New CART President and CEO Chris Pook was subject to a media grilling shortly after his appointment to the hot seat in the troubled US series.

Pook, originally from the UK, has been one of the most successful race promoters on the US race scene. He founded the renowned Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in 1975 and has built it into one of the crown jewels on the FedEx Championship Series calendar.

He most recently served as president and chief executive officer of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Los Angeles Organizing Committee for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Q:
A lot of people are curious about the future of the CART series, seeing the way the economy is and the popularity of NASCAR. Do you feel like you almost have to quote, unquote safeguard at this point?

Chris Pook:
No, I don't take that position at all. This is not a question of saving CART. This is just a question of realigning some of the assets of CART, and I'm talking about the human assets of CART, so that we can make them effective and let them do their jobs in a more constructive and successful manner.

So this is not an issue of saving at all; it's just a question of moving the dominos around on the board.

Q:
All of us that know you or think we know you always said you would never take this job under the current structure. Can you talk about the assurances you have been given--I mean, the biggest lie we have heard for the last 22 years is that the board of directors are going to let the CEO of CART do his job and it's never happened. What assurances do you have that you will get to do things your way?

CP:
I have been given no assurances nor asked for any assurances from the Board. I am an adult, CEO, and I know what I have to do as a CEO of this company; and I serve the board of directors; and I will do what I've got to do to make sure that the board of directors approves the business plan that we bring before them and approves the process and the goals and the objectives and the strategies that we present to them.

Now, the makeup of the board has changed a bit in a year, and I think that's probably what you're alluding to. And the interest in the company by outside shareholders has changed considerably over the last year here; perhaps that's also what you are alluding to. But I can tell you that I have not gone in and demanded any of these bits and pieces that people seem to allude to, and it would not be appropriate, I don't think, for any CEO to do that.

Q:
As a follow-up, you've got Jerry Forsythe resigning from the board, and you've got Pat Patrick and the other owners saying, "We'll get out if it makes the thing work smoother." Is that what it's going to take to finally get this thing to work smooth?

CP:
You know, every company always has a ratio of inside directors and outside directors. We are a public company; and therefore, we need to follow the rules of a public company. So we do need outside directors, but by the same token, we need inside directors because we are in a somewhat technical sport and we do need those inside directors to give balance to our board and to give knowledge and information to the outside directors.

So, I think that the foresight of Jerry Forsythe and even Pat volunteering, and maybe there are some others to step aside, particularly with maybe some conflicts of interests in the senses that they are promoters as well, I think that that is very healthy and very magnanimous of them. I think that obviously it is much easier for them to recognize that maybe there's a conflict, versus other shareholders having to point out the conflicts.

I think, you know, we need to go forward with that philosophy; that we need to conduct ourselves like a public company. And as well, recognizing that we are in a technical business. I mean, it's really no different than GE--I don't want to compare CART to GE, but they have a certain number of outside directors and a certain number of inside directors; and I think that's where we need to be, in a similar sort of situation, a similar sort of ratio.

Q:
Going forward, what are your thoughts as far as the direction in race venues and the direction they were taking looking to build the brand by considerable spending over the next couple of years? And secondly, any commentary that you could offer regarding things out there; that there are several promoters seeking a reduction in existing contract sanctioning fees?

CP:
Well, let me get the first one out of the way first. It's really quite easy.

We've got a good product and we are going to be market driven. When I say, "Market driven" I don't necessarily mean venue-market driven, but sponsor-, manufacturer-, supplier-market driven. We have got to understand from our manufacturers and suppliers where they want to be, sponsors, FedEx particularly, where they want to be; what works best for them, and we have got to come up with the right combination.

That is not to say that any one group is going to dictate the direction of this company, but we are going to be very sensitive to those requirements of that constituency and we need to be responsive to that constituency.
So, I think that is what's going to drive this company, the direction of this company. Obviously, I have to take that philosophy to our board and get our board to buy in on it, but they are very, very intelligent businessmen and they understand this sort of thing. I think they will agree.

Now the issue of the promoters raising a little Cain--you know, I'm an old promoter and I know what raising Cain is about. I understand what they are saying. I will work with them. I will help them. We will put the right team work in place here to give them the support that they need. After all, they represent 52 percent of the revenue to this company, and we are going to address that issue and we are going to reach out to them.

Some of them, with all due respect--and I have said this before I got into this job--have caused some of their own problems. Be that as it may, it's our job to help them out of those problems. Others are interested in pushing the business envelope a little further. Me too. I'm interested in pushing the business envelope a little further.

