three years of planning and three months of public speculation, CART stunned
the racing world when it announced its' affiliation with the highly ambitious
Hawaiian Super Prix project. With CART CEO Andrew Craig on hand, race organizers
and local politicians formally unveiled the grand proposal at an hour-long
press conference January 25 at the historic Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu,
directly along the picturesque shores of Waikiki Beach.
inaugural event, scheduled for 1 pm local time (6 pm Eastern), Saturday,
November 13 at the Barbers Point Naval Air Station runway in Leeward Oahu,
promises a sizable bounty for CART's top drivers in a non-points paying
race held two weeks after the season finale in Fontana. Out of a whopping
$10 million purse, the largest ever in auto racing history, the winner
takes home exactly half that amount. Last place pays a mere $245,000, which
eclipses what Donnie Beechler earned for finishing 32nd in the 1998 Indianapolis
500 ($132,300) and what John Andretti earned for finishing last at this
year's Daytona 500 ($91,751). Pole position is worth $250,000 in itself
"for approximately one minute's worth of skill and bravery, "
in the words of Super Prix co-founder Richard (Dick) Rutherford.
top twelve drivers in 1999 season points will automatically receive invitations,
with four promoter's option slots open to fill the field; officials did
not give any criteria for how they will select these "wild card"
entries. Ostensibly this could include drivers from Formula One and IRL,
both of which will have concluded their own seasons by then. In contrast,
the race conflicts with NASCAR's weekend in Homestead and the debut of
Winston Cup at that facility. As for other possibilities, Rutherford suggested,
"I know a couple of retired race drivers who would love to come out
of retirement for that kind of money. Sorry, Mario! I guess those old guys
were just born a couple years too late [obviously he meant to say: "too
soon"]. We'll just have to leave this racing business to the young
no CART drivers or team owners attended the press conference, Craig said,
"I spoke with a lot of our teams - in fact, all of our teams - over
the last few weeks and few days, and I spoke to a number of the drivers
in the last 48 hours about this event, and everybody's really looking forward
to coming to Hawaii." He took great pains explaining to the novice
local media in attendance what CART and Champ Car racing are, in layman's
terms. "The cars are very, very competitive. You know, you sometimes
watch a motor race and see one guy run off over the horizon - that's not
what happens here. The average margin of victory in one of our races is
around about one second, so these guys are racing all the way to the finish
of the event."
the exotic location, which one reporter suggested directly one-ups IRL's
season-ending race in Las Vegas (every other Hawaii resident's favorite
vacation spot), Super Prix President David Greyson said, "where else
would we bring CART's finest drivers after a long, grueling season? What
better place exists than this Pacific paradise? However, our selection
was not based solely on the romantic appeal of the Pacific islands. Hawaii
has a long tradition of hosting professional sporting events. From the
Pro Bowl, PGA tournaments, and the Ironman Triathalon, the state of Hawaii
has repeatedly established itself as a premiere venue for world-class sports
come (to Hawaii) from all over the world," Craig added, "and
that's just like our sport. Drivers and team members come from all over
the world to participate in our series...it's the championship that has
a worldwide following, and I think that following is going to apply to
this event. I am totally convinced there's going to be worldwide interest
in the telecast of this event."
race consists of two 60-minute heats, with the overall finish based on
aggregate points, unlike how the renowned Macau Grand Prix Formula 3 race
scores based on aggregate time. Drivers earn points for laps led, fastest
lap, number of passes made and qualifying position. Starting positions
for the second heat will be inverted from the finishing order for the first
heat, Bud Shootout-style. A 60-minute "celebrity-filled" intermission
or halftime show takes place in between, featuring performances from several
musical groups, an air show, and a Hawaiian Tropic beauty contest. Cars
should average 100 mph on the proposed 1.8 mile "semi-oval" laid
out on one branch of the runway, with some wide stretches of the schematic
track layout bearing an uncanny symbiotic resemblance to CART's other temporary
airport circuit, Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. "CART - the
people that are involved in the actual layout of the course with us - are
coming this Saturday and Sunday, so we'll know this coming week what it
will be, and we'll put it in a CAD/CAM program so we'll know exactly what
it is...it won't be much different," said Rutherford.
an unprecedented move which has disturbed some CART fans in the Continental
US used to seeing all the races on network or cable TV for free, the race
will air live on Pay Per View in the States and internationally in over
195 countries, reaching a worldwide audience of approximately 300 million
viewers, many of whom "will be seeing the beauty of Hawaii for the
first time," Grayson said. Adding to the incentive for fans to pay
a reported $19.95 for the telecast is the chance for them to grab their
own share of the pie, with one lucky viewer scoring a $1 million prize
of his or her own for phoning in the correct answers to contest questions.
"I might even watch it myself!" Rutherford joked.
asked about what led to the decision to go exclusively with Pay Per View
TV coverage, Rutherford replied, "money. That was the driving force
in our decision to do Pay Per View. But also, the Pay Per View people had
to look at it and say, well, will this event bring what they call 'tape
read' - the people who purchase that in their homes. They ran a survey,
and in fact they ran two surveys, because they didn't believe the first
survey, because it was larger than anything they had ever seen, and they
said 'this is what we need to do.' The 10 million dollar purse had a lot
to do with it. We didn't even mention in the survey, by the way, that there's
a million dollar giveaway to some lucky viewer - tried to keep that out
of it. So that's just another (bonus) added to it. I think we'll have one
of the largest Pay Per View events also."
figure the inaugural race will cost $20 million to stage, including the
purse, sanctioning fees, shipping cars and barriers, administrative costs,
and so forth. Pay Per View revenues, ticket sales, and corporate sponsorships
(with Sheraton hotels being the first on board) would cover these expenses.
