Will Champ Car take back the traitors?

UPDATE #4 Dear Autoracing1, After reading Tony Traugott's email, I had to respond as his thoughts/opinions are well taken but off base. I would welcome everyone back.

All the people mentioned in his email (Penske, Chip, Andretti, Fernandez, & Rahal) made a business decision to leave CART. Do you look after your company (race team) and the interest of your employees or do you take a chance that CART will be around after Pook spends all the money? At the time they were presented with alternative options to leave and join the IRL and in most cases it involved a great deal of money. I don't think anyone wanted to leave as they were all part of the glory years of CART but when Roger Penske decided to leave it raised red flags. When Penske left CART, sponsors and other team owners took notice. The IRL became a viable racing series overnight.

Andretti is looked upon differently because he was an active driver during his announced defection but is really not given the fair shake that he deserves. To say that Andretti is not a smart businessman is ridiculous. Whether you are a fan of his or not he has always been his own man and I respect that. Michael only won one championship because he raced to win and second place was never on his agenda. That's why I was a fan. He made millions driving cars and he's probably making millions in retirement. He is smarter than people think.

Chip Ganassi, Rahal and Fernandez are all bright guys as well and were in the same boat. Should they have turned down the money and security of having factory backed engines and budgets because their heart was with CART or Champ Car? Nonsense! Bottom line is you better look after yourself because no one else will. I don't blame any of these guys but I do blame Tony George. Matt Jones, Scottsdale, AZ

Dear Matt, You miss the point. It's one thing to go after the money, quite another to badmouth the series you are leaving…repeatedly. That is the grudge Champ Car fans harbor. Mark C.

10/17/05 Another reader adds, With regard to letting the traitors back into Champ Car, perhaps. After all, if it’s bad for the IRL, it’s good for Champ Car. However, there are limits. If it were up to me, I would consider their past positions and statements as part of my consideration.

Penske? Yes. Not because he’s essential or because he has always harbored secret desires for reunification, but because his team always raises everybody else’s game. If 'he' returns will he be welcomed by the Champ Car fans? I should think not. Will 'he' be booed? Most assuredly. Will he Team Penske respected? Definitely. You just have to remember that Roger’s primary loyalty is to Roger. Remember he was TG's enemy in the 90's, only to become his best friend in 2001.

Ganassi? Possibly. Chip followed the money, pure and simple. And now that the replacement costs have just about broken the bank at Target Chip Ganassi Racing AND the Toyota money looks like it’s about to dry up, Chip is looking at his options. To Chip’s credit, he didn’t spend a lot of time CART bashing. He just went racing. Will he be welcomed by the 'faithful'? Probably not, but once again, if it’s bad for the IRL, it’s good for Champ Car.

Andretti/Green? No. Michael Andretti never missed an opportunity to bash CART and afterwards Champ Car. Which is funny, because that’s where he made his name. And that’s what Michael is – just a name. He has never made a decent business decision in his life. Honda put together his team with massive financing. When they quit subsidizing him, (AGR is the defacto works team) his team in the IRL it will either fold or quickly take on mid-field status. Why do you think Michael couldn’t hack F1 in one of the best cars of the time? Why do you think Michael has led the most laps of anyone who has never won Indy? With all of his CART wins, why does Michael only have one championship? Because, Michael doesn’t have the wherewithal to look at the big picture. That said, I believe Franchitti, Kanaan and Herta would be warmly welcomed back. After all when they took the drives with AGR, TKG had just been sold (to AGR) and there weren’t any CART drives available. I don’t recall these 3, or Castroneves, de Ferran among others badmouthing their old series. Class acts those 3. Weldon however, might be a different story. He may have drank a little too much of TG’s kool-aid.

Rahal/Letterman? Definitely not. Of all the defectors, no one was as treacherous as Rahal. Timed to cause the most damage and possibly cause CART to default upon the car count for the race at Long Beach, the once acting president of CART is roundly hated within the Champ Car fan base for his treachery. In no way is there room for Rahal-Letterman racing in Champ Car. Perhaps he can take Danica to NASCAR. I’m sure she’d be just as successful on the track there as she has been in the IRL, or should I say the gIRL.

Fernandez? Forget it. Since it was revealed that Fernandez was massively overcharging Tecate for what they received his credibility has been visibly tarnished. That’s why his team is called Fernandez/Super Aguri Racing. Almost entirely funded by Honda through Aguri Suzuki, he is probably persona non grata when it comes to handling sponsorship dollars. Besides, he’s at the twilight of his career and I don’t think he could hack it on a road course with the younger drivers. And his last minute defection left a lot of Mexican fans at Long Beach wondering what’s up with this pendejo who invites us and doesn’t even show up? The bright spot is that if Aguri is the mystery 2nd Honda F1 team, perhaps they’ll let Adrian polish the wheels.

