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Wind Tunnel quotes on the rumored possible Champ Car/IRL unification

 April 17, 2005

Since the rumors that Champ Car and the IRL may be talking about a possible way to form some sort of unified body or run under a unified set of rules has really got the race fans excited and started a lot of conversation on the discussion forums, we thought you would like to read exactly what was said by Dave Despain,  Robin Miller and Tommy Kendall on SPEED Channel's Wind Tunnel last night.  It's important that the facts and statements are as accurate as possible on this topic.

Dave Despain: This may well be the story, the talk of American motorsports for the next few days. It certainly kicks off tonight's Arometrics Hot Topics. Robin Miller broke this story tonight on Speed News. There was a meeting last Wednesday between Tony George, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and the Indy Racing League founder. And there he is on that - what do you call those - scooters. (Tony George was shown riding a Segway.) He met with Dick Eidswick, president of the Champ Car World Series. The subject was possible reunification, or means to achieve that, in American open wheel racing. The news raises as many questions as it answers, and we'll dig into that. Call now if you want to weigh in on the IRL/Champ Car thing. Right now, let's bring in Robin Miller to tell us more and perhaps answer questions about this whole open wheel reunification situation. Robin, I'm confused. I don't know how much is really new here and how much is just stuff we've heard before. And I gather you're almost as confused as I am.

Robin Miller: David, today I talked to Gerry Forsythe, Kevin Kalkhoven, Paul Newman, Chip Ganassi, Mario Andretti and Tony George. And you think you're confused!

Dave Despain: (Laughter)

Robin Miller: I wrote the story twice and I'm confused. Other than I think this is what's happening. And TK, I want you to weigh in on this. I think Mario Andretti, a few months ago, went to Brian Barnhart, went to Roger Penske, went to Tony George, went to Kevin Kalkhoven and Dick Eidswick and said, "Boys, we've got an opportunity here to have a common engine and a common chassis in the year 2007. That at least gets us on the right road to recovery. Let's sit down and take a serious thought about this . I talked to Tony Cotman, who's Champ Car's major domo right now. I talked to him last week at Long Beach. He said that definitely he was going to try to make a proposal up and maybe front it to Brian Barnhart here in the near future. In the meantime, I think Eidswick called Tony George and said, "Let's sit down and talk," and I think that was one of the proposals thrown out. Now it was kind of relayed to me that Tony had said, "Why don't I just buy Champ Car," which is the way Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe understood the conversation. And Tony George said tonight, "No, I never made that offer. I didn't offer to buy Champ Car." But I think he did last summer when they had those three meetings with his officials and his lawyers.

Dave Despain: That's what we heard back then, so that would not be a new position. Whether or not they talked about that in the meeting, who knows. Let's split this up into two pieces. Tommy, jump in here whenever you feel like it. Robin, are you convinced that Mario's proposal was the trigger for this? I mean, why now? We know Long Beach is in play, for example. But is there any reason to think that one side or the other got a phone call about the future of Long Beach and said, "Hey, we need to make a deal," for example?

Robin Miller: Well, obviously, that has to come into play. Of course, this Toyota rumor that won't go away about maybe they're getting out at the end of the year instead of going all the way until 2006. Although Ganassi told me today that that's a crock. And Ganassi says there's no way he's closing his doors as we reported last week. He says he's sticking around. But it seems like something's going on and maybe Tommy heard some stuff in Long Beach last week. But it seems like...I mean...Tony called me.

Dave Despain: Let me stop you there. What did you learn at Long Beach last weekend, Kendall? Be honest with me.

Tommy Kendall: Well I need to thank my sponsors, Patrone (sp?), Budweiser and Red Bull.

Dave Despain: Exactly.

Tommy Kendall: That's the first time I've gone to a race with nothing to do and I enjoyed it like all the other fans that go to Long Beach for years and years and years. Paul Tracy called me up on Monday and said, "How did Bourdais get around me?" I said, "I don't have the foggiest idea."

Dave Despain: (Laughs) About that or much of anything else. So there's your Long Beach source, Miller, if you were counting on that very heavily. I interrupted you, go ahead. Pick up where you were.

Robin Miller: No, I was just saying that, I mean, Tony called me back tonight, and I haven't talked to him that long in six or seven years. And I don't know if he wanted to make sure he got his point across that he doesn't think that common chassis and the common engines are the end-all or that they're going to solve anything . He basically feels like it's going to help Champ Car more than it's going to help the Speedway which is totally the opposite way I think. I think it's going to help both. It's certainly going to help the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Suddenly they have a story again. They've got Bourdais and Allmendinger and Tracy and Hunter-Reay and all the guys at Champ Car going for the 33 spots instead of just filling the field like they have the last couple years.

Dave Despain: Let me get Tommy to weigh in on that. Common chassis, common engines. Good idea, bad idea?

