A Brief History of the Split.......

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Who is to blame for the split between CART/ChampCar and the Indy Racing League?

CART team owners
0
No votes
Tony George, IRL founder/IMS president
1
50%
both
1
50%
 
Total votes: 2

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A Brief History of the Split.......

Post by mlittle » Tue Oct 10, 2006 1:06 pm

Of all the topics that can bring auto racing fans, particulary AOWR fans, to blows, it is the split in the sport btwn. CART(now ChampCar) and the IRL. Over the next few weeks I'll try to explain:
~~the background of the sport prior to the split
~~whether it could've been prevented
~~how the principals involved reacted
~~the history of the split itself
~~and the future of the sport

It is said that, by studying the past, we can hopefully learn not to repeat the mistakes of the past. And so it goes with this topic......A Brief History of the Split.


1995.......American open-wheel racing was at its' proverbial zenith; a vibrant, living, full-throttle sport that was dominant in NA motorsports and was, so I'm told, breathing down on the glass houses of Max Mosely and Bernie Ecclestone and, through them, Formula 1. Just 24 months after Nigel Mansell left F1 to dominate CART, there were 25+ car grids at most events, three(soon to be four) engine manufacturers(Ford, Honda, Toyota and Mercedes-Ilmor), three chassis builders(Reynard, Swift and Lola), two tire companies(Goodyear and Firestone) and at least a dozen fully-funded teams competing for a title that spanned all the way from the Granite State of New Hampshire to the Aussie Gold Coast of Surfers Paradise. Attendance was approaching all-time high at the oval tracks of New Hampshire, Michgan and Phoenix while massive traffic jams were commonplace at the great road courses of Laguna Seca and Road America. Only professional golf's legendary Masters tournament had a tougher tricket to get than the Indy 500 and television ratings averaged between 1.8-3.7, according to Nielsen......It was a glorious time for the sport. :D :(

2006.......After 11 seasons of a divided sport, the carnage, wreckage and devastation of the split btwn. CART and the IRL is ever the more evident. No ovals will be on the 2007 ChampCar schedule, while the IRL continues to morph into what CART was back in the early-mid 1990's. The great ovals of Phoenix and Milwaukee are no longer visited by ChampCar, and only the IRL will travel to the Milwaukee Mile in 2007. Estimates are that IRL founder Tony George has spent over $400 million keeping the Indy Racing League afloat, while Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe are doing yeomans' work, it seems, trying to rescuitate ChampCar from the shell of CART. Both sides have fallen to the point where, for instance, they have to employ time-buys in order to broadcast races on television. No title sponsors of note are present in either series; neither series has very many team sponsors and the television ratings are downright pathetic at times. And what of "the Greatest Spectacle in Racing"? It, essentially, is a two-day affair(Pole Day and the race) that can barely qualify 33 cars on the grid and hasn't seen a sellout since 1995. :( :(

Tom Elliott, former director, American Honda Motor Company's motorsports program:
CART was the most exciting and competitive series in the world back then and it's just sad to see what's happened. I don't think anybody could've foreseen things getting so bad. It it had been less confrontational, maybe both sides could've sat down and worked it out when there was still a chance. Had anybody had an inkling of what it would turn out to be, they'd have said, 'Let's talk this over.'
Steve Horne, former CART team owner, Tasman Motorsports:
Teams in the IRL probably have higher standards but they're racing in a vacuum......no people, no enthusiasm, no atmosphere. Champ Car has some good venues but no sponsors to speak of. You've got two entities slogging each other to death.
As I said up top, over the next few weeks, I'll expand on this thread and hopefully, pick my way through the sometimes twisted, esoteric and frightening world of AOWR that the split has wrought. Only by learning about the past can we ever hope to prevent it from happening in the future.....
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Post by Snowy » Tue Oct 10, 2006 10:28 pm

I'm really looking forward to this :P If it's alright for me to swear I'd like to help you discuss this, however as swearing is not permitted and isn't very constructive perhaps I ought to keep my mouth shut. But if you mention Tony George I will become leary and antagonistic :x :evil: :furious: :argue:

History has taught me that it takes two to make an argument but reality has also taught me that it often only takes one ar$%[email protected]&?.

I can see I'm not going to be rational about this...so I'd better not say anything more on the subject. If you manage to paint Tony in a better light I will not hold it against you however I often don't keep my promises.

