Friday, Oct. 17, 2003 | 10:21 a.m.
Brian Hilderbrand covers motor sports for the Las Vegas Sun. His motor sports notebook appears Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or (702) 259-4089.
Chris Pook's tenure as president and CEO of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) may be coming to an end, but his enthusiasm over the future of the open-wheel racing series is at an all-time high.
Pook said he would be replaced as president and CEO of CART once the buyout of the series was completed sometime in December. Pook added that he would remain as a consultant to Open Wheel Racing Series LLC, the group headed by current CART owners Paul Gentilozzi, Gerald Forsythe and Kevin Kalkhoven.
"I'm very excited about the new ownership," Pook said this week. "I think they're very bright guys and you have to remember that they are businessmen first and racing folks second, so they will address this company as businessmen -- which is very important.
"As you know, when the previous owners owned the company, before (CART) went public, they tended at times to address (issues) purely as owners and what was in it for them as owners. These guys are very, very structured and very, very smart."
And Pook made it clear that he favors the direction the new owners have announced for CART, which includes combining other entertainment options such as concerts with the race weekends. The proposed CART race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway next spring is expected to include a concert either before or after the race.
"I think it's a very smart thing to do because they can open the brand up to another walk of life," Pook said. "The group that follows music is primarily a young, mobile audience that we need to get our arms around and I think it's a very, very smart strategy. If you can make that self-liquidating at the same time -- or even make a small profit doing it -- then that's a win-win.
"That's where you have to be today, to compete in today's world for the leisure dollar. This is a very, very tough market for the leisure dollar. Their approach to it, I think, is very, very positive."
Pook, 62, knows of what he speaks. In 1975, he spearheaded the concept of a street race in downtown Long Beach, Calif. Today, the Long Beach Grand Prix is the second biggest open-wheel racing event in the United States, behind the Indianapolis 500.
Paul Tracy, a 13-year CART veteran driver and six-year Las Vegas resident, said a Las Vegas CART race, if done properly, has the potential to become as successful as the Long Beach Grand Prix.
"I think the format that they're going to have, what they're trying to do with MotoRock and the concerts and that kind of thing, is the way to go," Tracy said. "If you look at where the corporate dollars are (being spent) right now, everything is going toward this type of X Games, concerts, sports, multi-package types of events.
"It's not just a race -- you've got a concert, a race, a backup race -- because people want more for their dollar and they want to see something on TV that's entertaining and I think what (the new ownership group is) trying to do is the right idea. A lot of the tracks that we go to, they just don't understand that; they try to spend the minimum amount of money so you get the maximum amount of profit.
"If we can pull this thing off, I think it would be pretty good -- especially in Las Vegas because people like to come here."
Pook said a CART race at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway next year would be more representative of the sport than the two races the series had in 1983 and 1984 on a modified oval track in the parking lot of Caesars Palace.
"I think the whole concept of going (to Las Vegas) is very exciting," Pook said. "We were there back in the '80s, at Caesars Palace, and that was kind of interesting. I don't think we were able to embrace everybody in the city at that time; I think it was more of just a Caesars Palace promotion as opposed to a citywide promotion.
"Obviously, the city of Las Vegas has changed dramatically since that time. (LVMS) is a pretty magnificent facility. We had a great race at Fontana last year ... we had a great race at the Lausitzring in Germany this year ... and we're very confident that Las Vegas will be an equally spectacular race."
Pook said he expected CART would announce its 2004 schedule "within the week," once details are worked out and an agreement with LVMS is signed.
The event was to be a track rental but the race promoter -- the Speed Truck Challenge series -- elected to cancel the event, a speedway spokesman said Thursday. Jay Rutherford, president of Speed Truck Challenge Inc., did not return calls seeking comment on the cancellation.
Another Las Vegas resident, Brian Fowler, finished fourth in the 250cc Novice main and fifth in the 125cc Novice final.
During Wednesday's live draw for starting position for the 36th annual Baja 1000, Alan Pflueger of Honolulu drew the first start for the car and truck classes. Pflueger will make his debut in the featured Trophy Truck division in a new Chevy Silverado.
Robby Gordon drew the 20th and last starting position among a class-record 20 Trophy Trucks that have entered.
The 25-race 2004 NCTS season will open Feb. 13 under the lights at Daytona International Speedway and will return to Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 25.
Toyota, which will make its debut in the series next season with its Tundra truck, will sponsor the Aug. 14 race at Nashville Superspeedway.
Among the riders expected to compete in the event are Jeremy McGrath, Jeff Ward and brothers Ben and Eric Bostrom of Las Vegas. Supermoto racing combines elements of off-road and road racing on a track that is part asphalt and part dirt. More information can be found at www.redbullsupermoto.com.