well. We have a wonderful relationship with local, county and state law enforcement officials. In fact, we have already made our initial contact with them about developing a plan that will work for everyone here.
Q. What kind of construction timetable are we talking about here and what will that do to the horse racing schedule at the track?
ED DUFFY: Horse racing schedule will have to be modified for 1999. No question about that since construction will begin sometime July 1 and go until we open our first race in late summer, early fall of 1999. Then we will begin horse racing again after that. One other thing, I think it is important to go back to that first question. We recently announce that we hired Tim LaFevre (ph) as Vice-president and COO of this project. Tim previously was director of administration for the Chicago Bears as you may recall. And one of his responsibilities there was to traffic control and parking. If you look at the areas that have had challenges over the years, certainly, Soldier Field has been one of those. So, we are very confident that this is not only an accessible site, but the plan that we develop will make it very easy.
Q. How many cars will you be able to park?
ED DUFFY: Initial plans here call for 25,000 cars within a one-mile radius of the facility.
Q. In the 1970s there were lots of multi-used stadiums with football, baseball together; hockey and basketball together. And, now you are in a situation where you have horse racing and motor sports and granted, horses and horsepower go together. But, how tough was it making this thing work? Granted, there is an economic imperative to save money, but how did this all come about?
ED DUFFY: It actually turned out to be quite easy. We brought in engineers from around the country to give us their estimate and their opinion on whether or not this is a doable project. And, it didn't take long to realize that it -- really, the one does not, in any way, conflict with the other, but rather kind of supports it. So, there really aren't any serious challenges either from a financial perspective or from a logistic perspective. It works quite well.
Q. First of all, follow-up on a question, Andrew, is there an upward limit on the number of dates you want and are there races at risk as a result of this date or any others you might add?
ANDREW CRAIG: Well, as I think we said earlier on in the conference call, there are a number of factors that come into play when you talk about adding races: The amount of testing we do, and so forth. With regard to the existing venues, we are always looking at new venues and we are always looking very carefully at our existing venues. It is very important that out existing venues provide state of the art, up-to-date facilities that can compete with other sports attractions and obviously those are all the factors we are going to take into an account as we go forward into the next century.
Q. But in terms of 22, 24 races, you wouldn't want to put a number out there?
ANDREW CRAIG: There is no maximum; no minimum. I am really not going to provide a number. We will run the number of races that is appropriate for the teams at that time. And, as I said earlier, it is very important that we grow this series very, very carefully because if the teams aren't funded properly, you obviously can't expand the series. And in a sport that is 95 percent funded by sponsors, obviously, it is critical that we have their support for anything we do in the in the future.
Q. Chip, can you tell us the sources of funding for this track and is there any ideal money involved in getting it built?
CHIP GANASSI: I can assure you, there is no IPO money involved there, I can tell you that.
ANDREW CRAIG: If I could just add to that, no, emphatically not. This is a partnership between Chip Ganassi and Sportsmen's Park. No Championship Auto Racing money is involved in this project at all.
Q. Chip, I mean, without being too forward, I mean, you are providing a good chunk of the money to get this place built, I presume?
CHIP GANASSI: At this time, let me introduce my partner, Charlie Bidwill.
CHARLIE BIDWILL: We are 50/50 partners.
Q. Have you guys looked at Dover at all? I mean, did that have any influence in your plan, how successful they have been running short of a joint venue for --
CHIP GANASSI: Only that Dover has obviously the -- opposite sides of the track and they don't really have any dual -- while it is a dual-use facility, the horse track is on one side and the cars are on the other side, and -- the horse track doesn't really encircle the entire place like it will here.
Q. The Sportsmen's Park is currently operating as a horse track?
CHIP GANASSI: Yes, it is.
Q. I just wanted to know the cost of this project and how many people will you be able to seat and will seats be added?
ED DUFFY: The initial cost of Phase I is upwards of $50 million. It will increase the size of this facility from 11,000 to 67,000 seats. Phase II, final estimates on cost have not been determined yet or haven't been finalized yet, but it will take the facility from 67,000 upwards to 90, 95,000.
Q. Just to go back to a point that has been touched on already - maybe Andrew can address this. With the conflict with -- or the potential conflict with other dates, what would be your response to a race fan who is afraid that this could mean a threat to Milwaukee or to Elkhart Lake?
ANDREW CRAIG: Milwaukee is very much a part of the tradition of what we do. As is Elkhart Lake. We believe that a race in Chicago has such appeal in Chicago that we don't think it necessarily impacts upon any other part of the schedule.
Q. First of all, I wanted to find out in addition to -- you had mentioned the cost of the program, the economic impact - I don't know if the studies have been done and what that brings with it, and also when was the original facility built?
ED DUFFY: The Sportsmen's Park facility has a rather unique history here in the Chicago area. In fact, it was originally built back in the '20s by one of our more infamous citizens as a dog racing facility and then it took on a new life with legitimate business about 66 years ago as a racetrack for horses. They have been doing that since that time.
Q. And the economic impact of this project?
ED DUFFY: The impact, we had Coopers and Lybrand do a study which, of course, included the economic impact in the area here. It will create about 540 new construction jobs. It shall create an additional 1,400 full- and part-time jobs to operate the facility itself. Probably about 100 million in the economy in the area here on an annual basis and generate in excess of 7 million annually for additional taxes.
Q. There has been some discussion of the date. I don't know if you are aware of the article in the Orlando Sentinel paper yesterday which indicated that another organization, such as IRL, might be trying to go purposely against you in September against this race. Do you have a comment?
