Posted by Hello

Bridgestone Renews as Presenting Sponsor Initiates Qualifiying Awards

Bridgestone has agreed to continue as the CCWS presenting sponsor for this season. New this year will be a $10,000 Pole Award given at each Champ Car event.

The award will go to the top qualifier at every event with $5,000 going to the pole-winning driver and another $5,000 to charity. Half of the charitable amount will go to the Association of Hole In The Wall Camps – “The Official Charity of Champ Car” – with the remaining $2,500 awarded to other local and national charities. In addition, $30,000 will be awarded on behalf of the Bridgestone brand at the end of the season to the driver winning the most poles during the year, with a $10,000 prize also going to the winning team’s chief mechanic.

Okay.............Now what about the powered by Ford Part?
 Posted by Hello

Williams Test Driver Pizzonia at Newman Hass

Former Williams F1 test driver Antonia Pizzonia is rumored to be testing with Newman Hass. It seems odd that Newman Hass would be considering testing anyone unless they are anticipating a third car for the season. With the CCWS owners in the "Drive for Dollars" mode they must anticipate that Pizzonia can bring the necessary 6 million. They didn't sign da Matta, a former champion, so how could they even consider Pizzonia. I think a third car would have an adverse effect on the success of the team this year. And with Carl Hass's rumored Indy effort there would be way to much dilution of effort for the team to be successful. My guess - No third car at NHR.
 Posted by Hello

New Rules for 2005

CCWS is adopting new rules for the 2005 season. The old pit stop window is going to be abolished. No longer will teams have mandated pit stops during the race. This will allow the teams to make pit decisions based on individual situations. Also this year the pits will be closed as soon as a full course yellow begins. The Pace car will pick up the leaders quickly and the pits will remain closed until safety has cleared the cause of the yellow, then the pits will open.

These are changes which could potentially make for some exciting racing or if poorly managed could cause difficulty. It would be nice to see CCWS tweak the length of the races to prevent some of the fuel mileage racing we’ve seen in the past. As for the pit lane closure there needs to be an electronic indicator for the drivers, be it a light on the PI or a large sign at pit in. I prefer the large sign! There will be issues with these new rules this year!

Bill Sheets
© Copyright 2005

Gas electric car, Hybrid cars a must buy. Why?

Isn't hybrid cars cool. Yes, it is. But why? Have you ever thought of the green house effect or how the exhaust from the cars degrading our environment? Have you ever thought of going green? Have you ever thought what is the gift you are going to give to next generation. Are you planning that you would not give even a ounce of fresh air for the generations to come. Have you ever thought, how much you would make your country dependable on other countries for fossil fuel? If you have not given thought to all the above then :( . Lets do it even if you have to cough a bit of extra $1000-1500 as this price is nothing as compared to the benifits you are going to get when you buy a hybrid car.

Do not let your financial considerations affect environmental and patriotic concerns. Once you drive a gas electric car, you would be proud of yourself that your environment car is using less gasoline and affecting the environment to a minimum level. Price difference between Hybrid cars and non hybrid cars should not be a point of concern for you. After all your act is also benifiting country, environment and the generation to come. Isn't your small gesture, a little extra price, going a long way in benifiting the lives of lot of people in the world.

Hybrid Cars Make No Sense: Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn

Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn comment on hybrid cars makes no sense. He thinks that hybrid cars have not yet come to a point where it matches its cost in terms of usability. He said, "They make a nice story, but they're not a good business story yet because the value is lower than their costs". Mr. Carlos, have you heard of a word called green. Is there only one criteria of buying something? I think, he might want to go through my blog once before giving a comment like this.

Point to be noted is, Nissan is going to start production of gas electric car of its Altima sedan, somewhere around 2006 for US markets. :) However, Nissan is going license some of the hybrid technology from Toyota, the market leader in manufacturing of hybrid cars. Ghosn also commented that hybrid cars sold in US market were mere 88,000 compared to 16.9 million light vehicles sold in 2004. So he thinks hybrid cars are considered as niche products.

