This is the third year I have written a "pre-season to-do list"
of things which I believe CART needs to improve upon to become a better
and more successful product. As usual, we will expect a
spirited discussion on these issues on our
forums. And, as usual my annual review of
CART includes - what's right, what's wrong, and what needs to be done.
creation of the IRL by Tony George, and his unwillingness to reunite the
two series has done irrefutable damage to Indy car
racing, but Mr. George isn't totally to blame. CART has dropped the
ball on its own foot so many times, I'm surprised it has any toes
left. We can easily write about all the things wrong with CART, and
we will. However, we will go one step better by telling you what we
think needs to be done to get this ship back on course. It needs to
happen quickly or Indy car racing, already an endangered species, may soon
become just a fond memory, as the NASCAR steamroller squeezes what little
life is remaining out of all other forms of Auto Racing in America.
Are drastic changes needed?
No. All is not doom and gloom as some would lead us to
believe. In fact CART is still a fantastic series, and the
competition and level of professionalism are on the rise each year.
CART has an excellent formula, excellent drivers, excellent engine
manufacturers, excellent sponsors, and some great team owners, engineers
and managers. A solid baseline is there. However, as they say,
'the devils in the details', and when it comes to details CART sometimes
forgets to cross the T's and dot the I's. What is missing is the all
important attention and execution of the details that NASCAR never fails
to deliver on. The failure of the Hawaiian Super Prix is an example
of a good concept to establish a signature event that went bad because
the organizer overlooked the details and CART never bothered to ask.
Below are the key issues (in order of importance) as we see it that CART should concentrate
it's efforts. It's no coincidence, TV issues are the top-3 on the list.
They are the most important.
ESPN did not win the NASCAR TV contract. After next season CART and the IRL
only form of auto racing ABC/ESPN will still broadcast and if
they want to stay in the auto racing game, then they had better focus
on what they have left rather than what they lost.
Hire the entire ABC/ESPN NASCAR TV crew!
When ESPN was young and NASCAR was breaking into the TV market, they
formed a partnership that helped turn NASCAR into the behemoth that it
is. In turn, ESPN began to garner good ratings for its Winston
Cup races and with it lucrative advertising dollars. It's time
ABC/ESPN do it again, this time with CART...more on that later.
TV has an enormous impact on any sport. NASCAR recognized that
years ago. I said it before and I will hammer it home again.
NASCAR has 4 to 5 announcers who
really make NASCAR races enjoyable to watch. Why? Just about every
Sunday from February through November, they deliver a blend of small
southern-town charm and big-city glitz, all wrapped in a mix of color,
speed and personality. Because they love the sport their enthusiasm
spills out during the broadcasts. And they have been there year in and
year out. They have almost as much fan identity as the drivers. Dr, Jerry Punch, Bill Weber, Mike Joy, Ned Jarrett, Ken Squire
and others. These guys eat, sleep and breathe auto racing, especially NASCAR. They each bring
their own charisma to the broadcasts and they tell the personal side
about the participants in a down to earth believable manner. CARTís
broadcast team has always lacked that combination to deliver the race
and personality Ďstoriesí and keep the viewer enthralled in them.
So where should CART start? The answer is staring them right in
the face every time a NASCAR race airs on ABC or ESPN. The NASCAR TV announcers and production personnel that
currently work for ABC/ESPN will either have to leave ABC/ESPN after
2000, or be
unemployed. It's time to act, and act fast.
