Yes, blame Tony and the CART defectors too!
by J.N. Anderson

 February 22, 2005

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J.N. Anderson is an occasional guest columnist on AutoRacing1.com.  In this article Mr. Anderson points a finger of blame at the CART insiders who were as much to blame for the demise of this once great racing series as Tony George did by creating the IRL.  What's left of the tattered and struggling sport of Indy Car Racing can be blamed on the greed and ineptitude of those involved.

When motorsports historians write about this chapter in the history of CART and 'The Split' it is my hope they will FINALLY do so with the benefit of some first person narrative from the team owners and CART managers who, by the time their recollections are requested for posterity, might be willing to finally share with us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (by then the statue of limitation should have run out for those who broke the law) on how they plotted to bring down CART from within.

In my opinion the planning for this palace coup d’état began LONG before the Detroit Grand Prix pop-off valve incident. The conspiracy to assassinate CART more than likely began with the search to replace F1 bound CART President Bobby Rahal.

Actually, the plan was probably hatched long before that when one of the more influential team owners secured a handshake agreement with one of the Japanese engine builders to support this owner's considered defection to the IRL. Who knows what this team owner may have promised to the engine builder to convince them to support the move, but based on the commercial performance of the IRL since the defections I’m pretty sure they didn’t get what was promised to them. Including the death of CART.

I would further speculate the handshake deal with the motor men was done only after the influential team owner had already made HIS decision that the grass was somehow suddenly much greener on the IRL’s side of the fence. Who knows what inducements may have been promised to this team owner, and by whom, to arrive at the conclusion the IRL was where he really wanted to be racing. But the choreography for the wholesale defection of engine builders and teams from CART to the IRL soon began.

It’s probably worth noting the defections from CART more than likely saved the IRL from its grave in its 11th hour. Where would the IRL be right now IF, at the very least, the team owners had stayed loyal to CART?

What demands deep historic scrutiny are the actions of CART’s board members during this time frame. If the minutes of CART board meetings, particularly those of the engine committee, could be carefully studied and compared to the stock trading activity of various CART team owners it would become painfully clear SEC regulations (Federal law) were likely broken by these robber-barons.

Besides the issue of insider trading it would also be interesting to know the SEC’s opinion as to the degree to which various CART board members may have breached their fiduciary responsibilities to both the corporation and, more importantly, to the true owners of the company, CART’s stockholders. I’m sure significant stakeholders like Jonathan Vannini would like a copy of those answers as well. I will leave this question to be pondered by the appropriate legal professionals, some of whom I hope are Champ Car fans and readers of this fine web site.

It didn’t really matter who the CART board selected as the final candidate for the position of President after Bobby Rahal. Whomever they selected was doomed to failure from the first day he walked into CART’s suburban Detroit office.

The self-dealing owners needed someone with strong street-smarts as a corporate leader, ideally someone with strengths in some area of the business in which CART was lacking, such as television, but who did not come from the motorsports rank and file.

This naiveté on the part of the new President was one of the requirements that didn’t appear in the job description and necessary to insure the owners plotting would not be unearthed until it was too late. The damage would already be done.

Joe Heitzler

Am I the only one who has wondered why Chris Pook, a skilled and highly credentialed motorsports professional, was passed over by the Delaware board the first time around? “He wanted too much money” I believe was the board’s justification for passing on Pook. In my opinion Pook could have offered to work for FREE but the job would still have gone to an unsuspecting Joe Heitzler.

Once the CART board had the perfect fall guy in place the team owners on the “Slander and Defamation Committee” went to work inventing the lies they would later not so stealthily slip to pro-IRL rags like NSSN in order to besmirch their President's professional reputation at the opportune time. I believe this little escapade cost CART a cool $1 million in stakeholder equity in order to settle the suit brought by Mr. Heitzler out of court, where, if the case had gone to trial, I would speculate a great deal of CART’s very dirty laundry would have been dragged from its hamper!

