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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

20/22 Vision = Myopia

“Ideally,” CART CEO Christopher R. Pook has said, “we should have between 20 and 22 Champ Cars in the field of each 2003 FedEx Championship Series event.” The Lauriat of Long Beach has assured us on at least two subsequent occasions that his magic number will be achieved by virtue of commitments he has already received from prospective CART team owners.

A 20 to 22 car field would not only represent a much-needed increase over the 17 or 18 cars that we will be accustomed to seeing in competition by the end of the ’02 CART campaign, but it will also manage to squeak by most race promoters’ contractual “minimum car count clause” demands. Also, as the CEO has stated, the availability of proper pit box space, cargo plane accommodations for overseas events and Cosworth engines will not be jeopardized by having as many as 22 cars in competition at any given racing venue.

Of course, Pook’s Champ Car increase — if he actually succeeds at reaching his not-so-lofty car count goal — will be due in large measure to recently announced cost-cutting efforts vis-a-vis the new spec engine program, the chassis freeze and, most of all, the promise of approximately $1.5 million in financial assistance that will accrue to the first 20 cars that sign-up for full-season series participation. Grandpa Chris’ track record is strong enough that he must be given the benefit of the doubt about any of his projections, so let’s assume that a 20 car-minimum roster will be an absolute.

What if a car drops out during the season as a result of some unforeseen personal or financial catastrophe? Would another team owner — perhaps one who had previously decided not to sign up with CART because the 20 subsidized spots had already been filled — be able to take over the vacated spot and receive a pro-rated spiff?

What if there are 22 secure cars in the field but the Captain suddenly decides that he needs to resume his CART participation at once? Would Pook have to stick to his guns and say: “Sorry Roger, but the deal is for 22 Champ Cars — MAX! You’ll just have to wait till next year, so be sure to take a number and camp out in front of CART headquarters the night before the official sign-up?”

And what if, after welcoming Marlboro Team Penske back into the fold, some other smaller player sues CART for not allowing his team to field the 23rd car in the series? What ifs like these aren’t even about the subsidies.

But an even more realistic hypothetical might revolve around registering a one-off entry for a specific nationalistic and/or sponsor-related purpose. Would, say, the potential 23rd car in the field of a high-profile European ForMoola One sponsor have to be turned away from competing in the UK and/or Germany?

The CEO’s 20/22 Rule has the potential to be just as exclusionary as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway inheritor’s 25/33 Rule was. There goes Pook’s implied desirable crossover effect and the opportunity to lure cost-conscious IRL teams back to CART en masse.

Enlargement of any racing series should not only be encouraged, but aggressively sought-after. Fan interest is, after all, piqued in quantum increments by the variety and enhanced competition of larger fields. One needs not look any further for proof than at the well-marketed, highly successful Winston Cup Series, where they only start sending Good Ole’ Boys packing after 43 of them have secured a place in the show by hook or by crook.

So, if it costs CART a theoretical additional $1.5 million per car to insure that the absolute maximum potential number of Champ Cars will be participating in 2003, then that money will be just as well spent — or misspent — as the $30m that is already figuratively earmarked.

If it takes two planeloads to transport the series to Australia or Europe, oh well. Japan has been removed from the schedule and Rio isn’t due back until 2004 at the earliest, so substantial travel expense savings are already in play. Why not give FedEx the exclusive sponsorship of next year’s Chicago event in exchange for a second plane to Surfers Paradise?

“When you’re goin’ fer broke,” Yogi Berra once said, “money ain’t no object.” And if CART weren’t in the goin’ fer broke mode, my friends, Christopher R. Pook wouldn’t even be here right now.

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

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