I just went off topic but have deleted what I just thought because it was totally inappropriate and fans of oval racing would probably track me down and kill me! :shock: So you can quote me "I never said that" :roll: :notme:

PS I enjoy watching Nascar oval races :P but when they race at places like Watkins Glen I get very pleasurable feelings indeed :fly2: . I don't hate oval racing I just like veg with my meat. :wave:

PPS I'm a vegetarian
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Post by mlittle » Wed Oct 11, 2006 5:38 pm

Snowy wrote:I'm really looking forward to this :P If it's alright for me to swear I'd like to help you discuss this, however as swearing is not permitted and isn't very constructive perhaps I ought to keep my mouth shut. But if you mention Tony George I will become leary and antagonistic :x :evil: :furious: :argue:

History has taught me that it takes two to make an argument but reality has also taught me that it often only takes one ar$%[email protected]&?.

I can see I'm not going to be rational about this...so I'd better not say anything more on the subject. If you manage to paint Tony in a better light I will not hold it against you however I often don't keep my promises.

I just went off topic but have deleted what I just thought because it was totally inappropriate and fans of oval racing would probably track me down and kill me! :shock: So you can quote me "I never said that" :roll: :notme:

PS I enjoy watching Nascar oval races :P but when they race at places like Watkins Glen I get very pleasurable feelings indeed :fly2: . I don't hate oval racing I just like veg with my meat. :wave:

PPS I'm a vegetarian
Multi-part posting, snowy......

1}Tony George's name will be mentioned a lot in this thread, as he had a lot to do with the split(and the ramifications); but his backers would argue(and have argued to me at times) that w/out George, NASCAR would've never come to the Brickyard and that Formula 1 might've cast off America after the 3-year disaster a/k/a Phoenix.

2}You're right about history; as the saying goes, it takes two to tango, and that's why the poll choices were what they were(you'll see what I mean during these commentaries).......

3}Lighten up a little, snowy; there have been a few times over the past decade where I've wanted to, as the saying goes, "wash my hands of the sport and walk away", but as I said in some of my earliest posts on this site last June, open-wheel racing(regardless of series) is a beautiful sport, and the truest sign of whether one cares for the sport is whether one is willing the weather the good and the bad, no matter what the politics of the day are in the sport. Oh, and don't worry about me painting Tony George in a better light; that would be, to paraphrase the ole' country saying, "like puttin' makeup on a pig; the pig would still look ugly." :shock: :shock:

Besides, if Tony George hadn't done his part in causing the split, I'd have to find new pictures to put on the F1 idiots' bar dartboard(speaking of which, has anyone put a new picture of Bernie Ecclestone on the dartboard lately......) :lol: :shock: :shock:
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A Brief History of the Split, pt. 2.........

Post by mlittle » Wed Oct 11, 2006 6:47 pm

No discussion of the split IMHO can occur without looking at NA open-wheel racing's most venerable place....the Indianapolis Motor Speedway("the Brickyard") and the man who currently runs it, one Mr. Anton(Tony) George, grandson of Tony Hulman, who purchased the track soon after the end of World War II and son of Tony Hulman, III, his precedcesor as president of IMS.

When George was appointed president in 1989 by the Hulman-George Trust(which owns the facility and is run by George's mother, Mari Hulman-George), he pretty much stayed out of CART's way, running the speedway and improving the facility, most notably by getting rid of the infamous "Snake Pit" in the turn 2 interior(where the Formula 1 cars exit onto the oval on the Indy road course). However, all wasn't happy, for George began to make noises to the CART leadeship late in 1991 about how the series treated the oval-tracks on the schedule(Phoenix, Nazareth, Michigan and Milwaukee). Towards the end of 1991, George made a proposal to reorganize the leadership of CART, eliminating the often feckless board of directors and replacing it with a 8-member board consisting of himself(as IMS president), Leo Mehl(representing USAC) along with 6 other individuals who would work with CART's president and the various team owners(who ran the series w/out the board's approval at times.... :x :shock: ). CART's response......they removed George from the board, accusing him of a coup d'etat agst. the series(it was this decision, in my opinion, that formed in George the basis to start the IRL in 1996). As Steve Horne, a former CART team owner(and close friend of George) put it to Speed Channel's Robin Miller a few years ago.....
We should have asked Tony what he thought and made him feel a part of things. We didn't express enough that the Indy 500 was the foundation of open-wheel racing; the crown jewel of CART was Indianapolis and Tony wanted some say in how the series was run but the owners didn't want to give him any. So I guessed he decided to start his own series.
Thus, a central question to be asked is......Why did Tony George do it? There are many theories about as to why; some(such as autoracing1.com's Mark Cippolini, believe that NASCAR's Bill France, Jr. encouraged him by bringing the then-Winston Cup Series(now Nextel Cup) to Indy(Mod's note...yeah, right, Mark......and Area 51 doesn't exist either, hmm...?), while others believed that the United States Auto Club(CART's precedesor) wanted to exact revenge over CART's founding in 1979. The reality of why the split occurred may never be fully explained, but there is one very, very perverse irony here......without CART's help, the Indy Racing League never would've gotten off the ground(despite opposition from then-CART president Andy Craig, team owners Chip Ganassi, Bobby Rahal and Carl Haas supplied the IRL with both engines and chassis..... :evil: ). Mo Nunn, who was the engineer for Alex Zanardi during Zanardi's time with Target/Ganassi Racing, noted with irony that,
If the owners hadn't sold their cars (to them) there wouldn't have been an Indy 500 in 1996. I told Chip (Ganassi) they shouldn't do it but I recall him saying they were bluffing. They underestimated him.
So what could've they done to stop George other than by not supplying him with cars? Two things come to mind......1}since the IRL in 1996-1997 had their idiotic 25 & 8 rule(25 of the 33 spots for the 500 were guaranteed to IRL compeititors), CART should have IMO sent their best drivers(Jimmy Vasser, Al Unser, Jr., Paul Tracy, Alex Zanardi, etc) their and done whatever they could to smoke the IRL regulars, and 2}flooded the IRL races at Orlando and Phoenix in 1996 with CART entries. They did neither; instead, they created the now-laughable U.S. 500 at Michigan on Memorial Day Sunday in 1996(most noted for the parade-lap crash prior to the green flag.... :shock: :shock: ) and the CART-IRL split began.

