Editorial

CART hits a Grand Slam in Mexico City.  Now What?
Key Question - Who should be CART's next President?

 by Mark Cipolloni
October 14, 2003

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To say that CART hit a home run in Mexico City this past weekend would be an understatement.  They hit a Grand Slam.  The race is every bit as big as the biggest F1 race.  The facility is excellent, the track layout good, the attendance spectacular and the pomp and circumstance second to none.  CART has proven it can hit a Grand Slam, but now what?

I'll get to the now what part later, first let's reflect a bit on the Mexico City event.

In a country where soccer is king, this race is the biggest sporting event in Mexico and it may someday surpass the Indy 500 as the biggest race in the world.  In terms of electricity, it already has.


In Mexico City all the grandstands were packed full of rabid race fans

The Mexico City Grand Prix set a three-day CART attendance record of 402,413, breaking the previous mark of 351,970 set last year at the event. Joseph Heitzler, President of the organizing company GRAND, said 221,011 people attended the race Sunday, 113,081 during Saturday's qualifying and 68,321 on Friday. Sunday's figure was also a race-day CART record. With those figures, this CART race is now the second biggest race in the world behind the Indy 500, and if we were the folks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we would be looking wearily over our shoulders.

After the high of  Mexico City the CART series moves across the Pacific to the white beaches of Surfers Paradise, Australia.  If there is another event on the CART schedule that is as grandiose as Mexico City, it's Surfers Paradise.  That event has grown over the years and now rivals the F1 race in Melbourne as the biggest happening in Australia.

After two events of such magnificent stature, the series moves to Fontana, California for its season finale.  Unfortunately it will be a letdown.  Certainly the racing is good, and CART has been going there for many years, but with little promotion from the Speedway, the grandstands won't be anywhere near full, meaning the electricity experienced at Mexico City and Surfers will be noticeably absent. 

Why is it that CART is more popular out of the country than in?  It's simple really.  Tony George created the IRL, split Indy Car racing in half, fractured the fan base and left the door wide open for NASCAR to move right in and monopolize American motorsports.  You can't blame NASCAR.  They saw the opportunity handed to them on a silver platter and they took advantage of it.  They must still be pinching themselves out of disbelief that anyone could be so naive. 

Open wheel Indy Car style racing has been around for nearly twice as long as NASCAR's stock car racing.  In the early 1900's all the way up to 1950, when NASCAR was born, open wheel racing reigned king.  Essentially that's all there was.

But now Indy Car racing in the USA is gasping for air like a fish out of water.  On life support waiting for NASCAR to drive the final dagger through its heart.  Those responsible must someday be held accountable for their stupidity.  That's right stupidity.  Other journalists can sugarcoat the situation if they like, but not me.  We are talking about people's careers.  Their livelihoods.  Their families.  But more importantly, we're talking about the possible extinction of an entire sport in the USA. 

The 'Now What' Part

Despite the near extinction of the sport, there is hope, at least for CART.  It has some great events, and it will soon have new ownership.  Now it needs the right President, someone with worldwide stature; someone who understands global sports marketing, because as Mexico City, its three Canadian races and Surfers prove, CART can be a very successful global sports property in race starved places like Zandvoort, Brno, South Africa, Seoul and others. (see related article, The Inevitable Globalization of CART).

Although Open Wheel Racing Series LLC representatives have indicated they plan a renewed focus on North America, NASCAR will always be out there like a ten-ton gorilla on its back. The world is a big place, big enough for CART and F1.  Psst, don't tell Bernie but CART's two largest races rival F1's biggest events, and there's no way F1 can grant enough race dates to satisfy the world demand.

So who should Open Wheel hire as President?  Are you sitting down?  I would hire Peter Ueberroth as CART's next President.

Having proven his business acumen by running Trans International Airline (1959–62), then his own company, Transportation Consultants International (1963–79), he was tapped in 1979 to organize the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. The millionaire California travel agent became a public figure for his leadership organizing the 1984 Olympics, which turned a $215 million-dollar profit by exploiting corporate sponsorships and media contracts.  He leveraged his considerable skills in marketing and business to make the games financially successful, using the profits to fund youth athletic initiatives in Los Angeles.

His ability to buck the trend of heavy debts for an Olympic host city by creating a budgetary surplus earned him the honor of being named TIME's “Man of the Year” in 1984. He spent a term as commissioner of baseball (1984–89), averting a strike by umpires during the 1988 playoffs. He then returned to private enterprise.  Most recently he made a run at being governor of California, but withdrew from the race after it was deemed now Governor-Elect Arnold Schwarzenegger was probably unbeatable.

In other words, he's available and he might be the right person at the right time to turn CART into a mega-billion dollar global powerhouse. Read this Time Magazine Bio on Ueberroth to understand why I am recommending him.  The last paragraph says it all - "Ueberroth has a way of trying to turn whatever he touches into a cause. To be involved in difficult problems with difficult goals lifts him up. He is a promoter with a global mission, a throwback to the kind of American entrepreneurial zealot who believes unblushingly that his product is a force for good in the world. And maybe, if he just gets everyone pulling together and persuades them that the impossible can be done, then maybe everything will be under perfect control."

Am I out of my mind, what does he know about racing?  Probably nothing, but he understands what to do with a sports entertainment property that has the potential to command a global audience.  After all, what was more global than the Olympics?

Who do you think should be CART's next President?  I'd like to hear your opinion.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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