Meanwhile the Engine Committee was advising CART management to accept the IRL engine spec and making thinly veiled threats as to what would happen if they didn’t. By the time the Detroit Grand Prix rolled around the stage was set. A willing accomplice within CART blows the whistle on the design of the plenum and positioning of pop-off valve pressure sensor (a fairly BRILLIANT bending of the rules in my opinion) thereby tricking the pop-off valve into allowing more turbo boost in the Honda mill and we’re off to the Kabuki dance.

I found it interesting Honda got busted for this AFTER Penske Racing switched from Honda to Toyota power. Just a coincidence? It has not yet been proven to my satisfaction whether the plenum sensor infraction had been long known to CART’s tech people, and they chose to ignore it for fear the long swords would be unsheathed if they pressed it or if it was, in fact, new information that had just recently come to their attention.

Either way Honda has been publicly branded a cheater and in the best Bushido tradition face now had to be saved. Heitzler is ill-advised by CART managers as to the potential ramifications and makes what we now know to have been an uninformed (badly informed) decision that the engine Samurai can not accept. We now have the “public” face for the beginning of the end for CART.

In the aftermath of the Detroit Pop-Off Valve Controversy Joe Heitzler is ultimately vilified and unceremoniously run out of town. Chris Pook is brought in to “save the day” but instead spends CART into bankruptcy without any resistance from CART’s board ( “ . . . sure Chris, spend it all!” ) who by now have managed to successfully dump all their MPH shares without SEC detection.

I’m sure the final act in this passion play was to have been Tony George swooping in to buy CART’s assets, particularly the race venues, in bankruptcy. But what Tony didn’t count on was his curtain call with a standing ovation being stolen by Kevin Kalkhoven & Company. Tony also hadn’t counted on the ineptitude of his attorneys who completely failed to grasp the intricacies of the bankruptcy process in which they were embroiled.

It seems Tony thought he was showing up at some kind of motorsports flea market where he could leisurely stroll, funnel cake in hand, amongst CART’s pace cars, transporters, venues, and the very photo copy machines that would soon be spitting out his likeness with the word “Loser” plastered over his face. Imagine his surprise when the court decided for OWRS’ lower bid!  Tony was simply outgunned by OWRS’ better legal team.

Someday the truth of The Defections and The Split will come out. Names will be attached to actions.

Someday a trophy bride widow or a trust fund spoiled child will comb through the notes or journals of a dead man who, under much different circumstances, would have been held out as one of the legends, an adored icon, of the great sport.

But for those of us on this side of the split these men will only be remembered for their greed and their drunken thirst for power. Remembered for their disloyalty and treachery to the very series that made them their fortunes, and their reputations. And of course they will be remembered for the incomprehensible damage they caused to a once mighty sport we are all struggling to stay in love with.

Thank you gentlemen. You will be remembered for the destruction of an entire industry and the handing of the USA motorsports market to NASCAR on a silver platter.

Note: Since publishing this article AR1 readers have pointed out (the best educated fans in the sport!) and my own research has confirmed a couple of inaccuracies I would like to correct and/or clarify: 1.) Team Penske raced under Honda power from 1999 through 2001, their final season in CART. Team Penske raced with Toyota power in their 2002 debut season in the IRL. It was Target Team Ganassi Racing that switched from Honda power to Toyota power for their 2000 season and they stayed with Toyota powered through the 2002 season, their last in CART. Like Team Penske, Target Team Ganassi Racing made their IRL debut with Toyota power.

The Detroit pop-off valve controversy, as best as I can reconstruct, had nothing to do with the CART issued pop-off valve but everything to do with the design of the plenum chamber used on the Honda motor. It was alleged that the design of the plenum somehow tricked a properly calibrated pop-off valve to allow more boost on the Honda motor than the same valve would have permitted on the Toyota motor. My apologize for the error. J.N. Anderson

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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