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CART Media Conference

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Chris Pook
Bob Singleton
July 7, 2002

ADAM SAAL: We don't have any plan or scheduled announcements. We just thought it would be good to have some media availability with both Bob Singleton and Chris Pook, the various senior grandes of the Molson Indy as well as CART. And I want to do it this weekend because it's halfway through this year and we just want to open with Chris commenting on where he feels we're at right now. Chris.

CHRIS POOK: Well, the first thing I want to do is I want to thank Bob Singleton and Molson's Toronto Indy for another superb presentation. The attention to detail around here is just terrific and the way the event is promoted and conducted is outstanding; the reach across the community is truly remarkable. Unfortunately I was not here Thursday night for the black-tie function but I heard nothing but raves about it. I was here Friday evening for the driver party at Wayne Gretzky's establishment and extremely impressive. You and your team, Bob, congratulations, because that's what urban racing is all about. This is a very good example of it in this city. You have asked me to comment briefly on the six months. I could probably sum it up in one word and that would be "Educational." Probably learned more about the sanctioning body in the six-months timeframe than I wanted to learn - be that as it may, I think we have made some big strides. We have talked about the management changes we made at the beginning of the year. We talked about our approach towards marketing. We're starting to see the fruits of that labor now. You've constantly questioned us about teams leaving and things like that, I feel very confident now if you walk through this paddock and you ask all these teams that were supposedly leaving, whether they are leaving, I think you'll find a completely different story than the perception that was out there. Obviously Honda and Toyota have departed, and that's fine. They will go to a series which is comprised of all oval races. As you know I am on record with you as saying that I am not convinced at all that oval open-wheel racing can compete with stock cars on ovals. We worked our backsides off last weekend in Chicago -- let me correct myself. The team worked their backside off last week in Chicago and we put in a genuine 25,000 folks on race day. That's pulling 25,000 folks out of a market that's, I don't know, 10, 12 million people. So I continue to question myself very, very severely on this issue of open-wheel cars on ovals. Now, whether or not, for this series, doing one or two ovals in the year with our urban races and our regular road course races, whether that balance makes sense, I believe it does, but I think that we do need to visit it one more time and we will. That's not to say I am recommending we take Milwaukee off the schedule or I am recommending that we take Fontana off the schedule, or Chicago off the schedule. That's not what I am saying to you. What I am saying to you is that we have got to find a methodology here to make this attendance at oval races work. Particularly oval races that are in key urban markets such as Milwaukee and Chicago. I think that the next ten days you are going to see a schedule for 2003. We will meet with our teams next week in Cleveland. We will share with them not only our thought process for the schedule for 2003, but we'll also talk to them about the long time process of 2004 and 2005. I am sure you are all going to ask about this date in Toronto and I will ask Bob to answer that question bearing in mind I suggested to him that it not a good question to answer. (LAUGHTER).

BOB SINGLETON: I think that's an oxymoron.

CHRIS POOK: But, let me just assure you that we will absolutely be back in Toronto. No question in our mind and I don't believe there's any question in Molson's mind it's a great relationship. Our Montreal event is going to be huge. It will be another Toronto and our Vancouver event continues to be an outstanding event. So the Canadian events make up a very important part of our whole marketing strategy. It's the top end of the NAFTA package with the United States in the middle and Mexico on the bottom of it. That's just how the sandwich is built. That doesn't mean it's the order of preference at all. It is just what we offer. Lausitzring will take place. BPF promoter relations Tim Mayer was in Lausitz this week, and we have met with -- what do they call him over there, the bankruptcy referee, they are in Chapter 11 - we have met with him and we have arrived at a good solid working relationship to get that event underway. We feel confident about it. We're committed to the European races and we continue to be committed to the RR as well. That, I think, will give you an overview. We'll do some testing very shortly with both a Lola chassis and a Reynard chassis with the new engine configuration for next year. We are hoping to get that underway in about 30 days, so that we can have a very clear jump on next year's season and we're not out there shooting from the hip and experimenting on the racetrack. That will be with the horsepower configurations down to the 700, 750 horsepower range. We're planning very strongly on making sure that our engine chassis packages for the next two years will be competitive in the form of what the audience needs to see. And finally I would say to you that our conversations continue with many of the world's leading automobile manufacturers on the concept of the engine program for 2005 going forward. We'll probably invite and I would emphasize the word "Invite" four, maybe five at the very most engine manufacturers to be in our series. Four seems to be the sensible number. That planning process is underway as well. I think that probably concludes the overview comments that I need to make. Now I would suggest that perhaps it is appropriate for Mr. Singleton to address you. I just would like to again remind you - not because he's sitting here beside me - but this is one of the outstanding promoters on the CART FedEx Championship.

