CHAMPCAR/CART: Interview with Andrew Craig
T.E. McHALE: Welcome to our second 2000 teleconference of the 2000 season. We are very pleased to have at this time as our guest, president and chief executive officer of championship auto racing teams, Mr. Andrew Craig. ANDREW ...
T.E. McHALE: Welcome to our second 2000 teleconference of the 2000 season. We are very pleased to have at this time as our guest, president and chief executive officer of championship auto racing teams, Mr. Andrew Craig. ANDREW CRAIG: Thanks, T.E., And good afternoon to everybody. Thank you very much for making the time available to join us this afternoon. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on an introduction here. I think it's far more important that we get to your questions so that we make sure that we do address the issues that you want to talk about. But let me just start very briefly by saying that I do think if I was to describe the 2000 season in a few words -- actually, in three words, I'd describe it as "the big change." On the track, we have new teams, of course Mo Nunn Racing and very recently formed the Arciero Project Racing Groups, two new teams. Obviously new chassis options, with a very much revived Lola, very much a factor in the series. I think most interesting of all, we have new team and engine combinations and new team and engineer combinations. So I think a lot of things have changed. Add to that, the fact that we have no less than six rookies taking part in the 2000 season. And you can see why I think we're in for an exciting season that's based on a lot of change. At the sanctioning body level, a lot of changes as well. We have a new focus on racing with Hal Whiteford who we announced, last and I'd be happy to answer any questions that you have about that position and what it means for the future. Joining us a couple of months back but still relatively new on our team Pat Leahy, senior vice-president of marketing, and along with Pat, of course, we have a very large number of in marketing initiatives or promotional initiatives in the year 2000. CART Radio Network will be on the air for the first time this coming weekend, broadcasting from the track on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and throughout the year, but principally in these early days into our major race markets. Inside CART, not a new program, but coming back to the airways will be ESPN2 this year for the first time. We have, as many of you know, we have no less than nine local PR agencies servicing all of our 20 race markets to make sure that we provide in-depth support to our race supporters, not just for our own race, but every race, to make these races more relevant in every market in the country. On the PR side, we have added or are adding no less than four new staff; that's doubling the team that works with Ron Richard. We have in the new media seats, this is of interest to everybody on the phone who is working for a dot-com Nate Siebens is our new media manager. I know that Nate knows many of you and he fully intends to know all of you to make sure that we do a more thorough job of servicing the Internet and electronic media. On the TV side we will be making an announcement next week to bring in somebody to handle non-race markets from a TV point of view, to make sure we get greater coverage away from the race markets in network affiliates and local stations by simply going around, knocking on their doors and selling the CART story. What we're doing is actually the same -- we have press in the non-race markets and still have to make one appointment in that position. Steve Shunck of course came on board to us as director of broadcast PR to reallocate Merrill Cain to work more closely on radio where he has been highly successful throughout this year. So a lot of changes going on in the series and I won't really say any more than that. With that, I'll throw it open to you for any questions that you may have.
Q. With Hal Whiteford's appointment, I was just curious how early on did you focus in on Hal as the primary candidate for that job? And part two, how important is it having this kind of new blood, outside perspective that Hal brings and Pat Leahy brings? ANDREW CRAIG: Well, last October or thereabouts -- yeah. It was it was early October at the board level, we decided it would be very helpful to bring somebody in on the racing side, which in turn of course will free me up to spend more time on the corporate side of the company. And at that time decided the position needed to be filled. Hal's name did not come to mind immediately, I must admit. We looked more inside the industry than outside, but as we got into the whole thing, and his name did surface pretty early on as a strong candidate, because A, we all knew him very well; B, we respected the work he'd done at Mercedes Benz; C, he has a terrific background in operations and large-scale corporations where process is critical to the whole activity. So he very early on emerged as a strong candidate for the position. I hope that answers the first part of your question. As far as the second part is concerned, I like the fact that Hal is both an insider and outsider. I think it's a perfect combination, a little bit like Pat Leahy is -- or was, in that he's from outside of our sport. So he brings new disciplines, new skills and new perspectives, but at the same time, he's sufficiently knowledgeable and has been involved in the sport so that he won't be a total outsider. It's not all going to be new to him, and it's the same with Pat. I mean, Pat came on board and he knew straightaway what was what and straightaway exactly what the series was all about. So I think with both those individuals we got the best of both worlds.
