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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