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DATE News (chronologically)
08/18/07
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Champ Car gets hammered  UPDATE #3 Dear AutoRacing1.com, In addition to my write-up you already posted (below), I have some responses to several common themes emerging in the articles and reader responses on (or linked by) AutoRacing1:
 
1) Pulling Robin Miller's hard card was a major error, and Champ Car management needs to make peace with Robin Miller because they need every ally they can get.
This makes several assumptions which I believe may be erroneous:
(a) Robin Miller is an ally/friend/supporter of Champ Car.
I think that Robin Miller is a supporter of a merger to the point of obsession; he also has several other pet issues (American drivers, ovals, dislike of street courses, dislike of Champ Car's international focus) on which he seems so blinded by the certainty of his own righteousness that he is unable to accept the validity of other analyses, even when made by those (Kevin Kalkhoven, etc.) with arguably far more experience and qualifications. A single series is where his loyalties lie, not with Champ Car - witness his urging that the bankruptcy court turn CART's assets over to Tony George; and his recent comment that the best possible outcome would be for Kevin Kalkhoven to sell Champ Car's assets to the IRL. Never forget this - Robin Miller has publicly revealed, on more than one occasion, that he would quite happily see Champ Car go under if that meant only one US Open Wheel series. He is NOT an ally or a friend!
 
(b) Pulling the hard card was unjustified, and counterproductive
Miller supported Champ Car for a while; when they failed to follow his all-knowing prescriptions for success (American drivers, American races, etc.) and when they ended merger talks with Tony George (having been fooled by Tony George's apparent sincerity, like all Champ Car managements before them, into damaging Champ Car's interests in pursuit of the mirage of a fair merger agreement, something which George has never had any intention of permitting), things began to go downhill. According to the stories I have heard, Miller refused to accept any excuse for abandoning merger talks (Tony George's long history of untrustworthiness and insincerity, the destruction of Champ Car's pre-merger-story PR advantage, and the damage the merger uncertainty did to Champ Car's and the teams' sponsorship hunt, he apparently considered entirely irrelevant) and became increasingly hostile to Kevin Kalkhoven and other Champ Car management. His sudden Champ Car-bashing article and subsequent dismissal are a matter of public record, as is the vendetta he has pursued against Steve Johnson and Paul Gentilozzi ever since. The extent to which his obvious personal animosity towards these two men has colored his reporting is thoroughly unprofessional, involving repeated unsubstantiated smears of their integrity, ethics, diligence, work habits and even their likeability.
 
Obviously Champ Car could not tolerate this sort of behavior, and yanking his hard card sends an unequivocal message to Robin Miller - act like a professional journalist, or lose the privileges, access and opportunities of one. Now if this action was taken without exhausting other options (such as appealing to his professional ethics, complaining to Speed TV, even warning Miller of the possible loss of his hard card), that would be a blunder. However we have no way of knowing this, and it seems likely to me that Champ Car would have pursued all such options first. As I have suggested elsewhere, they may have decided that the short-term PR fallout from the hard card cancellation would be outweighed by the damage which could ensure from allowing his frequently unfair, borderline libelous anti-Champ Car crusade to continue unchecked.
 
2) Robin Miller's implication that the shortage of Americans in the series is evidence of management incompetence/arrogance/stupidity (take your pick):
Certainly the series would be more marketable in the US with more American drivers. How much that would affect TV ratings and sponsorship woes is debatable: the IRL has plentiful highly publicized US drivers, tons of marketing money from Honda, the Indy 500 and Danica Patrick. Yet with all those marketing advantages, their crowd figures are dismal at many races, their TV ratings are not much better, and while Champ Car's ratings are slowly improving, the IRL's are stagnant; and they are able to regularly field only 18 cars to Champ Car's 17. AJ Allmendinger won many races last year, and attracted a ton of media attention; yet this had no effect on sponsorship, with car count actually declining towards the end of the season. Even AJ was unable to turn his stunning performance and large media presence into sponsorship offers for his Champ Car ride.
 
Another way of looking at it: if the presence of US drivers would attract sponsorship money to the series, then those drivers should already be finding sponsorship for Champ Car rides. Since they aren't, it follows that their presence in the series would not change that situation.
 
Irrespective of the debate over the extent to which more US drivers would alleviate Champ Car's woes, is the question of the series management's responsibility for the situation. Let's get real here - the shortage of US drivers is caused by the unwillingness of US companies to sponsor anything but NASCAR. Blaming Champ Car's management for this is unfair - it's not their job to fund teams or drivers, especially after what happened last year with the one US driver who was supported by a series owner. Why should management spend millions (on top of the vast sums already invested) when the benefits are unknown, and the recipients of their largesse are liable to dump Champ Car the moment NASCAR's moneymen come calling? Especially when European companies do not share the US corporate world's NASCAR-centric tunnel vision, and there are many available European drivers with both talent, experience and sponsorship. It is probably a much better investment to spend that money on marketing, better TV production and network TV slots for the races.
 
3) Champ Car has too many overseas races
Personally, I find it very hard to sympathize with this attitude - it smacks of jingoism and Europhobia, like some of the comments one encounters regarding foreign drivers. All the foreign races are shown on TV, so it's not as though there is any practical impact to American fans, especially since none of the US events are being axed. Apparently, some people (Robin Miller  included) just does not like the idea that "their" American series should move to a more international focus. However, like the US driver issue, if Americans are not stepping up with sponsorship, attendance and TV viewership, then Champ Car should go where they can find those things. Right now attendance, favorable media coverage, promotion, and sponsorship are all better for foreign drivers and foreign races. Going where the money and the love are seems like a no-brainer to me.
 