BOB SINGLETON: Thanks for those kind words, Chris. We in Toronto and Molsons in Toronto have a great team and we work hard at putting on an event. I am going to answer this question before you even ask it. We are committed for three years in Toronto with CART. We're committed for three years in Vancouver with CART. We are committed for five years in Montreal. The answer to this question is If CART'S here, we're here. It is a Molson and CART relationship and that's the relationship we like and that's the relationship we're growing upon. And that's what I want to say. The weather outside is great. I want to have a great day today, but our relationship with CART is strong. That's all I have to say.

Q. You said many times part of the appeal of this series or a crucial component of this series is sort of the multi-disciplinary nature of the circuits you run. On the other hand you are saying, I don't know if ovals can work. Is two, three ovals enough for you to advertise and sort of promote that multi-disciplinary component of the series?

CHRIS POOK: Well, that would -- if we did three ovals or four ovals that would represent 25% -- almost 25% of our series and with the three disciplines you would probably like to probably see a third of them be ovals. The fact of the matter is that's not going to be. We will end up, I would say, with three ovals in the series; maybe four. The other thing I need to say to you is that it is our intent to have one chassis kit, if you will, aerodynamic kit for the entire series. So the same aerodynamic kit that you use for the street course that you use for the road course will be on the oval cars. And once again, that will eliminate about another 6 or $700,000 out of our teams' budgets.

Q. August is the date when the teams have to file applications for next year to take advantage of your 1.1 million dollar subsidy. Any teams signed up and more importantly what will your key teams, Ganassi and Team KOOL, which represent six of your cares?

CHRIS POOK: I believe that you are going to see a release here very shortly where some --

ADAM SAAL: 25 letters of intent have been received at CART Headquarters.

CHRIS POOK: 25 letters of intent have been received. There's another four sitting in the wings that we know of. The series will accommodate a maximum of 22 cars.

ADAM SAAL: Talk a little bit about why we're not disclosing who these teams are.

CHRIS POOK: We're not disclosing that quite similarly because the teams are all putting together their internal budgets and their internal relationships and my marketing staff is working with those teams and with those sponsors. And this is a joint effort on the part of CART and the teams together talking to the sponsors because clearly the sponsors have got some questions for us and one by one we're talking to the sponsors and I think without exception we have successfully answered all the questions that have been posed to us so far and the necessary commitments are in the pipeline to those teams with whom we visited in those sponsors.

Q. (Inaudible) (August 1 deadline question)--

CHRIS POOK: I am extremely intent but you have to understand, Rick, there's certain things that have to take place in the order of process. The first thing is we need to announce what our schedule is for the year 2003. That will happen after the Cleveland race next weekend. We'll make our presentation of the calendar and our strategic plan forward, the calendar going forward in 3, 4 and 5 so the teams can understand where we're going and what we're doing. At that particular point they then need to go back to their sponsors and say, okay, here are the markets that are on board in 2003; here are the markets that will be on board in 2004 and here's where they will be in 2005. So a sponsor now can make a valued judgment on the delivery process that CART offers. And as you know, I have emphasized very strongly to you and your colleagues in the media the tremendous strength of the delivery platform that CART offers to corporations who wish to invest in the series be it on the side of race cars or be it as a series sponsor or event sponsor, we need to -- we need to provide all the ammunition to these companies so they can make valued business judgements on this part of their business; in the same manner that they make valued business judgements on the other parts of their business.

Q. (Inaudible)

CHRIS POOK: I would say that we're going to stay with our August 1 date pretty strongly. Now will that be a cutoff in a sense we won't except anybody after August the 1st if that's what you are asking? No, we will clearly keep the door open until we get the 22 cars. One of the things we're doing is if somebody signs up with us, we want to see a signed sponsor contract. We don't want to know the details of it, we just want to see the company name and the company officer's signatures on the line because we want to be sure that we have got, as I said to you before, at a very minimum 18 solid, solid racing cars and at the maximum 22 solid racing cars. Right now you have 18 solid racing cars in the paddock. As I mentioned to one of your colleagues this morning, from Reuters when -- I have gone through enough of the pain of two shaky racing cars on there because all you guys wanted to talk about were the two shaky teams. You didn't want to talk about the 18 solid teams. So I preferred, with all due respect to your writing capabilities, broadcasting capabilities, I think I'd certainly like to get rid of the two shaky teams and let you guys now focus on the 18 solid teams.

Q. Similar to F-I, I don't know if they have an undertaking required, but you said you will take a notice of a sponsor. Will you require any other financial undertakings to Mike sure that they are viable for 16, 18, 20 races?

