Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Unorganized CART struggling to find its identity

DETROIT - The fragmentation of open-wheel racing has never become more evident than this weekend on Belle Isle, site of the Detroit Grand Prix and a hodgepodge of politics that has commandeered the primary groove.

On Friday, CART surprisingly named Bobby Rahal as its interim CEO and president.

Those involved with the announcement made sure no one ascertained why Andrew Craig was asked to resign, why it all came down seven races into the season and in what direction the series is headed under its new regime.

CART is a publicly owned company, after all, and we don't want to shake the confidence of our stockholders, do we?

The three primary issues CART is dealing with are scheduling, television contracts and its relationship with Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George and the possibility of a peace agreement between CART and George's Indy Racing League.

CART is exploring new venues in Mexico, England, and Germany as additions to next year's schedule while dropping races in Homestead, Fla., and St. Louis. Nazareth, Pa., could also be on the chopping block and the Michigan 500 is skating on thin ice, but will probably survive.

Craig's disposal wasn't a surprise to CART insiders. Members of the CART board of directors reportedly suggested that CART co-founder, former president and current board member Pat Patrick fire the Englishman two years ago.

The issues surrounding Craig's ouster dealt with the fact he wasn't as well liked as was intended and didn't know the intricacies of racing, his strength being international marketing. Craig had reportedly botched some recent television dealings, had left CART in a stagnate state of affairs with declining TV ratings, and had not made any inroads in solving the CART-IRL flap.

The latter was a bum rap. Craig worked very hard on a CART-IRL peace proposal that was all but signed, sealed and delivered a year ago before George vetoed it, with strong endorsement from General Motors and A.J. Foyt, who would get lost in the shuffle if a merger developed.

David Seuss, CEO of the internet search engine Northern Light which sponsors the IRL series, doesn't see the better possibility of a merger, softened with the ouster of Craig and the addition of Rahal.

Seuss, who competed in the Trans-Am series race here yesterday, finishing 32nd, said he hopes more CART teams will show up at Indy next season. His overview is that there are two distinctly different open-wheel racing bodies, each going in opposite directions and everyone should forget the split.

"You've got a lion and a tiger and they're different. I think they're growing increasingly apart," Seuss said. "One is international road racing and the other is American oval racing. The fact that both series are finding ways to be successful, taking different paths, that's the future we have now.

"You have two different business strategies here. They're hard to change, risky to change and expensive to change. It (a merger) might not make business sense. You've got a lion and a tiger, so sell two tickets. Sell three tickets. Sell one ticket to the lion fan, one to the tiger fan and a third ticket to the lion and tiger fan. Don't try to make a lion with stripes because you're only going to sell one ticket then."

If Germany and England are added to next year's schedule it will bring to five the number of CART races on other continents.

Patrick said he doesn't want to see the schedule include more than 20 races, adding, "What I would like to see us do is pick the best venues on the North American Continent. If we don't have adequate venues, then migrate."

As for Rahal's future as CART's CEO and president, Patrick said it's strictly on an interim basis.

"As soon as we find a replacement, he will step down," Patrick said. "He has too many things to worry about, such as several car dealerships, a race team, and a young family. He cannot devote the attention to the CART thing he would need to.

"Right now, there's not one person on the horizon. You have to have someone in the sport who has been in the sport. They have to know this business."

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