In an even bigger irony than the one above, Tony George did do one thing for the Brickyard; he brought back, for a few years, the short-trackers and the rising American open-wheel stars, like Tony Stewart(IRL champion in 1997, 2-time Nextel Cup champion[2002, 2005]), J.J. Yeley and Billy Boat, guys who under the CART regime would have never gotten a crack at the sport. As ole' Smoke himself said to Speed's Miller recently.....
I'd have never gotten a shot at Indy without the IRL and neither would have a lot of other deserving drivers from (the) sprint car ranks.
In the next installment, I'll look at the early years of the split and the first cracks in the demarcation lines between the two series........if anyone would like to comment, please feel free to do so(....just keep the comments clean, okay?.........)
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Post by mlittle » Sun Oct 15, 2006 12:01 pm

And now, the third installment............

When the Indy Racing League began its' first-ever race in Orlando, Fla. at the brand-new 1-mile Walt Disney World Speedway(I still have the press program from that race.....and a speeding ticket courtesy of the Florida Highway Patrol!..... :shock: :shock: :evil: ), there was a lot of fan excitement and interest. But when the series went to some of the former CART facilities, such as Phoenix and New Hampshire, there was also a lot of fan confusion and resentment. Phoenix barely drew 22,000(as opposed to 65,000+ in 1995), while New Hampshire, which drew over 50,000 in 1995(and complaints from track owner Bob Bahre to CART about not getting more fans to the event..... :shock: ), drew less than 10,000(and threats from Bahre concerning lawsuits for false advertising.... :shock: :shock: :shock: ). Compounding the lack of top-level talent in the IRL was the lack of top-level teams in the series(indeed, most of the top level teams at that time had, in 1995, been back-markers in CART, such as Hemelgarn Racing, Foyt Racing and Cheever Racing.....)

On the opposite side of racing's DMZ, CART could at least boast of several things......big crowds, big grid counts, big stars, and bigger budgets(which came when American Honda and Toyota Motor Companies unleashed their racing divisions, Honda Performance Division, now Honda Racing Development, and Toyota Racing Development). The result.....by 2000, Mercedes-Ilmor was history and both TRD and HPD regularly outspent Ford Racing. Things did get a little bit better......in late 1998, CART became a publicly traded company, and teams now came flush with millions in money from CART's IPO. While some say it was the absolute worst thing to happen, some would beg to differ...........