Q. Can you first talk about the dwindling numbers of American drivers in the series, and does that concern you, and also, can you talk about Steve Horne and if he possibly will join CART in some capacity? ANDREW CRAIG: Well, certainly the declining number of American drivers does concern us. We're not happy about it at all. It's not what we want. We want the series to be open to the best of the best, but at the same time, as you would naturally expect in an American race series, we do want to have a very significant number of American drivers in the sport. There is, I think, some positive hope for the future. We have 10 Americans this year in Indy Lights. We have 17 Americans this year in tow for Atlantic. And those, I believe particularly in the case of Indy Lights, that's a record, and certainly high levels of numbers in these series for the past. Now bear in mind that of the current Champ Car or FedEx Championship field, 15 -- 15 drivers have graduated from either Indy Lights or Atlantic. The vast majority having come through Indy Lights, and, in fact, you can see is that there's no reason at all why, providing these individuals have the talent necessary, and I'm sure that some of them do, providing they can showcase their talents on CART, as indeed they will in these two series, there's no reason at all why we can't start to graduate some of these drivers up into the Champ Car ranks. So yeah, we're not happy with it at all. We don't like the fact that we have so few American drivers. We want to correct it. And let me say that -- this is the bigger challenge, it's not just an issue of Indy Lights and Atlantic. It's how we as an industry in open-wheel racing reach down further into the ranks of kasting, with a K, and the lesser formula and encourage and nurture that talent to move up through the sport. Now we took some pretty important initiatives last year and this year with the African American community and with women as well, but that's not enough. Clearly, we've got to start working hard to rebuild American presence in the sport. As far as Steve is concerned, Steve, actually I believe was under contract with Forsythe Championship Racing through -- until the middle of March. He's now gone on holiday for a couple of months, and certainly is not going to make any decisions for a couple of months. Obviously, it takes two- to tango, but certainly, I do see some important consulting roles for Steve in the future, if that's what he want to do. And Steve, obviously, he's going to decide what he wants to do, and we respect that, and once he's made that decision, there's an opportunity there to talk to him about some things I'd like to talk to him about.
Q. Why has there been such a decline? Is it just the sponsorship role? I know you guys have been pushing people through Indy Lights, Atlantic, Toyota, why is it now such a hard thing to find? ANDREW CRAIG: I think it is easier, I have to say that, for a non-American driver in most parts of the world to acquire sponsorship at the early stages of his or her career. Looking a bit now below Atlantic and below Indy Lights one second, it's an awful lot easier if you're a Brazilian or an Italian or a Frenchman or a Brit or a German to get sponsorship at the Formula III level and below. And it's really in those early runs, that's where careers are built and established. Motor racing is just -- it's a very big sport here, but it's just plain bigger in other parts of the world; and therefore, industry is more predisposed to listen to presentation and support young athletes. It really is a grass roots problem we have here. I don't think we alone can solve that, but obviously it's a major responsibility for us to do what we can.
Q. Are you discussing or talking with ISC or PIR people about possibly returning to Phoenix as early as next year? ANDREW CRAIG: We certainly keep a careful eye on Phoenix. It's a great marketplace and we love racing there, as you know, the very first CART race ever held was held in Phoenix. I really wouldn't want to comment on specifically on what we may or may not do, but I will say this: Phoenix is a very interesting market for CART and something we keep uppermost in our minds. That's really all I can say at this stage.
Q. There are reports about CART coming to Montreal, can you tell me anything will about that4? ANDREW CRAIG: Yes, I can. I think you read the report in the Montreal press regarding -- I believe it was a Mr. Pappillion (phonetic), and his efforts to stage a CART race. Actually, I hadn't had, at that time, no contact with him whatsoever. I subsequently did contact him and asked him where he was coming from on this, because he's talking about a CART race and we never even spoke to him, and he confirmed to me that, yes, indeed we hadn't spoken, which was reassuring to me, and he had never spoken to anybody in our organization. And I said, "Look, this is really very premature." I believe he did take steps to correct this impression that had been created in the press, and I said at this stage I don't really want to pursue those discussions any further. It doesn't mean that Montreal is not a great racing market, but I closed that conversation down.
