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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

Bridge to the Future

ATHENS, NY—Maybe old dogs can be taught new tricks after all. Whether it was Chris Kneifel or Grandpa Chris himself who pulled the trigger and ordered Jim Swintal to wave the red flag immediately after Dario’s Honda engine blowed up five laps from the finish at Fontana, the effect of the decisive move was to renew fan confidence in the rules-making and rules-enforcement divisions of the Champ Car Company—a major coup after last week’s PR debacle in Australia.

The 500’s crowd-pleasing yellow/red/green/white/checkered flag finish also provided an interesting byproduct; the poetic justice of a well-loved struggling American former CART Champion prevailing over his disloyal counterpart on their own turf.

Another raceday winner: struggling CEO Chris Pook in his televised pre-race announcement that CART’s partnership with Bridgestone will be enhanced for 2003 and, hopefully, beyond. The tire manufacturer will be taking over from FedEx as the presenting sponsor of the series. At last, Championship Auto Racing Teams will be aligned with a global corporate partner who will, by necessity, aggressively market and advertise products through the exploitation of its racing connection.

Regardless of the low point to which CART has sunk as a result of the retarded racing economy and its own dysfunctional management, our beloved speed sport still represents an excellent marketing and PR vehicle for international consumer product companies like Bridgestone.

If you think CART is desperate because it stands to lose millions of shareholder dollars in its struggle to make a comeback then take a look at CART’s two biggest corporate partners for 2003. Doing so should make you feel a tad bit better about the relatively easy job involved in turning around a mere racing series.

Both Ford and Firestone—their business relationship dates all the way back to the personal/business friendship of their founders— have lost very significant market share, which translates into billions of dollars, over the last couple of years; the deadly combination of Ford Explorer SUVs and Firestone Wilderness truck tires have been almost entirely responsible. Settlement of the resultant litigation will ultimately create a loss of even more cash and consumer confidence.

However, through two untarnished brands—Cosworth and Bridgestone—the two corporate giants with a century-long connection somehow believe they can use CART as a tool that will aid them in their individual struggles to recapture lost customers. Safety, performance, reliability and durability are, after all, among the most critical elements consumers consider when they are in the market for automotive-related products. Racing success can be a very convincing salesman.

"This is a significant development for us," Chris Pook stated happily. "I look at it from the marketing side and a very big building block has been put in place and that is very important when you are restructuring a company and setting a new course.

Bridgestone’s Director of Racing, Al Speyer, explained how the sponsorship got a thumbs-up from the corporate bean counters despite the company’s tenuous economic circumstances:

"With the overall economic situation we all face, continuing investments in motorsports are always looked on with a fine-tooth comb and we probably looked at this as hard as we've looked at any involvement in the past 10 years,” Speyer said. “But I think we have a very good sense of where CART is headed and we see great strength in CART. We know there is going to be a changing of the guard and we're excited about some of the new blood that's coming in. We see a lot of strength in the street circuit races and those great crowds in Long Beach, Canada, Mexico and Australia."

Speyer also added that Bridgestone will increase its TV commercial count during CART telecasts and will immediately ramp up in-house promotions to kick off its marquee connection with the Champ Cars. A formal announcement by CART, Ford and Bridgestone that the 2003 Champ Car series will be called: "Bridgestone presents the CART Championship Powered by Ford" is imminent.

Hopefully, an inspirational bond will be formed between three corporate partners that will help to enable each of them to regain the success they once enjoyed. What they all have strongly in common is that they are struggling. But struggling often ends in victory. Just ask Jimmy Vasser.

Copyright © 2002 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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