A To-Do-List for CART's new President

 by Mark Cipolloni
November 26, 2000

We do our annual review of what is right and what is wrong with CART.  And we suggest how to fix it!!!

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This is the fourth year I have written a "pre-season to-do list" of things which I believe CART needs to improve upon to become a better and more successful product.  As usual my annual review of CART includes - what's right, what's wrong, and what needs to be done to fix it.  More importantly, we hope this "To-Do-List" makes its way into the hands of CART's new President and CEO.

This year we decided to go back and look at last years list to see what has been done and what hasn't.  We also evaluate whether or not last year's recommendation still applies, or whether something more important needs to be addressed.  The result is a list of twelve recommendations which we deem vital to CART's long-term success.

All is not doom and gloom as some would lead us to believe.  Yes, the USA TV ratings continue to decline, but that is not unique to CART.  Ratings for all sports are down.  In fact CART is still a fantastic series, and the competition and level of professionalism are on the rise each year.  We didn't think 2000 could top 1999, but it did.  This years championship battle between 5 or 6 drivers speaks wonders for CART's competitiveness - the most competitive of any open wheel racing series in the world.  CART has an excellent formula, excellent drivers, excellent engine manufacturers, excellent sponsors, and some great team owners, engineers and managers.  A solid baseline is there.  

What's missing is a clear vision of where CART is headed, something only a strong leader can provide.  As good a job as Bobby Rahal did as interim President, changing President's mid-season has been disruptive.  Right now CART seems to be on-hold while Rahal transitions to F1 and while the Board continues to choose the next President. 

While we wait for an announcement, below we provide the key issues (in order of importance) as we see it that CART's new President should concentrate his efforts.  It's no coincidence, TV issues are the top-3 on the list.  They remain the most important.

1. Negotiate a better TV contract 

1999 Ranking #2

An area that CART continues to get hammered on in the press are TV ratings.  Yes, they have declined since the IRL split, and yes they must be turned around, and quickly.  However, what is being overlooked by the bean counters is that CART races are broadcast worldwide.  While it is difficult to determine just how many people watch each CART race around the globe, I would venture to bet that more people watch each CART race worldwide than watch NASCAR, since outside the USA NASCAR has little following.  Assuming I am correct in my assumption, and I would be willing to debate this with anyone, then why isn't this pointed out to those that say NASCAR ratings are so good and CART's so bad.  If in fact CART gets higher TV ratings on a worldwide basis, the argument that NASCAR is so grand begins to fade in terms of TV contract value.  Yet NASCAR was able to negotiate an incredible TV contract recently and my hats off to them.  This is where the marketing prowess of NASCAR beats CART hands down.

With more and more CART sponsors selling products around the globe, the ability to reach a worldwide audience is no small matter. CART's current TV contract is up at the end of 2001.  They have less than four months to educate the ABC's and CBS's of the world that in fact they bring just as much value, or more, on a per race basis, as NASCAR.  CART, through a 3rd party, is trying to position themselves to receive a similar bid as NASCAR, whereby the network pays CART to air its races and the network sells the advertising.  If successful, this could ultimately become a defining moment in CART's history.

What makes good ratings is what's on the screen not so much the way it gets there. The production reflects the product. If a race is good TV is all over it.  If it sucks the assumption is TV screwed up.  However, the production is not yet where it needs to be either.

CART TV isn't capricious. Every bit of coverage is carefully thought out. When CART coverage is compared to "other better coverage", it would be good to remember that in the past 7 years CART TV has twice changed talent, been produced by every production crew doing auto racing for every network, and tried every idea CART management had. Ratings come from what's on the screen. What's on is CART racing. When it's good, TV is too.

While the gross CART ratings are down, they follow a general downturn in all TV ratings. The advertisers don't count gross as much as the demographic rating.  Here CART is solid.  NASCAR reaches a lot of beer drinkers and t-shirt buyers. The "bubbas" as NASCAR insiders call them.  CART reaches people with a much higher disposable income. That's more important than gross.  Remember too the ratings don't count VCR viewers. If you watch your CART racing on tape it will never figure into the system. The ratings need be more realistic.

