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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

The High Cost of Living
1/28/04

Athens, NY—A few venue commitments, a specialized trailer or two, and a collection of turbocharged engines: the so-called assets that remain from a once great, diversified international racing series’ estate.

As was the case while it was still alive, the series’ archenemy continues to covet the possessions of the deceased—as if he hasn’t already inherited enough during his lifetime—and he appears as prepared as ever to burn copious amounts of cash in the endeavor of nailing his rival’s coffin shut and obliterating its memory.

The list of debts and liabilities in the CART estate is long, and it will certainly be difficult for anyone to manage. Even a company with a well-thought-out plan of operation will be challenged with legal and financial ramifications that are yet to surface. Forthcoming are lawsuits and claims from such disparate groups as stockholders, municipalities, promoters, and suppliers.

Lost now in the debated issues—business models, commitment to succeed, the highest bidder—are the intangible assets. They will be impossible to resurrect, regardless of whom ultimately takes over.

Lost will be so many global memories and the good will that were among the wonderful byproducts of excruciatingly close on-track competition. Exciting memories spawned by techno excellence and gifted multi-dimensional racers are all that remain.

Lost will be the sweet aroma of methanol and the echoes of turbo-scream that would hang in the air for an entire year until yet another almost-always close Champ Car competition returned to a stalwart fan’s favorite venue.

But the saddest loss of all, should the racing disappear, will be of the scores of innovative human beings that made the awesome racing product run from behind the scenes.

What will become of those engineers, technicians, clerks, caretakers, etc. who toiled in earnest for the ever-mismanaged sanctioning body or who were employed by teams, promoters, or suppliers of the series? Why, thus far, have we heard so little about the important human aspect of the demise of Champ Car racing?

Frankly, CART’s last campaign was not on a par with those that preceded it. Not only was the driver contingent watered-down by the loss of championship caliber pilots to other series, but the techno excellence was also diminished in the name of financial necessity.

The long-standing fan argument—“which of the two American open-wheel series is better”—not withstanding, anyone in his right mind who remembers what Indy/Champ Car racing is capable of producing when it isn’t at war with itself can never be happy or satisfied with either side’s dumbed-down vision of a 2004 season.

While what has happened to our beloved speed sport is a perfect illustration that the worst managed company will eventually fail—even if its product is intriguing and superior to its competitors’—the converse is also true. Businessmen with great management plans whose products are inferior are also destined for failure.

Why? Because sooner or later, the money well will always run dry.

Copyright © 2004 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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