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2002 Sneak Preview Diary: Day One
The CART Files

Laguna Seca, CA, February 7 Deep Throttle West Coast Photographer Jeff Davidson and I are a fairly adventurous couple. We rarely get lost, even when in a strange city like Monterey, California even when it's pouring rain as it was this evening, and even under trying circumstances. But, today was an exception.

We got lost. Over and over. Kind of like a certain racing series. {X Files theme plays in background.}

At the 2001 Sneak Preview, everyone was optimistic as the CART community welcomed new CEO Joseph Heitzler into the fold. There were well over 24 cars, and with the exception of Jimmy Vasser, who was new with Patrick Racing, everyone had a sponsor.

What a difference a year makes. "Jargon Joe" ran out of skill sets, it would seem, and has been replaced by the man many of us believed should have been in charge all along Chris Pook. Dr. Pook is now operating on a patient who has flat lined several times. And all of us who love this racing series have our faces smashed up against the glass of his operating room praying no one declares the patient dead. It's going to be an uphill fight, with fewer drivers, race venues disappearing, and a frightening absence of sponsorship dollars. This is the "new CART" as its PR Vice President Adam Saal calls it but what exactly makes up The CART Files?

Those of us who bring Deep Throttle to you believe that the Championship Auto Racing Teams offer the best racing in the world. To that end, we have a bias we overwhelmingly want this series to survive in the form we have come to love. We like the combination of road, street, and oval race courses with events taking place all over the world, although based in North America. Flipping through The Files, the struggles facing the series are painfully evident in this Sneak Preview. Let's go through them as we have observed them today, this first day of the 2002 CART Fedex season.

Drivers: Tonight, the reigning driving champion and his teammate Gil De Ferran and Helio Castroneves bid a sad farewell to CART. Roger Penske has picked up his marbles and gone to play somewhere else the Indy Racing League. I'll certainly miss these drivers, too, but the real problem for CART is that there appears to be a driver shortage only 20 as this is written and three of those without sponsorship. Mind you, there are plenty of talented pilots out there who would love to compete in this series. We don't even have seats for our own guys, let alone for talented young drivers trying to move up or seasoned veterans looking to branch out. For drivers, there's no "there" there, and that's a problem!

Teams: While I saw manufacturers of engines, chassis, and tires, I saw far less teams at Laguna Seca this afternoon. That last letter in the CART acronym is so very important. But, perhaps the biggest problem right now with CART is the lack of teams. No more Team Penske. No more Forsythe Championship Racing. No Arcieros anywhere, in combination with Wells, Blair, or the Big Bad Wolf. Without the teams, there are no drivers. Without the drivers, there are no sponsors, and eventually, no races. If there is not an infusion of teams, I don't see how CART can survive. Are the there teams "out there?"

All-Star Event: Those of you who tuned in last year got to see some terrific photos that Jeff was able to take at last year's event. It was the opportunity to bring you those photos and the humor of the drivers that caused us to leave our hotel and drive to the Aquarium for the All-Star Event.

When we got there, there was a crush of people, many of whom would be recognizable to our fans. I spotted (in no particular order) Tom Kendall, Max Papis, Bruno Junqueira, Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Bobby Rahal, Derek Daly, Oriol Servia, Dario Franchitti (with new bride Ashley Judd), and Tony Kaanan. We also met a lovely man who you would not recognize, but perhaps want to know, Bill Reese. This meeting was the felicitous result of a less than happy situation.

We were told upon being directed to the Auditorium that we could not enter without a ticket. Apparently, CART, in it's unfathomable wisdom, decided that media could attend the event without actually going inside to participate, or in Jeff's case, photograph. Instead, along with Jeff's camera, we were banished to a Siberia with a big screen and told to have a seat.

Whilst in Siberia, we encountered Bill, who is planning some remarkable things in opening a center in Northern California for those who have undergone a loss, such as Alex Zanardi's loss of his legs last season. Mr. Reese was a breath of fresh air in a room filled with a few over-inflated egos and delusions of importance. For reminding me what's important, I thank Bill Reese.

I mentioned it was a tough day earlier. Lost luggage. Torrential rains on the way to the track. Exasperating phone calls. No Internet service in our hotel room. I could go on but I won't. It's too much like whining. A new day beckons, both for Jeff and me, and for CART. The truth, they say, is "out there."

Maybe, way out there.

Copyright © 2002 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

 
 
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