CART's TV ratings need fixing across the board.  However, it is clear that it's overall USA TV ratings are directly tied to how many are broadcast on Network TV vs. cable.  CART's TV ratings on cable are around 50% of those network TV.  Although baseball and basketball, which have games every day are broadcast on both network and cable, NFL games, which typically are on Sundays only (similar to CART races), are, for the most part,  broadcast on Network TV

The next CART President needs to understand all the above, and always put the best interest of good racing and the fans foremost. If he puts the stock price of CART ahead of racing, he will fail himself and CART may fail with him.  Whereas this article addresses the 'big' TV related issues, another article outlines in detail what needs to be fixed with CART TV in the USA.

From what we have read, both Welts and Heitzler have the savvy and experience to negotiate a much better TV contract for CART.  Welts worked for FOX and his marketing successes in the NBA are noteworthy.  Heitzler was a former senior VP for CBS.  Some would argue that CART's President and CEO must be a 'Racing' guy, someone who understands the sport.  We disagree.  CART already is a great racing series.  It's not the product that needs fixing (that's where a 'racing' guy would help), it's the packaging and selling of the product that is woefully broken and the plunging TV ratings point that out.  Nothing is more important than having a strong TV partner to package and sell that product.  It is hoped, should CART hire him, that he will deliver that TV package.  This is CART's #1 issue related to its success, and more importantly, its survival.

2. Fix the TV problem in Europe and elsewhere

No 1999 Ranking, new for 2000

This recent article by Scott Dryden summarized CART's woes in Europe with regard to TV.  Europe is home to F1 and the FIA.  Although some Americans may disagree, F1 is recognized around the world as the pinnacle of motorsports.  A lot of state-of-the-art motorsport technology as well as safety ideas originate in Europe.  Europeans love automobile racing.  It ranks second to Football (American Soccer) in popularity.  Racing is so powerful in Europe, F1 team budgets are 10-times those of CART's.  One of the reasons Mercedes gave for dropping out of CART was to funnel more of their money into F1.  Europeans are crying for better TV coverage for CART, and every year CART manages to let the situation get worse.  CART will be racing in Europe for the first time (yes we know USAC held a two races there in the 70's) on ovals in England and Germany.  Does CART want to race before half empty grandstands in Europe as it does at its USA oval races (probably the worse image one can portray to the public), or does it want enough race fans to be interested in CART to fill the grandstand?  The critical European crowd, Bernie Ecclestone included, would like nothing better than to point a finger at CART and say, "I told you so".  How on earth does CART think European fans are going to develop a following for CART if their races are shown as short highlight pieces on Wednesday nights while the IRL and NASCAR are broadcast live in Europe?  The continued success of CART's overseas expansion hinges on the outcome of these two races.  CART must not fail.

Europe is by no means the only international TV market CART must pay attention to.  Every overseas market is important and CART just does not have enough staff devoted to looking after them all.  It isn't enough to just let ESPN distribute the TV rights for CART.  CART must get news about their series out to the local newspapers worldwide (see #6 below) so fans, or potential fans, can follow CART news between races.  The demand must be there for foreign broadcasters to agree to broadcast CART races.

3. The emphasis and location of RPM2Night must change

1999 Ranking #3

A weekly CART show won't do.  As partners, CART must work with ESPN to change RPM2Night to have an Indy/Champ car emphasis. The power and influence of RPM2Night is underestimated.  Night after night they hammer the NASCAR product into race fans' heads.   To NASCAR's benefit and open wheel racings detriment, 90% of the material is devoted to NASCAR. Some say that is because most of the viewers are NASCAR fans.  Very true, but many became NASCAR fans because of RPM2Night's years of NASCARism.  The show is based out of Charlotte and almost every night they have a guest NASCAR driver or crew chief on the show. Fans watching the show identify with the people aspect of the sport, i.e. they become household names. That is important and contributes to the success of Winston Cup racing.

They could and should do the same for CART.  The production of RPM2Night must move from Charlotte to Indianapolis, the home to a majority of Indy Car teams.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize RPM2Night should NOT continue to promote NASCAR so NBC's and Fox's NASCAR ratings go higher.  And if ABC/ESPN are not willing to change RPM2Night, then they aren't partners at all.  We are certain CART's existing sponsors would be willing to buy more ads on RPM2Night if it primarily covered CART news and personalities.  That fact should be sold to ABC's Mr. Katz.

