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Wednesday, September 25
Updated: September 27, 11:43 AM ET
Arute: CART's troubles continue
By Jack Arute

Jack Arute There's an exodus underway in CART.

First Roger Penske takes his team and his Marlboro money out of the series he helped found and brings it to the rival Indy Racing League. Then, Toyota and Honda leave the series for the IRL. Michael Andretti, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and who knows who else are also nearing the end of their CART days.

Now, Brown and Williamson and their KOOL brand have decided to get out of the sport completely. Will the last member of CART to leave the building please turn out the lights?

CART continues to insist its fields will be in the 18- to 24-car range next season. Cosworth has stepped up and said it will provide the powerplants. For the time being, chassis rules are frozen. CART says it will dig into its financial warchest to provide subsidies for teams that elect to stay with its series in 2003.

This is not the CART that broke away from the Indy Car leadership back in the 1980s to save the open wheel discipline.

When CART started out, it was because Indy Car racing was being led by fools. Their ineptness surfaced on a regular basis. CART was the only alternative to eventual extinction.

In the almost 25 years that have transpired since CART was formed by guys like Penske and Pat Patrick, what was once the leader has evolved into a sanctioning body that worries more about its stock price than its on-track product.

I have said before that Chris Pook needs time to mend some of the tears in CART's sail. Unfortunately, that sail is in such tatters that Pook will likely fail with his mending. Pook has said a lot of things this season that are outright untrue.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Pook put his unique spin on the reduced crowd numbers at CART's British outing in Rockingham. Pook said that 20,000 patrons was still "a better crowd than what as of late has followed oval Indy Car races."

Chris, the IRL (I assume that's who you were tossing your disguised brickbat at) has played to growing legions of fans. Yes, they were lucky to have 20,000 in Fontana, Calif., but since then, crowds have seen a decided uptick -- and some houses have actually been close to full.

Despite your insinuations that the IRL trails CART on America's airwaves, the ratings say otherwise. According to network officials, the IRL package of telecasts were up more than 20 percent from the ratings in 2001.

While you have frozen your chassis rules and move to a one-engine formula next season, the IRL gets new cars from three different companies and have at least three separate engine suppliers, including two that used to subsidize CART with endless sums of marketing money and support.

There are still legions of fans and media who insist CART is the superior product. They cling stubbornly to the premise that anything founded by Tony George cannot be successful. Heck, look at what he has done with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- the only track that hosts events for Indy Cars, Formula One and NASCAR.

Wall Street has soured on CART as well. The rhetoric that was once reserved for CART's anti-IRL campaign now shows up in some of the financial Q&A that CART's CEO and CFO do with stock analysts.

One large shareholder resigned his spot on the board and has all but liquidated his holdings at a loss of millions. Another shareholder, Gerry Forsythe, looks like he's headed toward an attempt to take CART private and off the NYSE.

Someone call 911, the patient needs help. In a very strange way, CART has turned into the same thing that prompted its formation in the first place.

Even stranger is its media. It has declared that it's not possible to enjoy both CART and the IRL. Pick one or the other, it demands. Now, that mandate -- one, not both -- may be what eventually ends CART as we know it.

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