Tommy Kendall: I think it helps a little bit, but I'm one of the few people who's in the extreme minority. I don't think the split or reunification really is that big a deal anymore. The main issue is all the people that aren't watching, don't know there's a split. So I think the positive that comes from reunification is a year from now we'll know that wasn't really much of an issue. So it can't hurt, but I don't think it's much of a fix.

Dave Despain: We're going to need to get him to elaborate on that. And we'll get more out of Robin Miller and we'll get the viewers involved in this discussion when we come back which will be immediately following the commercial break. There's a whole lot to talk about here this evening on Wind Tunnel. It's going to be an interesting couple of hours and we're glad you're here to be part of it. So don't go anywhere. We'll be right back with TK and Mr. Miller.

(Commercial break)

Dave Despain: We're back. The issue on the table is the continuing talk of reunification of Champ Car and the IRL. Not everybody is thrilled with that idea. Tommy Kendall is not alone. Check out the evidence that came in the form of an e-mail:

Viewer e-mail (Jay Huelsman): Dave, as a huge fan of both series, I think the split is great. This time of year, there is a race going on one weekend or the next and twice the amount of open wheel racing for the fans to watch. Not everyone has taken a side. I support an IRL/Champ Car reunion never to happen. Jay Huelsman

Dave Despain: That's from Jay Huelsman. I'm guessing a little bit at the pronunciation there. Let's get the viewers involved. I've got Tom in Murphysborough, Illinois. Tom, you want to weigh in on this CART/IRL thing quickly? Go ahead. Hello Tom. Are you there, Tom? I would think that would be a no. Let's go to Line 4. Chris in Columbia, Missouri. Chris, are you there?

Viewer phone call (Chris): Right here, Dave.

Dave Despain: Yeah, give me your opinion in this real quick.

Viewer phone call (Chris): All right, no problem. As a big Champ Car supporter, I'm very much against a unification of Tony George and the IRL. I see him as the mean person who pretty much ruined the sport and I just honestly don't want to see it. I think Champ Car can get back to where they were or at least on a, you know, fairly similar plateau. And I say let the IRL die a slow death if that's what it's going to come to it.

Dave Despain: Let me turn to Tommy Kendall on this. The caller thinks that Tony George is the problem here. You have a little different perception on the roots of this split. Am I right about that?

Tommy Kendall: You're very right about that. I think, Tony.... You can only put your hand up in the back of these meetings for years and years and years, and offer up what you think and be told to sit down and shut up so many times. And I think he felt that he had to do something.

Dave Despain: You're talking about the way he was treated by the previous management of what was then CART?

Tommy Kendall: More owners, really, than management. And so it always came down to a vote. And the votes always said, "No one agrees with you Tony," and so he felt strongly enough about it. I think him going off and doing.... I think the blame of what drove it was more the owners and the arrogance of the Champ Car owners.

Dave Despain: That's the ancient history. Let's get back to the issue of what might happen here. I thought it was interesting that Sebastien Bourdais was entered this week in the Indy 500. Paul Newman said that team would go to Indy over his dead body. Robin, do we have this gathering of forces here trying to make something happen? I mean do you ascribe any significance of that? Paul Newman made a comment about running three or four races together. That's a 180 degree turnaround for one key player in this deal.

Robin Miller: Well, the key, Dave, is this, and with no offense to anybody who weighs in on any of this. But Champ Car's never going to get back to where it was without the Indy 500. The Indy 500 is never going to get back to where it was without Champ Car and all the good drivers and teams it's got. So, the bottom line is this. The guys I talked to today regardless of what side they're on -- Ganassi, Andretti, Newman, Kalkhoven, Forsythe -- they all have the same passion. They all, I think, have realized, 'Look, we're both getting 0.6 TV ratings on national television. We don't have any sponsors. This thing's going in the toilet. We've got to do something.' And anybody who thinks different is kidding themselves. Yes, Long Beach was a great event. Yes, St. Pete was a nice event. You want to go look at Phoenix and see the 8300 people there? Or go to Portland and see the crowd that's not there anymore that used to be there? I mean, it's everywhere. I think what you have to remember is, the key to this whole thing is who is going to run the show? That's why they'll probably never get together. Because I don't think Tony is ever going to give it up. And I don't think Kalkhoven and Forsythe are going to let Tony run it. So somebody needs to emerge and say, "This is what has to happen for this to work." I think everybody on the periphery knows, hey this thing's screwed. We've got to fix it. How are we going to fix it? But why did Tony take a step back a few months ago and elevate Brian Barnhart and Joie Chitwood, and now he's a car owner? A lot of people think, why wouldn't Tony just.... Wouldn't he just be happy being a car owner and running the Indy 500 ten years ago before he screwed up open wheel racing. And I have to disagree with TK. Tony George didn't open his mouth in most of those CART meetings. He sat there because Tony Bettenhausen, my dear old friend, said he used to say he didn't say a word. But TK's right in this respect. All they had to do was make him feel like part of the club, and they didn't. And now isn't it ironic. All those guys who didn't make him feel part of the club -- Ganassi, Rahal, Penske -- now they're all his boys. So, they all deserve each other. I'm starting my own series next year. Tommy Kendall will be the chief steward.

