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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

COO: Coup or Cuckoo?

ATHENS, NY—For months, the shill literati (and yes, even this renegade scribe) have given Grandpa Chris pretty high marks for his creative take-charge marketing, PR and sales efforts since assuming the CART helm. Unfortunately, no one has yet written quite so optimistically about the business/financial/legal elements of the Champ Car Company having been nearly as well managed since Pook took over.

However, with the hiring of David Clare for a newly created position—CART Chief Operating Officer—it is suddenly revealed that Chris Pook is weakest in the very management tasks in which he has, thus far, convinced us that he excels. And you thought Uncle Joe Heitzler was the master of bamboozlement!

What we all somehow naively believed, both before and during Grandpa Chris’ tenure as CART Savior, is that he is a marketing and promotion genius. Fortunately, we have finally been set straight by the announcement that the COO will be responsible for the oversight of the promoter relations, marketing/sales, racing and communications operations of Championship Auto Racing Teams. Those are, of course, the very areas of Pook’s weakness.

Furthermore, the announcement informs us that while Clare will answer directly to Pook in all matters, the freed-up CEO will, henceforth, concentrate his own efforts primarily in the areas of finance/administration, joint venture operations and legal affairs. Those are, of course, the very areas in which we now know that Pook excels.

As for Mr. Clare, he most recently served as director of sports marketing with Merit/Burson-Marsteller, a South Korean firm. Previously, Clare as entrepreneur ran Event Promotion International Ltd, which specialized in international motorsports projects in Formula 1, CART and NASCAR, as well as projects with automotive companies and suppliers and with the sports of soccer and sailing. Early in his career there was even a stint with Carl Haas of Newman-Haas Racing.

However, the most interesting entry on Clare’s resume reads:
1987 through 1996 – Man Friday to F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone

Mr. Clare’s ForMoola One responsibilities included financial control, promotion and administration of the F1 Constructors Association and oversight of other Bernie the Boss companies. He was also involved in the administration of Formula 3000, FIA Sports Cars & Rallying, and the Motorcycle World Championship wherein he acted as a liaison with drivers, teams, federations, plus media and TV companies.

"I welcome this new opportunity enabling me to apply my motorsport and commercial experience and skills,” the 47-year old Clare said. “I hope that I can make a significant contribution to Championship Auto Racing Teams and I am gratified that the company has chosen me to be its Chief Operating Officer. I am excited that this new position will enable me to be directly involved in the day-to-day operation of one of the most challenging racing categories in the world. I believe that a talented group of individuals is already in place at CART, and I am especially enthusiastic about the prospect of working together with them.”

Yadda, yadda…what did you expect him to say?

But the new COO seemingly veered a bit off-script when he concluded by ad-libbing: “The CART organization has made great progress over the 2002 season in defining its format and is now well-positioned to be able to maximize the huge potential of Champ Car racing—including the continued evolution of its unique high-impact street racing events.”

True, CART has long been the world’s street race leader. But didn’t that all begin with Chris Pook’s masterful creation and subsequent marketing of the Long Beach venue? Apparently, it did not.

Even after F1 deserted the Beach wasn’t it Grandpa Chris who continued tweaking and nurturing the event toward what it ultimately has become? Wasn’t he the promotional inspiration for would-be Pooks who would later bring CART to Australia, Canada, Mexico and many US cities? Apparently, he was not.

In fact, making sure that everything was being done legally and that revenues were being collected and properly appropriated is what actually enabled Chris Pook to help morph a decaying harbor city into the Monte Carlo of the New World. It was the good ship HMS Queen Mary, obviously, that provided most of the marketing and promotion value for the LBGP and which truly inspired all of those imitative street races that followed.

Seriously, it should be noted with sadness that while a new high-paying executive position has been created at Championship Auto Racing Teams, the same board that approved the hiring of the new COO also ordered approximately 20 CART employee lay-offs to take immediate effect during what has become a not-so-merry Christmas. That improved management might ultimately enable re-hiring provides little consolation to the affected families.

Back on point: What does the hiring of a COO really mean?

Is this Bernie Ecclestone’s initial move to get a trusted associate inside CART to make his future takeover bid go more smoothly? Is David Clare to be groomed as heir apparent to Chris Pook when he retires? Is CART being groomed to be F1’s premier support series and will it function more like F3000 in the future? Will South Korea and/or other parts of Asia comprise CART’s next street venue hunting grounds? Will CART be aligned with other international sports in its future co-promotions?

As usual, there are many more questions than answers.

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

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