Double their salary, offer them the world, do whatever it takes to
hire each and every one of those folks. Not just the announcers,
but everyone. They are the best in the business - on top of
every last detail, right down to the music (that's right music!) and
they are professional enough to make the switch to CART. Watching a NASCAR race is like watching a story
unfold. It may cost CART millions out of its own coffers if
ABC/ESPN are not willing to do it, but the payback will bear fruit
quickly. If Andrew Craig has not already
arranged a meeting with ABC's Howard Katz to discuss this very topic, shame
Negotiate a better TV contract as good or better than NASCAR'sOn the surface you probably think I'm off my
rocker. Think again! An area that CART continues to get
hammered on in the press are TV ratings. Yes, they have declined
since the IRL split, and yes they must be turned around, and
quickly. However, what is being overlooked by the bean counters is
that CART races are broadcast worldwide. While it is difficult to
determine just how many people watch each CART race around the globe, I
would venture to bet that more people watch each CART race worldwide
than watch NASCAR, since outside the USA NASCAR has little
following. Assuming I am correct in my assumption, and I would be
willing to debate this with anyone, then why isn't this pointed out to
those that say NASCAR ratings are so good and CART's so bad. If in
fact CART gets higher TV ratings on a worldwide basis, the argument that
NASCAR is so grand begins to fade in terms of TV contract value.
Yet NASCAR was able to negotiate an incredible TV contract recently and
my hats off to them. This is where the marketing prowess of NASCAR
beats CART hands down.
With more and more CART sponsors selling products around the globe, the
ability to reach a worldwide audience is no small matter. CART's current
TV contract is up at the end of 2001. They have less than two
years to educate the ABC's and CBS's of the world that in fact they
bring just as much value, or more, on a per race basis, as NASCAR.
Rather than paying to broadcast it's races (and then selling the
advertising themselves), CART should position themselves to receive a
similar bid as NASCAR, whereby the network pays CART to air its races and
the network sells the advertising. This is no small matter and
should be handled by a full time staff of people who understand the TV
business. If successful, this could ultimately become a defining
moment in CART's history.
ESPN currently sells the rights to CART broadcasts around the
world. When they bid for a CART contract they should consider not
only what they can sell CART for here in the USA, but also abroad.
As CART becomes increasingly popular worldwide, the value of CART to an
The emphasis and location of RPM2Night must change.A
weekly CART show won't do. As
partners, CART must work
with ESPN to change RPM2Night to have an Indy/Champ car emphasis. The power and influence of RPM2Night is
underestimated. Night after night they hammer the NASCAR product
into race fans' heads. To NASCAR's benefit and open wheel
racings detriment, 90% of the material is devoted to NASCAR. Some say
that is because most of the viewers are NASCAR fans. Very true,
but many became NASCAR fans because of RPM2Night's years of NASCARism. The show is based out of
Charlotte and almost every night they have a guest NASCAR driver or crew
chief on the show. Fans watching the show identify with the people
aspect of the sport, i.e. they become household names. That is important
and contributes to the success of Winston Cup racing.
They could and
should do the same for CART. The production of RPM2Night must move
from Charlotte to Indianapolis, the home to a majority of Indy Car
teams. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize RPM2Night
should NOT continue to promote NASCAR so NBC's and Fox's NASCAR ratings
go higher. And if ABC/ESPN are not willing to change RPM2Night,
then they aren't partners at all. We are certain CART's existing
sponsors would be willing to buy more ads on RPM2Night if it primarily
covered CART news and personalities. That fact should be sold to
So what is CART, a road racing or oval racing series?We
addressed this issue in depth in a recent
article. Here are the highlights:
It is evident
that CART has an identity problem. It thinks maybe it has to be a
NASCAR because NASCAR is so successful. It thinks maybe it has to
be an IRL, because the IRL has the Indy 500. It thinks. it thinks,
it thinks. What CART really needs to be (they just haven't figured
it out yet) is unique. And to stop trying to be what it is not.
CART has made their mark by being the premier road racing series in
North America (They present a great oval show as well, but their
non-ovals dwarf the ovals in popularity). That's right the premier
road racing series, and NASCAR is the premier oval track
series in North America. To the average fan, oval track racing is
NASCAR. NASCAR is huge. NASCAR is a giant, a marketing
If CART is the premier road racing series, then
why reverse direction now? Why try to give fans more oval racing
when NASCAR gives it to them, week in and week out? Winston Cup,
Busch, Trucks - everywhere we turn we are bombarded by oval track
racing. If I am an oval track fan and I want to watch oval racing,
I tune in to NASCAR. Open wheel racing, by virtue of the
fact drivers can't rub fenders, can't draft as well because the cars
don't make a big hole in the air, will never race as close and never be
as entertaining to the majority of oval racing fans as NASCAR.