4. Market heavily around the DRIVEN movie

No 1999 Ranking, new for 2000

The movie DRIVEN will be released this coming spring. CART must implement a strategic marketing plan based around that movie. It is CART's best opportunity to finally get the terms CART and FedEx Car branded (see # 8 below, although unfortunately a lot of the filming already done may contain the phrase Champ Cars...perhaps it can be dubbed out and replaced with FedEx Cars). Not only should CART market to race fans, it must market to the millions of moviegoers who will go to watch the movies. Most movie theaters now show advertisements and movie trivia before the feature movie starts. If there ever was a time for CART to dig into its war chest to promote its product, now is the time. CART must buy advertisements in every movie theater across the country (and the world) tying CART to the movie DRIVEN so people can identify CART and FedEx Cars with the cars they see in the movie.   Remember, the goal here is make the term CART and FedEx Cars as recognizable to the average person on the street as Indy Cars and Winston Cup Cars.

So moviegoers can learn about CART's heritage, some of the movie trivia that is shown before the DRIVEN movie should be CART trivia.

The movie DRIVEN is a Warner Brothers movie. CART must work with Warner Brothers to come up with merchandise tying CART to the movie. If CART can find a sponsor to help with the cost, every moviegoer should get a free tee-shirt with the DRIVEN logo and CART's logo on it. Then every moviegoer who wears their free shirt becomes a walking billboard for CART.  Working together CART, FedEx and Warner Brothers should be able to come up with an extensive year-long merchandising strategy that would see CART, FedEx Cars, DRIVEN merchandise advertised on TV, in magazines, on the radio and on the internet.

As soon as DRIVEN is released start working on the sequel, DRIVEN II that would be released about 3 to 4 years later.  A follow-up movie and marketing effort would give all parties involved repetitive and long-term name recognition so when you ask someone on the street do you know what CART or FedEx Cars are, you get the response 'Oh yeah, that's the really cool racing series with the fastest race cars in the world.  I love it and my favorite driver is ..........! 

5. Is CART's future here or abroad?

1999 Ranking #5

Both Bobby Rahal, and Andrew Craig before him, have gone on record as saying that CART is an American product that they export.  This is an area where CART has an identity problem.  CART thinks it is American because that is where it originated.  However, CART thinks it wants to also be international because the world is very much a global marketplace and F-1's 16 to 17 races per year surely can't satisfy everyone's appetite.  Does CART try to go after the global market with a global array of drivers and risk losing some of the USA market, or does it just stay in North America with predominately American drivers and compete head-to-head with NASCAR and the plethora of American sports?  I think the answer is obvious.   

Although CART is better served playing to the international arena with drivers of various nationalities (just like the Olympics), there is little doubt that CART needs a few more good American drivers in the series to help its sagging USA ratings.  The fact that CART is a melting pot of international talent is fantastic, but CART today still runs most of its races in the USA, hence American fans do need more drivers to cheer for.   A lot of sponsorship money that might otherwise go to potential CART drivers is being siphoned off by NASCAR and other American sports for advertising dollars.  Sponsors from other countries give more support to their drivers because outside of soccer and auto racing, there aren't many sports for them to spend it on.  By developing a better farm system and negotiating a better TV contract, American drivers will begin to look more toward CART as a career initiative and American sponsors will begin to kick in more support.

Up until a few months ago CART was restricted by the FIA to only running on oval tracks outside of North America for fear of detracting from the Formula One series. They threatened stiff penalties to CART and it's participants if they disobeyed that agreement. However, now all that has changed because the FIA, under pressure by the European Union (EU) for monopoly practices, finally recognizes CART as an official 'World Championship' series, which means it can race on road courses or ovals outside of North America.  And although the FIA would prefer CART become 'the' oval-track world championship, CART stands more to gain by not restricting itself to oval tracks. We examine what this can mean to CART, if they play their cards right.

Except for Australia that was grandfathered in, CART abided by their agreement with the FIA to restrict their overseas races to oval tracks. Hence, CART made agreements to race on ovals in Japan, Brazil (although that is changing), the new Rockingham oval in England, and the new Eurospeedway in Germany. Unfortunately, to date CART has had mediocre results at its overseas oval races. The primary reasons are simple - 1) until recently CART and its drivers were largely unknown to most of the world, completely overshadowed by F1, 2) outside of the USA, the world races on road courses. Ovals are purely an American tradition. Fans around the world better identify with road course racing. Whereas oval races in Japan and Brazil have had mixed results (although this years RIO races was a sellout), when CART races on the streets of Surfers Paradise, fans flock out in droves.