ANDREW CRAIG: We have no knowledge of any such discussions and I don't think it is really worth commenting on.
Q. Ed, aside from the energy absorbing -- energy of barriers on the walls, two-parter, are there any other innovations we can expect to see and will there be a press box on the outside of the track? (LAUGHTER)
ED DUFFY: I will take the question in reverse order. I take that as a request to have the press box in the outside of the track.
Q. It is.
ED DUFFY: And beyond that, our goal here is, because we have a facility that is existing that has much of the infrastructure completed already, it really does afford us, I guess, the luxury to take some time and look at focusing on safety issues and issues that are important to owners and drivers and fans. And, so, over the next several months, if there are additional things that we can do to make this either a safer or a more visible facility for people, that is precisely what we would do.
Q. The renderings you guys sent out would suggest that this is tightly packed. How are you guys fixed for parking in terms of spaces or is there adequate parking to fill 95,000 seats?
ED DUFFY: We are located in the heart of a strong industrial area here in the city. If you take an aerial view of this site, you will notice around us that there are probably, at any given time, you know, most of the properties here are vacant because they are not used on the weekends. So, when I said earlier that I was confident that we had 25,000 spaces for parking, that is a very conservative effort. I am saying it that way because I am certain that they exist as we speak right now. Beyond that, when we get to 95,000, it will require that we acquire some additional parking facilities which will be part of the expansion project when we complete it.
Q. For those of us who have never been to Sportsmen's Park, could you sort of describe how the track, the horse racing track and the new auto racing track, where does one exist in comparison to the other?
ED DUFFY: I guess the best comparison that I can give you if you were look at Woodbine up there and just consider building an oval around the horse racing facility at Woodbine and moving the horse racing in a bit, that is essentially how it is going to look.
Q. Most horse racing tracks, there is an infield with (inaudible) what about there, what happens with some of the grass that is in most horse racing tracks?
ED DUFFY: Our goal here is to create the infield to accommodate the various different types of auto racing that we have been having here. So over the course of this, you will see a dramatic change. You will see some grass remain here, of course, because of the need for retaining water and what have you. But, for the most part, this is a very easily converted part of our property into a usable infield.
Q. Who is the designer of the addition to the road racing or oval track, I am sorry?
CHIP GANASSI: The overall architect for the project is a guy by the name of Taso Katselas and I know he is working with the Yates, Kratzburg (phonetic) out of North Carolina, and the engineering firm escapes me at the moment.
Q. My understanding is that you are going to have to make the figures public anyway, care to share with us the sanction fee, the length of the contract and escalation in the sanction fee?
ANDREW CRAIG: We actually published these numbers this morning. The initial sanction fee is 1.75 million dollars, five-year contract and there are escalators build into the sanction fee.
Q. You talked about having other kind of races there. Do you now have any idea of what other kind of races you will be conducting at this track?
ED DUFFY: All we can say is that for certain FedEx Championship races next year and beyond that, both the Ganassi Team and our team will be working on developing other opportunities.
Q. What type of length are we talking about for this event?
ANDREW CRAIG: It will be a minimum of 200 miles. When we are a little close to having a finished project here in terms of construction, we will carry out some simulations. We are very conscious of the need to provide fans with the maximum racing for their dollars, so, like we have done at some of our other one-mile tracks you can easily see this go to 225; maybe even slightly longer. But, certainly, we have -- obviously we guarantee absolutely a minimum of 200 miles.
Q. Has there been any market research done in this city to see if there -- how strong a CART fan base there is in Chicago versus, say, a NASCAR fan base?
ANDREW CRAIG: Certainly this is very much the heartland of Champ Car Racing. We know from all of our surveys -- we carry many of our races in the Midwest; that Chicago based fans are a major part of the fan group at any race, so, obviously for us a major part of this was bringing racing right to their front doors. And, certainly we get good TV ratings in Chicago; strong following in the press for the sport and we are very confident this will be a good markets for our kind of racing.
Q. I guess Mr. Duffy could answer this question. Presumably if Mr. France and Mr. George get their track built, one would think you guys wouldn't be at the top of the list to get any NASCAR dates or supposedly wouldn't want an IRL date. I mean, presumably your business plan is that with this CART date, you guys have a profitable facility; is that correct?
ED DUFFY: This facility is designed so that the one race here makes this financially successful. But, I would not suggest at all that we want to exclude IRL or any other body from racing here. This is a freestanding project that is being developed in conjunction with the member of the CART Team and the CART Board here. And we are pleased that CART, being the leaders that they are, stepped up to the plate here and worked with us to get this done. But we want to invite everybody to come look at this place and see what it is going to be about and see what Chicago can do for racing.
T.E. McHALE: I am going to step in and ask that we take one more question for our guests as our time is getting short today. One last question before we wrap it up for the day.
Q. Chip, I want to congratulate you on coming up with a facility where you are going to instantly make money the first year. Is there any sort of entitlement process or anything which can delay this project at all?
CHIP GANASSI: I am going to have to turn that over to Ed. I don't -- I don't know that I am able to answer that.
ED DUFFY: We have done the preliminary work in terms of any of the environmental challenge that one would meet in a project this size and there are none that exist. Zoning is in place at the local level. There are no other state or local ordinances that we would fall into. So at the present time, I don't think there are any impediments at all that we would have to deal with.
T.E. McHALE: Thank you. At this time we are going to wrap it up for the afternoon. We want to say thank you to our guests in Chicago for joining us this afternoon and wish them luck in their new venture. I want to thank all of you who took the time to spend some time with us this afternoon. We wish you a good day.
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