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The Money Pits

In CART racing, the agony of defeat can be measured in zeros.


There's a morbid side to auto racing fans that longs for a little Hollywood action -- a spectacular wreck, or at least a spinout -- to spice up the laps. But for every driver at the 20th Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland on Sunday, there are crew members who can't help biting their nails with each swerve, scrape, and malfunction.

"The first thing you think of is the safety of the driver," says Kyle Moyer, manager of Team Kool Green, which sponsors drivers Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy, who won at Cleveland in 1993. "Then it's like 'Where does this put us? Did we lose points?' Then the next day, when you wake up and have to fix the thing, it sort of settles in: There's a lot of man-hours that go into these cars to build them."

Behind the scenes is an army of mechanics, working to rebuild battered vehicles made from single parts that cost as much as $100,000 each. Add it up, and the average CART Champ car runs around $750,000.

"There's the regular crashes, where you take some side parts or maybe bust a gearbox," Moyer says. "Those are repairable. But to actually write off a car -- it averages out" to one trashed car per driver each season. "Last year, we lost two cars."

Drivers, of course, have little time to consider the cost of their mistakes -- the rigors of navigating a road course at over 130 mph being what they are. "You ignore it when you're driving," says Franchitti. "You have to, or you couldn't do your job properly." Eventually, though, his thoughts return to the car and those who'll have to repair it. "I certainly think about the cost," says Franchitti, who's sixth in the FedEx Championship Series standings heading into Cleveland. "But the first thing after that is that the guys are going to have to work late to fix the car."

And work fast -- the next race is just around the corner.

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