CART’s Answer to the Super Bowl?

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As we headed into this past Super Bowl weekend, my thoughts wandered into a slightly different direction – back when CART tried to have their own Super weekend that sort of combined the Super Bowl with the NFL Pro Bowl. Does anyone remember the Hawaiian Super Prix?

The Hawaiian Super Prix was the brainchild of CART CEO and Commissioner Andrew Craig and was scheduled to be held on the island of Oahu at Kalaeloa Airport. It was an end-of-season exhibition race to feature only the top drivers in the series. The inaugural event was scheduled to run on Saturday November 13, 1999 – what would have been less than two weeks after Greg Moore was fatally injured. Organizers of the Super Prix planned to pay out a $10 million purse, with $5 million going to the winner. It would be run in a special three-hour, twin sixty-minute race format with a one-hour “halftime”. The winner would be determined by total points accumulated between the two “heats”.

Dick Rutherford, an associate of CART co-founder Pat Patrick, was the driving force behind the Hawaiian Super Prix. He had been trying to organize an All-Star street race around Aloha Stadium that would feature drivers from different series driving Shelby Can-Am cars. When that never got off the ground, he turned his attention to a CART All-Star race with an enormous payout.

All-Star races were nothing new to CART. The Marlboro Challenge went through several format and venue changes from 1987 until it was abandoned after the 1992 season. It sounded good in theory, but it never delivered the excitement level that was expected.

I think the All-Star format has run its course in all sports – motor racing included. Did you watch last weekend’s NFL Pro Bowl? I watched maybe two minutes of it early on, before I turned it off. The only real reason I turned it on in the first place was because that’s about when the Kobe Bryant news first broke last Sunday and I figured ESPN would have the latest news.

The NHL all-star game has morphed into something that is totally unwatchable. I used to halfway enjoy Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, but even it has become a joke.

I think the main reasons these things came about in the first place dates back to even before my time. When I was growing up in the sixties, there were four channels to watch – ABC, CBS and NBC, along with the educational channel which later became part of PBS. Sports weren’t given much time back then. Unless you lived in a market that had a Major League Baseball team, you got one game per week – the NBC Game of the Week on Saturday afternoon, with Joe Garagiola doing play-by-play and Tony Kubek doing color commentary. By being only exposed to one game per week, there was a good chance a fan could go an entire season without seeing several teams play a single game.

The All-Star Game was a way to expose their biggest stars to fans that had never had a chance to see them play. Of course, the game itself is much older than television. The first All-Star game took place in 1933 at Comiskey Park as part of the Chicago World’s Fair. But the game was made popular with the advent of television and remained popular even into the 1990s. In the seventies and eighties, I always made it a point to watch the All-Star game. Now I just look at the All-Star break as a few days in July with no sports.

I used to watch the NFL Pro Bowl because it was a weekend after the Super Bowl and it would be my very last glimpse of football until August. With VCRs and now You Tube, I can pull up a football game from any era if I so choose. The thing is, I rarely choose to do that but I can if I really want to.

With cable, dedicated cable channels, non-stop football on television from Thursday through Monday – is an All-Star game really necessary? Instead of giving fans exposure, they’ve now saturated the fans with their product. It’s the same with all sports. With each stick-and-ball sport having their own cable channel, All-Star games do not deliver near the fascination that they once did. It would suit me fine if they went away in every sport.

Maybe CART was ahead of its time in abandoning the Marlboro Challenge after 1992. NASCAR’s The Winston lost its appeal a couple of decades ago, along with whatever they now call the Bud Shootout. Otherwise, they wouldn’t continue to make changes to the format to try and give someone a reason to watch.

But getting back to the Hawaiian Super Prix, I remember thinking to myself that it would never become a reality – even when it was first announced in February of 1999. They even trotted out the Governor of Hawaii for the announcement, but that was not enough to give it much credibility. They even pulled in Mario Andretti to be a pitchman for it, but to no avail.

Robin Miller was still writing for The Indianapolis Star back then and he kept saying pretty much the same thing, even though those who sided with CART initially in The Split cheered this event that was sure to become an instant classic. I was a staunch supporter of CART in 1999, yet I never once thought it would happen.

Throughout that 1999 season, you never heard that much about it – which proved to be further evidence that this was a pipe dream. I thought there was a chance for a race at an airport in Hawaii, but no one in their right mind ever thought that there would be a $10 million purse.

But with less than two weeks before the season finale at Fontana, the race was officially but quietly cancelled by the promoters. It faded into history as an obscure bungle that has been all but forgotten.

So as you look back on yesterday’s Sunday’s NFL annual spectacle, think about when CART attempted to pull off an event they thought would rival the Indianapolis 500 – the Hawaiian Super Prix. Try not to laugh.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “CART’s Answer to the Super Bowl?”

  1. I actually like the idea of a 60 minute race/60 minute half time/60 minute race with aggregate points. Could make for some interesting scenarios and racing, and provides plenty of time for a break to grab a tenderloin and a wee which would make the at-track experience a little nicer.

  2. Carburetor Says:

    George–I agree that all-star games have become totally unwatchable. I think your reasoning about all-star games occurring in the past is valid. I also believe times were different in the 50s, 60s, and 70s when the athletes took the games much more seriously and money/potential injury did not seem to dominate the thinking. Witness the 1970 MLB All-Star game to get a sense of just how serious those players approached the game and how important winning was to them.

  3. I was in Seoul when the would-be race was announced. I lived near an Army heliport and the capital city’s airport. So I was interested in flying USAF or airliner to Hawai’i. But I wondered how people could fund and organize a race in a short span.
    In October I had a near-fatal vehicular accident on duty and was lying inert in pain watching on television the Fontana race. I wept when Greg Moore died.

  4. Back in the day, I watched CART races on Eurosport sometimes. I used to cheer for Dario Franchitti who was familiar from his days in DTM. The first time when I heard about the Hawaiian Super Prix was much, much later, years after reunification, when IndyCar under the leadership of Randy Bernard had trouble finding new venues to fill the calendar after it was decided that ISC tracks wouldn’t do it anymore. That article listed all venues that IndyCar or ChampCar or CART had dropped from their calendar since 1996. Reading about it, it felt like one of those “international races” that Mark Miles proposed during the early days of his tenure at the helm of Hulman & Co., and likewise, it never happened. I guess enough words have already been spoken about things that never happened.
    Still, it’s kind of fascinating that CART tried to schedule something to rival the Indy 500 again, even after the US 500 didn’t achieve what it was supposed to do.
    In retrospect, it looks like The Split didn’t make much sense but the necessary safety improvements for oval racing might not have arrived (SAFER barrier) without an all-oval series pushing for them. That may be a bit of a weird way of looking at it, but I guess everybody is happy that the SAFER barrier exists, and that it works so well.

  5. I remember there being loose rumors that it would be the top 10 in points plus 2 wildcards, the F1 champion and the IRL champion. Would have been interesting. That would have added Hakkinen and Greg Ray I believe to the field? Greg Moore would have of course left an open spot, not sure how that would have been handled.

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