Born of necessity, died of neglect

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

Current page

185

Current page

186

Current page

187

Current page

188

Current page

189

Current page

190

Current page

191

Current page

192

Current page

193

Current page

194

Current page

195

Current page

196

Current page

197

Inspired by team owner Dan Gurney, CART rose to become a powerful series that even Bernie Ecclestone feared. Sadly, its downfall was equally as spectacular
By Robin Miller

In 1978, Indycar racing was underpaid, undervalued and under the blundering leadership of the United States Auto Club. Purses were paltry, television money was a joke, sanction fees were laughable and car owners had little if any input into the governing process.

Dan Gurney didn’t like what he saw and worried about the future. “I knew about leadership and what the real potential of the Indy 500 was because I grew up with it,” says Gurney, who drove in nine May classics before his Eagle chassis dominated Gasoline Alley in the 1970s. “I also knew we were only scratching the surface of our potential and nobody seemed interested in doing anything about it.”

So Gurney sat down and wrote a call to arms for his fellow owners to take control of their destiny. It was called the White Paper – a seven-page manifesto of what was wrong with Indycar racing and what it desperately needed.

Gurney advocated staying under USAC’s banner but only if it endorsed letting the owners negotiate TV contracts, sanction fees and asking the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to double the purse (it paid a ridiculous $1 million at that time). He also suggested tracks, promoters, teams and the sanctioning body work together instead of carving each other up.

The result? USAC rejected Gurney’s suggestions so Championship Auto Racing Teams came to life in March of 1979 at Phoenix International Raceway. And, for the next 30 years, CART (Champ Car since 2004) gave us the best and worst of motor sports.

It provided the most diverse and challenging series in the world, brought street racing to major cities and took safety to a new plateau.

On the down side, it had a staggering lack of leadership, a greedy mob of owners who took the company public, countless conflicts of interest among the membership and no regard for controlling costs.

In its heyday, both Bernie Ecclestone and Bill France Jr feared CART. In its final days, neither Formula 1 nor NASCAR gave it a second thought. It was born of necessity and died of neglect.

“We had something very special for a long time,” laments Mario Andretti, the 1984 CART champion who drove for Paul Newman and Carl Haas for 12 seasons before retiring in 1994 at the age of 54.

By the time Newman/Haas opened its doors in 1983, CART had a nucleus of Pat Patrick, Roger Penske, Jim Hall and Gurney. Can-Am survivors Doug Shierson and Rick Galles joined up in the early ’80s along with Jim Trueman. Patrick and Penske had taken the offensive, spent some of their own money and scored PPG Industries as a title sponsor. (USAC had Marlboro as its title sponsor back in 1971 but lost it after only a year because of incompetence).

Midway through the ’80s, CART controlled all of Indycar racing except Indianapolis and an uneasy truce existed each May. On the racing side, CART had replaced F1 at Long Beach, branched out into Canada, found a popular home at an airport in Ohio and rejuvenated road racing in North America at Mid-Ohio, Laguna Seca and Elkhart Lake.

But off track there was a flaw that would prove fatal down the road. Not only could the owners seldom agree on anything, they usually opted to pick a president who could be manipulated or knew nothing about racing – or both. The litany of lawyers and leeches who occupied the front office was rivalled by the revolving door in the marketing department. Patrick and Penske called the shots and there was a distinct divide between the haves and have-nots by the late ’80s.

Despite the front office follies and underlying lack of trust in the paddock, CART woke up in 1993 and had 1992 F1 king Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi, a dozen American stars, 26 cars, monstrous crowds and major media coverage. The novelty of taking the race to big cities was a hit in Miami, Vancouver, Toronto, Surfers Paradise, Cleveland and Long Beach. The schedule was as diverse as the driver line-up as it mixed road courses, street circuits, short ovals and superspeedways.

“It was the toughest challenge in all of auto racing,” says Mansell, who quickly adapted to ovals and captured the ’93 CART title. “I know that CART was very popular in England at that time,” he claims. “It was a wonderful series.”

Whether he admits it or not, Ecclestone was very concerned with a show that was playing to better TV audiences in England, Brazil and Australia. Ditto for France Jr, whose NASCAR Winston Cup was neck and neck with CART for sponsors, fans and TV ratings in the early ’90s.

But not everybody was happy with CART’s way of doing business. Tony George had taken control of Indy in 1989 and in ’91 he made a bid to buy CART, which was way too low and rudely rejected by some of the owners. Nobody in CART’s brain trust seemed to value the opinion of Tony Hulman’s grandson and that was another fatal mistake.

By 1996, CART boasted four engine manufacturers (Ford, Honda, Toyota, Mercedes), four chassis manufacturers (Lola, Reynard, Penske, Eagle), two tyre companies, 28 fully-funded cars and record attendance.

That was also the year George launched the Indy Racing League. Even though its cornerstone was Indianapolis, the IRL had second-class teams with mostly no-name drivers. When George announced 25 of the 33 starting spots at Indy would be reserved for IRL points leaders, CART made another grievous error. Instead of showing up at the first two IRL events, kicking ass and effectively killing the fledgling series, the CART owners sold the IRL teams their old cars and then staged a 500-mile race at Michigan.

Not taking George seriously was followed by CART taking its stock public but, instead of re-investing some of their millions in their product, the owners cashed in. CART’s next gaffe was failing to technically ride herd on Honda and Toyota and a controversy over manifold pressure at Detroit in 2000 was the impetus for both Japanese manufacturers to bolt.

Penske, who had quietly but constantly criticised George for wrecking open-wheel racing, then did the unthinkable. He left his beloved CART for the IRL in 2002 with Toyota and Honda in tow. Chip Ganassi was the next big domino to fall, followed by Michael Andretti, who had joined with Barry Green’s brother to start his own operation. Three-time CART champ Bobby Rahal joined George’s club as did Adrian Fernández and
that meant CART’s nucleus was supporting the person and series it supposedly despised.

Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe had bested George for CART’s assets in the bankruptcy court in 2004 and called it Champ Car. They spent millions and millions on television, races and teams before Kalkhoven told Forsythe “no more” last winter.

The delicious, if not depressing, irony of this 12-year open-wheel war is that all of the IRL’s original concepts (American short track drivers, American cars and engines, no engine leases and all ovals) failed, so George adopted CART’s mantra almost to the letter even before unification.

In 30 years, CART gave us great racing, exciting venues, a pioneering safety team and some memorable drivers. But what it couldn’t deliver was common sense and leadership.

“There’s no doubt Indycar racing had more potential than NASCAR in 1979,” says Gurney. “Had open-wheel been given equal leadership, it would still be bigger today than NASCAR.

“Now it just limps along and that’s one of the great crimes of the ages.”