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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

Heitzler: A Boy Named Sue

It felt weird reading a certain news story the other day—attributed by SPEED to the City News Service of Los Angeles on 8/12/02—about Bryan Herta suing CART for breach of contract on behalf of the “Stars of Tomorrow” kart racing program that he co-founded. The story says:

“Herta alleges that CART and its then-president, Joe Heitzler, promised last year to use the “Stars of Tomorrow” as a part of its official development series program and to provide a $3m budget over five years…Herta states in his complaint that Heitzler's replacement, Chris Pook, refused to honor that financial commitment.”

What made reading this story so surreal was that my memory of the day Herta and Heitzler had gotten together is still quite vivid. Their get-together, back in the middle of May 2001, instantly inspired me to do some research and write a commentary about their agreement—one in which I actually praised Uncle Joe for his far-sightedness. It was, of course, the one and only piece in which I ever wrote anything positive about Heitzler and, until now, his commitment to Herta was perhaps the only one he ever made on CART’s behalf that hasn’t resulted in some kind of legal repercussions. Here is the aforementioned commentary…

Putting the kart before the CART - 5/31/01

“Stars of Tomorrow” is a four-race karting series that in all likelihood will produce future talent for one or more of the CART-sanctioned ladder series—perhaps even for the FedEx Championship Series itself. Veteran Champ Car pilot Bryan Herta is co-founder and a major proponent of the program.

CART President/CEO Joe Heitzler was recently a surprise attendee of the series’ opener at the Las Vegas Karting Center. In this instance, Uncle Joe is to be commended not just for showing up, but also for uncharacteristic specificity in what he said to Herta and his cohorts. During the pre-qualifying drivers’ meeting Heitzler stressed CART’s commitment to increase North American participation in each of the ladder series. He also echoed Herta’s comments and went on to praise organized karting, to the delight of the partisan crowd.

“CART is extremely committed to its ladder system,” said Heitzler to the karters. “My message to you today is that CART is going to take a lot more interest in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. From karting to the Barber Dodge Pro Series to Toyota Atlantics to Dayton Indy Lights what we are trying to do is create a system that will build not only drivers but also mechanics, teams, track personnel and sponsors,” Heitzler added. “Karting is a good place to look for these elements.”

As a result of Heitzler’s public recognition of the necessity for programs like “Stars of Tomorrow” to serve as the strong bottom rung of the ladder that leads up to Champ Cars, EKARTINGNEWS.COM noted: “It might serve to silence some of the critics of the ‘Stars’ curriculum, as there are those who have remained skeptical of the seriousness of CART’s involvement and the program’s worth to a karter’s career.”

Whether, in his limited racing experience, Heitzler truly understands what makes karting such an important prerequisite for aspiring open-wheel racers is irrelevant in this particular instance. That he seems to realize how helping to grow karting’s popularity and exposure here in the USA will optimize the potential for Americans to become better qualified to race against the gamut of international competitors—for whom karting has long been the bottom rung of their racing career ladders—is the refreshing element of Uncle Joe’s speech to the “Stars of Tomorrow”.

“Once I was on the track and after a few warm-up laps I felt like I was at home. It was almost like driving a big go-kart with an extra 800 horsepower,” writes Jason Bowles, a championship-caliber karter and “Stars of Tomorrow” participant who recently tested a Team Rahal Champ Car. “The car was remarkably easy to drive, it seemed like it almost came naturally.” Bowles comments are excerpted from a recent EKARTINGNEWS.COM guest column.

Jason Bowles’ impressions serve not only to underscore the similarities between shifter-karts and other open-wheel racecars—including Champ and F1 cars—but also to help educate unsophisticated casual American open-wheel racing fans about the huge importance of this truly under-recognized racing component and its important relationship and contribution to the Big Picture of our beloved speed sport.

It is no coincidence that virtually every international champion—Schumacher, Zanardi, Montoya and every current foreign-born star of the FedEx Championship Series—have paid their dues in and continue to use shifter-karts as a vital part of their ongoing conditioning programs.

If, as Joe Heitzler has indicated, CART’s future marketing strategy will rely on utilizing the “star quality” of its driving personalities, then paying attention to their racing heritage—going to the breeding grounds of the world’s Champ Car pilots—should indeed be a critical part of that promotional package. In that respect the “Stars of Tomorrow” program makes as strong a first rung for CART’s marketing ladder as it does for its racing ladder.

* * * *

Ironically, it was the unassuming Clark Kent-like Bryan Herta who issued the very first, if not the strongest, public statement about Joe Heitzler. Herta spoke to a reporter immediately after CART’s drivers and team owners emerged from the February 2001 Spring Training-opening meeting that marked Uncle Joe’s initial appearance before the CART community—the one in which he expounded upon his sophomoric, plagiarized “SWOT” management theory and in which he began the ridiculous over-use of the trendoid/politically correct quasi-business term “stakeholders”—wherein Herta said:

“I am very impressed. But now he’s gotta show he can do what he says. It’s either that, or Joe Heitzler will be CART’s last President.”

Perhaps Heitzler’s commitment to “Stars of Tomorrow” was just one of too many instances in which his mouth wrote a check too large for the bank to cash. Unfortunately, however, “…those who have remained skeptical of the seriousness of CART’s involvement [with karting]…” have probably been right all along.

Grandpa Chris needs to honor Heitzler’s original deal or reach some alternative settlement with “Stars of Tomorrow” ASAP. The only open lawsuit that Pook needs to justify, at this point, is the one that has been filed against his predecessor for the alleged unauthorized contracts he made while he was CART’s CEO.

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

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