Steve Horne, former owner, Tasman Mtrspts.....
A lot of people say it was a bad thing but it wasn't. It unlocked equity in the teams and put a lot of money in the bank. I'm biased, obviously, because it was good for me, but it gave CART a future. It gave us owners a future and we should have done wonders with it. But we didn't spend it properly. There was never a growth plan or long-term plan. We all had a vested interest to promote ourselves to some degree; I don't believe anybody was malicious but when it all started to unravel [in 1999] I told my wife that I couldn't see the future like I could in '96 or '97'. It became murky and I got out.
Some, like former engineer/team owner Mo Nunn, wanted CART to follow the lead of F1 commercial guru Bernie Ecclestone.....
Bernie always had money in reserve to keep teams going and the CART owners should have kept the money in the sport for that very thing but they were too greedy.
Others, such as legend Dan Gurney, complained about the way the team owners used their influence on the series leadership at the time......
I kept asking during board meetings about a plan. One year? Three? Ten years? Those clowns chose to look at you like [you were] a fire hydrant. Maybe I was speaking a language they'd never heard. There were team owners who wanted to put a weak SOB in charge so that they could lead him around by the nose--and then they could run the organization like a backroom club. They didn't have a plan and they didn't care about reality.
Ironically, one of CART's strategies for dealing with the IRL......not competing at the Indy 500......actually worked for a bit. From 1996 to 1999, no teams in CART bothered to make the pilgramage to 16th and Georgetown those four Memorial Day Sundays'. Then the first crack in racing's DMZ occurred in 2000, when Chip Ganassi brought his team, including a Colombian named Juan Pablo Montoya, to the Brickyard....where Montoya won and CART drivers, plus NASCAR's Tony Stewart, took 1st-6th in the race. The next year, Roger Penske brought his team, along with Michael Andretti, and ended up winning the 500, as Helio Castroneves would win the first of his two Borg-Warner trophies. But tensions in the CART paddock, however, would overshadow the drubbings they had given Tony George's series, coming to a head at Belle Isle.

Leading into the street race in Detroit at the Belle Isle park, TRD and HPD had accused Ford of running illegal technology on their XF-2 V8 turbo engines; in specific, they each said that Ford was using spacers placed between the pop-off valves and the engine in order to allow for greater turbo-boost(thus allowing them to run higher boost in the engine without risking the dreaded pop-off valve from blowing during a race.....). Adding to the tensions were CART's upcoming decisions on engine specs in 2003(HPD and TRD wanted to adopt a normally-aspirated formula similar to the IRL's specs, while Ford and Cosworth wanted to keep the turbo engines). During a very volatile owners' session in Houston, Roger Penske vowed to leave CART for the IRL if the normally-aspirated formula wasn't adopted in CART. Without so much as consulting Honda, Toyota and Ford for any advice, CART decided to tentatively change and go with a normally-aspirated engine. Honda was furious, Toyota was furious, and even after they did that, Penske decided to switch series' anyway, giving Tony George the top-shelf team he wanted. By 2003, CART reissued the turbo-engine specs, but by then, HPD and TRD were already gone, departing for the IRL that year. In the ensuing time, Chip Ganassi switched series following 2002, and in CART's final season before bankruptcy in late 2003, series president Chris Pook spent the last $70 million CART had keeping the series running. By 2004, both Adrian Fernandez and Bobby Rahal would bolt for the IRL. In other words, it looked very bleek for the now all-but-dead series.


And so goes the third installment; in the last installment, I'll look at what the current landscape looks like and where everybody seems to stand. As always, don't hesitate to comment on anything....just keep the comments clean, okay.
Last edited by mlittle on Wed Jan 24, 2007 10:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by mlittle » Mon Oct 23, 2006 2:39 pm

And now, part four.........

When the 2003 seasons in both the Indy Racing League and the CART/Champ Car World Series ended, the picture in either series wasn't pretty. In the IRL, Toyota and Honda had effectively waxed Chevy(even after Cosworth gave the bow-tie brigade their Gen IV engine) and the old-school IndyCar teams like Panther, Foyt and Hemelgarn were reeling from the influx of ex-CART teams like Target/Ganassi, Andretti-Green and then-Team Rahal(now Rahal-Letterman). Over in the other series, then-pres. Chris Pook had spent the last $70 million or so from CART's IPO keeping the series afloat, and it did realistically appear that the series was dead in the water. Then the bankruptcy auction arrived in the winter of '03-'04, and two unlikely characters stepped up to the proverbial plate.....

For years, Kevin Kalkhoven had been a shrewd Aussie venture capitalist who had successfully run Silicon Valley firms such as JDS Uniphase; Forsythe Racing owner Gerry Forsythe was a dyed-in-the-wool CART supporter.......together, the two fought off Tony George for the right to CART's assets in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Indianapolis, Ind., then within the next 18 months secured both Long Beach, Toronto and Cosworth Engineering as ChampCar assets to build on. Meanwhile, the last parts of the IRL's "vision" for what open-wheel racing should be fell away as that series embraced some of the very things they had opposed......road courses, street circuits, engine leases, etc.

The end result......today, we have two struggling series that cannot regularly field grids with more than 16-19 cars each; attendance at oval-track events in both series are stagnant at best(even, at, I'm sad to say, the Brickyard..... :cry: ) and neither series ranises so much as a momentary blip on the American sports scene. Although both Tony George and Kevin Kalhoven have struck up a friendship through 2006, the chances of a merger by(now at the earliest.....) 2008 is, in the words of ESPN's John Oreovicz, "50-50 at best." So what does the future hold?

For the answer to that question, head over to the "SANITY" thread in the ChampCar forum...
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