No sooner did the FIA announce their change of policy towards CART, promoters (Emerson Fittipaldi et al) in RIO, Brazil jumped at the chance to move their race from the oval track at the Nelson Piquet Speedway to the Jacarepagua road course (also at the Nelson Piquet Speedway) that hosted F1 from 1978 to 1989. Why would a promoter ask to move their race from an oval that attracted a sellout crowd last year, to a road course next year? It's quite simple, they believe that 1) they can attract even more fans with a road course event and, 2) if it rains the race goes on. It is a major undertaking for CART to move all of its equipment to an overseas race. If an overseas oval race were to be postponed because of several consecutive days of rain, CART could not afford to fly the entire circus back again another weekend, and the new 22-race schedule is so tight, when would they find the time? This years race in Motegi Japan was rained out on Saturday, but luckily for CART and the promoter, they were able to get the race in on Sunday, the designated rain date. What would have happened if Sunday were wet too?

I am not suggesting that CART move all its overseas races to road courses because of the threat of rain. Although one can use that as a valid argument, there is another reason that is far more important. There is an abundance of world renowned road course circuits around the globe that either can't get a F1 race, or are begging for a another big race each year in addition to their one F1 race. Monza, Nürburgring, Sepang, Malaysia, and Spa-Francorchamps come to mind. The list is long and the possibilities endless, but does CART want to be a true international series, someday on par with F1, or does it want to continue to be a North American series, butting heads with NASCAR and the IRL, with an occasional overseas foray?    To read more about this topic click here.

6. Better grassroots daily newspaper coverage

No 1999 Ranking, new for 2000

Get the message to the major daily newspapers and not just to the racing publications. One might ask how this will improve TV ratings?  Local TV sportscasters base their weekend assets (i.e. tape machine allocation) on what they read in the dailies on Wed / Thurs as that's when they must put their facilities requests in to the editors.   It's quite simple; more media exposure means more fans. Currently you would be hard pressed to find CART mentioned in most daily newspapers, and then only as a paragraph or two, i.e. as an afterthought behind the lead NASCAR story. NASCAR is beating CART very badly in this area.  

CART made a grassroots attempt to call all the newspapers in the general vicinity of each race throughout the weekend to feed them info and ask for coverage, and they are to be commended for starting this.  However, were all newspapers called for every race, or only those where CART was racing nearby.  From what we are told, only when they were racing nearby.  What about the other 19 races?  Of course it is impossible to call every newspaper in the country every weekend, that task would be daunting.  That's what we have e-mail for.  E-mail press releases to every darn newspaper sports editor in the USA and abroad so they can use the material without retyping it.  If CART doesn't have the e-mail address for every sports editor in this country, than hire someone to get them.  And if they really want to get better newspaper coverage overseas, the press releases should be translated into the native language of the recipient.  It's called going that extra mile.

7. Develop a global unified marketing campaign

1999 Ranking #12

This year we continued to see full-page Honda advertisements in the USA Today newspaper touting the success of their engines, yet the word "CART" was not even mentioned!  Honda was not alone. Is the right hand even talking to the left?  Texaco, Honda, Ford, Toyota and Target do a lot to promote their drivers. What about the rest? All CART sponsors should be brought in for a week-long marketing planning meeting.  The purpose - to plan when, where and how all will advertise and promote throughout the year.  There should be a joint, well coordinated campaign, not the disjointed, every man for himself effort we see now (or at least that is the way it appears).  After the week-long intensive planning meetings, there should be 30-minute bi-weekly teleconferences with all the sponsors to tweak the plan and discuss relevant issues that need immediate attention.

CART is be commended for establishing a Promoter Relations department, headed by Rena Shanaman, designed to provide dedicated, high-quality service to the 22 event promoters on the 2001 FedEx Championship Series schedule.   The new department will focus on building upon current relationships with CART's race promoters while striving to meet strategic and tactical objectives in the presentation of its events to fans. As the primary liaison between CART and its race promoters, the new department will actively participate in the planning of each race weekend, working alongside CART's Racing Operations and Marketing departments to develop consistent standards for marketing communications and on-site event presentation.  Bravo for CART!  Now lets take it one step further and take the efforts of Rena and Pat Leahy and tie it into a cohesive year-long worldwide marketing and communications campaign.  We stress the word 'worldwide' because if CART is going to play in the global arena, it had better start marketing globally as well.