Q. Is there any news you can give us regarding any other international venues? We've heard about Monterrey, we've heard about Germany, we've heard about Britain, can you shed some light on that? ANDREW CRAIG: You've got a pretty good handle on that, three venues which are of interest to us. First of all, in general, speaking now racing in Mexico would be attractive to us. We get increasing inquiries from sponsors who obviously are now working in a NAFTA economic environment and they like the idea very much that through our series we have promotional opportunities in Canada, obviously, the USA and potentially in Mexico. So there has been a lot of interest in the concept of racing in Mexico, and certainly it's absolutely correct that we are looking very seriously as a potential opportunity in Monterrey. It is a very -- economically very strong province because it's in the northern part of Mexico, and certainly it would appear to make a lot of sense. Nothing has actually been concluded at this stage, but we are looking at that, I would say, once again, very seriously indeed. Again, at a strategic level, we think it's really important to add a race in Europe. I would say the level of sponsor interest is perhaps not quite as high as Mexico, but it's certainly up there. A lot of sponsors would like us to be there and as you obviously know, we have two very good opportunities, one in Germany at (inaudible), the other in England at Rockingham, both of those venues have significant merit. Some differences, obviously. Both have significant merit. However, I have to say it would be highly unlikely that CART could contemplate doing both of those events. So if and when one of -- a European event were to appear on the schedule regrettably, I think it's going to be one, rather than two, and it is regrettable because they are both first-class opportunities.
Q. You wouldn't want to go and make it a doubleheader? Would it make sense to go to two venues while you are over in Europe? ANDREW CRAIG: The trouble with that is it would essentially take us out of the U.S. for, I guess for between five and six weeks. You've got one weekend to load up, one to race, and then you've got to move, race home the next weekend and then go back to the States, weekend off; after three in a row, you have to have a weekend off. Essentially you're out of the U.S. market for five weeks that's what concerns us both. Economically for CART and for the two promoters involved, two races would make great sense, but whether from a marketing perspective and presence perspective it does, it's questionable.
Q. If I might, two questions, if I might he revisit the American driver issue. Your points about developing the talent pool are well taken, but the fact remains that there are at least a handful of qualified candidates who have gone elsewhere to race or can't get money to race. What can or specifically does CART need to do to try and help address that situation?
Q. Brazilian drivers get Brazilian money. Do we need to encourage American companies to give their money to American drivers, more conditional, anything at all in terms of what influence you might have in being able to address that situation? ANDREW CRAIG: I think it certainly behooves the sanctioning body to do everything it can to make the sport as attractive as possible to sponsors at all levels, regardless of whether to sponsor a car or respond or a team or potential sponsor to a driver. And certainly one of the roles I want Pat to undertake here is to increase the visibility of the series amongst corporate community, effectually open doors, make the community more predisposed to CART racing. As a consequence, if at a later stage an athlete knocks on the door, or a team, for that matter, knocks on the door, that particular company, they are going to get a hearing. Whereas, today it's a struggle, quite frankly, or can be a struggle if you've got to first of all sell the product before you sell yourself. So I think it is our job to help sell the product.
