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Uncensored CΛRT Commentary
by Ed Donath

Can Chris Pook Rescue CΛRT?

The following commentary was written just after Chris Pook took over as CEO of Championship Auto Racing Teams on December 20, 2001. Officially unpublished until now, this piece is presented in what is, perhaps, the eleventh hour of Grandpa Chris’ tenure with CΛRT…

ATHENS, NY—"A great deal of potential exists within CART as a business organization and as a motorsports property.” – Christopher R. Pook.

Statements like the preceding are reminiscent of any number of opening paragraphs from any number of commentaries penned by this renegade scribe in the last century. Just throw in a few “if-only-they-would-do-this” suggestions and my latest constructive criticism piece would have been well on its way to becoming yet another completed “CART: From the Fan’s Point of View” essay.

But, unfortunately, it has been far too long since optimistic criticism, as it relates to our beloved speed sport, has represented anything but an exercise in futility.

“And I will immediately introduce some of the proven business disciplines and practices that have served me well throughout my career in order to bring CART to a new level of success.” Thusly, Chris Pook completed the first sentence of his first official statement as CART President/CEO.

Introduce would certainly be the operative word in Pook’s strategy to rebuild Championship Auto Racing Teams—especially if that plan includes the utilization of personnel who have previously labored under Joe Heitzler and/or within the framework of CART’s creativity-stifling two-board management system.

The obvious conclusion that any astute outside observer arrives at is that CART’s current functionaries have either forgotten or never knew what constitutes “proven business disciplines.”

"The entire CART community currently finds itself in a very challenging environment," Pook added.

"It is my goal to quickly develop an energized business plan and management team to lead the organization in a direction beneficial for CART, its teams and drivers, promoters, manufacturers/suppliers as well as our corporate sponsors and shareholders,” the new honcho continued. “I need to get my arms around the folks in the CART office and build a similar team [similar to what?] of energized and dedicated individuals who will execute on the game plan and be winners."

"Chris certainly has a vast experience and tremendous knowledge, but this is a tall order for anybody—Chris included,” says Denny Young, VP Sales/Marketing for IMG Motorsports, the company that promotes the CART race in Cleveland. “It’s my sincere hope that it’s not too late. There’s definitely a clock that’s ticking, and I just hope that it’s not too late.”

Of course, IMG has an axe to grind as regards the inclusion, in Pook’s deal with CART, of the granting of preferred promoter status to Pook’s former employer, the Dover Downs Promotion Group.

Nonetheless, Denny Young’s eloquently expressed concern is one that many of us share: that Chris Pook’s perceived genius and expertise could end up being “too-little-too-late” to rescue the Champ Car Company.

As recently as Andrew Craig’s or Bobby Rahal’s occupation of the CEO’s office it might have been possible for a dynamic, savvy racing and sports business guy like Pook to finally put some reality into the long-held dream of fans like us—that CART would someday fix itself by having a better defined brand that includes better marketing of same.

Unfortunately, with the ongoing dumb-down of Champ Car racing’s high-tech nature combined with an ever-escalating “Back to Indy” movement, CART has become an even more un-defined entity than in the past.

Add the sad fact that the perennially under-marketed nature of the FedEx Championship Series has been further diminished by the discontinuation of staple oval races like Michigan and Nazareth and that ABC/ESPN TV coverage continues to be abysmal. Furthermore, the recent desertion by the company’s co-founder and his long-standing major sponsor plus a resolve that CART’s unique turbocharged engines must be eliminated as soon as possible make the job of turning the company around—let alone attempting to “brand” it—more difficult than anyone ever imagined.

"We have a true professional racing person running the organization, really for the first time in its history," team owner, board member, and CART co-founder U.E. “Pat” Patrick commented. "It’s my opinion that Chris will do an excellent job, and bring CART back to the heights it’s enjoyed in the past. It’s been my goal for years, but we could never get the right man. We’ve hired good people, they just haven’t known the business.”

Arturo Romero, Quaker State Mexico’s Motorsports Director says: "I am very happy about the decision [to hire Pook]. I know Chris Pook and with CART in his hands, I believe he will make the changes that are important because, in all of the positions he has had in the past, he has shown the potential, the integrity, and the talent to work. Many people say that CART is coming down, but I think the opposite. In the hands of this guy, CART will be back to the level of success it was five years ago."

Sounds pretty good, until you realize that the phrase CART Marketing was as laughable an oxymoron five years ago as it is today—and that the only real business differences between CART then vs. CART now is the publicly-owned current status of the company and its full, albeit tacit, support of the inheritor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

At this point, it’s hard to disagree with Mario Andretti who, as you know, I’ve never considered to be anything more than a magnificent auto racer:

"The car owners need to be saved from themselves, and Chris is the only guy who can do it,” says Mario.

Nonetheless, if Mario and the others are wrong and Chris Pook’s mission fails, Champ Car racing will cease to exist. As Denny Young says: “There’s definitely a clock that’s ticking…”

Copyright © 2003 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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