CHRIS POOK: I think -- we know most of these teams pretty well. We know their capabilities. I just want to be sure that they do have sufficient sponsorship to be able to make the season work for themselves. And that's not interfering in their business because it's becoming clear to us that there's a very strong possibility that this thing may get cut off at 22 cars and the one thing I don't want to do is a guy who has gone out -- particularly a new teams for example, has gone out and worked very hard to put together his sponsorship program and all of a sudden he's outside in the cold looking in. That's what we want to avoid.

Q. That was actually my question, I mean, what I am getting is that you would actually turn away teams if you had your 22 maximum signed?

CHRIS POOK: That's what we're saying today. That's management's recommendation to the Board of Directors, and the reason as you know is that we have many venues where space is an issue in the paddock. I have to be aware of that. We have good space here, however, as successful as Bob makes this race and it could well be some development in this area, and I don't want nobody to be in a position two, three years from now saying: Bob, you have got to create more space because I have got 26 race cars and you've got to find a place to put them. I went through that with CART at Long Beach for six or seven years and it just -- it turns the joint upside-down. And so I'd much prefer to have 22 really solid good race cars competing very competitively and a promoter who can manage his venue in an efficient manner so that the entertainment product that we together present to the public is well presented, well operated, and the people enjoy themselves.

Q. You mentioned that things had been worked out with EuroSpeedway is that just for this year or for multiple years because I believe their contract was originally for like four, five years?

CHRIS POOK: It is a four-year contract, you are absolutely right, but under these conditions you take one year at a time. You don't get greedy. You just take one year at a time and give them a chance to breathe, get themselves stabilized. So it would be very incorrect for us to go in and start hammering at the table saying we have a four or five year deal here, we want you, Mr. Administrator, to do this. We know the stress and strain they are under, so we will take it, you know -- in a sensible approach, we'll do the race in September and then on the Monday following the race we will sit down and say: What do we do next year. You will see Germany on the schedule and it will probably have a little asterisk beside it that will say, maybe Lausitzring; maybe someplace else. Have I avoided answering your question.

Q. You answered it fine. Will we see a 20-race schedule and will there be any surprises?

CHRIS POOK: I don't think so. I don't think so. I have said to you guys for the last six months that one of the intents of this management team is to stabilize this company. I believe we have stabilized the company, and to do something silly in the first year of stability would not be a sensible thing that a responsible manager should do.

Q. Curious why do you think Americans are so enthralled by oval racing right now, any ideas?

CHRIS POOK: You obviously haven't been reading the attendance numbers. I don't -- you said why are Americans so enthralled? My answer is you haven't been reading the attendance numbers. Because if they were enthralled they would be going to races. They are not going to oval races. If you look at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway you will find now that the second largest attendance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an open-wheel race. The largest attended event is a stock car race.

Q. I guess that's what I was alluding is the fact that they are enthralled with stock car oval racing right now; why do you think that is?

CHRIS POOK: I think stock car racing, that's a phenomena that has been built over the last 50-plus years they have done a wonderful job. You have got to acknowledge that the work the Franz family has done in that arena has just been huge. And they have worked at it a step at a time, building block, by building block. And they kept it very well under control. They have kept the costs under control reasonably. They have tried -- they put in cost-cutting procedures, I think, last year they started for the first time to try and keep the costs under control at a reasonable reach of the sponsors. And they do an outstanding job of marketing and they have done a wonderful job of presenting the characters of the Winston Cup scene. You go all the way -- I mean, when I first came here in the '60s, there were the Joe Weatherlys of the world and I think you had Junior Johnson out there at that time and you had Richard Petty just starting his career, and they jumped on the Petty bandwagon, the Petty name, they marketed it, merchandised it and promoted it. Did an outstanding job with that. Then you had Waltrip come along and they got him nicknamed Jaws, and doing all kinds of things. They really -- they maximized the assets they had. From Waltrip - it just went on and on and on, you know, to Jeff Gordon and now you have got this young kid Harvick, they have got. They lost Dale. What they did with Earnhardt was truly remarkable. They turned a bad guy into a good guy. I am not says he was bad in sense of being a bad character. I am just saying he was a tough character on the racetrack. We're going to be doing the same thing. We're working hard now. We have got a great guy in Tracy here that, you know, is a real character, but he's also one heck of a racing car driver, and you know, we're going to start to work some more with Paul, and his character. We just have -- this is not a reflection on any of our PR folks. We just have not given them the right direction yet to start building these characters up. We have got some real characters too. We just haven't marketed them yet. We are going to start doing that. The guy that's sitting on the pole today this guy has turned into one heck of a racing car driver. And you can say, yeah, he's got a great car. Yes, he does but watch him drive that car. He's driving that car at 10, 10s, he's on it. He's on it every moment he's out there, his foot, his right foot is on it - in it and on it. And you watch him, you know, the braking areas, he's by far the shortest breaker an he's early on the fuel. He's on the gas pedal before anybody else and he's last on the brakes. And he's confident in the race car, and he's driving it incredibly well. And you are going to say to me next, well, gosh, you are going to lose him to Formula I. Absolutely. He deserves to be there. I have no difficulty whatsoever if he joins Formula One and he joins the Montoya and Villeneuve because they are tremendous ambassadors for this series and it just proves once again the strength of this series. And if he moves on, I guarantee you there's going to be youngsters that will come along from wherever in the world, hopefully some Americans that will also stand on the gas early, and late on the brake pedal.