Q. If you could sort of outline, I don't know, the division of labor between you and Mr. Whiteford. I mean, what will his responsibilities be? And as you guys mentioned in your release, part of the thinking in creating this position is to free you up to handle some of the commercial aspects, I don't know not more exclusively, but maybe more focused. Talk about that split? ANDREW CRAIG: Sure. The very heart of what we do is racing. It's our product, if you like, but it's more than that. It's our passion. It's why we're all here. But having said that, I do feel that we've reached a point in time where, whether I like it or not, I can't spend as much time as I could -- or perhaps more important, should spend on the product, with our team owners, with our officials, with our staff on racing-related issues. The series has become much more complex and much more sophisticated recent years. Just to put that in some context, in the five years prior to -- let me think -- 1994. Prior to 1994, the average number of full-season entrants was about 16 cars per year. The average number in the last five years or so has been in the region of 26 cars. So you can see that there's been a real change here. There are many more full-time race teams out there. It's become far more demanding in terms of managing the relationship with the racing teams at the racing level. And the schedule expanded, so you have more teams more full-time teams, to races, a far more complex series, a far higher level of competition from our four engine manufacturers in the series as ever witnessed before, and it's just plain, well, a bigger job. Couple that with the fact that obviously the role of CART has moved from being a private sanctioning body which is essentially an organization that was sort of -- an organizer of events and conduit of a very small amount of money for race teams and a public company, and you can see these things need to be split. And Hal is coming in to run racing. He's an operations guy. I'm looking to him to streamline our operations, to improve our officiating system, which has been great for the last 20 years but I'm not convinced is the perfect system for the next 20 years. He's coming in to really get our ship in order for, as I say, the next 20 years. He's part of our future, and I anticipate quite a lot of change and quite a lot of reorganization. Meanwhile, that will free me up to focus on building the business further.
Q. When we say "racing operations," though, that would not, for example, include scheduling, ordering, determining which of those opportunities you guys might take in terms of expanding the schedule, that kind of thing that would remain yours? ANDREW CRAIG: That would remain with me. And, obviously, that's partly a marketing issue. It's also partly a commercial issue. That will remain with me. Hal will take responsibility for delivering the product as determined by myself and by our board of directors.
Q. First of all, in terms of expanding the schedule, if and when it happens, are you looking more towards the European or Mexican, South American market and the U.S. and second of all, how are your talks about Las Vegas Motor Speedway going? ANDREW CRAIG: First of all, no, I wouldn't say that our focus is exclusively international. Actually, if anything, I think we're really looking right now to -- the whole schedule, and asking ourselves, where should we be racing in the future. And a couple of things come into play there. It's not only where, but when. We've expanded our schedule substantially over the last couple of years. We now run well into -- well, actually, to the end of October. We're into football season which we don't particularly like. And we really need to address the idea of when we start racing, and if so, where do we -- if we start earlier, where would we race. So there are a lost things that are up in the air right now. We're having a lot of discussions with many of our promoters to see if we could reorder the schedule, perhaps go to some of the same places, but at different times of the year, and maybe there are opportunities for other venues. And all I would say with regard to Las Vegas it is obviously a very important market which our sponsors like a lot, and also a market where we can run early in the year; so that you can see on any list of potential new venues, you couldn't have such a list and not have Las Vegas on it.
Q. And what are -- what is the status of any talks you have had with either Las Vegas officials or Speedway Motor Sports? ANDREW CRAIG: We've talked with the folks over at TRK from time to time. Those talks are nothing more than keeping in touch and exchanging ideas and exchanges views. They are not of a material nature at all.
Q. Are there now or have there ever been talks with ISC about racing at the new Kansas City track? ANDREW CRAIG: Well, certainly, with ISC, bear in mind, they are our biggest customer. We have more races at ISC tracks than at any other. So they are very important to us, indeed. I certainly couldn't get into any detail, but certainly in those discussions, the question of Kansas City has come up. Obviously, it's an interesting market. I couldn't really comment further than that, but sure, from time to time, we have talked about that.
Q. You are stating that you have never had any talks with Mr. Pappillion? He says to the contrary? ANDREW CRAIG: I never had any discussions with Mr. Pappillion until I contacted him to ask him what he was doing, saying he had had conversations with me. And I sent him a letter, and I must say he came back to me very, very promptly with an e-mail saying, well, he was sorry, he didn't mean to imply he had had conversations with us. But the only conversations I have had with him have been after the fact, after he'd announced that he was coming to Homestead for meetings with us and so forth. I'm here tell you we never met face-to-face. The only communication we have had is me asking him what he's doing representing the idea that he has talked to us. And furthermore, I did decline a meeting at Homestead.
Q. This person stated he would be in Homestead for the opener and later on they would have talks with you guys. Is that confirmed or is that true or not? ANDREW CRAIG: We have absolutely no plans to meet with them whatsoever. I'm sure they are very good people, but the fact of the matter is we have knowledge of who they are. To my knowledge, they have never promoted a race. We have no plans to meet with him at Homestead whatsoever, and the whole thing seems to take on a life of its own. And I can only say it again. The only communication we've had with Mr. Pappillion was simply to find out what it was we thought he was doing, because we've never talked to him about a race, ever.
