Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc., founded 12 years ago by Indy car owners who rebelled at being ruled by a 21-man United States Auto Club board of directors and what they believed was a weak president, will open its winter meeting today with a 24-man board and no president.
As might be expected, the Indy car family--despite record crowds and an excellent 1989 season--is in something of a state of disarray.
CART's top administrators, chairman John Frasco and president John Caponigro, have been purged in the last two months.
John Capels, a former crew chief and team manager who a year ago was preparing an Alfa Romeo to enter Indy car racing, will run the three-day meeting as executive vice president and chief operating officer.
One of the most discussed topics in hallways and conference rooms will be selection of a new president or commissioner. A search committee, headed by Steve Horne, president of the Truesports team, is looking at potential candidates. As of Sunday, there had been 74 applicants.
No decision is expected until mid-spring. Until then, Capels will continue to run the organization on a day-to-day basis.
Capels, 53, served six years as the chief mechanics' representative on the board, and in 1988 was elected as the car owners' representative. Earlier, he was crew chief for Joe Leonard's car that won the USAC championship in 1970 and 1971 for the Vel's Parnelli Jones team.
In 1974, Capels formed a new Indy car team for then-sprint car owner Alex Morales and ran that team until Morales' death. Last year, Capels guided the new Alfa program through its teething season with Roberto Guerrero as driver. The car finished eighth in its debut at Detroit.
Capels is expected to remain CART's operating officer after a new leader is named.
Working with Capels are three major committees: marketing and media relations, headed by team owner and former driver Dick Simon; legal and finance by car owner and builder Roger Penske; and rules and technical by Derrick Walker, general manger of Porsche Motorsports North America.
Frasco, a Detroit attorney who had been CART chairman since September, 1980, was removed after discontent reached groundswell proportions. Andy Kenopensky, then manager of the Machinists Union team, articulated the problems in a letter to CART membership, emphasizing that under Frasco's administration the rich teams--primarily those of Penske and Pat Patrick, the co-founders of CART--were getting richer while the rest picked up the crumbs.
The sorest point was the fact that the highly successful Chevrolet-Ilmor engines--developed by Penske--were available only to four teams, all of whose owners were members of the board of directors.
Ten of last year's 15 races were won by Chevy-powered Penske PC-18s: five by Emerson Fittipaldi of Patrick's team, and three by Rick Mears and two by Danny Sullivan of Penske's team.
Eight of the last 13 national champions have been Penske drivers.
In the coming season, a further concentration of power will find Indy 500 and CART/PPG champion Fittipaldi joining Mears and Sullivan in a three-car super-team directed by Penske.
Frasco also was considered vulnerable for a conflict of interest in his role as promoter of CART races on the Meadowlands road race in East Rutherford, N.J., and a new race scheduled for Sept. 2 in Vancouver, Canada.
A committee of owners is studying ways to buy out Frasco's remaining contract.
Caponigro, who had been an associate in Frasco's law firm before joining CART in 1985, became CART's first president last March and chief operating officer after Frasco's departure, but his tenure ended abruptly after a classic case of "biting the hand that feeds you."
Caponigro allegedly told a meeting of CART team owners Oct. 30 in Chicago that he would "play hardball" with PPG Industries, the series sponsor, when time came to renegotiate sponsorship for 1991 and beyond.
PPG, a Pittsburgh-based maker of paint, glass, fiberglass and medical products, has sponsored the series for 10 years and last year spent more than $10 million, including a record $2.6 million in prize money.
Caponigro apparently was critical of PPG for not supporting CART's television package by purchasing time, and for failing to advertise the series in newspapers and magazines.
Jim Chapman, director of the PPG Indy car program, responded with a letter to the 24 franchise owners, pointing out that his company had spent $450,000 on print advertising last year and $300,000 to help get the TV package off the ground in its first year.
At the Chicago meeting, Frasco's chairmanship and the 10-man board, which included eight car owners, a driver and a chief mechanic, were dissolved and replaced by a board that consisted of the 24 owners.
At the new board's first meeting, Dec. 12 in Indianapolis, it voted not to renew Caponigro's contract and to relieve him of his duties. He will remain with CART until his contract expires Feb. 28.
One of the first items of business when Capels calls the meeting to order this morning is expected to be an extension of the PPG sponsorship contract through 1992.
The PPG involvement also includes the Indianapolis 500, which has remained under USAC sanction since CART bolted in 1978. Chapman helped salve the wounds between CART and USAC when he convinced the late Joe Cloutier, then president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that it wasn't right for an Indy car championship to be decided without the Indy 500 being included in the point standings.
After each organization had its own champion for several years, the two have recognized the PPG Cup winner as national champion since 1982.