8. Branding of CART and its cars

No 1999 Ranking, new for 2000

In our opinion, and most race fans we talk to, CART as a name for a racing series leaves a lot to be desired. There is a lot of confusion among the general population between 'CART' and your average grocery 'shopping cart' or go-'kart'.  Before the split with the IRL, CART had the right to use the name 'IndyCar', a term people on the street could quickly identify with them. The reaction you were likely to get then was 'oh yeah, those are the cars that race at Indy right?' 

Since the split and the loss of the right to use the term 'IndyCar', CART has made an attempt to use the term 'Champ Cars' to identify their racecars.  The terms 'CART' or 'Champ Car' are far from what we would call good 'racing' names. The majority of people on the street have no idea what you are talking about when you say those terms and that is hurting CART.  Everyone knows what an 'Indy Car' is........It's a car that races at Indy.  Everyone knows what a stock car is..........It's a car that looks a lot like a stock street car (although you and I know it' far from stock) and races in NASCAR at places like Daytona.  

The idea is that people can easily relate to 'Indy' and 'Stock' cars by the very nature of their name. What on earth is a 'Champ Car'?  Sure the hard-core race fan knows what a Champ Car is, but is that who you need to win over to grow your fan base?  To a casual or potential new fan, the word 'Champ' has no relation to racing. Mention 'Champ Car' to someone who doesn't follow CART and see what reaction you get. "Huh? What's that you say?", will likely be the answer. CART and Champ Car just don't have that name recognition.  The public just doesn't connect with them. They don't 'click' as they say.

NASCAR spent a lot of money to educate race fans when they changed the name of their top series from NASCAR 'Grand National' cars to NASCAR 'Winston Cup' cars because the word Winston Cup has no real relation to racing either.   They entered into a long-term agreement with RJ Reynolds (RJR) to rename their cars 'Winston Cup' cars to correspond to their sponsor Winston cigarettes. RJR paid a lot of money for that. Both RJR and NASCAR made a concerted effort to brand NASCAR's top series as Winston Cup cars.  To have the word 'Winston' uttered out of every fans mouth whenever they talk about NASCAR has got to go down as one of the most brilliant marketing strategies of all-time. That strategy would be equivalent to CART calling their cars CART 'FedEx' cars corresponding to their title sponsor FedEx.  We suggest the 'Champ Car' designation be faded into the background just as the term 'stock car' has taken a back seat to Winston Cup cars.  The term Champ Cars just doesn't work.  Nice try CART.  CART would then brand their cars 'FedEx' cars and every piece of literature and every mention of the cars that race in CART would be CART 'FedEx Cars'.

In turn, FedEx would put a picture of a FedEx car on every single truck and plane they own......moving billboards seen by millions of people everyday.  TV advertising by FedEx and CART would feature 'FedEx Cars'.   Through a cohesive marketing strategy, the term 'FedEx Car' would be marketed by both FedEx and by CART into a name known around the world, just like 'Winston Cup' cars are recognized around the world. We know that in the past when CART asked FedEx to place an image of their cars, or their logo, on their trucks they said no because they sponsor a lot of different sporting events and they could not favor one over the other.  However, we wonder if CART ever offered to rename their cars after the FedEx company.  That would, we feel, bring a lot of added value to FedEx and possible get them to agree to such a deal.  In a true CART and FedEx partnership, the deal to brand the term 'FedEx Cars', would mean all the FedEx trucks and planes would carry a CART FedEx car logo.  To read more of this article, click here.

9. Announce new engine package for 2003

1999 Ranking #9

CART’s turbocharged engines are not common in motorsports today, but they give CART a unique identity from the IRL and F-1. There has been a lot of debate lately as to whether CART should convert to normally aspirated engines or change to a 1.8 liter highly turbo charged engine. NASCAR, the IRL and F-1 are all normally aspirated. Does that mean CART should follow suit? The sound of a turbocharged Champ Car engine at full song is music to the ears of every fan. Everyone loves the sound, and the turbo keeps the noise levels reasonable for the street circuits. Why mess with success? Turbochargers have become very reliable and not a high expense item. They are a great way to control engine power as speeds continue their annual creep upward. If CART owners are ever going to return to the Indy 500, it is not going to be with CART equipment anyway. They will need to purchase all new equipment for that event. The internal debate over this issue has prevented CART from releasing new engine specifications as planned. The powers-to-be must stop procrastinating and announce a turbo formula, one that the engine manufacturers recommended two years ago, unless.....