Q. Quickly, just following up, do you think more Americans -- if there are more American drivers in the CART circuit would that increase the popularity of CART in the United States?

CHRIS POOK: I think the popularity of CART is strong. Look at our attendance numbers. We're going to be putting our here, I think in ten days time, a comparative of attendance, sort of situation, so you guys can truly understand the facts here of what the real fact are versus what the spin is. But yes, it will help, but at the end of the day - at the end of the day this sport is no different than football or baseball, or hockey. You are either good at it or you're not. If you're good at it, no matter where you come from, the public will accept you because they appreciate the finesse of the athlete involved. I mean, who knew who Sammy Sosa was when he arrived at the Chicago White Sox ten years ago. No one had a clue who he was. Here's some kid that came out of -- who knew and then all of a sudden this guy start whacking the ball out of the ballpark and people were, oh, Sammy Sosa, yes, oh, yes, he was like there long lost cousin that came home all of a sudden. Racing car drivers are the same thing. No different. Our job is to project them to you guys and convince you guys that you need to talk and write about these guys. That's our responsibility.

ADAM SAAL: On our attendance we will break one million this weekend on a three-day attendance numbers, we are at about 800 grand through our first seven races. Those are 3-day attendance numbers combined. The healthy crowds that were here on Friday and Saturday certainly combined with today's race gate crowd will easily have us surpass the one million 3-day attendance.

CHRIS POOK: These are not massaged numbers. These are real numbers. No spin on these numbers.

Q. Do I understand this correctly that there will be a schedule basically published next weekend by the end of the weekend?

CHRIS POOK: For the first time I think in CART's history, we will have a dialogue with our teams about the schedule during the weekend, and then listen to their input and then public a schedule during the week.

Q. Do you intend to follow the Franz family model and be here for another 50 years?

CHRIS POOK: That will make me 112, David, so thank you very much. (Laughter) You bet this series is going to be around for the next 50 years.

Q. If you cannot announce the date of next year's Toronto Molson Indy, what date would you like to see?

BOB SINGLETON: That's an easy question to answer. We moved this year for one reason and one reason only, it was us because of the World Youth Day coming to Toronto, so we moved (inaudible) I certainly didn't want to argue with him. So what date would I like -- plus I stand up two goals, that's why it's not raining. (Laughter). We'd like to go back to our old date and we are negotiating that with CART right now, and that is not finalized but we'd like to get back to the second weekend of July. That's what the fans in Toronto are used to; that's what we're used to.

CHRIS POOK: And we're listening to him.

Q. Do you think with hindsight - I know you weren't involved in any of this decision - but the decision to open up the month of May so that teams can go to Indianapolis, do you think in hindsight that that was a mistake?

CHRIS POOK: Yes and no. No, it was not a mistake and I will answer this question with my Indianapolis residency hat on, it was not a mistake because the hotels and restaurants in Indianapolis had a very, very good Memorial Day weekend. From the economics of the city our guys made a big difference in the number of people that stayed there, went there, et cetera, et cetera. Now, leaving the entire month of May open, not very bright. Not very bright. But you know, hindsight is foresight, there was a genuine effort in the compatibility, a genuine effort to outreach - everyone was saying the two series are going to come together, so, we for want of a rude term dropped our trousers and there weren't any takers, so we pulled them up again and we moved on.

ADAM SAAL: Ladies, and Gentlemen, I am afraid we are out of time.

CHRIS POOK: What can I say to you? (LAUGHTER)

ADAM SAAL: I always told Chris I'd never leave him hanging, but boy it was hard -- (laughter) -- We are indeed out of time. Bob and Chris, thank you so much, we do appreciate it, gentlemen.

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