Chris Pook, CART's
year ago CART went through an extensive search for a new
President and CEO. Chris Pook's name came up as a
leading candidate then, but he withdrew his name from
contention. With CART up against the clock on many key
issues, now is not the time to procrastinate on the obvious.
have done my own due diligence on Chris Pook. Everyone I
have spoken to, from sponsors, to manufacturers to promoters
to team owners (except one) have voiced strong support for
Chris Pook. The more I dig, the more Pook keeps coming
up smelling like a rose. Even CART critic Brock Yates
calls Pook CART's last great hope.
time the Delaware Board of CART decide on the obvious, to
elect Chris Pook as CART's next President. Half the
battle of being a success in that position is to have the
backing of those around you, in this case CART's
constituents. It appears Pook has that, which means when
he suggests something, he's likely to get the support he needs
to get things done and done quickly.
why Chris Pook? Let me tell you a story of my own
experience with Chris. A little over a year ago I
decided, out of the blue, to contact New York City to see if
they would be interested in hosting a CART race through the
city streets. Much to my surprise they were receptive to
the idea. I knew a race in NY City would be
fabulous. The financial capital of the world, the
nightlife, the large population, it had all the right
ingredients. But in the past there were several failed
attempts to get a race done in NY. Even Bernie
Ecclestone tried and failed. I promised them I would get
back to them shortly.
went home that night and I said to myself, hmm, this is going
to be a difficult nut to crack. Having worked in NY City
for many years, I knew the politics were going to be
tough. Unlike Californians who are in love with the
automobile, New Yorkers are a mass transit type of
crowd. Some don't even own a car, they rent one when
they need to, otherwise they take a taxi or mass
transit. I could hear it now. Fast and loud cars
racing down my streets! Are you nuts?
didn't take me long to conclude that the only man who could
possibly pull this off was Chris Pook. Imagine the
resistance he must have gotten in Long Beach when he devised
the idea of America's first street race (well not really,
there had been a few other failed attempts some 50 years
ago). Not only was he able to bring that race to
fruition in 1975, by the second year he had negotiated with
Bernie Ecclestone to bring the F1 circus to Southern
1975 inaugural race was a F5000 event won by Brian Redman.
The attendance was good, but not spectacular. The
following year the F1 circus came to town and Long Beach was
on its way, or was it? The cost to do a F1 race was
high, even in those days, and Chris was barely making
it. The 1976 event was good, but still not a stellar
crowd, and financially Pook was desperately trying to stay
afloat. Of course after the wildly popular win by
American ace Mario Andretti in 1977, beating then F1
king Niki Lauda and Jody Scheckter, things started to turn
positive. Mario's win had the fans cheering loudly,
their American hero won. The following year attendance
increased dramatically and Chris Pook was on his way.
the 1983 F1 race Bernie Ecclestone, just like he does today
with track promoters, wanted a big increase in the sanctioning
fee to return. Chris told him thanks, but no thanks,
keep your F1 race and ludicrous prices. I'll bring in
CART at much less cost. Bernie laughed and said he was
crowd was down a bit when he changed to CART in 1984, but
Mario Andretti once again saved the day. Now back in
CART fulltime after winning the F1 world championship, Mario
annihilated the field, leading the 1984 race wire-to-wire and
going away. Again the crowd went wild and from then on,
Long Beach became one of the most successful races
anywhere. Although Pook thanks Mario for helping him get
through those difficult times, in reality it was Chris Pook
who turned a dream into reality.
it wasn't just the racing. Pook made it into an
'event'. It was more than just another race, it was a
happening that just got better by the year. But what
does a race promoter know about running a publicly traded
company like CART? In Pook's case, more than you think.
knows how to run businesses, he started and ran the GP
Association of Long Beach until Dover Downs bought them
out. Pook then went to work for Dover Downs, itself a publicly
traded company. So he has the company experience, but
that's not enough. What else sets Pook apart?