So, we will be happy to sit down and talk to them. In fact, I think later on today we are going to talk to them as a group on a conference call. And I am not get into the business of addressing their issues individually on the conference call, but I will in the next few weeks address them all individually because each case I'm sure is unique. And we'll see what we've got to do to fix their complaints. We'll analyse their complaints and we'll fix them and we'll move forward.

Q:
Would you look towards potentially moving towards more of a business model as outlined with the new Denver agreement, or would that be on a case-by-case basis with some of the standard sanctions, fee arrangements still in place and others moving towards that Denver-type business model?

CP:
I think you have to take every single one on a case-by-case basis. I think just to do a blanket statement across the board would not do justice to ourselves as a sanctioning body, and least of all to those promoters. I think you have to talk to each one individually and analyse what their issues are and how we fix their issues.

Q:
One of the criticisms - one of the strong criticisms of CART is being that the organization has tended to lack people with a deep knowledge and experience of the racing business. You, obviously, bring that to the table, and you are renowned around the world as well as across the USA. This is, obviously, one of your strengths. You work with Formula 1, with CART, with NASCAR as well, all of these various constituencies. How do you see that particular strengths, is that one of your biggest strengths, and are there any other people with considerable racing experience on the technical end or wherever that you see bringing into the organization?

CP:
I don't know quite how to respond to you on the issue of my strengths. I just do what I've got to do to get the ball across the goal line. I mean, I think you know me long enough to understand that I set targets in business and close on targets. That's how I do business. That's how I was taught, and the formula has worked fairly well for me over the years, and I think most businessmen do the same thing.

With regard to technical side of this business and how we go forward, yes, I think that we have got some good technical people here right now. But I think we need to backstop some of these technical people with another level, and I don't mean - I mean, technical/technical level. I mean also business/technical level. Our technical folks cannot bury their head in the sand and say, "We don't have to worry about these issues of being sensitive to suppliers and sponsors and things like that. We are just technical people, and all we worry about is shock absorbers and going fast or making the cars really safe, and stuff like that.

We have got to have folks that are sensitive to the issues; that, yes, this is a business environment; yes, this is a sport we are in. But this is a business sport. This is a sport that is driven by money; and when it is driven by money, you have to be sensitive to the issues of the folks who bring the money; and that is: The spectators, the television folks, the supplier, the manufacturer, and the sponsors.

So we need to - all of us. Every single person that works in the company and every single person that's out there in our sport, needs to be sensitive to that and needs to be sensitive to the perception of how we are perceived and what our product looks like and how we present our products.

Are we making it easy for the public to understand? We just can't be sort of saying, "Gosh, we are racers; therefore, we are above all this stuff." We have got to stop and say, "Are we bringing the right product in logical, understandable manner to our audience, our constituencies." We have got to look at ourselves and say: "Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe we have got to fix stuff." That's where we've got to be.

The presentation of this product has got to be fun for everybody, and it's got to be fun for the recipients, as well.

Q:
If I may follow up, internationally, CART continues to have a pretty strong reputation. It's huge in Canada, shown itself in Mexico, a great European reputation, Japan, Australia. And it also tends to have much more vigorous international media coverage, particularly print media coverage, than what has occurred over the past five or six years in the USA where the print media coverage, in particular, has really fallen off. It's the domestic position of CART which seems to be the big problem. Internationally it seems to be in strong shape. Do you share that view, and what would your strategy be to begin to improve its domestic position in the media, as well as at the gate?

CP:
I think that's fair enough. I think you're very close there.

I think that one of the things that's happened here in the United States is that - I mean, the remarkable, extremely well-presented plan that NASCAR had to take their series to the heights it has gone to has probably eaten up a lot of media time in this country. And, gosh, you know, they deserve to get it because they are very good at what they do.

I think on our side, probably the disagreement between the Indy Racing League and CART has probably not helped. I think, also - and I want to be delicate here how I say this. But I'm not sure we here in Championship Auto Racing Teams have done the best job of projecting our product to you guys in the media; making sure you understand that; and I think we might have fed you some stuff that was negative to us; and therefore, you lost a lot of enthusiasm and interest.

But I mean, that's what we are doing here today. We are trying to create a management team, a cohesive management team that understands clearly what the goals and objectives are. And we'll get on down the road. The past is the past, it is what is it and it's not going to change. We have to look to help and how we are going to fix it and that's what we are going to do.

 

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