And frankly, In my humble opinion, Robin and many others in the US media are to blame for this. US sportswriters obsession with stick and ball sports, NASCAR, ovals and Americo-centrism has a lot to do with Champ Car's PR problems and lack of media penetration. Those biases are not going to change, and no matter how much Champ Car caters to them, they will still be an open-wheel, road-racing series, and the American media critics will never be appeased. Outside the US, open-wheel road-racing is the most popular form of motorsport (in fact, one of the most popular sports, period). So Champ Car could stay in the US and fight the IRL for the crumbs dropped from NASCAR's table; or they can run well-funded, well promoted, well-attended races in Europe and in markets where sponsorship is readily available to teams, drivers and races; and where the media will actually give them favorable coverage instead of a constant stream of xenophobic, narrow-minded and parochial putdowns.
 
Barring a merger, which isn't going to happen while Tony George calls the shots at IMS, much of the US market is a lost cause for Open Wheel racing. Keep the profitable US events, dump the rest, and go where you're welcomed instead of derided. That's my advice, for what it's worth. But for God's sake, no more holes in the schedule, and market the damn drivers!
 
And to Miller and Kirby, who disagree with that approach: I'm sure there are valid points to support your opinions, but kindly get over the infantile, narcissistic belief that all opposing opinions and actions are therefore stupid and pigheaded. You're supposed to be journalists, for #$*%&'s sake! Chris Helps

08/15/07 A reader writes in response to Gordon Kirby's tirade against Champ Car - Dear AutoRacing1.com, I found this well written letter from a fan on a discussion forum that challenges the validity of Kirby's slam against Champ Car:

Dear Gordon,

I'm not writing this because of an impulse to defend Champ Car. God knows, they need criticism - provided it's fair and accurate. I'm writing this because I am offended by hypocrisy and dishonesty, by a writer portraying a personal grudge as honest journalism.

When I began your recent article, I was looking forward (based on your reputation) to a trenchant and insightful analysis of Champ Car's mistakes, and some helpful suggestions for change. Instead, I was subjected to a thoroughly one-sided, unprofessional act of personal revenge.

A year ago, you and the rest of the media were extolling the virtues of the DP01 and celebrating Champ Car's "brilliant" decision to cut costs with a well-designed spec car. There were no complaints from you then about technological narrow-mindedness, about foreign races, etc, etc. But then, a year ago, Champ Car was buying your articles.

Now Champ Car won't give you all the space to which you apparently feel entitled - and all of a sudden, the IRL (with a single chassis and engine, no new car in years, and nothing more than vague hints at one in the very distant future!) is held up in contrast as an example of technological innovation.

This is breathtakingly stunning hypocrisy on your part, and given your admission of personal affront at Champ Car's reduced desire for your services, it comes across as a transparently petty exercise in personal vindictiveness, the irrational fury of a jilted lover. Suddenly, because Champ Car won't give you everything you want, you lash out in a personal, petulant display of spoiled grapes syndrome.

Have you engaged in any self-reflection at all? Did you not notice the uncomplimentary light which the article casts upon your own motives and integrity?

There are many criticisms which could be fairly leveled at Champ Car (and I have leveled quite a few myself!), but your poorly aimed, emotion-fueled rant managed to miss almost all of them (the withdrawal of Miller's hard-card was injudicious, although arguably well-deserved).

I can't imagine trusting anything else you write after this virtuoso set-piece of jingoism masquerading as fact, intellectual dishonesty, distortion of truth, and professional self-immolation.

Racing is served by honest, factual and fair criticism - not a disgruntled ex-employee's transparently vengeful diatribe, which blatantly contradicts a large body of his past writing.

It is hardly surprising that this hit-piece was self-published, is it? Makes one wonder as to the real reason that you're a freelancer.

Gordon, I really thought you were better than this. Chris Helps

Another writes, Dear Autoracing1, It sounds like a bunch of "sour grapes" to me. I'm not blowing smoke but Autoracing1 has been the definitive source for reliable Champ Car information for quite some time, and the only time I even considered reading those old washed up hacks stuff is when Mark points us to one of their articles. I've felt like Robin Miller has been volatile and self-serving in his articles for some time. Think about it, as Tony George and his lemmings have marched off to oblivion these writers have watched their livelihood's diminish or disappear. These guys are acting like they didn't know what it was going to be like without a manufacturer in Champ Car!

I speak with people from Europe almost every day and there is a growing excitement about Champ Car there. If the series has to expand to Europe to survive then "so be it."

All sports go through change and I think it's time for a changing of the guard in Champ Car journalists too. Out with the old and in with the new. Mark you're the top guy now.  Niles Anders

08/15/07 This Autoextremist article by Peter DeLorenzo (scroll down to the Fumes section) hammers Champ Car much the same way that Gordon Kirby did in his article.  If many in the industry are seeing Champ Car in a very diminished state, it will be interesting to see if Champ Car can respond in a positive manner.

08/13/07 Hot off the heels of a dismal 0.4 domestic TV rating (this is below infomercials) on ABC Sunday afternoon, Champ Car took another beating in the media.  In his latest column, Gordon Kirby hammers Champ Car from top to bottom like there's no tomorrow. 
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