CART/IRL Armageddon 2004

  Where the "Three" Horsemen of the Apocalypse meet the Axis of Evil

 by Steven N. Levinson
January 24, 2004

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Armageddon 2004

Last year at this time, when CART announced its intention to go forward with a 2003 season, I wrote Cancel the Funeral. By the skin of its teeth, CART was able to put together a 2003 season by smoke and mirrors and $88 Million.  In that article I referred to both Paul Tracy and Chris Pook's assertions of an IRL orchestrated "conspiracy" to kill CART. The IRL's chief "spin-meister," Fred Nation, denounced this as nothing more than some misguided "grassy knoll delusions".

Well, guess what happened on the way to Judge Otte's "forum" of the Bankruptcy Court?   After nearly two years of bizarre inexplicable coincidences, the IRL's Trojan Horse has finally been exposed.  This is much more than simply reshuffling the deck of open wheel hegemony in the USA.  IRL bid on specific CART assets (engines, Long Beach race, etc.) in the hope of its final and total extermination.  After all Lee White does want the Long Beach race for the IRL and Grand-Am wants CART's street races.

Speaking of shuffling the deck, who then might be the Ace of Spades and who might be the Queen of Hearts in this high stakes game of poker?  We'll leave this paradox up to you. But it is clear to many that the equation didn't change until Roger S. Penske switched Paddocks and series logo patches. For in the prior five years of IRL's existence it had been a 100% Anton Hulman George charity function.

Atlanta 2001
Since its inception, IRL cars have been flying

Wednesday's Bankruptcy Court hearing should provide high drama, especially for those of us who really love "Real Racing...Real Sport", as opposed to Tony George's All-American Flying Circus.

The three horsemen of the apocalypse (aka OWRS) are composed of Paul Gentilozzi, Gerald Forsythe and Kevin Kalkhoven. Individually they are formidable, but collectively, we are all hoping they will represent an invincible force to secure the future of our beloved sport.

Paul Gentilozzi has emerged as the OWRS principal spokesman. He comes across as a soft-spoken articulate and very streetwise businessman with one caveat. There is an undercurrent of resoluteness and no-nonsense directness. In other words, "don't cross me, you don't know who you're fooling with".

Gerry Forsythe has chosen to take the backseat role of "consigliere."  He has many years of experience in this "WAR". Forsythe has that omnipresent smile, but be assured that he didn't become a multimillionaire Chicago Industrialist by being a bleeding heart humanitarian. Gerry is all business and totally committed to OWRS's future.  Of the original owners, he is the only one to stick it out and stay committed to CART when others fled to the oval track cartel and their fistfuls of money.

Kevin Kalkhoven may look like an avuncular Captain Kangaroo, but he didn't become a billionaire by inheriting his grandfather's money!  He is a veteran of many corporate wars.  He earned it the old fashioned way - creativity, hard work and determination.

Together they have all of the requisite components to make the remnants of the CART Series work.

When Gentilozzi first announced his intention to join CART in Mexico City in November 2002, he said it had been a difficult decision because he considered Tony George a "friend."   When I heard that comment in Mexico City, I was astounded because I never knew Tony George had any friends, other than his underlings and gophers on the IMS/IRL payroll.

Subsequently, Gentilozzi kept referring to talks with Tony George. Again, many of us wondered what he was talking about. I remember Barry Green and Bobby Rahal talking about their golfing and friendship with Tony George that was leading to a merger several years ago.  This happy talk lasted long enough for George to secure the exclusive ABC Network deal to the exclusion of CART. Lately, I haven't heard anyone in the OWRS/CART side referring to Tony George as a "friend."   Apparently Gentilozzi has gotten the message that this war has never ended. Yes, they want to "KILL US DEAD"!   Wars never end until all of the enemy is killed or co-opted, i.e., "bought off"!   Can you say Michael Andretti?

Both Roger Penske and Bill France, Jr.'s roles have remained sub-rosa. Roger loves to operate in the "shadows". Penske loves the "power game" that is his raison d'etre for being in motor racing. Many consider Penske to be the Ace of Spades in this power struggle. When rumors first emerged in 2001 at Cleveland of a possible Penske/Marlboro move to IRL, Penske denied it. Then came the Detroit Pop-Off Valve fiasco that angered Honda. Skeptics believe this was engineered by Toyota. Then came the CART Team Owners meeting at the Houston GP in October. Penske threatened to leave CART unless they adopted the Formula Crapwagon engine.  CART did so, and then Penske bolted to the IRL anyway.

Conspiracy you ask? What Conspiracy? Remember Penske's big party at the Speedway in May 2002, honoring him for his many motorsports achievements. At that soiree, Penske said that he had made up his mind a year earlier to join his friend/partner Tony George in the IRL. A year earlier? That would be May 2001, a full 6 months before the October CART meeting in Houston. Why then, many ask, didn't Penske disclose this to his fellow CART Franchise Board members?

As a fellow owner, he was in a fiduciary relationship with them and was duty bound to make a full disclosure of all material facts.  Oh well, BFD!  Is that "Big Flicking Deal" or Breach Of Fiduciary Duties?  Even high school business law courses make clear that co-directors and board members must disclose any conflicts of interests to one another. Penske would certainly say that he had no intention to join the IRL at the time of the Houston meeting, and that Tony George was a friend and that he merely wanted to return to the Indy 500 and nothing more. That some time later, he simply had a change of mind based on business. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to prove. Roger is a brilliant businessman as well as a master tactician. That is what makes this Wednesday's Armageddon so interesting. It's "GAME ON"!

Wednesday January 28 will be the day of reckoning. Judge Otte will either give OWRS and the Champ Car Series renewed life, or issue its death warrant. Some cynics suggest that this hearing in "GEORGETOWN" will favor the "Axis Of Evil". Yes, the power of the Hulman George Family Foundation is considerable. Ask Robin Miller!

I do not subscribe to that theory. I believe the judge will carefully weigh and review all of the relevant facts and motives of the competing parties. Let's face it. Free and unfettered "competition" is part and parcel of the American capitalist system. Let OWRS/CART survive. Let the race fans decide through the ticket office. I don't have a crystal ball. I cannot say whether or not my next article will be entitled Cancel the Funeral, Part Deux or "Requiem for a CART fan."

The author can be contacted at SteveL@autoracing1.com

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