Purges and Promotions

INDIANAPOLIS, December 14, 2004 – Scrooge paid his annual visit to the Champ Car World Series offices last week and left pink slips in his wake. Suppositions were all over the floor at the mammoth Performance Racing Industry show in Indianapolis that many had been let go, but at least the list was four fewer than last season’s purge.

Among those shown the door was Lee Dykstra, who ably served as technical director for the series the past few years. Dykstra, one of the true good guys in a business that seems pretty much bereft of them was among the few who really understands how a race car works.

The father of sports car racing’s successful DeKon [Chevy] Monza’s in the 1970s, Lee kept up with what was going on in all phases of the business (not an easy thing to do when you’re sequestered in an office) and was rewarded with a swift kick in the rear. This change leaves former Team Xtreme IRL tire carrier John Lopes in charge and everyone in the Champ Car offices wondering who’s next to the door.

Certainly it won’t be Lopes, who is an attorney and likely has a contract only a top-level safecracker could break. John Lopes made Lee Dykstra the “fall guy” for last September’s debacle at Las Vegas, when it should have been team owner Paul Gentilozzi’s head on the stake for even insinuating his driver Alex Tagliani intended to pit when he was supposed to take a mandatory stop for methanol and Bridgestone rubber.

Tag didn’t pit for whatever reason, Gentilozzi yowled loud and long and Lopes believed him. Nobody else did, including the 35,000+ who had been watching a nice little race up to the point of the 12-lap yellow that ensued when “race control” tried to figure out who was leading. Paul Gentilozzi should be ashamed of that. He personally helped a bunch of Las Vegas race fans find something better to do with their time that September night. They all left en masse.

The circus clown who has run Champ Car’s race control for the past few years will no longer leave his sunflower seeds on the floors of race tracks around the world as Chris Kneifel, too, got canned. About two years too late, in my estimation, but at least he’s gone, as is Kneifel’s hand-picked sidekick Derek Higgins, the former Dayton Indy Lights driver who reached his zenith coaching Mexicans, thanks to Spanish-speaking skills.

In the marketing arena, Tom Moser and Linda Rosenberg won’t be calling upon potential sponsors and/or advertisers on behalf of the former CART series any longer. Moser, who served as VP for marketing and sales did little of either with no visible results.

Rosenberg’s 2004 claim to fame was permitting a website that specializes in rumor and innuendo to place ads and logos on the front page of Champ Car’s own site, thereby confusing people who thought the CCWS website was a vehicle by and for Champ Car (and its partners) alone.

When the former CART was purchased by Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe, they permitted Gentilozzi, the third member of their team (and a slight partner compared to the far more wealthy duo) to do a lot of public speaking for them. The premise was that Gentilozzi was accustomed to doing this kind of thing and that he would act in the best interests of the series.

Little did they realize Paul acts only in Paul’s own best interest. Upon becoming part of the “tres amigos” Gentilozzi installed his personal PR liaison of many years, Wendy Gabers as VP for communications. Wendy was overmatched and tended to micro-manage everything, whether she had a clear understanding of the business she was conducting or not.

Gabers was on the list of pink-slippers and will now be looking for a new job. Since Gentilozzi’s most recent PR lady decided to get out while the getting-out was good, there’s work waiting back in Lansing should Gabers want to refill her old position.

The head of human resources at Champ Car for the past half-decade at least, Pat Herbst was let go in the current purge. I question whether Pat was responsible for many of the poor hiring decisions this company made of late, paying six figures for people who tended to contribute little, but the buck had to stop somewhere.

Champ Car now has no chief steward for either its Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford or for the Toyota Atlantic Championship. It has a fallow marketing and sales department, no human resources department to speak of, but a well-oiled communications department headed by writer Eric Mauk, who has learned well on the job.

This leaner company is moving into its 14-race 2005 season and has a lot of good buzz for events such as the new Edmonton, Alberta, Canada venue that begins competition in July, replacing Vancouver. The race in western Canada was going by the wayside anyhow due to Olympics preparation near Concord Pacific Place and False Creek, where the Vancouver race had been held since its inception.

There’s even the chance that Elkhart Lake’s Road America, the fabulous 4.048-mile permanent road course in Wisconsin might be back on the schedule for 2005. The folks at Road America are excited about talks and would like to see the race return, albeit not (as has been suggested) in May, when the weather is questionable.

People bandying about a May Elkhart Lake date should be required to recall past events like Nazareth in April, when snowstorms scotched the holding of a Champ Car race until the following month and lessened the gate measurably.

While Scrooge was busy on the north side of Indianapolis, Champ Car’s competition, the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway did some shuffling of its own with promotions.

Significantly, Brian Barnhart has been moved up the ladder from senior vice president for racing operations to take over the League as its president and COO of the IRL. That’s good news but who could possibly replace this even-handed gentleman? Lee Dykstra, perhaps?

Joie Chitwood, who has become one of the hardest working marketers in the Indy area, now has the position of president and COO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway LLC after serving as VP for business affairs. Chitwood has actually marketed the Brickyard circuit and developed programs that bring in people nearly every day of the year.

These moves designate a lesser day-to-day role for Tony George, owner of both IMS and the IRL. He’ll still be pulling strings, though, I’m sure as the League begins its tenth season of competition. Tony George has a lot to contemplate concerning his racing properties and can get his work done privately far better than he does with the public.

December is often a very slow time for business news in the racing world, but these conflicted cross-town series have made the month a bit more interesting than it usually is. By this time next week, most in the city will have flown south for a dose of needed sunshine and taken the opportunity to recharge before starting the new year in earnest.

With firings and promotions over the past week or so, both Champ Car and the League have given us conversation pieces and suppositions are flying hard about these moves all over town. I’d like to see what happens after January 1st before trying to figure out why these actions occurred. I am hoping it’s all for the best.

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