Never! Period! End of story! Live with it!
Lick your wounds and move on!
Some track owners are pushing Indy car racing toward oval tracks so they
can run an additional race to generate revenue, however, will the races
be successful? Did they ever bother to ask the fans what they
want? Is it at all possible that me, the average race fan, after I
have purchased tickets for two Winston Cup races at Michigan in
one year, may be all tapped out and won't purchase one for your Indy
This has proven to be the case at Michigan, and
each of the Indy car races run at venues that also have Winston Cup
races - Homestead, Phoenix, New Hampshire, Atlanta, Charlotte, Texas,
Las Vegas, and Dover. For all intents in purposes, these NASCAR
successful tracks have not been able to sell the Indy car product.
Bruton Smith is on record as saying they 'marketed the hell out of the
last IRL race in Atlanta', yet the attendance was so bad, the race was dropped. How much money do you expect the same fans to put out
in one year before they say enough is enough?
By running Indy cars on the same track as
NASCAR you beg to be compared. It's inevitable. And guess
who wins every time? NASCAR can fill the seats and every year the
tracks build even more grandstands to accommodate them. When the
Indy cars show up and they are 1/2 to 3/4 empty, people come away with
an image that Indy car racing is a loser. So why put yourself in
CART must tap a different segment of the population, the road racing fan
segment. The oval track fan base is depleted, NASCAR has
sucked the well dry, and will continue to do so. Sure the recent
CART race in Chicago was a big success, but will it be once NASCAR comes
Talk of eliminating street and road races
during the CART/IRL negotiations makes one wonder! Record crowds continue to
flock to road and street races just as fast as they are disappearing at
ovals. One has to look no further than Miami to see that CART drew
90,000 fans to its only race in the downtown Miami streets, and saw that
number cut in half when it moved to the Homestead oval. It has
Street and road course races are a weekend event. Fans
flock to the track Friday, Saturday and Sunday giving the track owner
the opportunity to generate revenue for three days rather than one.
Road races favor camping out (very popular at all NASCAR events), concerts and other family stuff.
Given the magnitude of CART's sanctioning fee structure, road races are
more likely to stay financially solvent over the long run.
So is CART American or International?This is another
area where CART has an identity problem. It thinks it is
American because that is where it originated. However, it thinks
it wants to also be international because the world is very much a global
marketplace and F-1's 16 to 17 races per year surely can't satisfy
who doesnít recognize that has their blinders on. So what is
CART to do? How does it want to be known? Does it try to go
after the global market and risk losing some of the USA market, or does it
just stay in North America and compete head-to-head with NASCAR and the
plethora of American sports? I think the answer is obvious.
Andrew Craig has
made it clear that CART is an American product that they export on
occasion. CART should carve out their niche on road courses
in North America (and, except for the handful of successful existing oval
races, leave the ovals to NASCAR and the IRL) and on the ovals in
Europe, Brazil, and Japan where CART's agreement with the FIA forbids CART
to run on road courses. CART is flexible enough to race on ovals,
streets or road courses, and do each equally as well.
Europe is an important market for CART. CART may be American,
but it has a strong European heritage as well. CART sponsors sell
product in Europe and CART has become increasingly popular there in
recent years. Although Europe identifies with F-1 first and foremost,
CART has a big following there. This is partly due to Nigel Mansellís
success in CART, partly because all CART races are broadcast in Europe,
partly because many CART manufacturers are based in England, and partly
because many people who work on CART teams are from Europe.
Mexico is another key market. Several teams have Mexico ties and did
everyone hear how enthusiastic the Mexican fans are at Houston? Is there any doubt that CART would be a huge success in Mexico? Keep the ticket prices reasonable, and over 100,000 Mexicans will
be there on race day. They love their auto racing. Mexico is in North
America and that means CART can race on an oval or a road course there.
