INDIANAPOLIS, January 26, 2004 This is a very strange time in open wheel motorsports, but not unprecedented. There have always been disputes in racing, but none so bloody as right now.
As we await Wednesday morning's Bankruptcy Court casting call for Championship Auto Racing Teams, the Indy Racing League, CART's creditors, a billion attorneys and a zoo-full of interested parties there's both fear and expectation.
Should Open Wheel Racing Series not prevail in their effort to resuscitate CART, an awful lot of people, thousands in fact, are going to be jobless. Some teams have already laid off workers and there's much more to come if OWRS' bids fail. Indiana has a terrible unemployment rate as it is; this would not help.
An excellent racing series that helped the sport grow immensely over the past two decades will be gone. The ultimate challenge to man and machine of road, street, short and long oval races will not exist any longer. There might be a few open wheel road races, but it just wouldn't be the same.
The loss of CART would be felt greatly and its demise mourned.
But it must be remembered that the CART people want to remember has been gone a long time. It was greed and arrogance that brought it down, poor business decisions and choosing to forget the reason why CART was formed in the first place: to equitably put on proper motor races.
Even as the Indy Racing League's IndyCar and Menards Infiniti Pro Series drivers and teams converge on Homestead-Miami Speedway for the first open test of the year, League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George is getting all the blame for this unhappy situation.
Yet CART's own ineptitude is the reason Judge Frank J. Otte must decide by this Wednesday court date which offer to accept to satisfy CART creditors: the bid placed in December from OWRS or the late Thursday evening entry from George and the IRL.
There may be a true auction. The bidding could get serious, as Paul Gentilozzi, spokesman and partner in OWRS contends, at around $14 million, not the first $1.6 million bid by OWRS or the $3.3 million initially offered by George last week. Who knows?
The tension around our open wheel racing community ranges greatly. From all quarters people have opinions and many of those opinions are being placed on court orders.
The Grand Prix Association of Long Beach has asked the Bankruptcy Court not to allow OWRS to remain the sanction for its event, the most prestigious on the Champ Car calendar, which is to celebrate its 30th race this April 18th. The bleachers are being erected and the barriers are being put in place at the venue once known more for its X-rated movie theaters than racing glory.
From another corner of the world, Gold Coast Motor Events, Inc., which puts on the annual Champ Car visit to Surfers Paradise, Australia is asking that the Court please confirm OWRS as the owners of both the series and its contracts, stating the breach of contract should Judge Otte not rule for OWRS would result in $13 million in losses and the impact to the Australian economy could be in excess of $35 million, in US dollars.
Elkhart Lake's Road America is already on record stating it believes its contract is not assignable and 88 Corporation, which governs California Speedway in Fontana has requested remediation for its loss of $2.5million in sanction fees after the CART finale was cancelled last November due to tenacious wildfires.
It is obvious that this is an emotional as well as financial issue for Judge Otte to decide. There are lives and livelihoods in the balance here.
Fans are polarized on the issues at hand. A petition in support of OWRS on the Web had more than 3000 signatures by the end of this weekend, but many of them came from people whose veracity had to be questioned and a good number were crank signatures asking the League be granted CART's business.
Michael Andretti, who won 42 Champ Car races and was its 1991 champion is on the record as saying he hopes "CART goes away", making a mockery of his own success in the series.
This Great Open Wheel War has done sufficient damage that plenty of people who might have liked this brand of motorsport have deserted the discipline and placed their faith in the power of NASCAR and its sedans.
An addled airing of dirty laundry is not going to bring fans back nor bring more into the fold. As Tony George has stated his intent in bidding for CART is to bring "unity" to the genre, so has Gentilozzi blamed the IRL owner for coming in at the last moment to pirate the hard work performed by OWRS over the past six months without due diligence.
It's an ugly situation and on Wednesday, it could become even more so.
While the Court's main objective is to settle the debts of CART Inc. as fairly and equitably as is humanly feasible, it may not be possible to rinse away the acrid taste this strife has left in the mouths of racing fans and observers around the world.