Dave Despain: You want in?

Tommy Kendall: Well, thank you, Robin. I appreciate that. That's flattering. I agree very strongly with you. They're both screwed.

Dave Despain: Okay, let me stop you there. I want to come back to you on that later. I've only got Robin for another minute. Robin, let me ask you something because I want to keep looking ahead here, and then we'll analyze your position later in the show. The business of parallel series and coming together for the Indy 500 and maybe 2 or 3 other events. I mean aside from the equipment formula, how popular is that notion? I mean are we getting any kind of meeting of the minds here? And does it matter if the guys at the top can't agree?

Robin Miller: Mario's talked to Brian Barnhart and Barnhart seemed to agree with it. Tony Cotman thinks it's a good idea. Guys that have been in the trenches that have been mechanics and engineers and owners seem to think it makes sense because it's a start of reconciliation. It's not a start of reunification. It's a start of reconciliation which is a hell of a lot closer than they are now.

Dave Despain: And it won't.... I mean this is a one time window of opportunity. If they don't get this done now, they're never going to do it.

Robin Miller: Never!

Dave Despain: One more question: How long will Kalkhoven and Forsythe.... How long are they prepared to go? We continue to hear as long as it takes.

Robin Miller: Read the story I just wrote they posted on speedtv.com a little while ago. I asked Kalkhoven that. I asked how long are you and Forsythe are going to keep throwing millions of dollars at this thing? Kalkhoven said, "I don't know where you get your figures, Miller. We're not spending millions of dollars. We're almost breaking even. It's not that much money. And I can afford to do this for the rest of my life."

Dave Despain: That's pretty telling. You know Kevin Kalkhoven. Is he going to do this for the rest of his life?

Tommy Kendall: That's one of the great FU rich stories. FU meaning really, really rich is the translation of really, really rich. He can do it that way. He's kind of the canary in the coal mine. He's shown nothing but a very consistent message: I'm prepared to do this. If the minute things start deviating from what he thinks is going to happen and should happen, he will leave as quickly, even if he can afford to do it for the rest of his life. Right now, he hasn't shown any inclination to do that. The fact that this call came from the Champ Car side is a little curious for me because I think that their position has always been they're not really looking at the IRL anymore and they're kind of doing their own business. So that's a little curious for me.

Dave Despain: Any theory on why that happened Robin? And that will be our closing shot. If there's something also you want to say besides that, say something else.

Robin Miller: I think it was a shock to Kalkhoven that Eidswick met with Tony George. I think Eidswick did because Mario said, "The time is right. Let's act now. The window of opportunity is closing." In closing, I would like to say that Tommy Kendall flew coach from California all the way to Charlotte. I want to help pay for first class on the way home.

Dave Despain. (Laughter) We appreciate that, Robin Miller. Thanks for breaking the story. Stay on top of it and keep us posted. We need a commercial break at that point. We will get back to Tommy Kendall on more of his philosophy on what it will take to fix open wheel racing.

<Commercial Break>

Dave Despain: Let's go to Line 5. I've got Tony on the line in Vancouver. Tony, are you there? I don't want to screw this up this week. Vancouver, Washington or Vancouver, British Columbia?

Viewer Phone Call (Tony): That's right, Vancouver, Washington.

Dave Despain: Welcome to the show. What's on your mind?

Viewer Phone Call (Tony): Hi Dave. Hi Tommy. A couple of points I wanted to make here. First of all on Robin's comments about the reunification, what seems to be the understanding that it was that Champ Car had called the IRL? I'd kind of like to know that.

Dave Despain: Why do we think that happened?

Tommy Kendall: The way we're hearing the story is that Eidswick called. Robin believes that Mario put him up to it. He said, "Hey, Dick, you've got to call right now." That Kalkhoven was caught off guard and was not particularly happy about it, is what we're hearing, whether that's true or not. So it kind of came from the IRL side through Mario and he said, "You need to call over here."

Viewer Phone Call (Tony): The whole point of this thing is that, you know, over this course of ten years we understand as far as teams being subsidized and what not through Toyota and Honda. We know the situation is happening that happened in CART, that killed CART. The same situation is happening right now in the IRL. It's no mystery, you know, the situation that was talked about with Chip.

Dave Despain: Whoa, whoa, whoa. I think we need a little more detail. What situation with Chip?

