Formation of CART, 1979

Hide Text

Page 3: In the Beginning: Gurney's White Paper on the Formation of CART

Over the years since CART ran its first event at the Phoenix International Raceway on March 11, 1979, the elements of Gurney's letter have been put into place. The question is, if Gurney were to write the white paper today, what would he put in the text?

"It may have already been in the first one, it's been a long time since I read it" said Gurney. "If you consider this as one of the major league sports, the thing that has grown any one of those major league sports more than any other single element has been television. You see golf compared to what it used to be, you see major league baseball, you see all the major sports, golf was one of the earliest that made the transition . Above all, the television package in this day and age is very, very important. So, the plan that encompasses that fact is going to be very important."


In writing the white paper, Gurney pondered the potential of the sport, a question he still asks himself, as CART in the late 1990's is still pushing forward. He's still looking for that answer.

"I'd be wrong if I didn't say I think that we have not reached the full potential by any means" said Gurney. "But at the same time, I don't want to say that there hasn't been great progress because there has been great progress. You can say, 'well, the fork in the road that amounts to the IRL was a solar plexus kind of blow, and an unfortunate thing for both the fans and the participants.' But there it is, it happens. Life is that way. You can watch other elements, either other sports or other forms of racing. NASCAR has made great progress in the last 20 years, and Formula One has made great progress in the last 20 years, and they're completely different. I know originally when I was in England at the re-opening of the Goodwood race track, why, we had many, many fans of Champ car racing that said, 'hey, this is the best kind of racing we see on television. I don't care who you are'. I mean, they couldn't say enough very complimentary things. In some respects, we have a lot to be very proud of, but in terms of how we are versus the full potential, I think that is a question that should be answered.

The formation of CART prompted the CART/USAC split of 1979, which was the genesis of the CART/IRL division. No doubt Gurney would have to deal with the Indianapolis situation if he were to advance another plan for the car owners.

"I often look at it from a fan standpoint, we just stopped the tradition that was such a great single racing event", said Gurney. "It was, at the time, the best in the world, a single racing event. Now, it has been diminished since then. We have been sort of left out. Is there a chance of getting together again? Yes. Is it likely? At this point, I don't know enough of the inside machinations. I suspect it isn't likely. I do know that, if you spend a great deal of time wringing your hands over whether that's happening or not, you're probably not paying attention, and keeping your eye on the ball here. We should just press on. If you had, 20 years ago, said there would be a race in downtown Houston, people would laugh you out of the place.

Gurney has no plans to write another white paper to present a unification plan for the sport, but said he would consider it if asked by all sides. He did admit, however, that the task would be difficult. Perhaps so, but given the sensitive, political nature of the sport, a little of Dan Gurney's vision might be just what the industry needs.