Automobile industry is optimistic of fuel cell technology but Ghosn doesn't think so. He said, "The cost to build one fuel cell car is about US$800,000. Do the math and you figure out that we will have to reduce the cost of that car by more than 95 percent in order to gain widespread marketplace acceptance". Now if you had to buy a PIII PC 20 years back, how much would be its cost. I think all his comments were baseless and I can't take any one of them.
Shorty Posted by Hello

Welcome Back "Shorty"

Christiano da Matta has signed on with PKV racing and will partner with team owner and driver Jimmy Vasser. Last time I saw Christiano was in the pits at Milwaukee. Not only was he short he didn't look to be much over 16 years old. I see that has changed. It will be great to see if Christiano and Jimmy can take full advantage of the other new PKV member, general manager Jim McGee. McGee's history in the sport is one of perfection and winning. Perhaps the 2005 season championship will not be so easily captured by the Newman Haas team.
 Posted by Hello

Was Dan Gurney A Visionary

In 1978 Dan Gurney foresaw the need to reorganize Champ Car racing into a coherent business for the betterment of all concerned. He wrote a white paper and sent it to all of the team owners. In this white paper he describes what eventually became CART. It was to be controlled by a czar with absolute control much like Bernie Ecclestone of F1. As we all know that was not how it was implemeted and in the end CART failed, mostly due to the lack of coherent leadership. Oddly, if we look carefully at the business as proposed by Gurney in 1978 it had all of the ingredients that we now hear the new owners speak to. Perhaps the new owners have learned from the failures from the past and are charting a course of success for the new Champ Car World Series. I don't think there is large enough market for both the IRL and CCWS to survive in. At some point in the future one will not survive. The survivor will likely be the best business. The best business will have the best leader. It looks like Mr. Gurney was indeed a visionary.
 Posted by Hello

So Long Old Friend

I say so long and not goodbye because although the Champ Cars are not scheduled to run at Road America in 2005 I still hold out hope that they will someday return. Although I no longer live in Milwaukee I would still make the pilgrimage there to see them run if they come back. After moving to Milwaukee in 1991, Road America quickly became my favorite road racing course and the annual trip to see the Champ Cars was highly regarded as a favorite summertime activity. The window for summertime activity in Wisconsin can be very narrow as many of the natives will admit. I even made some new Champ Car fans by asking them to join me on my annual trek. During the more than a decade I was privileged to go there I can honestly say I never had a bad experience. Even sitting in the rain with a poncho and umbrella trying to keep dry wasn’t enough to detract from the thrill of the event.

Champ Cars first raced at Road America in 1982 when Hector Rebaque a Formula 1 driver scored his first and only Champ Car win. He led only two miles of the entire race but it was the most important two as Unser ran out of fuel on the last lap giving the lead and win to Hector. A similar fate befell Al Jr. in 1996 when his engine went up in smoke in Canada corner on the last lap giving Michael Andretti his third Road America win shutting out the Unser’s from ever winning at Road America. Both Michael and Mario scored three peats at Road America the most by any driver in the 23 years of racing there.

Attendance at the 82 Champ Car race was estimated to be approximately 40,000. Attendance at the last race in 2004 was estimated to be 35,000. It’s little wonder that it has been omitted from the 2005 schedule. After 23 years of racing Champ Cars at Road America there was a net loss of approximately 5000 in attendance. However during the peak years in the 90’s attendance was very good. I can remember at one race there was an announcement that came over the PA system proclaiming the race was being attended by the largest crowd ever to see a sporting event in the state of Wisconsin. I don’t know the exact number but it must have been in the range of 85 to 90,000. In those days you couldn’t always find a good seat to watch the race from if you didn’t go early and reserve it. There was some unwritten rule which allowed you to unofficially reserve a seat or spot by placing a blanket or some other identifying object over the seats you wanted. I always thought it was very presumptuous of the fans to assume they would still have their belongings much less the spots they were trying to reserve come race time but it always seemed to work out, I never saw any disagreements over the process when the fans returned to lay claim. Also, in it’s heyday you waited in line to get eats, the paddocks were full of fans with huge crowds gathered around the most popular teams even the Neon paddock had crowds. And getting out of the facility after the race was an art in itself. At the 2003 race, my last, it was as though I was the only one there. No waiting for any of the facilities, my years of learning the best escape route after the race wasn’t even needed. It was a sad commentary for what used to be a really great event.

