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Sports Business

Smart strategy or spinning wheels?

February 12, 2008
While the lights for an Indy Racing League-Champ Car merger appear to be turning green, smoke is apparently pouring from Champ Car’s balance sheet. Two well placed sources confirmed Champ Car will likely file bankruptcy, possibly as early as today.

Champ Car President Steve Johnson told SpeedTV Monday evening that he has not been informed about bankruptcy proceedings by the series’ owners. But SpeedTV reported that employees at Champ Car’s Indianapolis headquarters were busy clearing out their desks Monday as the operation prepared to shut down.

IRL boss Tony George, meanwhile is returning from Japan today, with what league sources say is good news concerning the possible unification with Champ Car. George was in Japan to talk with officials of the Twin Ring Motegi track about moving their April 19 race to make room for a race currently on the Champ Car schedule April 20. The main prize for George’s IRL is the addition of three markets where Champ Car currently races; Long Beach, Calif.; Mexico City and Surfers Paradise, Australia.

If Champ Car is preparing to flame out, why is George so eager to unify? One theory is the positive press the long-awaited reunion would create. Tim Frost, a Chicago-based motorsports business consultant, said bad news from any open-wheel corner hurts everyone in the business. IRL officials would be eager to trump the bankruptcy of its open-wheel brethren with the creation of a bigger, better circuit.

Another theory is the unification will bring key markets to the IRL at least a year earlier than otherwise, and will also bring much needed competitors to George’s series, which could have as few as 16 cars when the series goes green in March.
Is the IRL’s strategy smart, or should George merely wait until Champ Car folds and pick up the pieces?
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