A road course has been proposed by the organizers in Monterrey, Mexico,
a short 2-hour drive from Texas.
Some argue that CART will lose its fan interest here in the USA if it
races abroad too much. Technology and advanced communications now make
it possible for anyone in the world to enjoy a sport-taking place half
way around the world. As a fan, I can just as easily watch a race
broadcast from Europe as I can from Wisconsin. A purely domestic series
can succeed and prosper, but the fact that the world population is so
much greater than any one country alone, means that the potential to
reach far more people exists if you can export your goods (in this case
auto racing) globally. What hinders CART is its ability to market
the series successfully here in the USA let alone trying to market it
globally. With Andrew Craig's Olympic background, one would think he
would understand what it takes to market globally. We think maybe he
does, but we also think the man is spread way too thin at the moment.
Finally, if CART wants to play in the international market, I suggest they
start to look a little more international. That begins with standing
starts. In a recent article I addressed
this issue at length and a poll we ran on this topic showed fans are 69.8% to 30.2% in favor of standing
starts. Even Americans would like the variety.
An expanded schedule We have brought this up
before, and we will continue to do so each year until this problem gets
fixed. 20 (21 with Indy) races per year
are a vast improvement over 16 two years ago, but it still is not
enough. CART needs to be out in front of the fans a lot more, not just
7 months per year like it is now. The schedule needs to grow to 24, 25 or
even 26 races per
year....period! Still not as many as
NASCARís 34 races per year, but a significant improvement none the
less. While 34 races per year with the more expensive Champ Cars is
unobtainable, 26 is not (see below), especially if the races are spread out over
more months giving the teams adequate time to prepare the cars between
The naysayers cry out that this is ludicrous, Champ cars
are too expensive. To that I say - time to think outside the box
folks. Testing time was cut. Cut it more. Restrict the
series to one tire manufacturer and the need for testing drops by
50%. Others say it is too hard on the people who maintain the
cars. To that I say, hire extra personnel and rotate them.
Too expensive you say? I say more races and a better TV contract brings more value to the
sponsors and that pays for the extra personnel.
The CART season must start in early February at Miami, not in late
March, in place of Spring Training, and before the Daytona 500 steals
all the headlines. February is a hotbed of auto racing in Florida and
lots of reporterís stay down for a break from the winter weather.
There are plenty of other warm venues CART can race in late
February/early March (right after the Daytona 500), including Mexico
(more on this later), Brazil and Road Atlanta. By adding a race in early
February, one in late February, and one in early March, CART can add
three races to the current schedule without putting a strain on the
rest of the year long grind. A fourth race (the 24th) can
be added with careful planning.
Part of NASCARís success is because it is in
the news almost year round. Like a bear, CART goes into hibernation
all winter and expects the casual fan to still be there when it
emerges in the spring. Guess what folks? The lion, NASCAR, with its
two-month winter break, has stolen the USA market while the bear takes
its annual 4.5-month sabbatical.
New venues - 6 that should be added.
2.5 mile oval
No explanation needed. Whether
it remains an IRL race, or it someday reverts to a CART race if the
IRL continues its death spiral, all CART teams should be at
Indy. More on that below.
2.2 mile road course
is on board, local government is on board, teams can drive
transporters to track, Mexicans love CART. It's a road course!
3.4 mile road course
With news that
NASCAR might drop its Winston Cup date at the track, will ISC want CART at its Watkins Glen
facility? A Champ Car race on the old F-1 weekend (1st
Sunday in October), on the old F-1 track, could be a winner.
The Finger Lakes region is spectacular that time of year, with an
abundance of autumn colors set in a mountainous setting. We
cherish those memories of F-1 at the Glen every autumn. The
track needs safety upgrades, certainly within ISC's means.
2.5 mile road course
It is rumored Panoz did not want to pay CART's asking price.
However, with a little partnering on CART's part, we expect his position might change.