One of my fondest memories will always be the pace car ride I got. I knew that by not being invited as a sponsor or other support member, which the pace car rides were reserved for, I was not likely to get a ride, but after a lot of finagling and some very helpful advice found on the internet I scored a ride. And, oh yeah, you do have to sign away your life before you get in! The rides began and ended at the turn five cut through. After I got in and buckled up the driver, a very nice young lady, yes I said lady, who later told me see would also be driving in the Neon race, took off up the hill to turn six. As we entered six I became convinced that it would not be possible to go that fast through this turn. As we exited the turn my whole outlook on the speeds through these turns was altered forever. When you are watching from trackside it is night and day different than when you are actually doing it! After turn six Hurry Downs and the Carousel was a piece of cake. As we exited the carousel and accelerated towards the Kink I glanced down at the speedometer to see it approaching 100. The Kink began to look more like a 90 degree turn to my rookie eyes than a kink. But once we were through it I thought, this is really fun where do I get a license. I don’t even remember Canada corner, said to be named after the large crowds of Canadians which gathered there in the track’s early days, so I assumed by then I was getting used to the speed. When we arrived back at the cut though and what should have been the end of the ride there was no one waiting for a ride, the driver looked at me and said this is your lucky day and off we went for another lap. This time I was completely prepared for turn six I even secretly wished she would have tried going faster.

Everyone that has been there agrees the food at Road America is great. It goes beyond the usual hot dog or hamburger that is commonly available at other venues. My first stop after arriving at the track was always Siebkens in the Champ Car paddock for some of their Cajon potatoes. It was not unusual to have to wait for them to finishing cooking a batch as they were very popular. You could get a brat at almost any of the stands around the track. My favorite was to get one from the Johnsonville barbeque; a huge promotional Barbie made the size of an 18 wheeler, to promote the Johnsonville brand.

Every October the track sponsors a walk and run for the American Cancer Society and all of the entry fees are donated. Everyone entering gets a nice long sleeve T shirt. Long sleeved you ask, hey it’s Wisconsin. After losing a friend to cancer I decided to get off my can and at least enter the walk part. It was an opportunity to see the track close up and besides I could use the exercise. This trip was almost enlightening a as my pace car ride. When I took off walking I saw that there were some very serious runners also in this event. Before I reached the first of the watering stations, which were set up at one mile increments, the PA announcer was excitedly reporting seeing the first runner crossing the finish line. Sure glad I signed up for the walk part!

For the sake of future generations I hope Champ Car and Road America can work through their differences and find a way to co-promote an event at this beautiful track. I would love to go back there to experience some more of the many thrills I have had there. Perhaps Champ Car can revive itself to the popularity it once had, then maybe it will be easier for the two parties to get together. If it doesn’t happen I may have seen my last race there. I certainly hope not.

Bill Sheets
© Copyright 2005

Reunification ?

Perhaps the term reunification is adding to open wheel racing’s problems. Reunification implies that at some time in the past there was unity. Reunification, it would seem, suggests a return to that unity. Does anyone remember the blissful co-existence of CART and the IRL. I don’t’ think so! Okay, let’s call this proposed getting together of these businesses a merger, or buy out, or perhaps you prefer to take the business edge off and refer to it as unification. Whatever term you prefer there’s no escaping the fact that CCWS and IRL are businesses with all the trappings and their products are the sport of open wheel racing.

When one looks at CCWS and IRL strictly from the business view you can’t help but realize how frail they both are. Hard core racing fans, no matter which side they affiliate with, tend to be blinded to frailty of these businesses. Either or both could easily fail. Auto racing is a very expensive and requires funding from many sources. Someone once said if you want to make a small fortune in racing you will need to start with a big one!

When CART was formed there were some very successful business people involved yet in the end they were not able to generate a meaningful and lasting growth so the business wound in up in bankruptcy court. However those same founders have continued to operate and lead their personal businesses with astounding success. They had a nice run with CART until the IRL came along. In business this is called competition. It was not just competition though, there was plenty of that from NASCAR and others, but this was direct competition in the form of open wheel racing. The business of CART failed to recognize the IRL as competition and went about racing as before and finally went bankrupt. What’s difficult to understand is how this group of extraordinarily successful businessmen with their independent successes could have failed so dismally in this joint venture. They all must have good business acumen, yet as a group business acumen must have been somehow gotten cancelled.

For a business to succeed it must make money, what other reason would there be for a business to exist? So long as CART was a public corporation their profitability, or lack of, was public knowledge. Determining the financial status of a private company is difficult at best so we aren’t likely to know much more than they want us to about them. Yes, it’s possible to set up a similar business on paper and plug in some expense and revenue estimates and make a good guess but that’s all it is - a guess. The CCWS and the IRL can be infused with private money until the owners run out or they can be made profitable by the use of good business practices and we aren’t likely to know for sure which is the case. If the owners have to continue funding the business then it is not likely to continue for very long. If either CCWS or IRL, or both, can execute a solid business plan then the fans will be rewarded with continuation of open wheel racing in this country.