View Phone Call (Tony): Well, here let's put it this way. With Toyota and Honda, the talk of them being gone. The conversation always seems to happen that it's happening, but it's not. The reality is that Toyota's running the Truck program. They're not going to be done in Truck. They want to be in Cup. Busch is the next step. Toyota's already tested a Busch car with a Truck motor. So the next watchful step is to be in Busch. The papers have already been approved and sent in to NASCAR.

Dave Despain: So where does this get back to Chip? This gets back to Chip that Toyota really is leaving and Chip's lying? What are you saying?

Viewer Phone Call (Tony): That they are pulling out. And it's no mystery that Toyota and Honda follow each other and try to beat each other all the time. Honda, Robert Clarke, has said that they will not field any more engines in the league. Period. That was over the winter. Lee White has laid out the groundwork over the winter that the IRL is lacking in attendance, lacking in TV numbers and everything else.

Dave Despain: Right. Right. All things we've heard before. The manufacturers are going to leave. Tony's not going to have an engine supplier which I think leads you back to the logic of common engines. I've got to save some time for other people, Tony, so I've got to leave it there and move on. We'll get back to the open wheel thing with Tommy. Let me get Tommy Kendall, my guest tonight, back in the conversation and back to the issue of open wheel. I want to make sure we didn't confuse people. You're not opposed to reunification?

Tommy Kendall: Absolutely not. I'm not opposed to it. I'm not in favor of it. I think it's kind of a non-issue. I think it will help if there is a reunification. We'll be able to say a year from now, you know, reunification wasn't really a big deal. And that's a positive because then they start looking for the real answers as to how do we engage all the people that don't care.

Dave Despain: Which is what I want to get to: The Tommy Kendall take on what it takes to fix this. It is not about a bunch of bickering amongst the current crowd about how we ought to go forward. You have different ideals.

Tommy Kendall: Clearly, other than us that love it, it's perfect as it is. But for everybody else, they don't know there's a split, so that's not why they are not watching . And so Robin says it has to do this. Everyone else is out of ideas. Last night I watched the Pay-for-View for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Here's a thing that didn't exist a few years ago. And on Sunday they had this Pay-for-View at the end of the Reality Series. At one point there were 10 million people watching this. So there's a product that didn't exist before, that doesn't have 100 years of tradition yet is clearly relevant to people that are relating to on some level. So they need to understand why rather than never really meaningfully changing anything, people just say it's marketing; it's promotion. Well, I disagree with that. All the people that I know that aren't interested have come across it and decided it's not worth rearranging their schedule for.

Dave Despain: So what do you think they need to do?

Tommy Kendall: Well, I wouldn't want to deprive Dick Eidswick and Tony George and Ken Ungar and all those people of their jobs. It's not a simple fix. The rules shape the competition. Unwritten rules and policies shape how people come across. You have to understand what our culture likes and how stars are made. What kind of people lend themselves to being stars. And then go in and see what the barriers to that are now, instead of just pushing it back out there the same way. It's like having a TV show that no one watches and putting it on a different night. TV executives that do that get shown the door right away. Sam Walton said it best. There's only one boss, and that's the fans. They can fire the management at anytime. The fans of open wheel racing, or the non-fans I should say, have been firing everybody for a long time.

Dave Despain: Let's go to Tim in Atlanta, Georgia. Tim, welcome to the show. What's on your mind as far as this whole open wheel thing goes?

Viewer Phone Call (Tim): Hi Dave. Hi TK. You're a great guest. Couple of quick opinions. Robin Miller, confused? Say it isn't so. Tony George always seems to have his own agenda. I mean, can't see him and CART unless CART wants to do what Tony George wants to do. Tony George has always been that way. And my question is how can he own a car in the series and be the owner of the series. I've never figured that one out.

Dave Despain: Boy, me either. How many cars does Kevin Kalkhoven own now? How many does Forsythe own? See, that was the problem with CART in the beginning in my opinion. The monkeys were running the zoo. The car owners were running the series. And in Tony George's defense, yes he had an agenda. He didn't want to see his race screwed up, the Indy 500. Are you with me on this? (Question addressed to Tommy Kendall.) That was his agenda. He thought CART was headed in the wrong direction and it was going to hurt his race and that's why he wanted to change CART. And CART didn't want to change and that's why he did what he did.

Tommy Kendall: I believe that had there not been a split... Nobody wants to believe this. Mario certainly doesn't... Everybody who loves it doesn't because they love it so much. I believe without a split we would be roughly in the same spot we're in now. It's happened a little bit quicker but the market in our culture has moved What was popular on TV ten years ago wouldn't sell anything today. Everybody's trying to get back to where we were. We could be back exactly to where we were and it would still be irrelevant to our culture, I believe.

Dave Despain: CART would simply have gone down a different tube.

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