(by Obi Wan crapwagon.com 6-29-11)
Setting aside for the moment the not inconsiderable question of whether or not the Hulman-Georges would ever have been willing to deal with the CCWS in good faith and entertain the possibility of a real merger of the two warring series, there is an aspect of the situation during CCWS’s last days that I think needs to be addressed.
In the past, Leo has very eloquently presented the idea that the only way that CART could have survived the “Split” – and actually thrived – was for the team owners to have immediately repudiated IMS and the Indy 500 and its lame new series and strike out on their own to forge a new identity for the sport and market Champ Car to the world (including the domestic market). The Indy 500 was an important part of the sport but in the final analysis only a part. Champ Car wrote most of its history outside of the confines of Marion County, with its small-minded denizens, and in 1996 the sport was at its height and in full possession of an eminently marketable motorsport property with its own uniquely American identity and 87 years of glorious history and tradition.
It is my contention that two basic assumptions underlie the Hulman-Georges’ war and hostile takeover of the sport. One, is the belief of the Hulman women – “Big Mary” and Mari – that they owned the sport through right of inheritance from its supposed former possessor, Anton “Tony” Hulman. Second, was the belief that all the wealth in the sport derived from IMS and the Indy 500. It was this latter belief which justified (in their minds) a seventeen-year campaign (1991-2008) to extort and rob CART’s team owners.
A look at their family history quickly reveals that none of Tony Hulman’s immediate adult heirs had any experience at making his/her own money; by and large they married it and/or inherited it. Their idea of family enterprise was to mostly oversee their inherited properties, clip coupons, and tax anyone and everything that entered the gates of IMS for their annual race. However, the Terre Haute family has also demonstrated countless times that it is nothing if not greedy; which tendency they believe they offset in part with their philanthropy (like alms to the poor).
Thus, while other motor sports dynasties, like the Frances of Daytona Beach, were reinvesting their profits in expanding their motor sports through physical expansion (like buying and/or building fourteen speedways) and strategic name-brand sponsor and media alliances, the Hulman-Georges were content to sit at IMS like Bedouins at a strategic caravan crossroads and tax (or extort) the sport’s other stakeholders as they came within their sphere of influence. The problem with this is that there is a natural tendency on the part of the taxed (or extorted) to find a way around the predators. Hence, the sport was inexorably moving away from IMS and the 500 as much as possible; which contrary to Hulman-George paranoia wasn’t actually very far (as subsequent events proved).
Faced with a potential decline in the revenues from their inherited property because of their own short-sighted, rapacious behavior – potential because IMS’s revenues in the era of CART inevitably trended upward – the Hulman-Georges decided to take back “their” sport (and not incidentally all its accumulated wealth). They justified this naked extortion by casting themselves in the role of “victims” who were only trying to reclaim what was supposedly already theirs.
My point here is that the belief that the sport owes all its popularity and wealth to IMS and the Indy 500 is demonstrably wrong. The Hulman-Georges have wasted the vast majority of their inherited wealth proving that point. Ironically, the Terre Haute family is about the only ones who didn’t get it. That’s probably because they would then be revealed (to themselves) as the bumbling extortionists that they really are.
The fact that our sport didn’t owe the bulk of its success to IMS and its once-iconic race would have been nakedly apparent if CART’s team owners had turned their back on it in 1996 and never looked back (as Leo suggested). Then, I think, the future of our sport would have been very different. The IRL, on the other hand, would have carried on exactly as it did; the only difference being that it might have failed at an earlier date.
The one crucial factor that encouraged the Hulman-Georges in their erroneous beliefs was the inability of the key team owners in CART (i.e. Penske, Ganassi, Patrick, Greens, Andretti, etc.) to ignore IMS and its race. For all the years of the war they hovered around Indianapolis in mind and spirit and made close to a dozen attempts to broker a deal with the Hulman-Georges to return to the Brickyard. Consequently, it was virtually impossible to convince the dim-witted Hoosier family of the errors in their thinking when the sport’s leading stakeholders (i.e. team owners, major sponsors, manufacturers, even NASCAR) was telling them by their actions that they were right.
Is it any wonder that the Indiana family is perplexed when three-quarters of the sport’s major players joined their banner circa 2002-2003 and then spent less than three years in the League before deciding that the Hulman-Georges’ “vision” and “leadership” for the sport was unworkable; and then left it entirely! From the family’s perspective it must seem like their belief system was correct until the moment it wasn’t; leaving them without an alternative to take its place.
Back on topic, beginning with CART’s bankruptcy proceedings in Judge Otte’s courtroom circa 2004 Tony George convinced himself that the Amigos were corporate raiders whose only intention was to rob him by acquiring CART’s assets for a song and then turning around and jacking up their price for eventual sale to him. Being an idiot and a fool to boot, George decided that every dollar the Amigos spent on the CCWS was being added to his eventual bill. Thus, he stubbornly decided that he would pay the would-be robbers not one cent more than he offered in bankruptcy court (allied to a firm belief that his original offer was superior to that of the Amigos but that he was cheated by not having the “right currency”); and he was prepared to spent millions from his family fortune in order to save dollars on the cost of CART’s assets. Consequently, the more the Amigos spent to prop up the CCWS the more impossible an agreement with George became because of his stance.
