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CART HAULS THE FREIGHT

by Larry Roberts

May 16, 1997

By now racing enthusiasts around the world know that Canadian Paul Tracy made it two in a row by winning the Hollywood Rio 400 oval track race in Rio De Janiero. This came on the heels of another win two weeks prior at Nazareth, PA. It's races like Rio (and the fact that only 10 of the 28 starters at Rio were Americans) that are making Championship Auto Racing Teams an international sanctioning body and a crowd-pleasing threat to the Formula One Grand Prix circuit.

Most of us who saw the action did so seated in front of our television sets, but time was if you wanted to see much championship racing, you had to be a crew member and drive day and night to get to the next race, hoping the truck didn't break down on the way.

Which got me thinking about how things have changed since those innocent and hectic days. Getting from one state to the next was a hassle in itself, and toting a race car and the necessary paraphernalia to keep it running sometimes was a nightmare.

Another thing that got me reflecting on these vintage logistics was a press release sent to me by Billy Kamphausen and Steve Shunck, both of whom work for CART. Kamphausen is its Director of Logistics, while Shunck is Senior Coordinator of Broadcast Public Relations and together they assembled some facts and figures that demonstrate just how big (and expensive) CART racing has become. The information sheet explained what it took to get 57 first-class race cars from the collection point at Columbus, OH to the Rio event.

One of the most impressive facts is that Polar Air Cargo had to specially prepare two 747 jumbo jets at its Long Beach facility just for these operations. The total cargo value going to Rio was $45 million, and I can easily believe it since each of the cars alone is valued at around a half-million dollars. The total weight of the cargo was about 450,000 pounds and for a typical two-car CART team its manifest included the following: four assembled race cars; four spare race engines; 16,500 pounds of equipment; 260 spare gears; 17 cargo skids; 14 sets of wheels; 10 tool boxes; four helmets; two tents; two drink poles (the long poles used to hand drinks to the drivers over the pit wall); 25 fire suits for the crew; two pit signal boards; 40 two-way radios; 100 spare suspension springs; 300 spare decals of the various sponsors: 200 team hats (good for public relations); one case of Pepto Bismol; one case of Imodium AD.

I can only assume that the latter two are purchased items for the team and not give-aways from a major team sponsor. Somehow it would be inappropriate to see those products promoted on the side of a world- class but tightly-cramped race car.

The distance from Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus to Brazil is about 5500 miles and it took 12 hours, including a couple of stop-overs for refueling. The two planes used up 320,000 gallons of jet fuel during the round-trip excursions and loading them took four days starting on Thursday, May 1 and ended around noon that Sunday.

There's a bit of irony in the fact that Rickenbacker International Airport was named after Columbus-born Eddie Rickenbacker, who was not only a World War I flying ace and a moving force in formation of commercial aviation in the '30's, but was himself an Indianapolis 500 driver before 1917 and a former owner of the Speedway. Rickenbacker saw it through The Great Depression before selling it in 1946 to Anton (Tony) Hulman, the grandfather of Tony George, founder of the current Indy Racing League and owner of the Indy 500. Small world.

I'm told that CART is planning to race in Japan next year and is even trying to penetrate Europe to confront Bernie Ecclestone and his Formula One Constructor's Association on its own turf. Building a cadre of foreign drivers as it is, CART is in a good position to do so.

And judging by what it took to get to Rio De Janiero, CART will be picking up lots of frequent-flyer vouchers from Polar Air Cargo.