With the two series beginning to look like gas stations on opposite side of the street it will surely be difficult for both series to survive. There may not be enough fans left to support one series let alone two. On the other hand if two businesses are managed properly perhaps they can both grow their respective fan and sponsorship bases, both of which are badly needed to assure the continuation of open wheel racing in this country.

There have been many suggestions as to how to combine (reunify?) the two series, but so far all we have is an agreement to disagree, whatever that is. Perhaps the combined series would be the best solution but then again maybe not. Competition is good for business, what would the quality of the products we buy be like without it. There are many businesses whose products are similar if not the same. Can two open wheel racing series survive? In time we should know. The future of open wheel racing in this country is in the hands of four individuals. Three of whom were successful in other business before forming a new racing series. Does this sound familiar? The other has used the family money to form a racing series and has never really demonstrated business success in any market.

Perhaps it was never meant to be, if open wheel racing was profitable wouldn’t there have been other investors lining up to get a piece of the action. Is open wheel racing just the floundering stepchild of wealthy egomaniacs that aren’t interested in anything but being king? For the sake of this 50 year fan of open wheel racing and all other fans, I hope someone figures out how to make it work.

Bill Sheets
© Copyright 2004

The Cosworth Spin

As the dust begins settling around the Cosworth deal and the reviews come in from the all of the racing pundits and more recognizable columnists perhaps it’s now time for a deeper dive into realm of Cosworth. I don’t think there is any question about the prime reason for Messrs Kalkhoven and Forsythe buying Cosworth. Hopefully they had enough advanced knowledge to put together a solid plan for the business. In any case there was almost no choice if the Champ car series was going to be saved from the rival IRL which reportedly sent one of its team owners to bid for the business. It did my heart good to hear Richard Parry-Jones, Group Vice President – Global Product Development and Chief Technical Officer, Ford Motor Company say they had worked very hard to secure a sale to a reputable buyer, and that Kevin and Gerry are very successful businessmen, with a long history in the sport and a clear vision for how they wish to take Cosworth forward. Implicitly this seems to suggest that the IRL and Mr. Ganassi didn’t have a plan or a clue, something which should come as no great surprise to anyone! With ownership of the critical engine supplier in the fold Champ Car is assured of living another day. Kudos to Kevin and Gerry.

But what about the downside of this deal? Can the Champ Car World Series really survive long term without the considerable infusion of money of a major automobile manufacturer? When I first heard of the possibility of Cosworth being purchased by two of the CCWS principles that was the second thing that went through my mind. The first was, wow that would be great, now we don’t have to worry about an engine supplier. Would it be possible for a series without some major automobile manufacturer sponsorship to survive long term? NASCAR and F1, two sanctioning bodies which have set the standard for racing business success, certainly embrace it. Even the NHRA runs things that claim to be of major automobile manufacturer origin, although they don’t look like it, and no doubt receive monetary support as a result. I wonder if the owners have some long term plan up their collective sleeves, that business model they constantly refer to, which does not include the infusion of automobile manufacturer money. What a coup that would be!

The point is this; I doubt there could ever be a successful racing series without the direct support of some major automobile manufacturer. Conversely the manufacturers want to be involved in a successful racing series because racing on Sunday sells cars on Monday. Since our beloved Champ cars bear little resemblance to anything that can be seen on the street the significant way for the automobile manufacturer to participate is by becoming an engine supplier. It isn’t clear to me if Ford will continue its support of the series in any way next year and beyond. Surely the Ford badge will no longer be a part of the engine supplied to the Champ cars. This seems to leave the series without any significant major automobile manufacturer involvement or at the very least, a declining involvement. If automobile manufacturer support of the series is as critical as I think it is then getting some other engine suppliers would seem to be a top priority of the series. How eager are the two series owners, that also own the engine business, going to be to solicit other engine suppliers to the series. Wouldn’t that be like inviting your competition to take some of your business? Could of a conflict of interest be looming here? Of course, but I don’t think it will happen. The new owners are going to do whatever it takes to assure continuation of the series including encouraging automobile manufacturers’ participation the series. After all, the team owners need all the sponsorship money they can get. And without teams there is no series.

