Sour Grapes

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I realize that Sour Grapes is an odd title for a racing post, but stick with me on this. The term “Sour Grapes” is defined as having a negative or resentful attitude toward someone, because they have something that you can’t have. Keep that in mind. What do you expect? It’s the offseason.

If you peruse Facebook very often, you’ve probably come across the section labeled “People You May Know”. Every now and then I’ll see an old friend I had completely forgotten about over the years, but many times I’ll look at the person I am supposed to know and scratch my head. They appear to be about forty years younger, we have no mutual friends and our lifestyles seem worlds apart. What would make the algorithms at Facebook think that I might know this person?

Over the New Year’s weekend, the suggested people I’m supposed to know popped up again. This time, I saw a name that caught my eye and forced me to do a double-take – Randy Dzierzawski.

Do you know that name? I sure do. In the nineties, Randy Dzierzawski was Executive Vice-President and CFO for CART, just under CEO Andrew Craig.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s relevant to this post to mention it again. In the late winter of 1995, I was 36, and nearing that point in life that it dawned on me that I had not come close to reaching some of my professional goals. I had been in pharmaceutical sales for several years, but I had a new boss that I did care for (and I think he cared less for me). More than halfway through my thirties, I suddenly felt life slipping away, for some strange reason. Now, at 63 – it is galloping by, but I digress…

I decided to throw caution to the wind and pursue what I thought should be my dream job; a career in racing. I had a marketing degree, so I blindly send my resume and generic cover letter to Andrew Craig through the mail – yes, US Mail. I didn’t own a computer in those days. There was no job posting, I essentially said “Hire me. I’ll do anything, so long as it involves racing”. I’m sure many reading this have fantasized about doing the exact same thing, at some point in their lives. Some have probably even acted on it, like I did.

Weeks went by and I heard nothing. I just assumed that it fell into that black hole, like most resumes do.

The Month of May began with a dark cloud over it. The formation of the IRL had been announced and tensions were high. There was this uneasiness in the air that this may be the last Month of May, the way we know it. With that in mind, I made plans to attend both weekends of qualifying, as well as the race weekend. My oldest brother and I were both in the stands that second Sunday, when Marlboro Team Penske failed to qualify.

I returned home and went to work the next day. That Wednesday night, just before Race Weekend, I got a call from someone who identified herself as Andrew Craig’s Assistant and asked if I would be attending the race. When I said yes, she asked if I would be on the grounds at IMS on that Saturday, because Mr. Craig wanted to meet with me and talk about the resume I had sent. I obviously said “yes”.

You can imagine how thrilled I was when I hung up the phone. I felt as if my ship had finally come in. I was to meet Mr. Craig in the CART motor coach parked in the hospitality lot at 2:00 pm that Saturday. I arrived at 1:50 and knocked on the door. Someone opened the door of the coach with an exasperated face. When I told him who I was, he said there was a meeting going on, and to come back at 3:00. I did as I was told, and was then told to come back again at 3:30.

I was obviously getting frustrated, but who was I to make waves? This was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I wasn’t going to blow it by showing my impatience. When I came back at 3:30, they told me to stand outside the coach and wait. It wouldn’t be much longer. I patiently waited about another fifteen minutes, when the door finally opened.

There I saw the very familiar face and recognizable physique of Carl Hogan – except he didn’t look as jolly as he appeared on TV interviews. He wore a mean scowl. Behind him was Carl Haas, followed by Paul Newman. They looked just as mad as Hogan did. Then came Tony Bettenhausen, followed by Roger Penske. They all looked like they could bite a nail in two. It suddenly dawned on me that this was a strategy meeting of all the team owners, and the topic was most likely the IRL. I’m not sure what was discussed, but it looked like it did not set well with the owners. I suddenly felt like the last thing anyone on this motor coach wanted to do was conduct an interview with a pharmaceutical salesman from Tennessee. I was right.

After the coach emptied out I was asked to come on board and go to the very back and have a seat. As I sat on the circular couch, I was aware of a few people still whispering, about what – I wasn’t sure. I felt like the proverbial turd in the punchbowl that no one wanted to deal with, but everyone wished it would just go away.

Finally Andrew Craig walked back, introduced himself and then handed me off to his second-in-command – Randy Dzierzawski. While Mr. Craig was pleasant and apologetic; I’m not sure I’ve ever met a more condescending, arrogant and generally unlikable person than Randy Dzierzawski. He came out and admitted he had been asked to speak to me. He also made it quite clear he would rather be having a root canal than talk to me about some job-opening that may or may not have even existed.

He asked me a few standard interview questions, but really took most of the time to tell me how great he was and how he considered the Month of May as a complete waste of time and money. He even rolled his eyes as he called the event “Tony George’s Super Bowl”. The mere mention of AJ Foyt’s name provoked another eye-roll and a shaking of his head in disgust. I already knew I didn’t like this guy, and this simply confirmed it.

I tried to walk the fine line between being passionate about racing, and treating such a job-opportunity as a regular business – so that I would not allow being star-struck to interfere with doing my job. It didn’t matter. He was just going through the motions. Had smart phones existed then, I am certain he would have spent the entire time texting. He wasn’t listening to a thing I said. As I left the CART Motor Coach, I felt my excitement from the past three days leave my body. It was a complete waste of time. More than twenty-six years later, I can still see that pretentious pr**k leaning back with his arms folded in a self-congratulatory manner, telling me how wonderful he was. It was no surprise when I received a form letter from CART, telling me there was no position.

