Will Champ Car return to Road America?
Here is a Speed TV forum post from an insider to what's going on at Road America with regard to politics and Champ Car's chances of returning. Below is the opinion of the anonymous author (Barbarossa) and not that of AutoRacing1.com or its staff. Whether factual or not, an interesting read nonetheless.
Here's some inside dirt on Road America (RA). RA is a privately held corporation with very tight rules on board election - I know we tried to figure how to get some new blood on the board last year. Basically, you have to be approved for the board to be elected to the board is what it comes down to. The Majority of the stock is still held by non-board members, but there is some division there. The folks with businesses in town have been hurt by current management over the last five years very badly - and are pretty steamed.
A buy out was tried by a fairly large real estate owner in the area a decade or so back, who really didn't like racing and thought it would make a good subdivision - one of the big reasons it didn't go through. Carl Hass was on the board, as was Rahal. Carl resigned to take over management of the Milwaukee Mile (conflict of interest which is no longer there).
Current management has, sorry Oops, but this is true, ticked off just about every sanctioning body out there from karting to top level open wheel and sports cars. Briggs and Stratton, the title sponsor of the Karting track - which is a real gem, folks - have given their sports marketing people the ok to pull sponsorship whenever they want. Also, word from my friends in advertising is that a lot of sponsors are not happy, so selling space is a lot tougher sell now.
The stockholders are not going to sell the track. Those with big racing Jones such as my family and most of our friends, love owning part of the track. In fact, it was why my father moved up here in the first place 20 years ago.
A good case though could be made for selling the rights to the GP of Road America to KK. He would then need to rent the track for the dates he wants, and promote and manage the race himself, but he could probably get buy in from RA die-hard's on the pit such as Carl Haas. Plus, his partner Jimmy Vasser's favorite track... you guessed it. So there is a lot of push there for it. RA, I just don't see having the kind of money in the till to afford both the sanctioning fee AND the kind of marketing necessary to make sure they hit all the major markets in a timely fashion and get the break even numbers they need for the race.
And it does come down to butts in the seats. Figure $45 a ticket race day, and do the math. It's actually pretty striking. Roughly speaking, with the sanctioning fee you are looking at a bare minimum of $3 mil if you have a professional sports marketing team that's going to be serious about it.
RA's larger problem is that they don't market. Not, don't market effectively, they don't market. There is - cover your eyes, Oops - only one billboard for RA, and it's at Turn 5... and at least three years old. The track needs to have a professional come in and do a full campaign that hits all three major markets plus Green Bay, with very visible advertisement from about February on till the season's over, competent professional TV spots on a regional basis plus a few national ads for the major events. Hits and deals at all the regional universities, etc, etc, etc.
That's expensive. RA has spent, I am told, a ton of cash on real estate purchases around the track, though no outright expansion of the facilities. Track still floods at key points when it rains, so you need an engineering crew to come in and figure out how to stop that. management needs to work with local businesses, instead of telling them - swear to God, this is what they were told - "If you want Champ Car back, you pay their <censored> sanctioning fee!"
Now, this is really not going to sound pretty, but it's the truth. The old story is, there is no one more frugal that a Sheboygan County Millionaire. And it's true as far as it goes. The Board is not going to spend what is needed to do all that is needed to promote. Honestly, it is a lot of money, so I'm not saying these are cheapskates here. But, besides eating at Lake Street and owning some very nice homes on the lake, these are not people who are going to be looking at spending a dime they don't see as absolutely necessary. It's just how people are up here. We're talking a resort in the middle of farm land and light industry. These are mostly self-made people who know how to squeeze every ounce out of a dime. And some of them can put a lot of pressure on locals to toe the line if they have to.
The chamber of commerce does not like GB and what his tenure has done to business in town - so he joined Plymouth's. It's not Seibkens that caters most of the track functions now, but a place at least an hour away in Milwaukee - and there have been huge problems. Other caterers in town have had their jobs at the track cut in favor of outsiders, and with Champ Car gone and the general drop in attendance to events, all those folks are feeling a huge pinch.
You hurt people financially, and they will strike back. And management, which - right or wrong - has a reputation for being vindictive to those who disagree with them, may have pushed things too far now. And remember, most of these businesses are also stockholders. Not big ones, but stockholders all the same.
BUT, these people are not going to sell their stock.
Ok, all that said, here's the good news. Kind of a stars coming into alignment thing.
First off, there have been way too many articles by Champ Car writers on Champ Car's actually site about RA and getting RA back to be ignored. Love him or hate him, I don't see the editors at Champ Car letting Robin Miller say we need to go back unless they were working on something. And it would be a popular move. Plus, Gordon Kirby also had a big piece with some big names talking about how it's not the track that's the problem but management. So, I figure they are working for a management change.
Second, GB's contract was only renewed for a year. Through '06. The 'O6 CCWS schedule is out, so could be they are working towards an '07 return.
Third, CCWS's new president is the former SCCA president. Chicago Region owns a big block of stock, has board members, and this is just a little too coincidental for my tastes.
Fourth, problems with Montreal. I love the Montreal race, but if they go, that's a big August hole on the calendar at about what was the traditional date of the CC race at RA.
Five, The Mile is on notice that if things don't improve, CCWS is not renewing for '07.
Six, Carl Haas no longer has a conflict of interest with RA because of the Mile, and he's talking up the track (not management, the track itself) so I'd look and listen for a board run by Carl this year. He's a very prestigious name in racing, so it would be really hard to not see him pull it off. Plus, Carl knows how to make money. Love him or hate him, and with my few business dealings just getting parts for my father's Indy Cars for vintage racing, I do have mixed feelings on that score personally - Carl is a sharp businessman and knows how to make money. And he's in Chicago along with Forsythe.
Seven, WAY too many people on the Champ Car grid love RA, and want the race back there. Let's face it, RA may be FIA certified but they are never, ever going to get the USGP, which is the only other prestigious open wheel race out there for them. IRL, it's dead and they played current management pretty well.
Eight, Kevin... Ok, I've had dealings with folks at PKV since they showed up with Pollack a few years ago. And all of them, ALL look at Kevin as a genius. He doesn't need to buy the track. He just needs to have management in there that is as serious about turning things around as he is about CCWS. Kevin also knows what is meant by race promotion, and has the organization to pull it off. He buys the race, promotes it, the town businesses will work with him. #### they will fall all over themselves to make it happen because they also all know Kevin and know if he's involve then this is going to be serious. You'd probably see a concourse outside Seibkens with Champ Cars, Atlantics, and probably Trans Am's Friday and Saturday night just for starters - you know what I'm talking about, Oops, like the BRIC weekend. And if he pulled it off, he'd be a hero to the town for it, and probably could cut some longer term deals with local suppliers to make the next one happen too. That also means that those folks, many with stock in the track, would be willing to back him to the Board.
So, lots of stars in alignment for '07. But in the end it's up to the RA board and Kevin if it is going to happen. But, current management will need to leave. KK doesn't hate RA. The Three Amigos have contempt for Current Management.