When Rich People Get Bored
Rochester, N.Y., February 10 — Four years ago I wrote an essay, When You're Born Rich. I still stand by those observations of people who are born into riches like Tony George. However, there is another trait of rich people -- what happens when they get bored.
A perfect example of this is the waning history of the Bridgehampton Race Circuit and it's last owner, Bob Rubin. The track was one of the greatest road courses ever built. A real driver's track which prompted one of the best quotes in racing by Bruce MacInnes, Chief Instructor of the Skip Barber Racing School: "All who have raced there know that the earth is flat and ends in the sand at turn two. The emotional rewards of driving this turn 'flat out' are just as intense as the physical consequences of blowing it."
There wasn't a single slow turn on the track. The back "straight" was downhill with three increasingly tighter kinks that were flat out. By the time you got to the last one, your car is going faster than anywhere else thanks to gravity. If you missed the turn-in point by an inch or the apex by the same amount, you were off. Guaranteed. To go side by side through the last kink would have you committed to an asylum. Yet, people actually attempted that. Sometimes successfully.
Every driver who was truly honest with himself approached the track with some trepidation. Yet, every driver couldn't wait to go back. It was what road racing was all about.
Unfortunately, the track was situated in one of the richest playgrounds in the world. When development started creeping up to its doorstep, complaints starting piling up. Politicians were under pressure to find ways to close the track. Restrictions were placed on its operations. Various developers eyed the land.
At one time, when it appeared a developer would take control of the place, an organization was created called the Friends of Bridgehampton. Their goal was to sell shares of the track creating a large number of owners, and thus it would be very difficult for anyone to take it over and destroy the track.
The plan worked. Then, along came Bob Rubin, a man who made a fortune on Wall Street as a financial services executive. He was also an avid car collector and vintage racer. He had millions of dollars worth of Ferraris in his collection.
He had a vision of using Bridgehampton as a key vintage racing venue as well as bringing back professional events. Due to it's location, he wanted to create an event that would be a Monterrey of the East. This was going to be his plaything, but he wanted complete control. In his offer to the individual shareholders, he promised that he had the track's best intentions in mind. Another group, attempting a similar takeover, argued otherwise. A tit-for-tat verbal war ensued, but ultimately, Rubin won out thanks to the support of The Friends of Bridgehampton.
Rubin's plans for improvements were fought one after another by the local community. The track never regained it's former glory, though it was kept plenty busy by various racing clubs, marquee groups, and schools. Soon, word got out that Rubin was asking for the land to be rezoned for the purpose of building subdivisions. Fear erupted from the racing community, but Rubin assured them it was just a formality.
However, it was becoming exceedingly obvious that Rubin was getting tired of the hassles from the town. Mind you, Rubin could run this track forever on just the interest one of his minor investments made and take it as a tax write off. But, that's not the way rich people think. Once a fun activity becomes a burden, they start asking themselves, "How much money am I making on it?"
If they don't like those numbers, they look for a way out. That's exactly what Rubin did. Before you knew it, he was converting the track into a golf course.
"He told me when he first got involved he had no intention of developing or selling the property, and I believed that," Guy Frost, the founder of the Friends of Bridgehampton who supported Rubin's takeover said in a New York Times article talking about the destruction of the track.
Rubin is still very much involved in vintage racing and car collecting. So, why destroy the track? Because that part of his hobby started to tire him. That's what rich people do.
When Kevin Kalkhoven bought the assets of CART, along with Gerry Forsythe, et al, to create Champ Car, everyone looked to him as the savior of the series just like folks looked at Rubin as the savior of Bridgehampton. Kalkhoven made all sorts of promises, just like Rubin. Kalkhoven said he could run this on the interest he earned forever. Rubin could have also with Bridgehampton.
However, no matter how much Kalkhoven enjoyed racing, just like Rubin did, ultimately Champ Car was a plaything for him, just like Bridgehampton was to Rubin. The hassles started piling up, and soon Kalkhoven got tired of dealing with the whole mess. He started asking himself, "How much money am I making on it?" He didn't like the numbers. He looked for a way out.
The fact that Kalkhoven has been thinking merger for a long time (his quote from the AP), and the fact that he apparently is willing to go for this type of agreement, means that he is bored with the whole mess.
Tony George was never going to get bored. This is all he had. He didn't enter this as a plaything. He entered it as his livelihood and passion. The fact that he has been completely incompetent in running his business and destroyed open wheel in the process isn't the point. He was never going to get bored.
This isn't a merger. Not by a long shot. It's like saying Bridgehampton merged with a golf course because they kept part of the original track and corner stations (which they did). You couldn't drive a race car at Bridgehampton anymore than a "merged" series resembles a Champ Car event.
That's the problem with relying on rich people as saviors. They are in it just for the fun of it.
Until they get bored.
Copyright © 2008 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.