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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

Bidder Enemies
5/16/05

Athens, NY—Talk about ambivalent feelings.

On one hand it’s great to finally see someone treat the inheritor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway like just any other dog-eat-dog business competitor. We’ve all grown extremely weary of the hypocrisy, groveling, and double-dealing that have characterized the last decade in American open-wheel racing.

On the other hand, watching Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe keep digging into their seemingly bottomless pockets to gain or maintain some slight advantage over Champ Car’s nemesis makes conservative students of history like this renegade scribe just a tad bit nervous.

Despite the likelihood that the OWRS co-owners themselves will land on their feet, their racing business is being run in a manner that too closely resembles the M.O. of the very dog they’ve been trying to gulp down. As such, therefore, the Champ Car World Series has the potential to become the same kind of perpetual money pit as their competitor’s.

While the Speedway owner is obviously stubborn enough to continue burning through his inheritance, it is unlikely that more astute businessmen like Mr. Kalkhoven and Mr. Forsythe would not, at some point, opt to cut their losses and move on to the next, more profitable deal in the event that their original Champ Car business model falters.

Try to remember that there is a distinct difference between investing in the future of a business as opposed to subsidizing a business merely to enable it to have a future.

At a reported asking price in excess of $20 million, Dover Motorsports is poised to sell its rights to the Long Beach Grand Prix, an event considered by most to be Champ Car’s most significant weekend—certainly here in the USA. The Long Beach Press-Telegram quotes Kevin Kalkhoven as saying, "…they [Dover] have hired bankers, and we’re in discussions."

KK appears ready to rush headlong into his next Champ Car-related acquisition despite the fact that the IRL’s VP of Business Affairs, Ken Ungar, told the same Press-Telegram reporter that his boss "would not be a bidder" for Dover’s LBGP promotional rights at this time.

Given the city’s extensive ongoing relationship with Champ Car racing and the long-time support of its promoters—Grandpa Chris Pook, you will recall, went directly from heading-up the LBGP promotion that he created to the CEO’s office at CART—it is difficult to fathom that the Long Beach script would be flipped in favor of f-inheritor without at least giving Kalkhoven and/or his partners the opportunity to do some eleventh hour up-bidding.

Better late than never, most open-wheel racing fans have finally realized that the splitter’s "vision" of a free-standing unsubsidized racing series built around a single marquee event was, in fact, just a pipe dream. Yet, little is being written about the parallel Champ Car universe that contains far more than its share of sponsor-deficient cars, ride buyers, and teams run, out of pocket, by the series’ principals—aside from those acquisitions deemed survival-necessary by Kevin Kalkhoven.

Henchmen like Ungar, if not the inheritor himself, have apparently come to the realization that regardless of the depth of an owner’s pockets he just can’t continue to buy and/or subsidize everything.

An ironic future scenario might include FOR SALE signs on the Speedway, the Cosworth engine works, and the Long Beach Grand Prix with no one around that possesses both enough cash and an American open-wheel racing series to bid on them.

Road Rage! An op-ed feature by Ed Donath.

Copyright © 2005 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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