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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

Watch the Door!
1/13/05

Athens, NY—You’ve never read praiseful remarks here about the now-departed former CART and OWRS Vice President of Racing Operations, John Lopes. Today’s column will certainly not contradict past commentaries.

Conversely, much has been written here which is relative to the shortcomings of departments that came under Mr. Lopes’ oversight—namely the formatting, officiating, venue research, and logistical implementation of Champ Car races.

Having been face-to-face with Mr. Lopes on more than one occasion and having paid close attention to his pronouncements at many press conferences, I was never really impressed by his communications skills or proposed strategies. Lopes never seemed enthusiastic about his position in the series or about the series itself.

The fact that Lopes was a holdover of the Heitzler administration with a previous history of loyalty to the inheritor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway also made me queasy.

While he may have made a sincere effort, Lopes did an under-whelming job of helping Kevin Kalkhoven and his partners "hammer back" at their nemesis. A more dynamic corporate executive, perhaps, would have been able to overcome some of the deficiencies that led to the rapid demise of CART under the two previous CEO’s for whom he served.

Unfortunately, Lopes is now in a position in which he can hurt the Champ Car World Series worse than through any dysfunctional actions he might have taken as its former employee.

Proximity to the inheritor and his henchmen—close enough to hand them fresh nails in the form of competitive information about the current and future operations of Champ Car—could be detrimental to OWRS.

The only way the troika can make up for enabling and/or tolerating John Lopes’ past performance and his potentially dangerous future is by replacing him with an individual with a burning desire to see their investment succeed in the fullest measure.

That would require finding someone who not only has the qualifications to get the job done but who also knows the history of our beloved speed sport and has his fingers on the pulse of its existing and potential fan base; someone who understands and can interface with the other major functional departments of the Champ Car company—especially promotion and marketing.

Actually, because the position answers directly to series ownership, any of the OWRS partners would make a decent candidate to fill Lopes’ position. In the process, the company would also save considerable payroll and benefits dollars.

Of the three partners—if there are, in fact, still three active partners—Paul Gentilozzi, who has raced in, promoted, and helped establish other racing series and who now has a solid couple of years of Champ Car experience under his belt, is eminently qualified to take over as director of racing operations.

But the consideration of such a creative option presents a perfect illustration of why having a major investment share in a racing series while simultaneously maintaining team ownership in that same series is a double-edged sword, if not an outright conflict of interest.

The series’ trio of owners—Kevin Kalkhoven, Gerald Forsythe, and Paul Gentilozzi—certainly fit the "major shareholder/team owner" description. Ironically, nearly all of their CART predecessors fit the same description.

A door that swings both ways can be dangerous to people on either side of it.

Road Rage! An op-ed feature by Ed Donath.

Copyright © 2005 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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