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2004 Champ Car World Series “Premiere”:
The Good, the Bad & The Ugly

(Cue musical theme to Sergio Leone’s masterpiece film—The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.) Dateline Long Beach. The 2004 Champ Car Series Premiere held on March 8-9, 2004.

The Good: After a nail-biting winter of wondering whether we’d even have a series, it turns out that Champ Car fans, who turn out for races in such tremendous numbers, are the series’ greatest assets. It was mentioned several times Monday that the fan base was the reason Bridgestone is still the presenting sponsor; the fan base is the reason the Three Amigos bought the series; and the fan base is the reason…well, you get the point.

The Bad: The car count still looks mighty slim by my calculations, (see my next article, To Car Count or Not Car Count, That is the Question), and there are still way too many guys in the show only because of money and not talent.

The Ugly: The dubious way Gerald Forsythe continues to treat his contracted drivers. Last year, it was Alex Tagliani being farmed out like a 20th round draft pick to a neophyte Rocketsports Team. This year, its Paul Tracy having to call Patrick Carpentier on Friday to tell him Lavin was taking his place because apparently Mr. Forsythe has forgotten how to punch numbers into his telephone.

The Good: After a lackluster 2003 season, seeing former series champion Jimmy Vasser land on his feet as a driver/team owner at PKVR. Jimmy looked great at his car unveiling, and we hope the change will do him good. It’s hard to imagine, but JV is now the oldest racer in Champ Car.

The Bad: Having Roberto Gonzalez as a Vasser teammate when so many talented young drivers who have actually produced results sit on the sidelines. Having Senor Slow a.k.a. Rodolfo Lavin as teammate to the reigning series champion, Paul Tracy. Baddest of all: having millionaire team owners appear to be fighting over who gets the pay drivers.

The Ugly: The Forsythe press conference, which featured no Pat-the-best-publicist, no press releases, no written information, and having Peter Davies’ acknowledged doublespeak replace the straightforward Neil Micklewright. And having to watch an obviously distressed Carpentier and a quietly angry Paul Tracy having to listen to the drivel. And you thought your family gatherings get messy. Very, very ugly.

The Good: Straightening out the whole series name issue. CART is no more. OWRS is now the owner of the Champ Car World Series. Straightening out the whole flawed financial model issue. No more $2 million subsidies to race. For now, no engine manufacturers’ subsidies. Get sponsors or get one of those cool pay drivers, or don’t race.

The Bad: The no show by new series owner Gerald Forsythe.

The Ugly: (cue up the theme music again). The defection of Adrian—I Can’t Help It, I Am A Drama Queen—Fernandez to the Eye-Are-Hell later in the week after appearing at two press conferences in Long Beach promising to race in Champ Car this year. Leone fans will know why I cued up the music on this one. Adios, Adrian. Don’t let the swinging doors hit you on your way out.

Will the drama ever end? Finishing this piece has become more of a chore than I anticipated. My editor, Russell Jaslow, who I adore, is beside himself worrying about car count. Robin Miller, a journalist I generally respect, is sounding more and more like a doom and gloomer. Trying to put all of this in perspective while everyone else seems to be going crazy has been challenging, but I’ll try.

OWRS took possession of the series a scant 6 weeks ago. In that time, they have tried, in the words of their News Manager, Eric Mauk, “do six months worth of work in six weeks.” There are undoubtedly some “eyes” to dot and many more “tees” to cross, but they managed to introduce their series and articulate their vision at the Long Beach media event. Clearly, there are still many more issues that the new owners need to sort through as the season opening nears—about 5 weeks from now.

I am not, however, expecting the demise of the series as is Robin Miller. I expect that the grids will be smaller than what we want. I expect there will be more pay drivers than what any of us want. But, I am prepared to give Mr. Forsythe, Mr. Gentilozzi, and Mr. Kalkhoven the benefit of the doubt. They’re the new guys in town and it somehow feels unfair and cynical to not give them a chance. They have promised an 18-car grid, and there are enough cars, drivers, team members, and yes, money to make that happen. So, I’ll go out on a limb and say, I’ll take them at their word.

See ya at the Beach!

Copyright © 2004 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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