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WHO'S GOT A FAST CAR? CART AND IRL BATTLE MEDIA PERCEPTIONS
Published May 22, 1998
Indy-car's biggest weekend has the 82nd running of the Indy 500 on Sunday and CART's Motorola 300 at Gateway Int'l Raceway in IL on Saturday. But analysts and media contend that the Indy-car split more than two years ago has diluted interest in Indy-car racing as a whole. A sampling follows: EVERYONE LOSES? In Dallas, Holly Cain wrote that the Indy 500 "won't be what it could be thanks" to the split with CART, and that CART's Motorola 300 "won't garner ideal attention either." Cain: "There's still no winner in the Indy standoff between CART and the IRL" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/21). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reports that ABC's CART ratings of a 1.5 are down from last year's 1.7, while ABC's IRL numbers are flat at 1.8. Sandomir: "The split hasn't been healthy for either Indy-car circuit" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/22). In Chicago, Skip Myslenski writes that CART is financially more secure than the IRL due to its sponsor support from 75 Fortune 500 companies. Myslenski says that "no longer" can the CART and IRL feud "be compared with, say, the long war between the National and American football leagues. It is more like how a war would be between the NFL and Austrian Rules Football" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/22). CAN'T COMPARE TO NASCAR? In N.Y., Sam Walker writes that the Indy 500 is "fast becoming an also-ran to the raucous, fender-knocking racing that shows up in NASCAR." The Indy 500 is "even struggling to remain the biggest Memorial Day weekend event in auto racing," going up against NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/22). Barnes Dyer Marketing Chair William Dyer, who is involved in auto racing marketing, said that NASCAR's growth has helped diminish the 500 (INDIANAPOLIS STAR-NEWS, 5/22). In Dallas, Cathy Harasta writes that interest in the 500 has waned and that the "greatest spectacle in racing increasingly resembles an underdog" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/22). LOSS OF STEWART WON'T HELP: In Indy, Robin Miller reports that the "major selling point" since the IRL's inception in '96 "will be missing" in '99 when Tony Stewart joins the NASCAR circuit. Miller adds that the move will leave a "big void" for IRL Founder Tony George and that it's "unfathomable that George ... didn't try to keep Stewart in the league" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR-NEWS, 5/22). FROM THE BRICKYARD: In Indy, Mark Ambrogi writes on the media coverage of the 500 and adds that there are "several major newspapers that have either stopped covering or reduced their coverage of the Indy 500 since the split." The Minneapolis Star Tribune is "staying away from the race for the first time in 25-plus years." Star Tribune Sports Editor Tim Wheatly: "There is definitely a dilution interest with the IRL. Frankly, we think our readers are more interested in NASCAR." IMS VP/Corporate Communications & PR Fred Nation said that the absence "isn't a trend that concerns him" and that there has been no "significant change" in the number of requests for credentials (STAR- NEWS, 5/22). Also in Indy, Bill Koenig reported that 500- related business has been "mixed." While some hotels say business has returned to pre-split days, that's "not universal" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR-NEWS, 5/21). WHAT'S ON CART PATH? CART CEO Andrew Craig is interviewed by USA TODAY's Steve Ballard and says that CART and the IRL are "two organizations with very different philosophies. The best thing for us is to plan like there won't be a reconciliation but remain open to positive discussions" (USA TODAY, 5/22). In NATIONAL SPEED SPORT NEWS, Craig said CART is studying a Saturday night TV series, but "we have to look at it with great care because Saturday, in general, the HUT scores (Homes Using Television) is lower primarily. ... It's quite not like the panacea it would seem" (NSSN, 5/13 issue). 14 NORTHERN EXPOSURE: INDEPENDENT LEAGUES PONDER MERGER . The independent Northern League and the Northeast League announced plans for a merger beginning with the '99 season. The leagues said they intend to operate under one name, most likely that of the Northern League, with Eastern and Midwestern Divisions. Details are being finalized, with a merger expected to be completed by the fall. The two leagues currently have 16 teams, with the Northeast League awarding an expansion franchise to Quebec City, which will begin play in '99. The leagues had a combined attendance last year of just under 1.5 million fans (THE DAILY). Northern League Commissioner Miles Wolff said that if the merger is approved, the leagues could play interleague series, an all-star game and postseason playoffs. He said that all seven U.S. independent leagues are discussing an "off-the-field" alliance (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/22).