Racing is a strange business, it's run based on a lot of
relationships, and Chris has a lot of them.
there is one failing Joe Heitzler had, it was that he wasn't
in the sport long enough to develop those relationships, he
was a 'stranger in a strange land.' Because Pook has
been in the sport so long, he knows just about anyone who
matters. When he calls, people answer. When he walks
into a room, people turn to look. No, he's not a sports
hero. No, he's not a loud obnoxious guy. In fact
he's kind of quiet. Perhaps it's the way he carries
himself, but more importantly the way he conducts
himself. He can be charming, witty, cunning, and
ruthless, all in one breath.
people don't miss the details, and Pook doesn't. Let me
give you an example. After the Long Beach race was over
this past April, and all the hoopla had died down, Chris took
the time to walk into the press room where everyone was
feverishly working on their stories, he shook hands and asked
if there was anything anyone needed. Was everything
OK? Here was the President of the Long Beach race taking
the time to ask the reporters if everything was OK?
Why? Because he understands the importance of the press,
the power of the press. If the press writes good things
about his race, that helps him to succeed. Looking after
those little details, even on his busiest weekend of the year,
is one key reason why Pook is so successful.
leads me back to NY City. I knew if anyone could get a
race done in NY City, it was going to have to be Chris Pook,
so I gave him a call. Chris took it from there. He
setup a meeting with the City, made a strong presentation, and
got them excited about a possible race. Things were
progressing nicely, and Chris told me he might be able to make
a race happen as early as 2004. Then September 11th, and
the great tragedy that befell NY City. Unfortunately,
that immediately put the race planning on hold, but not before
considerable progress was made. Will it ever be resurrected?
One would hope so once the City gets back on its feet and the
World Trade Center mess is cleaned up, but that won't be for
awhile. For now, the City's funds are better spent on
he's been doing this so long, he understands what it takes to
make events successful. He understands the politics,
promoter issues, sponsor issues, team issues, driver issues,
TV issues, etc. In short, Pook's the best man for the
job and endless searches (that some board members want to
pursue) are not going to turn up anyone more qualified (no,
Bernie Ecclestone is not available) than Pook. It's my
understanding that if Pook gets elected to run CART, he would
immediately resign his position at Dover Downs, to avoid any
conflicts of interest, and that Dover Downs in onboard with
that. Rumors that he's not available just are not true.
what's the holdup? There are important issues that must
be addressed for next season, and addressed immediately.
Miami. Engines. International TV. Attracting
more teams and sponsors. Stabilizing CART, a ship taking
on water and listing severely.
bringing on Pook isn't the only answer. CART itself must
be restructured, it's too slow to act and there's too many
conflicts of interest. The Franchise Board must be
dissolved and made into strictly an advisory board, with no
real voting rights. Right now its an obstruction. To
streamline technical decisions, let John Lopes and CART Race
Operations make the technical decisions for the series, with
the board giving them advice. If the Delaware Board
doesn't like the job Lopes and company does, send them
packing. These meetings where team owners argue passionately....but
endlessly about technical decisions, must stop.
or three team owners should be on the Delaware Board to represent
the team owners interests. The rest should be astute
businessman who also understand racing. Grosfeld and Vannini
come to mind. I would also reduce the size of the
Delaware Board from 12 to as little as 7 to get things done
most of the team owners have cashed out their stock, what leg
do they have to stand on to be on the board making decisions?
They no longer own a part of the company. Jerry
Forsythe has a lot of stock, and continues to buy. By
all means give this man a seat on the streamlined Delaware
Board. As for the others who have taken their money and
run, oh well you made your bed, sleep in it. Carl Haas still
has some stock. Ditto for Ganassi. I'm not sure
about Barry Green, but he certainly seems to be a neutral,
diplomatic guy. Pick one of these guys as the 2nd team owner
rep on the Delaware Board.
Will Chris Pook be
CART's next President? Does
the Delaware Board have the wherewithal to dissolve the
Franchise Board, and chop itself nearly in half? Will
they let this President do the job he's being elected to
do? Or will CART continue to flounder because it can't
get out of its own way?
Stay tuned as this
soap opera unfolds.
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