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CART sponsor cautiously upbeat

G.I. Joe's leader: Series has the events and cash to stabilize

Norm Daniels once said CART should pack its bags and go home. Today, he has invited the racing series to stay Ñ for another year, at least.

'I believe the series will continue to stabilize every week they get one more issue behind them,' says Daniels, president of G.I. Joe's, which recently agreed to sponsor the Championship Auto Racing Teams event at Portland International Raceway in 2003.

'In business, you do what you have to do. At the end of the day, maybe you end up with something that is pretty special,' Daniels says. 'It's a gamble. We think it's a good bet.'

On death's doorstep last January, and on life-support all last year, CART has survived. Twenty races have been scheduled for 2003, starting Feb. 23 at St. Petersburg, Fla., and including one, June 22, at PIR.

It'll be the 20th event at PIR, although many race organizers, including Daniels, feared the worst in the wake of CART mismanagement and an exodus of teams, drivers and engine manufacturers to the rival Indy Racing League.

Christopher Pook, CART president and chief executive officer, has led the revival and banks on the interest and diversity in the series to sustain it. Sure, big-money sponsors Marlboro, Kool, Toyota and Honda left in the last two years, but CART still features an exciting lineup that drew 2.6 million fans last year, Pook says.

Butts in the seats and some sanctioning fees will help CART survive for another two years, Pook contends, and sponsorships should come back with an expected improving economy.

Money talks

CART purportedly has millions of dollars in the bank; its financial status can't be determined by looking at its weak stock price ($3.41 last week). Adam Saal, a CART spokesman, says its board allotted $30 million in cash for 2003 Ñ mostly for co- or self-promotion of events and assisting low-income teams.

'Chris Pook is doing a great job, I think they are positioning themselves for the future and have enough cash to sustain themselves for 24 or 36 months, until they can turn the sponsorship dollars around,' Daniels says.

As part of its transition from a strictly sanctioning body to a marketing services company, CART will dive into promotions. It will co-promote the Portland event with Global Events Group, relieving the Rose Festival Association of any promotional duties.

Pook says event organizers haven't reached out to the Portland public very well, and he wants to stretch promotions up to Seattle.

The Portland race did not make a profit for the first time last year. Quite simply, more tickets have to be sold and sponsorships arranged.

'The future of CART is being the promoter, and even selling popcorn if they need to,' Daniels says. Promotions will be CART's strength, he adds, based on Pook's success with the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Cars and drivers

Changes in CART have been monumental, although many won't be noticeable to the naked eye. Engine manufacturer Cosworth will provide engines to each car, since the series lost Toyota and Honda, and most teams will use Lola chassis (with some still testing Reynard) and Bridgestone tires.

The series has signed contracts for 18 cars this season from 15 teams, and 17 drivers are confirmed. While that is relatively good news, it means CART is barely meeting the minimum number of cars it is obligated to provide. What happens if the Cosworth engine fails some teams or new drivers collide?

Bridgestone and Ford have been brought on as marketing partners, and most teams are said to have found backing. The series title: Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Good luck, newspaper editors, trying to write headlines with that. Try this: Champ Car World Series.

Is CART still a major league series? Only seven races will be on national television, and CART is paying for that. As promoters will tell you, it's the technology, speed and noise and the hype of the big event that draw the crowds in the long run.

Two races, Cleveland and Milwaukee, will be conducted under lights. The series also returns to England and Germany, as attracting global fans remains the emphasis.

Daniels wants to see CART succeed. CART has signed to appear in Portland through 2005. He likes Pook and loves the racing. He has confidence in the direction of the company and in the people running it. He has only one reservation:

'This organization being public is a mistake in my humble opinion.'

Contact Jason Vondersmith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..