CART is still not
sure that there is enough support for open wheel racing in the
Atlanta market. We think for a road course race there is.
1.5 mile oval
CART board member Forsythe now a part owner of the new facility, the
chances of them getting a date have increased dramatically.
CART is very well known in England. A lot of CART's suppliers
are from England.
2.0 mile oval
Before Forsythe bought into
Rockingham, Lausitzring was practically a shoe-in to get CART's
first European date because Germany is a economic hotbed. Now
all that has changed. We are still of the opinion that CART
needs more than just one race in Europe to succeed, and England and
Germany on back-to-back weekends makes a lot of sense for all the
obvious reasons - shared transportations costs, a concentrated
marketing campaign throughout Europe.
Can 6 more races be
added to the current 20 race schedule? Before you laugh, take a look
at my proposed 26-race 2001 schedule and let me
know what you think. Just a little thinking outside the box and CART
can do it. Spring Training is eliminated as are the open
tests....but it works. I'll admit that 2001 may be too soon for
teams to ramp up to 26 races, maybe 24 by 2001 and 26 by 2002.
should be the Busch Grand National series of CART.
Just as the Busch cars look identical to the Winston Cup cars, so too
should Indy Lights look like Champ cars, in size, and in weight.
The only difference should be the engine - lower HP and less
computerization, maybe even IRL engines and chassis'. This would
enable Indy Lights to look like the real thing instead of some
miniature version. If Indy Lights were run to IRL specs, there
could be some cross-pollination between Lights and IRL teams. In
addition, Champ car teams that buy equipment for the Indy 500 can then
turn around and run that equipment as a Lights team. And the
equipment can be maintained under the same roof with the Champ cars
eliminating redundant costs where possible. Many
of the NASCAR Busch teams and SPONSORS move up from the Busch series
to the Winston Cup. It gives the sponsors a chance to get involved in
racing without making a big leap. Race weekends are a lot more
exciting when the support series is worth watching. Using
the IRL spec for Lights would also give some of the IRL teams a series
to use their equipment if the IRL folds.
drivers race in the Bush Grand National series all the time. The Bush
series now gets better TV ratings than CART Champ Cars. When was the
last time a Champ Car driver raced in Indy Lights? Never! That needs to
change, and change soon. Every Champ Car team should try to have a
Lights team. Not only to give their sponsors more exposure, but also to
give their teams a good training ground for new drivers, mechanics, crew
chiefs, engineers, and managers. Imagine what Andretti and Montoya could
do for Indy Lights if they ran an occasional race. Ditto for the other
drivers. CART must have a minor league series that is strong enough to
retain new talent until an opportunity opens up in the Champ Car series,
or a place to go for drivers like Raul Boesel, who lost his ride, yet
was still competitive. A place to go so they might get a second crack at
Champ Cars, should the opportunity present itself. It has been suggested
that the IRL could have been the ideal ĎIndy Lightsí series, but
there is too much hate and ego clashing between the two camps for that
to ever become reality. Quite unfortunate.
And lest we forget, please change the name of the Atlantic and Lights
series to CART Toyota Atlantic Series and CART Indy Lights
Series. The CART name needs to permeate throughout the CART
turbocharged engines are not common in motorsports today, but they give
CART a unique identity from the IRL and F-1. There has been a lot of
debate lately as to whether CART should convert to normally aspirated
engines or change to a 1.8 liter highly turbo charged engine. NASCAR,
the IRL and F-1 are all normally aspirated. Does that mean CART should
follow suit? The sound of a turbocharged Champ Car engine at full song
is music to the ears of every fan. Everyone loves the sound, and the
turbo keeps the noise levels reasonable for the street circuits. Why
mess with success? Turbochargers have become very reliable and not a
high expense item. They are a great way to
control engine power as speeds continue their annual creep upward. If
CART owners are ever going to return to the Indy 500, it is not going to
be with CART equipment anyway. They will need to purchase all new
equipment for that event. The internal debate over this issue has
prevented CART from releasing new engine specifications as planned. The
powers-to-be must stop procrastinating and announce a turbo formula, one
that the engine manufacturers recommended two years ago.