But to me, what it all boils down to is that if it’s bad for the IRL and the evil ego that practically killed 'my' sport, then I’ll accept and rejoice in it for what it is, another nail in the IRL’s coffin. (TG may take his hammer to work with him everyday, but I think he’s hit his thumb a few times too often). I won’t embrace the old teams if they do indeed return, or cheer for them, but I will accept them. Tony Traugott, Santa Monica, CA

10/16/05 Another reader adds, I hope they all come back. Every series needs “bad" guys as well as “good guys" . It will be just as much fun to root against the traitors (Bobby Ray Hall, Eddie Under A. Cheever, Cheep, and the Captain) as well as for the loyalists (Newman, Seabass, Junkie, RuSPORT, even Dale Coyne). At least the pressure will be off of Paul Tracy to be the villain if the traitors come back… Glenn Tanner, Palos Verdes Estates, CA

10/15/05 Dear AutoRacing1.Com, First, my thanks for publishing Mr. Quinby’s letter. Finally, someone has opened the box and is willing to talk openly about what so many are speculating about privately. Now that the IRL is on its last legs, how will Champ Car handle the traitors? I will keep my opinions to myself primarily because no one cares about them. But I will state that I firmly believe Champ Car should consider which team owners and which drivers as separate issues. Yes, all those “traitor drivers" were under contract to those “traitor team owners." But I am quite confident just about any second year law student could have gotten any one of those drivers out of their contracts if they had wanted out. The drivers went for the cash grab just as the owners did and should be dealt with accordingly (unless the drivers care to make their contracts public and let us be the judges as to how “contracted" they were.). I think the exodus from CART would have looked a hell of a lot different if the drivers said “Wait a minute, that’s not what I signed up to do. Any dope can drive one of those “Crapwagons." I’m staying here!" Character? Principles? Courage? Not in that group.

Once the powers within Champ Car make their decisions as to who shall be permitted to return I will support them 100%. Mr. Kalkhoven is flying around on a G5 and I’m flying coach so I’m pretty sure he and his team have a handle on it. Besides, it doesn’t really matter. The traitors will never (never say never?) find themselves in positions to once again resume their subversive, self-dealing ways. All they will be is team owners. Nothing more. Nothing less. I would imagine they will never have any say in the way OWRS manages the product they have single-handedly resurrected from the grave. J.N. Anderson, Shaker Heights, Ohio

10/14/05 This last week ushered in a new age in Champ Car. The 2007 chassis and engine package could bring very big things to the series besides good racing. But it’s still 2005, and the following months could prove to be pivotal in Champ Car’s long-term success. Gaze into the crystal ball; imagine it's 2007. You're walking the paddock of the first race of the "new" Champ Car formula. As you survey the full paddock you see the usual suspects, but closer observation denotes some new drivers and teams. Like a scene in a B movie, you are beset with déjà vu. But there’s just one detail missing: who are these guys?!

That question is very important to Champ Car’s long-term success. The last few seasons have routed the enemy from within Champ Car. The unprofessional and dishonorable defections of Team Rahal and Fernandez Racing just weeks prior to the season opener of 2004 were enough to initiate last rites for Champ Car.

The previous defections of Penske, Ganassi and Team Green/Andretti were bad enough, but the extremely poor and perhaps criminal timing of (ex-president of CART) Bobby Rahal and Adrian Fernandez was nearly enough to tip the scales in favor of extinction. Champ Car was miraculously able to continue with the season, despite all the defections.

What does this have to do with 2007? Well, unfortunately we shall soon see some of those previously named entities "exploring all their options" in regard to Champ Car in 2007. These opportunists will regurgitate the same old, tired lines about sponsors dictating their direction, doing what’s good for the team, etc. The pathetic lack of testicular fortitude is quite embarrassing…but I digress. Champ Car’s management must consider the ramifications of unmanaged participation in the new Champ Car. Casual fans might blindly hope that Penske, Andretti, and Rahal all come back, since it would make it one series and make it just like it used to be. But is that good for Champ Car or its fans?

It should be obvious that Champ Car does not need, nor should they want them. Having the same old gang back together might bring back some nostalgia, but it would simply put us back to 2001, with history bound to repeat itself. Kevin Kalkhoven recently mentioned that the series might eventually limit the number of cars for the field. The basis for this rule is strictly long-term strategy, but it's imperative that it be addressed RIGHT NOW. In 12 months it will be too late to ask this question. Benjamin Quinby, Portland, OR

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