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If Evans Prevails, the Sport Will Rock 'n' Roll Into a New Era

September 05, 1997|SHAV GLICK

The power brokers in motor racing today are Bill France, O. Bruton Smith, Roger Penske and Tony George.

With their organizations--France's International Speedway Corp., Smith's Speedway Motorsports, Penske's Penske Motorsports and George's Hulman & Co.--they are buying and building race tracks, grabbing choice racing dates for their tracks or their own sanctioning

bodies, and in some cases racing their own cars on their own tracks.

Andy Evans wants a seat at the table.

Since the Seattle investment banker and former sports car driver bought the almost-dead International Motor Racing Assn. last September, he and his International Motor Sports Group have:

* Changed IMSA's name to Professional SportsCar Racing, "more in keeping with what it really is."

* Bought historic Sebring International Raceway in Florida and Canada's Mosport Park, near Toronto.

* Run Team Scandia, a three-car Indy Racing League team with Eliseo Salazar, Vincenzo Sospiri and Jimmy Kite driving. Last May, at Indy, seven Scandia cars were entered.

* Run a top-fuel dragster for 18-year-old Cristin Powell in the National Hot Rod Assn.

* Bought into a NASCAR Winston Cup team with Brett Bodine driving.

* Obtained an International Hot Rod Assn. date for a new drag strip he is building at Sebring.

* Established a SportsCar office in Paris to help maintain a liaison with the FIA in sanctioning a World SportsCar Challenge, with races in the United States and Europe.

* Moved SportsCar headquarters from Tampa, Fla., to Las Vegas, where they will be located on the top floor of Las Vegas Speedway.

"I want to be a major player, definitely," Evans said during a visit to Newport Beach to set up a branch SportsCar office to handle TV programming and marketing. "I've watched Bruton Smith and Bill France very closely and I want to copy them."

Evans, 45, also watches closely the portfolio of client Bill Gates, billionaire head of Microsoft Corp. with whom he has been associated since they were in their 20s.

With SportsCar, Evans is concerned with an unusual set of demographics.

"Our target audience is 12 to 24, male and female," he said. "Generation X are the Baby Boomers' kids, and there is a great synergy between the generations. Baby Boomers are now between 35 and 50 and either own a sports car or wish they did.

"We want a market that appeals to both parents and the kids. If we can get 12-year-olds hooked, they'll be our best customers down the road."

To attract youngsters, Evans plans to repackage SportsCar into a quasi-entertainment organization with an emphasis on shorter, fast-paced races tied in with rock 'n' roll music.

"We want to build a rock 'n' roll mentality among sports car fans, the way NASCAR has done with stock cars and country music," he said. "None of our races will be more than an hour and a half except the two traditional endurance races at Daytona [24 hours] and Sebring [12 hours]. We are also eliminating all of that class confusion and will have three single-class races. No more of finishing 12th and winning your class."

The three SportsCar classes will be World SportsCar, featuring Ferrari, Ford and the Olds Aurora, with a possibility that Chevrolet, BMW and Nissan will become involved; GT, open to Ford Mustangs, Dodge Vipers, BMWs, Porsches, Corvettes and the like, and American Stock Car, a not-too-veiled attempt to lure teams and drivers from the Sports Car Club of America's shaky Trans-Am series.

"We'll have $200,000 prize money per event per race, and Trans-Am never paid that kind of money," Evans said. "The only way to build a racing series is with money, TV and fans. We think we can do that and establish a road-racing renaissance."

One of Evans' fondest hopes is to run a race at the Marine Air Station in Tustin, site of last month's Tustin Thunder for vintage cars.

"I followed their races very closely and I'm convinced that an excellent road course could be laid out at Tustin, very similar to the Cleveland airport track used by CART," Evans said. "If Dick and John Marconi can get a second date from the Marines, it would make a big difference in our schedule. Southern California is a major market and we need to be here."

If the Tustin date is available, SportsCar will have a 12-race schedule, starting with the Daytona 24-Hour in January and concluding with the championship finale at Las Vegas in the fall.

"In the last 12 months, I've logged 400,000 miles, mostly motor racing related," Evans said. "In addition to planning 1998's SportsCar season, I've not lost sight of my own teams. The only concession I made was to quit driving myself. I finished fourth at LeMans and said that was my last race.

"I won Sebring in my Ferrari for the second time in three years, but my competition wasn't happy because I owned the track, the series and the car, but as far as I was concerned, it was no different than 1995 when I won in the same car and it was an IMSA race."

Evans held a CART franchise when he bought Dick Simon's operation in 1996, but elected to go with the IRL.

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