We have heard that one or more of CART's current engine manufacturers might now favor a normally aspirated engine, possibly even to IRL specifications.  This would be a grave mistake by CART.  If it were to adopt the IRL formula, the rest of the world would thumb their noses down at CART as being inferior (not state-of-the-art) just as CART is about to burst upon the international scene with races in Mexico, England and Germany in a big way.  CART can't afford to adopt the F1 N/A formula as that would be too expensive.  The only way CART could adopt a normally aspirated formula and be well respected worldwide, is if it were to lobby all the current F1 engine manufacturers to force the FIA into a lower cost engine formula, one that could be used by both CART and F1.  The engine manufacturers would then be able to supply the same engine to both CART and F1.  Does anyone think a Ferrari on a CART grid would be bad?

The timing is right now to lobby the F1 engine manufacturers for a lower cost common formula for CART and F1.  Peugeot recently spoke out saying the cost to develop a F1 engine and be competitive is ridiculous.  As the economy cools and car sales fall off, other F1 engine manufacturers are going to look to bail out of F1 if costs are not reduced.  With engine manufacturers now owning F1 teams, the FIA can't afford to have any drop out.  CART must act upon this opportunity immediately if it wants to adopt a normally aspirated engine formula, even if it means V-10's instead of V-8's.

It will be a tough sell to the F1 faithful, so unless CART is willing to campaign hard to bring F1 and CART to a common engine formula, CART engines must remain unique, state-of-the-art, turbocharged engines, an important part of its heritage.  If it adopts the IRL engine formula, it's cars will essentially be IRL cars in all aspects (overall dimensions and weight are the same), leaving one to ask the obvious question - why do we need CART?

10. Establish safety and race track standards

1999 Ranking #11

CART is faced with two lawsuits as the result of the Greg Moore and Gonzolo Rodriquez fatalities in 1999.  Safety standards, or the lack thereof, are in question.  This recent article discusses the implications of those lawsuits.  There are really two questions to consider here.  1) Do tracks have to continually upgrade their facilities every year to higher safety standards? and;  2) Whose responsibility is it to define and impose those standards, the race track or the sanctioning body?

From our perspective, it is up to the sanctioning body to set and impose the safety standards by which the tracks must abide.  The FIA does an annual review of its tracks and tells the track owner what must be upgraded.  They either abide by the recommendations or lose their F1 race.  CART has plenty of track owners begging for a race.  If a track owner can't afford to make the necessary upgrades, then perhaps they should not have a race.  If they are not drawing enough fans to make a profit, then perhaps CART should question why they are racing there.  Packed grandstands are what CART should be striving for.  

The insurance companies are likely going to raise their insurance rates through the roof as a result of the Moore and Rodriguez lawsuits.  Track owners are either going to have to pay for safety improvements or, pay higher insurance premiums.  If CART can't afford to have its own fulltime safety inspection staff, then it should outsource it to another firm or hire the FIA to do it for them.  If a track owner can't afford to make all the necessary safety improvements now, and it feels the venue is too important to lose, then help them by offering some relief on their sanctioning fee structure.  Allow them to pay less now, but make up for it in later years.

Safely upgrades aren't the only track upgrades needed.  Press facilities vary widely, from working out of mobile trailers at Milwaukee, to State-of-the-Art facilities like we will see out Eurospeedway in September.  All press facilities should contain high-speed internet access for journalists to upload their work to their home base. Last time we checked, this was the 21st Century....wasn't it?  In many cases, journalists have to share one dial-up modem line between three people.  There is no consistency and no standard.  CART must establish consistent and mandatory press room standards.  

We understand that many of the current contracts CART has with tracks preclude them from making such demands.  However, all contracts that get renewed should stipulate that CART will review and mandate annually, within reasonable limits, safety and press room facility upgrades needed for a track to retain their rights to a CART race.

11. Elevate the status of the Indy Lights series

1999 Ranking #8

Just as the Busch cars look identical to the Winston Cup cars, so too should Indy Lights look like Champ cars, in size, and in weight.  The only difference should be the engine - lower HP and less computerization, maybe even IRL engines and chassis'.  This would enable Indy Lights to look like the real thing instead of some miniature version.  If Indy Lights were run to IRL specs, there could be some cross-pollination between Lights and IRL teams.  In addition, Champ car teams that buy equipment for the Indy 500 can then turn around and run that equipment as a Lights team.  And the equipment can be maintained under the same roof with the Champ cars eliminating redundant costs where possible.  Many of the NASCAR Busch teams and SPONSORS move up from the Busch series to the Winston Cup. It gives the sponsors a chance to get involved in racing without making a big leap.  Race weekends are a lot more exciting when the support series is worth watching.  Using the IRL spec for Lights would also give some of the IRL teams a series to use their equipment if the IRL folds. 