Q. Can we expect an official statement from CART on this matter? ANDREW CRAIG: Sure. T.E. is right here. If you'd like us to do an official statement, we'll do that.
Q. Nascar recently went out and did a bid for their TV package. Now, my understanding CART's contract is due to expire a year or two with, I guess, ESPN. Is there any thoughts at all about maybe doing a similar thing for the CART TV package at that time? ANDREW CRAIG: The situation is this: Our TV contract runs through until the end of 2001; so we're into 2000 now, obviously. So after this year, we have one more year to go. In the middle of this year, as stated in our contract we will enter into the first round of negotiations with ESPN for a possible exchange with ESPN and ABC. We then have the opportunity, should we so wish, that at that that stage we can look at other opportunities and so forth. And quite definitely, we do want to look very carefully at our U.S. broadcast partners, and also at the same time, look very carefully at how we handle our international distribution going forward, which we do intend to change. So we are moving into the negotiation phase right now. I don't really want to comment in too much detail on that, except to say that, obviously, we have some contractual obligations and we have to negotiate and we wanted to negotiate with ESPN and by exchange ABC by the middle of this year.
Q. We've gotten a lot of e-mails from folks in Europe who are kind of upset that CART is not going to be broadcast live as much as it has in the past. And I had some conversations with some of your staff and they said they were working on developing some other outlets there to broadcast. Could you tell us -- give us an update as to what kind of progress CART is making in getting the coverage in Europe to be -- to be better that be maybe what than maybe what it would have been and how that might influence a European race? ANDREW CRAIG: For the last three years, we have broadcast on Eurosport. Eurosport is a pan-European broadcaster, basically using one visual signal, one video signal and broadcasting in four different languages. It's a pretty good service. It has a very, very broad coverage area, and it reaches potentially a very large audience, but actually, it's quite shallow in its market penetration in the many markets it goes into. I think for the stage of CART's development we were in three or four years back, Eurosport was just fine for us. It provided us with coverage on Sunday evenings of our races, events that we weren't having to battle our way through football and other sports events and other networks in the evenings, and it was a relatively straightforward thing to put together. However, as we go forward, we believe that Eurosport's time coverage is not appropriate for CART. What we need is tailor-made coverage, market by market, wherein if you're in Sweden, you have a Swedish commentary team and the focus clearly is on Kenny Brack. Or if you're in England, you're have an English broadcast team and the focus is clearly on Mark Blundell for example. In order to do that, you've got to make the change and we decided to make the change one year earlier than we originally planned. And the reason we did is it now is that Eurosport came to us effectively and said, look, we are struggling on the advertising sales side now. That's, frankly, not a story that -- I have to say -- they have not been a particularly successful partner in terms of selling the commercial air time, and that's normally their problem, but they really were struggling and they wanted to exercise an option to modify the contract. We accepted that and we hope by doing this we get the best of both worlds. And what we now have is Eurosport with a two-hour show on Wednesday nights, on delay, and that show will include Atlantics and Indy Lights as appropriate, so we think that's good. So it will be an update on those two series, plus the majority of each CART race in a two-hour show. The ratings performance an Wednesday nights in Eurosport is almost identical to what it is on Sunday nights; so we don't think we're going to lose that basic coverage. And then what we're doing is going market by market and entering into broadcast agreements terrestrial broadcasters. We have been successful in that respect in pretty well all of the key countries, with one very noticeable and concerning exception, and that is Germany. The reason we have been unsuccessful there and we were about to conclude an agreement with VOX, and VOX was bought by Murdoch, and as a consequence, those negotiations came to an end because they had different plans for the channel. So that's a big concern to us, a big hole in our European broadcast plans for the year 2000. However, I do believe that the strategy remains absolutely valid. We must have domestic broadcasters in each marketplace producing a tailor-made product to meet the needs of their viewers, not a catchall, coverall kinds of coverage that Eurosport provides. And I believe we have something which without question, we'll have more viewers this year, but there are going to be a couple of gaps, and one of the biggest gaps is Germany.
