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Open Wheel's owners optimistic

BRANT JAMES
Published December 21, 2003

Paul Gentilozzi and Kevin Kalkhoven spoke for nearly an hour on Wednesday, discussing for the first time how Open Wheel Racing's buyout of the flagging CART series would work.

Though CART's troubling recent legacy is of a weak television arrangement, massive subsidies to teams and litigation with tracks, there was much forward thinking from two of the buyout group's three founders.

There will be at least 15 races, maybe 17. The name CART will be phased out in favor of Champ Car. There will be plenty of cars to fill the fields, they claim. Miami is out, St. Petersburg is back in and a season-ending extravaganza could be run on streets around the Las Vegas strip.

But the essence of their message was this: They are wealthy men, but more important smart men, businessmen, and they know what they've gotten into. So just watch.

"I can assure we have done the math," said Gentilozzi, who went from the last to join Open Wheel founders Gerald Forythe and Kalkhoven to the unofficial spokesman of the group. "Will our business lose money? It's private, so that's our business, but we are braced with a plan for '04 and we have a plan and an equation for '05 and '06. Did we buy it as enthusiasts to lose money? None of us likes to lose money. None of us got to buy a fancy car because we lost money all the time."

CART announced losses in excess of $84-million last year, and Open Wheel bought that problem and many more plus assets and promotional rights to certain races, including the St. Petersburg Grand Prix, before CART filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. The deal, however, was a lot cheaper than the original offer in August, which would have paid shareholders 56 per share for the entirety of the public company's outstanding stock.

"I guess the poetic justice was the biggest shareholders now own the company," said Dennis McAlpine, a stock analyst who follows CART and Dover Motorsports. "(Open Wheel) would seem to have some strategy or hidden agenda. I would hope so. They certainly did a good job of screwing the shareholders. I would hope they have something in mind."

That presumably would include some union with the Indy Racing League, which has gained the upper hand among open-wheel series in the United States. Gentilozzi has expressed such interest and admitted having friendly conversations with IRL president Tony George. So has Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn, who relinquished the rights to the St. Petersburg Grand Prix when time became too short to field it to his satisfaction, and now faces a similar crunch in opening the Champ Car season on April 18 at Long Beach.

As promoters of Long Beach, CART's domestic jewel, Dover Motorsports would be in a position of strength if it had a chance to leave Champ Car. A failure to provide 18 cars would allow Dover to opt out of its contract. Long Beach Grand Prix Association CEO Jim Michaelian would not discuss whether his contract with CART included opt-out provisions for the organization filing for Chapter 11. McGlynn said he was not sure if such provisions existed in the Long Beach contract.

TRUCKIN': All David Reutimann wanted for Christmas was two days to test his Waltrip Racing Toyota truck for the first time, but inclement weather limited him to half a day of lapping the USA International Speedway track in Lakeland on Monday. Reutimann, a Zephyrhills native and part-time Busch series driver last season, will drive full time in the NASCAR Truck series in Toyota's first year.

"The truck was great. It was running fast," Reutimann said. "The only thing that got us was the dadgum weather."

Toyota, trying to compete quickly with established Chevrolet and Ford teams, arranged a test Jan. 3-4 at Talladega, six weeks before regularly scheduled sessions at Daytona International Speedway.

"They're trying to get the speedway program up, and we're a little behind," Reutimann said. "We would have been ready for Daytona, but it'll be pushing it to be ready for Talladega."

Team owner Darrell Waltrip last week signed a sponsor for Reutimann's truck, but no announcement was made. Waltrip saw Reutimann drive for NEMCO Motorsports in the Busch series, but Waltrip's brother, Michael, suggested he put him in a truck for the first time.

"I had talked to Michael and asked him to give me some idea who I should be looking at, and he immediately mentioned David," Darrell Waltrip said. "I didn't know much about him, but I started checking into him and I like him a lot. He's a hands-on guy, he doesn't mind getting his hands dirty."

And then there a couple of traits Waltrip especially admires.

"He comes from a racing family," he said. "And it always seems like those guys do well. Plus, he's good-looking and young. I think he can help us, and we can help him."

BUSCH LEAGUE: Kyle Busch, the 18-year-old brother of NASCAR regular Kurt, will try to qualify for six races and the Nextel Cup all-star race next season, Hendrick Motorsports announced. He will try to make his top-series debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in his hometown in March. Busch's attempt to make his Winston Cup debut in the final race at Homestead ended when his car failed a prerace inspection. Busch had two second-place finishes and three top 10s last year in the Busch series, which he will run full time in 2004.

PIT STOPS: Indy Racing League officials said Friday that a review of accident data recording information was unable to pinpoint the reason why Tony Renna's car went in the grass, then airborne and into the debris fence, killing the DeLand resident on Oct. 22 during a tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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