If CART were to go this route (we think they will go the F3000 route instead) it must first talk to the IRL about rules changes coming up for is series.  CART doesn't want the situation where teams purchase IRL spec cars for Indy Lights, only to find one year later the equipment can't be used at Indy.  We don't see the IRL making any drastic changes to its rule book because many existing IRL teams don't have the financial resources to buy completely new cars.

Winston Cup drivers race in the Bush Grand National series all the time. The Bush series now gets better TV ratings than CART Champ Cars. When was the last time a Champ Car driver raced in Indy Lights? Never! That needs to change, and change soon. Every Champ Car team should try to have a Lights team. Not only to give their sponsors more exposure, but also to give their teams a good training ground for new drivers, mechanics, crew chiefs, engineers, and managers. Imagine what Andretti and Tracy could do for Indy Lights if they ran an occasional race. Ditto for the other drivers. CART must have a minor league series that is strong enough to retain new talent until an opportunity opens up in the Champ Car series, or a place to go for drivers like Raul Boesel, who lost his ride, yet was still competitive. A place to go so they might get a second crack at Champ Cars, should the opportunity present itself. It has been suggested that the IRL could have been the ideal ‘Indy Lights’ series, but there is too much hate and ego clashing between the two camps for that to ever become reality. Quite unfortunate. 

And lest we forget, please change the name of the Atlantic and Lights series to CART Toyota Atlantic Series and CART Indy Lights Series.  The CART name needs to permeate throughout the CART structure.

12. Develop a 5-year strategic business plan

No 1999 ranking, new for 2000

CART's new President must commission a body to develop their 5-year Business Plan.  Every company has one, yet we have heard some people say one does not exist for CART.  And even if one does exist, it's probably time for a new one as the current one doesn't seem to be helping CART grow, certainly not in TV ratings which continue to fall.

So there you have it; our year-end recommendations for CART and its new President to consider.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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Branding CART and their race cars 11/9/00

Will CART's next leader be a corporate visionary? 11/5/00

Addressing CART's TV issues 10/25/00

CART, do you know who you are? 10/24/00

Will CART miss this boat too, - Destined to forever race in the shadows of NASCAR? 10/13/00

Lights to IRL Specs - Why the new Indy Lights cars should meet IRL specs 9/28/00

Soft Walls - drivers take a stand while you still can 9/6/00

Sigma team - ready to do combat in CART 8/27/00

CART Fan Forum - Highlights from CART's very first Fan Forum 8/11/00

Warren Hughes - A name to remember 8/7/00

CART restarts - NASCAR Style 8/5/00

Mario Andretti Tribute - America's Driver of the Century 8/3/00

Shift w/o Lift - How it works 8/2/00

Aerodynamics - CART's chance to make progressive changes 7/31/00

Chicago - Qualifying Report 7/30/00

CART's HP dilemma 7/23/00

Michigan 500 - Race Report 7/23/00

Michigan 500 - Qualifying Report 7/22/00

Soft Walls - Finally, a safer wall system 7/7/00

Buddy Rice deserves a shot at Champ Cars 7/5/00

Choices, Choices, we rate possible new CART venues 7/4/00

Cleveland Race report Super-sub now Superman 7/2/00

Cleveland Saturday 7/1/00

Cleveland Friday 6/30/00

Portland Race Report 6/24/00

Portland Saturday 6/24/00

Portland Friday 6/23/00

CART must avoid Detroit's politics 6/20/00

10 ways for CART to invest $100 million 6/12/00

Juan-derful Juan wins Milwaukee pole 6/03/00

Marlboro boys sandwich Andretti 6/02/00

Montoya and Ganassi do CART proud at Indy

Penske gets the Monkey off his back with 100th win at Nazareth

Welcome to AutoRacing1.com

A year of progress shapes Rockingham

A solution for CART's franchise dilemma

Lausitzring nears completion, fighting hard to win CART date

Paul Tracy keeps his Kool, wins LBGP for 2nd time

What is an American driver?

Warming up at Nazareth

172 mph in a Champ Car is the ultimate adrenaline rush 11/29/99

Standing Start Rules proposed standing start rules for CART 11/21/99

Standing Starts are they right for CART 10/10/99


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