The IRL is now facing the real possibility of loosing engine suppliers at the end of the 2006 season. This was likely the driving force behind the purported attempt to have Mr. Ganassi appear as a buyer of Cosworth. Since that ploy failed (does anyone believe Mr. Ganassi needed Cosworth for his NASCAR effort – I don’t think so) the IRL has announced engine changes are in the works, which seems to confirm their concern over Toyota and Honda leaving. Although no decision has yet been made they are talking of going back to production based engines. If that happens there will be a few good drivers available, i.e. those whose pay is subsidized by Honda and Toyota. There might even be a team or two wanting to come back Champ car. I know a lot of Champ Car fanatics that would prefer certain teams never come back. Is it possible that Kevin and Gerry have been able to see the future well enough to predict the demise of the IRL simply by owing Cosworth? Perhaps there is no downside to this after all.

Bill Sheets
© Copyright 2004

The Business of Champ Car

I hate to belabor the business aspect of racing but there is so little written about it. I feel it is good to get some of the little known business points out so that the fans can understand how racing, especially open wheel racing, can be made to work in this country. I know it probably doesn’t make the most exciting reading but I feel strongly about what I write. So here goes my first attempt to communicate to CCWS some of the things I can see from the outside that are lacking in the CCWS racing business. CCWS has an opportunity to get this organization grounded and take it to greater heights than ever before and it all starts with sound business practices. As we wrap up the season it is time to review some of these areas.

In Don Sklenka’s September 9th article “Now I Rant” he makes an excellent point about Champ Car’s lack of a mission statement. Mission statements are very easily made and as Don said, they describe a business in terms that anyone can understand. They also can be used to advertise and promote a product or business. Mission statements are not long complex paragraphs about the business but are brief one line statements. A good mission statement should be something the business can be passionate about and should be of such a length that can be hand written on the back of the average size business card. One of my favorites is “The Best Care in the Air”, the mission statement of a popular airline. Doesn’t that conjure up all kinds of good thoughts when you hear it? If you are familiar with that airline you would agree that they drive their business to that statement. This is what Champ Car must do. They could have a mission statement contest among the employees or online, to draw in all of the good ideas that would come from all over. One I might suggest would be “The Best Racing on Earth” or some variation of that. Ok, when the statement is set and approved what do they do with it? Put it on every business card, display it proudly in the office, make flags and banners to be displayed at every event, make sure it is seen and heard in each and every media touch to name a few. I know this has been an extraordinarily busy year for the owners and I applaud them for salvaging the series but now it’s time to review fundamentals of the business to assure it is well grounded going forward.

Anyone had an opportunity to communicate directly with CCWS to voice an opinion about the series or maybe a particular event or incident lately? I would guess very few, if any, have. Wouldn’t you think it would be important to the company to know how they are doing with customer satisfaction? Customer satisfaction is not limited to the fans that empty their wallets at the events but also all of the sponsors. The average fan simply doesn’t have much chance of getting an opinion heard short of expressing dissatisfaction by not attending the events and there’s been of a lot more of that happening the last few years than should have. So how do you find out if you are satisfying the customer? It’s simple….. ask! One good way is to take a survey. We get them all of the time and we mostly ignore them but occasionally we do fill one out, especially if we have an annoying issue with the company that sent it. Carefully planned and executed surveys can be very revealing and when properly interpreted can greatly enhance a product or service. The information can also be misinterpreted as in the case of a large automaker where a survey revealed customer dissatisfaction with the “fit of the door” in a particular model. The engineers spent hundreds of hours trying to improve the fit of the door when in the end it was actually the sound the door made when closing that was being misinterpreted by the owners as poor fit. Surveys alone won’t solve all evils but they sure can help. It’s doubtful that CCWS has anyone expert in surveys so I suggest they explore the opportunity to have one professionally done. If we get a 1.5 million at the gate next season, each one getting a survey and have the survey on the web site there could be 150 to 200 thousand respondents.

So what do you do with the information gathered? Sort it into categories that can be easily managed. There will be things that are actionable and things that are not. There will likely be some excellent suggestions that haven’t been thought of before as well as many that have. Now it’s time for another plan, not the business plan I have heard Paul Gentilozzi refer to, and thank god that fundamental is in place, but an improvement plan driven by the new mission statement. Survey results are not worth the paper written on if they are left on someone’s desk or filed away in a drawer. They must be a part of the improvement plan. An improvement plan should include all action items for improving the series. The improvement plan should include a mechanism for grading each item in the plan going forward. This will allow for easy recognition of what is working and what is not rather than relying on anecdotal information which is mostly useless. As time passes the plan should be reviewed and modified to fit new situations as they arise and follow up surveys or other means of getting customer satisfaction input is included. The voice of the fan just might be the best tool CCWS can employ. Please CCWS be proactive and consider these fundamental business practices for the betterment of our beloved series.

Bill Sheets
© Copyright 2004

Blog Archive