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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

New Year’s Eve

ATHENS, NY—Winding down to the conclusion of yet another racing season there are, as usual, a number of unknowns facing the CART community. However, this year’s unknowns are not only different from those of the past but there are, remarkably, actually fewer of them.

Some of the big issues that traditionally come back to haunt the Champ Car Company year after year have, at any given time, included all or most of these crisis-management questions:

  • Who will lead the company as CEO?
  • Will there finally be an active marketing effort?
  • What about live timing/scoring?
  • Who will be the series sponsor?
  • What will the TV package be like?
  • What are the chassis and engine and specs?
  • Will the May racing schedule be Indy friendly?
  • Who will be the Chief Steward?

Granted, it’s still pretty iffy as to whether a sufficient number of sponsored cars will be in the paddock to contest at least a minimalist racing series in 2003. Nonetheless, “normal” year-end crisis categories have been handled-up well in advance of the checkers flying at the final race on the 2002 CART schedule.

That Chris Pook has accomplished most of what he set out to do in his first year at CART’s helm—and it appears as though there will actually be a second year of the Pook regime, despite the CEO’s own occasional bouts with indecision—has certainly earned the optimism, if not respect, of the Doubting Thomas contingent; this renegade scribe included.

Apparently, even CART’s Board of Directors and those often-testy team owners who have chosen to maintain a Champ Car Racing presence in 2003 are now convinced to let Pook do it his way. Corporate partners like Bridgestone and Ford have also recently demonstrated their solidarity with the CEO’s vision of Champ Car racing for the foreseeable future.

The most important immediate move that Chris Pook needs to make is an[other] announcement of the list of committed ’03 season participants and their sponsors—regardless of the list’s current size.

Doing so within a Mexico City race weekend press conference would be an excellent time. Success breeds success—meaning that those teams and sponsors who remain on the fence might react positively once they are certain that their colleagues have come on board. It would also serve to pay respect to those committed teams and would give them a leg up on some valuable PR as well.

Furthermore, the marketing of a new season can never begin too early. What better way could there possibly be for Grandpa Chris to look successful than to use an Indy 500-sized crowd of hyped Champ Car fans as the backdrop for the kick-off of a positive-spin ‘03 marketing and public relations effort.

Piquing fan confidence and interest is, as Chris Pook might put it, “the first building block” in a strong marketing campaign that will aid in the all-important quest for share of mind and fan participation.

Mystery and suspense should build nicely this time around without much assistance. Speculation over the Cosworth engine formula and its administration and the ongoing gathering of teams, drivers and sponsors should make for an extremely newsy silly season.

Despite its limited scope, SPEED has been an excellent TV partner in almost every way. Next year’s TV coverage and production will be at least as good—probably better.

Next year’s event schedule appears not to be worrisome from an attendance standpoint. Ticket sales-related revenues should remain strong and are likely to grow. However, with the kind of capital outlay that will be used to lure and subsidize participants, CART’s stockholders should be demanding profit from other sources.

Licensed products marketing has lagged woefully behind the standard set by other sports and sports/entertainment entities. The ability to mine gold from the creation and licensing of Champ Car products is the biggest still-missing link in Chris Pook’s marketing chain.

Oddly enough, if the Champ Car Company could just figure out how to survive it might actually begin to thrive. Best wishes to CART for a Happy New Year.

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

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