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Long Beach Diary:
Day One
Risky Business: The Entrepreneur Versus The Inheritor

Long Beach, CA, April 8 — Friday in Long Beach, and the air is crisp and clear thanks to very brisk winds. Jeff and I arrive early, although not quite early enough to be on time for the photographer’s meeting, which is not a good thing. Overshadowing this weekend’s festivities is the fact that this is the final year on the current contract for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The IRL has finally publicly admitted what has been rumored for the past year—they are trying to steal our race. Right now, no one seems to know which way the contract will go, but all signs point to yet another boxing match between Kevin “The Entrepreneur” Kalkhoven and Tony “The Inheritor” George. Racing is a risky business, and this conflict promises to be nearly as interesting as what is happening on the racetrack.

To bring everyone up to date, the first match between these two fighters took place in January, 2004 at the CART bankruptcy hearing. The Inheritor—a name coined by our good friend, motorsports writer Ed Donath—apparently did not know the difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 and entered the court with a big fat checkbook with the intention to cherry pick assets.

The Entrepreneur—who had come into the racing game relatively late in the process—made sure to offer to keep the company running and to honor its existing contracts. Victory came to our Mr. Kalkhoven, to the jubilation of Champ Car fans throughout the world.

The second battle took place in the 2004-2005 offseason. This time George was sneakier, using former CART board member Chip Ganassi as his “bitch,” in an attempt to purchase Cosworth from underneath Champ Car and to deprive the series of its engines. Can you believe that The Inheritor always seems to be involved with something evil like this lately? I have always said, I don’t mind if Tony George wants to build another open wheel series, but this is clearly not his objective. His goal has been and remains the destruction of Champ Car, at any cost. He does not mind blowing through part of his family’s inherited wealth to accomplish this.

However, once again, Kevin Kalkhoven emerged as the victor in this particular war, as he was able to articulate a clear and compelling vision for Cosworth, and George was left standing by the wayside, once again with his checkbook in his hand. And, if this image of The Inheritor does not utterly disgust you regarding Champ Car and Long Beach, you should read no further. In fact, what are you doing at this website?

In the Kalkhoven vision, it’s a matter of putting on a good show, and when it comes to Long Beach this year, the view looks pretty fantastic on Day One. While there have been many sets of drivers in the series over the years, this year’s crop of pilots seems to be particularly impressive. Up and down the pit line, I saw excitement from the crews, the fans, and even the drivers.

Returning from last year are Bourdais, Junqueira, and Tracy—all capable of winning the championship. When Cristiano da Matta fired up his engine for the first practice this morning there were actual cheers. Along with Cristiano, highly touted drivers include Wilson, Allmendinger, and Dominguez. Absent this year are marginally talented rent a rides. There are still less than a handful of drivers who may not be up to snuff, but I believe the vast majority of the field is actually capable of winning. All in all, this is a very good group of drivers, and I expect a lot of different race winners for 2005.

Whether exciting racing competition is enough to vanquish the Tony George checkbook in this third confrontation with Kalkhoven remains to be seen. As with the first battle, I have of course figured out a way Kevin can assuredly win and which I will again not publish until after the war has been decided. One would hope that Dover Downs could look past the fat George check and realize that Champ Car does not go around ruining races the way TG has torpedoed the Indy 500—once the most important motor race in the world.

Long Beach has now become the Champ Car showcase race, and it was terrific to watch the drivers meet the fans in the paddock this afternoon. All of the drivers know to be polite, but some excel at fan relations. I saw over the course of the day Ryan Hunter-Reay poise for at least a dozen snapshots with various fans, always with a sincere smile.

I saw some putz walk up to Nelson Philippe and say, “Hey, how old are you?” Nelson handled the fan with class and maturity—though, I’m not sure Mr. Putz was savvy enough to know he was outclassed. Cristiano da Matta was positively glowing, and in some ways, it’s as if he never left. Justin Wilson is invariably kind and patient, as is Alex Tagliani. I hope fans in other venues are also treated to these “meet and greets,” as they go a great way to building the series.

In the other series, I was impressed by Katherine Legge (pronounced like “leg”) from the Atlantic series and believe it or not by Ingo Rademacher from the Pro Celebrity race. For fans of General Hospital, Rademacher needs no introduction—he is “Jax.” For people like my husband, it was a surprise to see any actor be the top qualifier—and to outdrive all the pros.

It should make for fun viewing at lunch tomorrow with Julie and Michele to see the Pro-Celebrity Race, and a possible Ingo Rademacher victory. We had no time today for drifting or Trans Am.

But, this will make for a great day tomorrow. Oh, and the outcome of all this risky business? Well, let’s put it this way: with their history, there is no way this girl is betting against “The Entrepreneur.” Et tu?

Copyright © 2005 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

 
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