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There may be Hope for Champ Car
TORONTO - It's been hard up to now to envision much of a future for the Champ Car World Series.

The Indianapolis-based open-wheel series is a shadow of what it was before the rival Indy Racing League began competition in 1996, splitting an already dwindling fan base, stripping away value for many of the sponsors who provide the lifeblood of auto racing and leaving both series short on race cars.

TV ratings remain minuscule and crowds at races are generally down from the heyday of the sport, although not as bad as some critics would have you believe.

But, after spending a couple of days getting updates from folks with Champ Car and the teams, it appears there is at least hope of a renaissance - maybe even in my lifetime.

The first big step already has been taken with Champ Car getting all of its races back on ESPN/ABC, giving the events a renewed validity and fans and casual observers a chance to actually find the races on the tube.

While big-dollar sponsorship has been hard to come by in both American open-wheel series, Champ Car officials are also hoping to name a presenting sponsor for the series sometime before the end of August. They tell me they are actively involved in negotiations with as many as four "big name" companies.

The deal would be for at least five years and the new sponsor would do some much-needed national promotion. Beyond that, the bulk of the money from the deal would be spread among the race organizers and Champ Car's public relations and marketing departments in an effort to step up the overall promotion.

David Higdon, Champ Car's new vice president of public relations and strategic planning, is a breath of fresh air. He has energy and ideas - one of which is to find ways to take the helmets off the Champ Car drivers and introduce them to the public as people.

NASCAR has done that for years, to great effect, and the IRL has done it with good but lesser results.

Few people have ever questioned how good the racing is in Champ Car. Now there may be some hope that marketing of the series will reach the same level. - AP Auto Racing Writer Mike Harris

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