Q. Do you think that it's a good or bad for CART having had the same winner so many years in a row (inaudible)? ANDREW CRAIG: Well, yeah he's got a great shot at it and he's got a terrific team there; so no one could count him out there are this year. Do I think it's good or bad, I think it's both, quite frankly. I think where it's good is that one of the areas where CART is not so strong as, say, Formula 1 is that our teams don't quite have the same strong individual identities that you find in Formula 1. (Inaudible) is a brand in his own right and as is Williams and Ferrari and so forth. I think Chip's performance as a team owner in the last few years has really pushed him forward, and along with Roger Penske has established him as a known commodity, a brand if you like. That has to be very good. I think from the fans point of view, I guess it's natural that people would be more interested in this season if they can see that someone is going to topple the king. That remains to be seen if that happens, but it certainly provides with a great challenge and Chip] with a great challenge going into the year 2000 season. Can he hang onto it, will he lose it; I think that's probably pretty good for our sport. I don't think it hugely damages us by having the same winner four years in a row. I think it's probably provided more positives than negatives.
Q. I would like to speak to Andrew about a situation that came up in Montreal. I am the one that caused all that trouble with the story about Montreal. When these people talk to me about the story, it seems that I found out about it a little bit too early and I printed the story before they really had the chance to talk to you, because the information I had was that they were ready to talk to you and it was already done, but it was not done. So that's the first problem that happened. ANDREW CRAIG: Okay.
Q. And then I talk about the CART Championship with the promoter of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Montreal, Norm Allego (ph)? ANDREW CRAIG: I know him very well.
Q. He's a good friend of mind, too. So we talk about it and I said I was just curious with two French Canadian drivers in the series this year, you cannot believe the interest level of the CART Championship in the media and in the population here in Quebec, but we don't have the chance to see a race live, we have to go to Toronto or to Nazareth in Pennsylvania, but the people are getting so excited about it. So it's normal for a journalist to write -- to try to see if the CART Championship Management would be interested to have a race in Montreal.
Q. So by the way, when I talked to Norm, it took me by surprise by saying yes, I will personally be very interested to have a CART race on the (inaudible) circuit in Montreal, I think it would be great and blah, blah, blah. So I print that story that day, but at the end, I mentioned that there was some little talks already for -- between the other organization, the other group of businessmen of the South Shore Montreal with the CART series, but it seems that the aforementioned was premature and too early.
Q. So I'm sorry about that. That was my mistake. I should have double-checked that information.
Q. But still, for us in Montreal, we were just wondering if you would be open to the idea of having one day, a race in a market like that. I don't have to tell you, but the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Montreal, we break the attendance record year after year. I was just curious to have your feeling about it. I know you seem to have offers from all over the world now from England, from Germany and from other cities in the States like Phoenix and Las Vegas, but still, is the door closed for Montreal? ANDREW CRAIG: No. The door certainly wouldn't be closed. Montreal is a very important Canadian city, in a part of the world where racing is very popular and extremely well understood. So I certainly would never say that the door is closed. You very rightly identified that CART has some really big decisions to make over the next 12 months, I guess: How it's going to race, where it's going to race over the next ten years, basically. But certainly, I would never say that the door would be closed for Montreal, but certainly, there are many other things that have to be considered. The fact is we have two very, very successful events in Canada; could we sustain a third and so on and so forth. But we would look objectively at any proposal in Montreal, but obviously, without any wish to go cast dispersions (inaudible) on Mr. Pappillion, we would really rather be working with a very experienced partner, and I think that's probably where we can leave it.
