Editorial

2002 will be a critical year for Pook and for CART

 

 by Mark Cipolloni
January 14, 2002

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Chris Pook is the right man at the right time at CART.  Anyone who really knows Chris will tell you that.  However, CART has managed to get itself in such a pickle, every move Pook makes in 2002 must be the right one, it's a matter of survival.  We take a look at some of the most important items that should be on his agenda.

  1. Complete his Business Plan - Chris promises to present his 5-year CART Business Plan to CART's Board in 2-weeks.  It must be solid and layout where he plans to take CART.  His vision must be clearly stated to CART, all of its constituents and its fans.

  2. Stabilize the series - His #1 goal for 2002 is to stabilize a business that has been severely compromised by poor management.  Once he stabilizes CART, he can start to build it up in 2003.  That's not to say that 2002 is a do-nothing year.  Quite the opposite.  The foundation must be laid in 2002.  In order to keep current sponsors happy, and attract new sponsors, he's going to have to keep them in the loop.

  3. Finalize the 2003 rules - how are manufacturers going to supply engines and chassis' if the rules still are not ratified.  I would expect this to happen at the January Board meeting.

  4. Increase network TV exposure - If FOX was serious about CART, Speed Channel wouldn't be so dominated by NASCAR programming in 2002.  That being the case, and the likelihood that CART is not going to be the #1 priority at Speed Channel, Chris would be wise to move as many races as possible to FOX (FOX owns Speed Channel).  CART needs more races on Network TV, and pronto.  When FOX shows the commitment with Speed Channel that ESPN did to NASCAR years ago, then CART can think about Speed Channel being a true partner, but until then, CART needs eyeballs tuning into its races and Speed Channel does not reach enough households.

  5. Get the local newspapers to publish CART material - CART is not reaching the grassroots of America and one of the reasons is because it is not on the radar screen of the majority of sports editors of the local newspapers.  And what about overseas publications?  Does CART provide translated articles in Italian, German, Japanese, French, Spanish and Chinese?  If it doesn't how does it expect to get column space in overseas publications?  Make it easy for them.

  6. Make the drivers the heroes - How many times do we have to say this?  NASCAR figured this out a long time ago.  If you don't believe that NASCAR drivers are heroes, just think back to Dale Earnhardt.  It's not easy to make drivers heroes, but it all starts with having them on TV, be it RPM2Night, David Letterman, Speed Channel, Fishing with Orlando or Oprah Winfrey.  CART must get the drivers known with the men, women and children.  For their part, the drivers are going to have to go above and beyond what they do today (if I made that much money I would work 7-days per week, NASCAR drivers do) and really reach out to the fans.  How popular was Indy Car racing when the likes of AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti and the Unser's did battle against Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart?  How many different types of cars did these guys win in?  Drivers today are so specialized they are exposed to a smaller population of people.  NASCAR drivers race 38 weekends a year.  They get much more exposure than CART's measly 20-race schedule.

  7. Kick-start CART merchandising - I don't mean some 2nd-rate trash, I mean a PC Simulation that CART can be proud of.  Shirts, jackets, hats, drivers, window stickers, etc.  This is how you reach fans and get them involved.

  8. Merge with the ALMS and TransAm - yes, you heard me right. It's time for some consolidation in motorsports.  It's over saturated with competing interests.  Merge with the ALMS, make Don Panoz a Board member and Scott Atherton in charge of the ALMS division.  Why merge with the ALMS and TransAm?  It's simple, NASCAR is the premier oval track organization in the USA.  CART should be known as the premier road racing series in the USA, that happens to do a few oval races now and again.  With Champ Cars, ALMS, TransAm and Toyota Atlantics, plus Skip Barber racing (CART should buy them too) CART will control the entire gambit of road racing, from go-karts all the way up to Champ Cars, just as NASCAR does with oval racing.  You then can sell a whole package of racing to a TV broadcaster and mix and match the various series to fit the market/venue.

  9. Move CART to Indianapolis - it's centrally located and when you move to Indy, you immediately become associated with the Indy 500, just by your address.  It also means that if Chris Pook wants to have lunch with Tony George every other day to discuss a rapprochement (a sort of merger - see merger article), they can.  CART's teams are also in Indy, so it doesn't hurt to be close to them.

  10. Lineup new teams and sponsors for 2003 - losing Team Penske was bad.  Losing Marlboro was even worse.  CART is going to have to replace them and get its grids back up to 28 cars, a size considered ideal.  It wouldn't hurt to get more manufacturers involved, and it certainly will help if the IRL engine formula they are likely to adopt reduces cost.

  11. Announce the 2003 schedule by June - and it should include St. Petersburg, Miami and perhaps Shanghai.  If Houston, Chicago and Milwaukee continue to under perform, jettison them.  The series must have exhilarating events from the first race of the year to the last.  Why by June?  So TV times and sponsor dollars can be secured for the next year.

  12. Expand manufacturer participation - CART needs to get Honda and Ford back, and Audi and General Motors in.  Certainly it would not hurt to land Maserati, Ferrari or Renault either.  A stable, cost effective engine formula with a solid TV package will do the trick.  I still think my idea of a CART issued bottom half of the engine, with individual manufacturers heads and intakes, is the most cost effective way to get manufacturers to compete, much cheaper than even the IRL formula.

  13. Improve promoter relations - some CART promoters are unhappy with CART's sanction fee structure and marketing effort of the series.  A happy promoter is a financially successful promoter.  CART must work closer with promoters to ensure 1) their race is properly promoted, 2) drivers are available for local PR work, 3) the fees are in line with what the market can bear, 4) every race has a title and presenting sponsor.  CART must also set track standards that ensure the drivers can actually pass.  Follow-the-leader parades don't accomplish anything except clicks on the TV channel remote.

  14. Engage CART's sponsors - Ads by CART sponsors should 1) promote the sponsors product, 2) promote the series, and 3) promote the drivers, i.e. make them heroes, all with a consistent message.  Also, many team sponsor contracts in CART end after 2002.  CART must move to get them to renew by mid-year.

  15. Respond to negative publicity - CART must aggressively confront negative news and disinformation.  It's about time CART put a stop to all the negativism surrounding the series.  Taking the high road and ignoring it just doesn't cut the mustard nowadays, in this dog-eat-dog environment.

  16. Open a European office - CART must be well represented both in Europe and Asia.  It needs people locally to help the overseas race promoters, to find overseas sponsors, and hook some big name talent.  They can also try to lure some of the weaker F1 teams like Prost, Minardi or Arrows into CART, where a winning budget is perhaps 1/5th that of F1.

There's 16 ideas off the top of my head.  There's probably 16 more.  Chris Pook has his work cut out for him, but as he puts it, "there's no magic to making this sport work, you just have to have a solid plan and grind it out." 

See you at the races.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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