This was similar to the position he took in 1991 when someone (probably Penske) convinced him that he was offering top dollar for CART when in actuality his offer was insultingly inadequate. Subsequently, when he was approached by various team owner groups wishing to sell him the sport but at a better price, he refused to deal with them because he was paranoid about being taken advantage of.
The point here is that if the Amigos had turned away from the possibility of a merger and/or sale to George and tried to take the sport in a new direction (meaning away from IMS and the 500 for the first time since 1996), there is the remote possibility that their five-year plan might have worked and/or circumstances would have forced both sides into a real merger. George and his family would have been faced with the reality that IMS and the 500 meant nothing to the Amigos and their motor sport and they would then have had to either accept or reject the fact that their thinking and belief systems were wrong with respect to them.
It is my sincere belief that Gerry Forsythe was embarked on a plan to redefine Champ Car as a motor sport completely unrelated to IMS, the 500, and the IRL. I may be wrong but I think Dan Pettit eventually joined him in that enterprise in contradiction to the position of his old partner, Kalkhoven. Practically from Day One of the CCWS, however, Kalkhoven tried to broker some sort of deal with George and therefore reinforced his belief that Kevin was trying to rob him. As a blatant opportunist and early front-man for Kalkhoven (IMO), Paul Gentilozzi further cemented the Terre Haute family’s belief that they were dealing with would-be thieves. Very early on in IRL-friendly motor sport forums accusations were made that both Gentilozzi and Kalkhoven were crooks. This was the standard Gomer assessment of them practically to the moment of the 2008 “unification.” To the best of my knowledge, no such calumny was ever directed at Forsythe or Pettit (despite the fact that he was Kalkhoven’s partner). I believe this is because the views of the IRL “insiders” resident on the boards (for example the paid shill “indycool”) reflected the beliefs of their employers (meaning George et al).
It sounds like a Zen parable but I think the only way an equitable merger of the warring series might have been effected – not that this is something I desired – was to NOT seek to merge the two series. Then, the negative economic forces afflicting both series might have forced it into being. Kalkhoven prevented that possibility (IMO) by constantly seeking to cut a lucrative deal with George; which brings to mind the punch line to a George Bernard Shaw joke: “We've already established what you are, ma'am. Now we're just haggling over the price.”
I put the “blame” for the sell-out of the sport to the Hulman-Georges squarely on Kalkhoven’s stooped shoulders. His evident greed was the enabler to George’s continued delusions (IMO); which discouraged rational thinking and hampered reasonable discussion. I believe the financial structure of the CCWS was such that only one of the three Amigos (Gentilozzi being largely irrelevant in my view) could force the others to capitulate to his views or be forced to buy out the dissenting partner. This, IMO, put an opportunistic Kalkhoven in the cat bird seat: the other Amigos either went along with the deal he almost single-handedly brokered with the Idiot Grandson or they would be forced to buy him out – an investment which then included Cosworth and Pi Research and race contracts as well as the remaining assets of CART. As a result, the dissenting Amigos could be forced to pay Kalkhoven top dollar for newly acquired assets which might prove worthless if the CCWS went bankrupt. Then, if memory serves, Kalkhoven forced the issue by first disappearing and afterward refusing to pay his share of the CCWS expenses; making it abundantly clear that he was done investing in Champ Car no matter what his partners did or didn't do. Thus, Forsythe for one, was being asked to essentially double his investment in a highly risky venture while his opportunistic partner waltzed away with a tidy sum no matter which way the negotiations went; or pay Kalkhoven's share of the expenses without any guarantee of re-imbursement. In fact, I think a case could be made for the proposition that Gerry Forsythe was Kalkhoven’s intended mark all along (rather than the Hulman-Georges). I think it is highly doubtful that a new hobbyist team owner like Kalkhoven could have gotten inside the multi-million dollar FoMoCo Cosworth and Pi deals without Forsythe giving him entry. The same is likely true of the LBGPA contract. Once he was a partner in those deals, Kalkhoven had more to gain from forcing Forsythe to buy him out than he could likely have gotten in any bankruptcy proceedings (because he was going from owner to a position as secured lender) or from selling them to a parsimonious George.
So, if one is looking for the architect of the 2008 “unification,” as well as a likely co-conspirator, I think one need look no further than the owner’s chair in the KV Racing Technology-SH Racing and KV Racing Technology-Lotus pits in the IICS paddock.
My vote for hero of CART and the CCWS is Gerry Forsythe. NOBODY invested more in the sport, often in its darkest hour and at greatest financial risk, than him. Nobody fought longer or harder to preserve the sport we loved. I, for one, won’t allow a Brutus to tarnish his name or reputation. I’ll never put an “F” before GF’s initials.