Q. If I can ask you that question, if Norm Allego would come to you and say: We are ready, we have all the installation, all the budget and everything, so we are -- we are coming on with a project of having a race in Montreal, then could you have a different look at it?. ANDREW CRAIG: I would just add one caveat. I'm not entirely convinced we would want to race on the Grand Prix circuit. One of the things we are particularly concerned about, for instance, when we go to Europe is not to look just like Formula 1. From my perspective, if we -- this is very hypothetical, but if we change to Montreal and just raced on the Grand Prix circuit, what we're just really providing people with is something that they have already got, and if we were to come to Montreal, I would want to provide something a little different. I'm not too sure we would actually look at that. I think we'd provide a more exciting race, but notwithstanding that, I do feel we'd be more interested in looking at a street race or whatever. But I must emphasize that's very hypothetical.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about football? You referred to it earlier, the idea of getting away from competing with football, and is that high on the priorities for 2001? ANDREW CRAIG: Insofar as we can, guess yes. The fact of the matter is that if you look at the rating performance of all sports other than football, once football comes on air, if you're head-to-head with football, it's a challenge. It's a very, very dominant property and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to go head-to-head with football, if you can avoid it. Now, there's an "if" in that. Sometimes you can't avoid these conflicts, but where we can, it would make a lot more sense if we could. And one of the ways to avoid it is to start your season earlier and finish it earlier.
Q. How early do you see as possible, what would be the latest you want to run then? ANDREW CRAIG: In a very perfect world, you finish racing in mid-September, but that would be very optimistic on our part. But ideally, with should try to finish the money a month earlier and hopefully perhaps start a month earlier. That would make a lot of sense, or maybe even start a little bit earlier than that.
Q. Is it this something you see as it has to happen or is it simply an ideal? ANDREW CRAIG: I think it's something which has to happen. I'm not saying it's all going to happen in one year. You might see us move partially in that direction. But bear in mind that we have long-term contracts with race promoters. Many of those promoters have dates which are fixed in their contracts which are critical for their success. So, you know, it's got to be done in partnership with those promoters.
Q. So is there a date in mind when you have the kind of schedule that you'll want to live with year after year? ANDREW CRAIG: Well, I think certainly by 2002 you should see some radical change, yes, and earlier if we can.
Q. Two years ago, CART put on probably its most exciting race in history, yet three spectators got killed in the crash there, and last year you had a points race at the end of the year that Nascar would literally die for, and then you had the Greg Moore tragedy. I'm just wondering, do you look back on some things over the last several years where there were promotional opportunities where you could have beat your chest, but obviously your hands were tied? I'm just wondering if occasionally, has CART been under a little bit of a black cloud on occasion in your estimation? ANDREW CRAIG: Particularly in the last couple years, we have lived in some very sad times. And the loss of three spectators followed by the loss of two drivers this year, certainly, I think has cast a cloud over the series in many ways. It's been, you know, a profoundly difficult time for all of us. And it's sad and disappointing and concerning when you look back at two seasons in a row which have been tainted by tragedy. And then in a very different way, of course, we started this year with the loss of a very great friend and colleague in Tony Bettenhausen and Shirley Bettenhausen and members of his team. So it certainly has been great sadness for us. I don't think there's any -- anything that, you know, CART can say that alters any of that. The facts are the facts and you have to live with the circumstances you face. And I don't think that we have been somehow, you know, less fortunate than others. I mean, there are always issues you have to face in life, and those are some of some of the things we have to face, but certainly it's been a sad time for us. There's no question about that.
Q. If you could just pass a magic wand and change one thing about your marketing aspect that would maybe shake people up or make them aware of your series, what would that be? I know it's an off-the-cuff question, but what's the message you would like to get out there about your series that maybe people aren't just getting as far as like tuning in on television, etc.? ANDREW CRAIG: I think it's very straightforward. We're driving the fastest race cars in the world. We have the best athletes in the world driving those cars. We are a high-technology series. We pit not just drivers against each other, but engineers against each other, as well. We have a wonderful heritage you can trace right back to the turn of the century, and as anybody who knows who has been in our paddock, our series is a real center of excellence, and those of some of the messages we've got to communicate. And most important in all of that, this sport is about human beings and about people and about some of the most talented race car drivers in the world today. I mean, bar none, these are amongst best in the world, if not the best in the world. And we've got to make them better, we've got to make them better appreciated for what they do. But most important of all, make them better known.