So what does this have to do with Sour Grapes? Aside from the resentment I still feel toward Randy Dzierzawski, you are about to find out.

When his name popped up on my Facebook feed, I got curious. I thought to myself “Whatever happened to that a**hole?” I Googled his name and found out.

It seems that in 2006, then-current Champ Car owner Gerald Forsythe decided to get into the wine business. He bought an existing vineyard and later established Continental Vineyard, LLC as a wholly owned subsidiary of Forsythe’s company, Indeck. Forsythe set himself up as CEO and he hired Randy Dzierzawski as president, to be responsible for all of the day-to-day operations of this new venture.

At first, this was a grape-growing concern, but the decision was made to get into wine-making. Continental hired Chris Cameron as Director of Winemaking. In 2010, Dzierzawski and Cameron met with the Meijer grocery store chain, with the idea of developing custom wine for the store. It was to be a tough undertaking, but Dzierzawski and Cameron felt they were up to the task. Forsythe had no interest in it and killed the deal. Later, Dzierzawski brought the deal up again to Forsythe, who made it clear he had no interest in even talking about it ever again.

At this point, Randy Dzierzawski decided to go rogue. While still employed by Forsythe and Continental, he started his own wine company, Vinifera Wine Co., LLC, with the intent of selling to Meijer in the deal that Forsythe had no interest in. He used Continental wines, repackaged them as Vinifera and sold them to a discount to Meijer and other customers, thereby siphoning off potential sales from his employer Continental to his secret start-up.

It was only when a 2012 audit was scheduled that Dzierzawski got nervous. Realizing that his dealings were about to be exposed, he decided to tell Forsythe about Vinifera before the auditors told him. Predictably, Forsythe blew up when he learned what was going on.

At that point, Dzierzawski resigned from Continental and Indeck. In turn, Forsythe sued Vinifera and Dzierzawski for starting a competing business while still being employed by Forsythe. Without getting into all of the legalities, after a series of back-and-forth appeals, Dzierzawski was eventually ordered to pay Forsythe $285,731.

There were more cross-appeals, and even though I have read most of this legal document – I’m not sure how this ended up. It’s all a bunch of mumbo-jumbo to me, but I believe that Dzierzawski ultimately had to pay the amount to Forsythe.

Sour Grapes has several different meanings here. Gerald Forsythe obviously resents Randy Dzierzawski for doing what he did. While legal experts wrangled over who had the right to what to whom; common sense tells you that starting a competing company while working for another is wrong. Forsythe felt he had been wronged by someone he trusted so much, he paid him to run his company. When he was double-crossed, I’m sure he had the feeling of sour grapes. And obviously, with wine being the subject at hand in this story – I couldn’t pass up the chance to use a play on grapes in the title.

Gerald Forsythe is no saint. We all remember how he held Paul Tracy to his Champ Car contract after the open-wheel reunification of 2008. He would not allow Tracy to race in the reunified series, mainly just out of spite and resentment toward Tony George and IndyCar. That’s sour grapes.

I’m sure in his own mind, Randy Dzierzawski felt justifiable sour grapes toward Forsythe – probably because Forsythe wouldn’t continue to pay him to run his company, while Dzierzawski owned and ran a direct competitor. That sounds odd, but that’s how some people justify their actions.

Lastly, I’ll admit I took a lot of pleasure in reading how things turned out for Randy Dzierzawski. I normally don’t take pleasure in learning about the misfortunes of others – even when they bring it on to themselves, like Dzierzawski did. But considering his narcissistic and condescending demeanor when he and I had our one encounter back in 1995, I can’t help but think that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I’m not really proud of it, but that’s sour grapes on my part.

George Phillips

6 Responses to “Sour Grapes”

  1. As a Champcar fan I was extremely pleased Forsythe quite fairly held Tracy to his contract.

    Re Mr Dzierzawski. Quite understand your views.

  2. The whole ruling seems to paint a legal hell: Dzierzawski technically was found to have breached his duties as an officer, but Forsythe’s winery couldn’t prove any damages and actually seems to have made some money from the arrangement so there were no common law damages found by the jury, and then the judge at the end of the trial ordered Dzierzawski pay Forsythe an equitable disgorgement (not having seen that ruling I can’t say why, but probably giving back some profit/salary on principle because of the misconduct)

    Short version, the whole process would have been punishment for anyone.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    George has a heck of a story here, Mr. Dzierzawski not quite so much…

  4. I’ve been reading your site since the beginning, and in the 11 years or whatever it’s been now, I don’t ever recall hearing the story of the day George Phillips interviewed for a job with CART. What an amazing tale! I suppose your disdain for this Dawgzawski cat is reason to want to forget it! haha

  5. Chris Lukens Says:

    I think a better word for you might be schadenfreude.

    But as far as Sour Grapes, I’m sure Mr Dzierzawski can feel it. Every race fan buddy I know has never heard of Randy Dzierzawski, but they all know of George Phillips.

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