Keeping It Off the Wall|
by Ed Donath
Calling a spade…
Athens, NY—As has been amply reported of late, the “contact”, for lack of a better word, between CART co-founder and current IRL team owner Roger Penske and current Champ Car World Series principals ended, predictably, with little more than perhaps a modest increase in détente as a result of the parties’ inability to merge and/or unify without consent from the inheritor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
As well, a refreshing new OWRS attitude—illustrated by recent quotes from partners Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe who have said that they are not only pleased that their company’s business plan is progressing but that attendance and revenues are, thus far, ahead of projection—undermined any supposition held by Roger Penske et al that the CCWS is as needy as its struggling predecessor might have been at this juncture.
"The fact that we survived surprised them," OWRS partner Paul Gentilozzi is quoted in a 7/23/04 piece by Mike Chambers in the Denver Post. "We kept on going and they do enough underground work to know that there is a whole bunch of successful things that [are] going to happen. There is good news coming…there is a better future sooner than I figured."
Nonetheless, the nagging question of why Roger Penske would have initiated such a futile contact in the first place hangs in the air. Now, with Mario Andretti poised to take his own reunification act on the road again, the dots need to be connected so the open-wheel racing community can know what is truly motivating major unifiers like Andretti and Penske.
Word that Penske’s engine supplier, Toyota, is about to desert f-inheritor—turnabout is fair play, you know—might have the Captain at his wits’ end, especially in light of the dominating success of Andretti the Younger’s large Honda-powered team and its firm multi-car deal with that company. But who knows where the Japanese carmaker will end-up in the next couple of years once its homeland rival exits the series?
Venues aside, doesn’t the entire ex-CART contingent want to go road racing, just like in the old days, with the appropriate equipment for that exercise? And don’t the current Champ Car specs make it that much less costly to race on any kind of circuit?
Clearly, the IRL’s all-ovals strategy has been a dismal failure. Not only has it never come close to paying for itself but in fact, in spite of season after season of wide-open throttle, close-finish events that have featured more than their share of high-flying wrecks, Indy Car racing has done absolutely nothing to support the strength of f-inheritor’s marquee event.
Roger Penske has owned major speedways in the past. Gerald Forsythe, in his own right, does quite well with venue development and race promotions in Mexico. Michael Andretti finally has an occasional smile on his face since becoming a full-time entrepreneur with a big bankroll. Kevin Kalhoven and Paul Gentilozzi, apparently, can find the venture capital necessary to invest in any kind of endeavor. Carl Haas, who now chomps on expensive unlit cigars in both series, is the Lola chassis distributor on this side of the pond.
Any single one of the aforementioned individuals (and/or omitted others) might not, alone, be able to make the Speedway owner—and his reportedly ever-more-disgruntled family—an offer that he can’t refuse. But as a consortium, Roger Penske, perhaps rightly, believes that anything in business is possible; even the re-unification of American open-wheel racing.
There was another interesting Paul Gentilozzi reunification quote in today’s Denver Post. When asked whether Champ Car could ever work with, or under, the inheritor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Gentilozzi said:
"…Somewhere there is a guy who is really capable of doing this [managing a unified open-wheel racing series]. You don't make bold leadership decisions by birthright, but by good business."
PG may have just been calling a spade a spade. But maybe—just maybe—he was cryptically tipping his hand.
Road Rage! An op-ed feature by Ed Donath.
Copyright © 2004 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.
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