Q. My understanding, a bit of a marketing shuffle there at CART in the last year or so, and I think you second-guessed some things. Are there mistakes you think that have been made in the last few years, whether in relation to the IRL, or as you just talked about, why is it so hard to get into the American psyche? ANDREW CRAIG: I think you've got to see where we come from. We're a series that five years ago had absolutely no money to spend on marketing at all. Today, our marketing expenditure is the second line item in our budgets, behind the purses we pay to the race teams. Why is that? Because we took the time, expended the energy to build the business and to generate those monies so we could then put it back into the sport. But unfortunately, as much as we'd like there to be a silver bullet or a magic wand we could just wave and everything is perfect, it takes time. I am very confident in the team that we have in place on the marketing side of this company and on the public relations side. We've got more energy down in our marketing department than I've ever seen. We've got a lot of new stuff going on and we're doing all of the right things. We are absolutely confident we're doing the right things. We'd like to do more of the right things with bigger budgets and so forth, and that's something that will also happen over time. But we're doing all of the things we should do to help promote the sport. I just wish we had been doing this ten or 15 years ago.
Q. In all of this. Have you felt at all like your leadership has been challenged by the folks you work for or have they been fully supportive, do you feel? ANDREW CRAIG: Oh, I think the leadership should always be challenged all the time. None of us have the perfect answer to anything. I have some pretty clear views about what we need to do, the first thing which to me is kind of obvious, to make sure we have some money in the business so that we can actually do something rather than just talk about it. But would I hope we would be challenged by not just the immediate constituency but by our sponsors and everybody in our community to do the very best job we can.
Q. When you say the "new money" you have to market, I guess I just don't understand? ANDREW CRAIG: Okay, four years ago, five years accurate, the company turned over approximately $20 million a year and just about broke even. Today, the company is highly profitable, has produced significant capitol for its shareholders, for the team owners to a very large extent, and now has marketing budget that is in the order of $7, $8 million a year that is all new money. Today, we turn over $78 million a year compared with $20 million four or five years ago. It's a bigger business.
Q. (Inaudible)? ANDREW CRAIG: Watkins Glen has come up from time from time to time. Although it's a market with some challenges, we think that the name -- I talk about heritage; it's been an important part of our sport, and Watkins Glen is just so original in heritage that that's the kind of place, under the right circumstances and on the right track, which would be of great interest to us.
Q. With Firestone being the only tire, was it necessary to name it the official tire? ANDREW CRAIG: I wouldn't say it's necessary. We thought it was appropriate. We are very pleased. And obviously Firestone is such a resolute supporter of Champ Car racing. We were very disappointed that Goodyear, I guess backed away a little bit from the challenge that Firestone had presented to them. So we did find ourselves in the situation of having one tire supplier. Now, we were in that position for many, many years with Goodyear. But having said that, I do want Firestone's involvement in the sport to be as successful as possible, and if I can provide them with any additional tools, like being official tire of the series and so forth, we're going to do that because they are a partner and we want to make sure they get a good and successful involvement in the sport.
Q. With the chassis situation, there was five chassis last year, and now there's only two. Does that concern CART along with the decline in American drivers? ANDREW CRAIG: Well, not really, to be frank, because we have two very, very strong chassis suppliers in Reynard and Lola. Bear in mind that Eagle was essentially -- was only providing chassis for its own use, as well as was Roger Penske. So it's not as if two commercial concerned said to themselves, this just doesn't make sense for us anymore. Rather, what happened was both the concerned- there's probably a better way to do this, and that's to run a Reynard or a Lola. Now, don't forget that although Swift right now is somewhat on the sidelines, Swift is not out of this series, and I'm sure we're going to see them come back in the future. But no, I'm not concerned about the fact that we only have two chassis manufacturers.
Q. How about the topic of safety barriers? ANDREW CRAIG: We are looking at a system right now developed by a group -- I'm sorry, the name he escapes me at this check, but it's a project that Ferrari is involved in. Basically, it's a block of -- I'm not too good from a technical point of view on these kinds of issues, but it's a block of material that you can alter its racer crushability, if I can put it that way. And we're looking at it as it could be very interesting for use on the ovals in certain circumstances. T.E. McHALE: With that, we will wrap up for the afternoon. Andrew, thanks for being with us this afternoon. A remainder to all of you that the FedEx Championship Series opens its 2000 season this Sunday March 26 with the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota at Homestead Miami Motor Speedway. The race airs at 4:30 PM Eastern time on ESPN. Thanks to all of you for joining us this afternoon, and we'll speak to you next week.
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