Bruce Martin
Saturday February 23rd, 2008

It was a day 13 years in the making as owners of Champ Car and the Indy Racing League completed an agreement in principle Friday that will unify the sport for 2008 and beyond.

Gerald Forsythe, co-owner of Champ Car, signed an agreement in principle in Chicago, joining his partner Kevin Kalkhoven and Indy Racing League founder and CEO Tony George who had signed late Thursday in Indianapolis.

That was the last signature required to bring this long process to a conclusion.

And now, it's time to move on and restore what was once the premier form of racing in the United States before NASCAR left it in its dust in the mid-1990s.

But to the man who could finally enjoy the satisfaction of being in control of all IndyCar racing, George didn't view it as the end of a long war but actually the beginning of an even bigger process.

"We just made it to the starting line, we didn't cross the finish line," George said. "It is the beginning, now all the hard work starts. There is a lot of opportunity. We won't realize everything all at once by simply announcing this. But I know that everybody has been awaiting this day for a long time.

"Now we have to roll up our sleeves and get after it."

George, who has invested millions of his family's fortune into the IndyCar Series since it was first announced on March 20, 1994, has also made a financial settlement to take over some of Champ Car's assets, such as all "intellectual properties" as well as equipment.

That means all of the past records involving AAA, USAC, CART and Champ Car will now be part of IndyCar Racing history while the IndyCar Series records since 1996 will be intact.

While all of that is history, George hopes to bring the sport into a new era that will hopefully restore IndyCar racing back to its past glory.

"Yes, yes, yes, this is well overdo," George said. "All this really does is give us the opportunity to try to bring it together. The real work starts now; the challenge starts now to get everybody into the fold to feel welcome. Everybody wants to come in. Over the past several years the IndyCar team has come together to get things done and the Champ Car community has come together to get things done, now we all have to get together to get things done."

The timeline to the events that brought this to conclusion on Friday were dramatic and often unexpected.

Kalkhoven, who was scheduled to leave Indianapolis at noon Friday, departed without comment. George left for Chicago at 12:30 p.m. on Friday to get Forsyth's signature on the agreement and to personally invite him to bring his two-car team, which includes Paul Tracy, to the IndyCar Series as a participant.

George returned to Indianapolis around 3:30 p.m. with the agreement in hand and with the stroke of a pen, this "Cold War" was over.

"I really appreciate the efforts Gerry [Forsyth] and Kevin [Kalkhoven] to work through this with us," George said. "I really appreciate the efforts of Dick Eidswick [former Champ Car CEO] who really put in a lot the last several weeks. He brought a lot of integrity to this process and really helped get it done.

"The time was right and we all realized we needed to seize the moment. I'm anxious to see what that might be going forward. It creates a great deal of opportunity that allows IndyCar open wheel racing back to where it needs to be."

Details of a press conference about the agreement will be forthcoming but it is expected to be next Wednesday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of the IndyCar Series Open Test for the March 29 season opener.

Kalkhoven and George met late into the night on Thursday night and made what both sides called "significant progress." The two met again on Friday morning to finalize the agreement.

Champ Car fired most of its employees earlier Friday and that's when Champ Car team owner Derrick Walker knew a deal had finally been reached.

"The bad news came first, that all the employees at Champ Car had been fired and let go," Walker said. "That was the first communication that we had that the deal was done. That was the first inkling we had that the good news had happened that the bad news was everybody got let go.

"It could have been in a better in a way but as long as it works, that's what is the most important."

It replaced the earlier fears that Walker had felt when he arrived at his race team offices earlier in the day.

"When we all came in and found out there was a possibility this wouldn't come together, it was horrific and almost a twinge of embarrassment," said Walker, who has a two-car Champ Car team that will now join IndyCar. "How could we be doing this? It is one of the best opportunities we have to bring this together to build this back up again and put some life back into it. That was the future.

"To come in and think people have flown out of town without saying it's a done deal would have been disappointing."

Those fears were quickly turned to celebration for Walker, a former bus mechanic from Edinburgh, Scotland who came to the United States in the 1970s to become part of big-time IndyCar racing. He was a key player at Penske Racing before branching out to form his own team in the 1980s.

Some of the top drivers in IndyCar racing, including Teo Fabi, Robby Gordon and Gil de Ferran, to name a few have driven for Walker Racing.

But when the old CART Series boycotted the Indianapolis 500 in 1996, Walker was one of two CART team owners that competed in both the rival U.S. 500 and the Indy 500 on the same day. He would also bring Gordon to the IRL Las Vegas race in 1996 and would later have drivers in both CART and the IRL in 1999 and 2000.

Walker was one of the first CART/Champ Car owners who said a solution needed to be made with George and the IRL.

That is why the dramatic turn of events on Friday was tremendous news.

"It's mixed with a good dose of relief that it finally got done," Walker said. "As we've been saying the last few days it's back to the future. I think the positive energy for this series will be almost immediate.

"The first time we all show up in one group, the difference to the IndyCar Series will be immediate. The hype will all be quite visible."

Walker believes to generate nationwide interest the series will need to take it one race at a time.

"The Indy 500 will have a buzz like we haven't seen in some time," Walker said. "The announcement today and the reaction is pretty favorable.

"It's going to get momentum from this point on."

While many consider this the first time there has been a unified effort in IndyCar since 1996, it is actually the first time in 30 years.

The last time the main sanctioning body of the IndyCar teams was in unison with the Indianapolis 500 was 1978 when the entire series was under the United States Auto Club (USAC) banner.

When practically all of USAC's leadership was killed in a plane crash in the fall of that year, it opened the way for the team owners to form CART, which had an uneasy alliance with the Indianapolis 500 from 1979-95. The Indy 500 was still sanctioned by USAC and the two groups were often at odds.

"This is the first time since 1978 that we've all been on the same page," Walker said. "There is some real good about that. The real good is we are all in it together. It's not them and us, we are now all together. Hopefully that kind of unity now makes the sport better and the fans want to come and see it.

"The other thing is we shouldn't forget the lessons of the past. Remember the reasons why it imploded, why it blew up, why did they separate? Yes, there was a plane crash but it was heading for its own plane crash."

With Champ Car agreeing to close its doors, many of its teams are expected to join the IndyCar Series, boosting car counts and bringing added competition to this form of racing.

Now, fans can watch Danica Patrick race against 19-year-old Graham Rahal, the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. Helio Castroneves can now race against Tracy, renewing a rivalry that culminated with the controversial finish to the 2002 Indy 500 -- a race Tracy contends he actually won.

Marco Andretti can go wheel-to-wheel against Justin Wilson of England and Will Power of Australia.

For the first time in years, IndyCar fans can see hope for the future. It's time to put the bitterness aside and unite and hopefully, everyone can learn from the lessons and mistakes of the past.

"We have unity, which is positive but let's not forget the past," Walker said. "How do we have a better series and not leave any of the participants and keep them all in the game and get them to buy into the New World order and be all together?

"History tells us if we don't do that, it will all blow up."

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