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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

Memorial Weekend Special:
Free Continental Breakfast & USA Today


ATHENS, NY—After CART abandoned its homegrown Memorial Weekend US 500 concept and then, neglectfully, allowed that potentially entertaining and grow-able plant to die for lack of promotional watering, team owners were left to their own devices regarding their activities, if any, during subsequent Mays. It was this invitation to anarchy that contributed as much as any other single factor to the unfortunate predicament in which the Champ Car Company finds itself today.

Ironically, in 1996 and for several years following, it was CART and not the Speedway inheritor’s new series which could boast of having not only of the “cars and the stars” but also the most credible cadre of sponsors to showcase. So when the US 500’s original Michigan Speedway venue was deemed unviable, the entire generically named event could have/should have been moved to an alternate Memorial Weekend venue. Perhaps Fontana, California would have been a smart choice because the event would not have been in such a direct regional attendance competition with the Indianapolis 500.

Or, the US 500 could easily have been transformed into something entirely different. CART’s most enduring and endearing quality, after all, is that its Champ Cars are capable of running on a wide variety of permanent and temporary circuits. Hawaiian Super-Prix, for example, would certainly have been a USA event. A street race in an historic colonial American city such as Philadelphia, Boston or New York during a business-deserted holiday weekend might, by now, have become a racing tradition for the new millennium.

“Water under the bridge. Quit beating a dead horse,” you say? Well, you may be right, but now there is another side of the story…

When the Champ Car World Series tours the continent this May—ostensibly to ramp up its Euro exhibitions in order to become more closely aligned with the F1 mother ship as it is being prepared for rendezvous and docking in 2005—a good amount of international publicity plus pleasure for many of Champ Car racing’s most loyal fans will result.

Attendance, especially at venues wherein one of the popular European touring car series will share the bill, is likely to be respectable. This co-mingling will also help to lure engine manufacturers into a post-Cosworth series. Continental racers the likes of Dario Franchitti, Kenny Brack and Gil de Ferran will experience some pain and jealous moments, which is not a bad thing either.

The downside, however, is that it will be logistically difficult at best for the large North American fan contingent to enjoy May’s Euro events on TV. That will create some undesirable byproducts.

Already weak TV exposure will be further diminished and, as usual, the lack of ratings will ultimately return to haunt CART. Worse yet, accessibility to extensive Indy 500 coverage here in the homeland will capture new fans’ interest while CART is off Euro-junketing. And begin steeling yourselves now against the incessant chanting, by a legion of so-called Champ Car fans, of the cliché mantra: “I was just flipping through the channels when I spotted my favorite ‘CART drivers’ and decided to watch for a minute.”

Should our Presented by Bridgestone/Powered by Ford Beloved Speed Sport do an annual month-long tour of Europe? Absolutely! CART’s non-Indycentric new identity, broad-based participation and sponsorship demand it.

However, the Month of May would be better utilized by creating a major event for motorsports fans right here in the USA; fans who will, for the most part, never be seduced by sleek machines traversing the British countryside but who, if given the chance, might tune into an interesting All-American event that doesn’t force them to sit through all of the trite, predictable pomp and circumstance of the Indy 500.

Memorial Weekend is the time for taking a dip in an old pond—not for crossing one.

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

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