Stock taking . . .

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Postcard from America

The headlines look grim for IndyCar racing. First Danny Sullivan is cut loose by Rick Galles and winds-up with a five-race Winston Cup deal, then comes word that Carl Haas and Michael Kranefuss are going NASCAR racing. . . together. To hear some people talk, it’s the beginning of the end of IndyCar racing.

But not so fast. . .

The circumstances surrounding Galles’ decision to break his contracts with Danny and Molson beer have a lot more to do with the confused state of affairs in Albuquerque than the lure of Daytona.

Harken back to the autumn of 1991 when Bobby Rahal announced he would not renew his contract with Galles/Kraco Racing but was instead signing with Patrick Racing International. At the time there were a number of competent drivers available Arie Luyendyk, Scott Goodyear and Raul Boesel come to mind as do then up and comers Jimmy Vasser and Mike Groff. Any one of them would have quite happily signed for a reasonable price and accepted number two status behind Al Unser Jnr. Moreover, with Galles gearing-up for an ambitious run at building the Galmer chassis, it would have made sense to hire an undervalued driver and marshall all available resources for the chassis programme.

Instead, Galles impetuously hired Sullivan and agreed to pay him a princely sum into the bargain. What’s more, the hastily agreed-to contract included a buy-out provision requiring Galles to pay Danny a king’s ransom (rumoured to be as much as $2M) in the event that his services were no longer required.

Now these may not be big numbers in the world of F1, but with IndyCar sponsorships in excess of $4M as scarce as hen’s teeth, the arithmetic added up to this: the difference between Danny’s retainer and the Molson sponsorship was around $500,000, give or take a hundred thousand or so. Not much with which to buy a couple of chassis, lease engines, test, pay a first-rate crew and criss-cross North America for six months.

Although the presense of Kraco, STP, Conseco and other associate sponsors made up the difference initially, Rick has been losing sponsors hand over fist of late. First, Maury Kraines and Kraco split, soon to be followed by STP. Then at the end of 1993, Valvoline left as primary sponsor of Galles’ other car (together with Unser Jnr), with Conseco not far behind.

The past two years were trying ones for Galles for other reasons. The Galmer project was a high profile train wreck, for which Rick was lambasted in the press (and in private); his cozy relationship with Unser deteriorated and while Sullivan won a couple of races, his motivation was suspect whenever his car was anything less than fully competitive — which thanks to Galles’ attempts to run a “joint number one” programme on a relative shoestring was often the case.

In the latter part of 1993, Galles talked privately of looking forward to going racing with two hungry, young drivers who were “more interested in getting to the track on time to test than worrying about their (golf) tee times.”

The financial realities of buying-out Sullivan put paid to Galles’ hope of a two car team for Adrian Fernandez and Vasser. Ironically, when Conseco, which had signed on as a major associate sponsor only a few months earlier, announced it was ‘backing Hayhoe Racing (and Vasser) in 1994, Galles’ decision was all but made for him. Rather than spend $1M-plus to cover the shortfall between the Molson money and the cost of paying (and running) Sullivan, he opted to cut them loose, even if it will cost him plenty to make good on his contractual obligations to Danny.

Now Galles has his hungry (and unproven) driver and not a whole lot of sponsorship. It may not result in many (or any) wins in 1994, but chances are the season holds a lot less aggravation in store for Galles than ’92 and ’93.

Meanwhile, Haas and Kranefuss are also aiming at a partial Winston Cup season in 1994 with plans to go full tilt in ’95. Why should this come as a surprise? Once he announced his retirement from Ford, Kranefuss made it known he wanted to form his own team, either in IndyCars or NASCAR. It’s hardly a secret that sponsorship for Winston Cup racing is easier to come by than for IndyCars, thanks to the relatively low cost and greater national exposure. The fact that he was humiliated during the old CART Board’ s mishandled attempt to thrust the CART chairmanship upon him virtually insured that Kranefuss would be heading south.

Haas’ involvement is intriguing but hardly shocking. After all, Carl is first and foremost a businessman and he’s been a frequent visitor to Winston Cup races for the past few years. He’s fully aware of NASCAR’s tremendous appeal to fans and sponsors and, as an associate of Kranefuss in Ford’s re-entry into IndyCar racing, what better way to get involved? It’s not like Carl will be the lone IndyCar team owner involved in NASCAR. Ask Roger Penske.

Speaking of whom, remember that Penske’s Michigan International Speedway hosts a couple of Winston Cup races while Nazareth also has a Busch Grand National race on its schedule. As promoter at the Wisconsin State Fair Park, you don’t suppose that Haas has an eye on a NASCAR date for Milwaukee?

Make no mistake, the Winston Cup series is now and has for some time been the most popular racing series in the United States among fans and sponsors. The Brickyard 400 will make it even moreso. But Danny Sullivan’s entry in five races this year is a product of Rick Galles getting his house in order rather than a statement about the relative health of CART and NASCAR. And while Kranefuss and Haas are making noises as a new Winston Cup team, don’t forget that IndyCar racing is picking up two or three new front line teams in 1994 in PacWest, Forsythe-Green and possibly TWR.

Nevertheless, the thoughts of Sullivan and Carl strolling down pit lane at, let’s say, North Wilkesboro, in 1995 are intriguing. Who knows, they might learn some things about running a racing series they can impart to CART! D P