Retain the turbocharged engine formula
races should be eliminated. Nothing is worse for the image of a
sport than to see it played before largely empty grandstands. Ask
the IRL. Ask CART after Michigan and Nazareth. It is
demoralizing for the fans, and even more demoralizing for the drivers,
teams and sponsors. If a track can't put enough resources into promoting
a race like Ganassi did for Chicago last year, and draw at
least 50,000 fans, it should be eliminated. There was a lot of
gnashing of teeth when NASCAR dropped their traditional races at the
North Wilkesboro short track. NASCAR did not care that some
folks complained. They knew there were bigger fish to fry,
protestors be damned.
Only the strong survive - 50,000 minimum
Two drivers died in CART races this year, one on an oval and one on a
road course. Both were avoidable. Clearly CART should hire
an independent engineering firm or engineering consultant to review all
of it's tracks with an eye for safety. Even one death is one too
Improve the safety
Unite all CART sponsors for a coordinated marketing campaign.
Texaco, Honda, Ford, Toyota and Target do a lot to promote their
about the rest? All CART sponsors should be brought in for a week-long
marketing planning meeting. The purpose - to plan when, where and
how all will advertise and promote throughout the year. There
should be a joint, well coordinated campaign, not the disjointed, every
man for himself effort we see now (or at least that is the way it
NASCAR has that southern town charm and clean-cut, family-oriented, good
old boy image. They have built that theme into an American dynasty. CART
is a boiling pot of international talent and flavor. It is really the
only top-level racing series in this country that can play that card.
The Olympics intrigue Americans because it pits our countries athletes
against the best the world has to offer. If CART is going to play in the
global marketplace, it must hammer that theme home harder, not just with
the Nations Cup competition, but in all of their publicity. Leave little
doubt in the fans mind that the CART Champion is the best driver in the
world. Many people say they are the best because they must excel on road
courses, street circuits and ovals. When was the last time CART drilled
that point home?
is little doubt that CART needs a few more good American drivers in the
series. The fact that CART is a melting pot of international
talent is fantastic, but CART still runs most of its races in the USA,
hence American fans do need more drivers to cheer for. A lot
of sponsorship money that might otherwise go to potential CART drivers
is being siphoned off by NASCAR and other American sports for
advertising dollars. Sponsors from other countries give more
support to their drivers because outside of soccer and auto racing,
there aren't many sports for them to spend it on. By developing a
better farm system and negotiating a better TV contract, American
drivers will begin to look more toward CART as a career initiative and
American sponsors will begin to kick in more support.
How many times do you see
NASCAR thank its fans, calling them the best fans in the world? Give the
customer a good product and show them they are appreciated. And do it
over and over and over. CART has increased its advertisements
significantly in the last 12 months, but advertising to existing fans is
not enough. Advertise in every NASCAR publication, advertise during
NASCAR and F-1 radio and TV broadcasts. Give away tickets to the average
Joe on the street to attend practice and qualifying days. Seek new
customers everywhere. Think outside of the box. And say thank you.
Say Thank You!
So there you have it; our year-end recommendations
for CART to consider. Are they listening? Only time will tell.
to discuss this article
Walls - Finally, a safer wall system 7/7/00
HP dilemma 7/5/00
Rice deserves a shot at Champ Cars 7/5/00
Choices, we rate possible new CART venues 7/4/00
Race report Super-sub now Superman 7/2/00
Race Report 6/24/00
must avoid Detroit's politics 6/20/00
ways for CART to invest $100
Juan wins Milwaukee pole
and Ganassi do CART proud
gets the Monkey off his back with 100th win at
year of progress shapes Rockingham
A solution for CART's franchise dilemma
nears completion, fighting hard to win CART date
Tracy keeps his Kool, wins LBGP for
is an American driver?
up at Nazareth
mph in a Champ Car is the ultimate adrenaline rush 11/29/99