Portland GP might be dead for good
Champ Car president Steve Johnson, whose position no longer exists in the wake of the merger, said he didn't want to kill the Portland race in its 25th anniversary year.
Now, after the Champ Car/IRL merger, big-time open-wheel racing might be gone for good.
Or, it might be back in 2009 -- depending on the city's success in convincing IRL founder Tony George that Portland deserves a spot on the schedule.
It appears that Long Beach; Edmonton, Alberta; and Surfer's Paradise, Australia, are the only Champ Car events that will be absorbed into the IRL's 2008 schedule, leaving 11 venues with no race -- including Houston, Laguna Seca (Calif.) and Portland.
The jockeying for position has already begun in terms of 2009.
Strong, financially successful events such as Toronto are on the IRL radar screen for next year.
Portland's biggest selling point might be its location.
Honda, for instance, a major IRL sponsor, considers Portland a key market.
Hildick, who is retired, said Portland needs to make it clear to the IRL that it wants a 2009 race date.
And then, he said, Portland needs to roll up its sleeves and prepare for a fight, because there is competition for race dates on a global scale.
"I think Portland's in a great position," Hildick said. "They've got a racetrack that's been re-surfaced, they'll have a year to work on some of the (infrastructure) improvements they need. . . . I think Portland could stage a real quality event in 2009."
Tony George is one of the most powerful men in U.S. open-wheel racing because he controls the IRL and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And George is well-acquainted with PIR. As a driver, George ran Indy Lights races here. He has attended events in Portland and made it clear he enjoys the area and the racetrack.
But this is business, pointed out Fred Nation, vice president of communications, who said Portland's shot at being included in open-wheel racing's new world order depends on "finding a good promoter, a title sponsor, and having good community support. That's where it all starts."
If not for Norm Daniels, the former president of G.I. Joe's (now Joe's Sports and Outdoor), the Portland race might have gone away much sooner.
Daniels is a race fan, and his company was a major supporter of the event for all but one year of its existence. Daniels has also been instrumental in helping to bring big-time sports car racing (IMSA and ALMS) to PIR since the late 1970s.
"No single individual has contributed more to the success of all kinds of car racing in the Pacific Northwest than Norm Daniels," an appreciative Hildick said. He provided support day in and day out when no one else was the least bit interested."
Daniels remains on his former company's board of directors and is influential in the company's decision-making. He said a potential sponsorship deal with the IRL is something to be considered.
Daniels has mixed emotions about the Champ Car/IRL announcement.
"It's great for open-wheel racing in the U.S., but I think it stinks for Portland," he said.
"I feel for the race fans and the sponsors and for the facility (PIR) that supported Champ Car when it was mediocre at best for 10 years. Now that (open-wheel racing) is really going to be something, we're not in it. But that's life."
Daniels remembers the Portland race working best when it was affiliated with the Rose Festival.
"There's been a lot of discussion with the IRL over the years about replacing CART," Daniels said. "Maybe this is a chance to take a year off, and maybe work something out in the long run. . . . It really worked when it was part of the Rose Festival, when it was a civic celebration." The Oregonian