In the meantime, Rutherford said, "well, we're paying for it. We put
the money up - we got what you call a performance bond and had that issued,
so that we know everybody will be paid." He expects the average ticket
price to follow those of other CART races - in the $40-70 range for a 3-day
commemorative events throughout the week will precede the Super Prix, including
a charity golf tournament, Governor's Ball, parade, luaus, and a deep sea
fishing extravaganza for all the drivers plus celebrities and local dignitaries.
podium speakers repeatedly referred to this event as the "Super Bowl
of Auto Racing," thus usurping Indy and Daytona in one fell swoop.
One who seized upon this football analogy in particular was former NFL
great Russ Francis, now the sports coordinator for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Recounting his involvement with the Pro Bowl, he mentioned how it "came
to Hawaii in less than healthy condition...it suffered from player defections,
no-shows, declining attendance. Hawaii joined together, I'll remind you,
to breathe life into that game and work side by side with the NFL going
on 19-20 years now to sellout crowds each year, NFL players endorsing the
Pro Bowl in Hawaii...the players love to play here, and the fans in Hawaii
love the players. That took an effort on all sides and all parties from
the community on up." He expects no less from this all-star event
and from local fans. "We have to make this happen. This race, the
Hawaiian Super Prix, is Hawaii's gift to the sporting world."
keeping with the Super Bowl reference, Rutherford pointed out how in years
past, interest and drama, both for competitors and fans, tended to level
off as the season wound on after Indy, whereas now interest and drama can
build with a cresendo to this new marquee event at year's end. Previous
races after Indy, in Rutherford's admission, were "slightly anticlimatic."
So does the Super Prix constitute the big marquee race CART has been searching
for as a replacement for Indy? "I can't say that you can take Indianapolis
and just say it's - you can't take away the pomp and ceremony that's there.
I went to Indianapolis 43 years in a row. I know what Indianapolis is.
We no longer race there, so we decided we would make a premiere event -
make it at least make it the largest race purse in the world, a large event,
and hopefully someday we'll have 250,000 people instead of our projected
100,000 here in Hawaii."
the 50,000 to 100,000 spectator projection, tourists from the mainland
would constitute approximately 30,000, with 17,000 more from overseas;
the rest would be local fans. When asked about TV viewer demographics,
Rutherford said, "that doesn't really mean whether they're gonna come
here. Besides, I don't want them to come. I want them to buy (the Pay Per
is known in CART circles as a founding figure of Indy Lights (then called
the American Racing Series) as its' first president from 1985-87. Son Rich
competed in Super Vees with some success in the mid-1980's, and he will
work as the liaison PR and promotions director for the race at CART's mainland
venues, among other responsibilities.
says that while CART has a 3-year commitment to the Super Prix, the organizers
are committed to the state for a full decade and "I hope 15 years."
State officials, meanwhile, anticipate an annual financial impact of $85-90
million in revenue for Hawaii, with surprisingly very little or no expenditure
from the state itself (unlike light rail transit and other lofty projects
which required too much state funding).
public funding at all? "Isn't that amazing," Rutherford replied.
Super Prix marks the dramatic return of auto racing to the Hawaiian public's
consciousness after exactly 40 years. Stock car racing at the revered Honolulu
Stadium, a hugely popular spectator sport throughout the 1950's, ceased
in 1959, a few months after 1953 NASCAR track champion Jerry Unser lost
his life at Indy in his sophomore attempt at the 500. Maui's Danny Ongais,
who ran drag races locally before moving to California, is the only Hawaii-born
driver in CART history, with 6 career wins (all USAC) in an Indycar career
spanning 11 years.
first announced plans for the Super Prix in November, revealing information
about the huge purse (which remains accurate) but precious little else.
Initial plans suggested the race would be fully invitational like IROC,
but this soon evolved into the present 12-and-4 scheme. In a neighborhood
board meeting just eight days before the news conference, Rutherford remained
surprisingly vague amid the bewildered constituents, saying little about
the track and nothing about the sanctioning body, funding, or other increasingly
crucial details with only nine months remaining before the target race
date. All he revealed at the time, according to the Honolulu Advertiser,
was the type of car: 950-horsepower, turbocharged, open-wheeled cars with
top speeds of 190 mph. By process of elimination, one could jump to the
conclusion that this could only mean CART Champ cars (not F1, not IRL,
not Lights, not Atlantics, etc.), but even the most optimistic and loyal
enthusiasts still found the notion of CART actually coming to Hawaii far-fetched.
I can assure you this. With 5 million dollars on the line for the winner,
this is certainly gonna tighten and focus (the drivers') attention on the
day. I can only believe this will be one of the most exciting finishes,
if not the most exciting finish in racing, ever," Craig added.
doubt there are a few people who are already dreaming about how they'll
the next millenium of auto racing begins early. Will the race live up to
all its' enormous hype? Where will CART stand in the motorsports hierarchy
after this? We shall know in another seven months!
Earl Ma, with photos by the author.