I don’t know what’s most important of the three big racing stories that broke yesterday and last night:
– Bernie Ecclestone is facing a serious U.S. lawsuit,
– IndyCar has a new boss, or
– Danica Patrick is dumping her husband.
Let’s go with the first one, because it has the most serious implications.
In a nutshell, a U.S. financial services company has filed suit accusing Ecclestone, his German buddy Gerhard Gribkowski and the company that owns Formula One, CVC Capital Holdings, of highway robbery.
It says in its suit filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York that CVC supplied money to Ecclestone to bribe Gribkowski to manipulate the 2005 sale of F1 so that the highest bidder, New York-based Bluewater Communications Holdings, would come up short.
It accuses Ecclestone and CVC of using money that Bluewater had invested in F1 to ensure that CVC had the highest bid.
German prosecutors have suspected for years that Ecclestone paid more than US$40 million to Bribkowski to get him to influence the sale of the world’s top auto racing series. While Bribkowski is currently serving eight years in prison for confessing to accepting the bribe, Germany has yet to charge Ecclestone for paying it because he insists he was being blackmailed.
According to a report by journalist Adam Cooper on the autosport.com website, the summary of the lawsuit concludes:
"Each of CVC, Alpha Prema, Alpha Topco, and Delta Topco (those last three companies belong to Ecclestone) extracted billions of dollars from Formula One that do not rightfully belong to them. CVC, Alpha Prema, Alpha Topco, and Delta Topco have profited enormously from CVC’s wrongful acquisition of Formula One, which is currently valued at $10 billion. Plaintiff has been damaged in an amount exceeding $650 million."
The German prosecution would appear to be small potatoes compared to this one, which bears watching.
Okay, over at Indianapolis, the people who owns the Indianapolis Speedway and the IndyCar Series have – yet again – named a new chairman and CEO who will calm the waters and "grow" the series.
I give him between two and three years, just about the same amount of time just about every CEO of Indy car racing going back to the formation of CART in 1979 has had.
Mark Miles, who turned professional tennis into a multi-billion-dollar business, is the new Top Gun at Hulman & Co., which owns IndyCar among other things. Randy Benard used to run IndyCar and he got that job because he turned professional rodeo into a multi-billion-dollar business.
See a pattern there?
The problem, of course, is that neither one of them knew, or knows, anything (or not much) about car racing. And this happens again and again and again.
When CART broke away from USAC originally, it hired a succession of lawyers and promoters to run things, guys like John Frasco, John Caponigro, William Stokkan (they hired him away from Playboy) and Andrew Craig. The one guy they could have hired who would have known how to handle the paddock was Cary Agajanian – and they didn’t want anything to do with him, probably for that reason.
A top-of-the-line auto racer told me last week that the reason Bernard was fired was because he browned off the car owners – and one in particular.
"He didn’t know how to handle them," this driver said. "He had no background in racing."
History is about to repeat itself, yet again.
Finally, it’s too bad but Danica Patrick and her hubby, Paul Hospenthal, are Splitsville.
These things happen.
What everybody wants to know is this:
Who broke them up?