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In 1979, racing team owners had become embittered by what they perceived as incompetence in the then-ruling body; the United States Automobile Club (USAC). Driven by poor promotion and insufficient purses, the owners galvanized around owner and driver Dan Gurney. In 1978, Gurney had authored the "Gurney White Paper", his plan for a new organization that was based on earlier changes effected on Formula 1 by Bernie Ecclestone in forcing the formation of the Formula One Constructors Association. This new organization, which was to be called the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), was conceived as an advocacy group whose task was to promote the USAC grand championship as well as securing media rights and bargaining for race purses.

The USAC rejected the team owner's demands in November 1978. Undaunted, the owners proceeded to form CART as an entirely new race series, guided by the precepts outlined in the Gurney White Paper. The first CART race was slated to take place in March 1979. The association being as new as it was at the time, failed to receive acknowledgement for the Automobile Competition Committee for the United States (ACCUS). The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) agreed to sanction the new series, allowing its events to be included in the International Motorsports Calendar.

CART was ruled by North American drivers until Emerson Fittipaldi won the championship in 1989. Afterward, more European and South American drivers signed on with the series. Also during this time, CART took over two Formula One street races, the Detroit Grand Prix and the Long Beach Grand Prix, and found success in other venues as well.

In 1994, a rival group called the Indy Racing League (IRL) formed in opposition to some of CARTs rules that were believed to be beneficial only to wealthy team owners and to protest the dearth of American drivers within CART. Tony George, the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, resigned from the CART board of directors to form IRL, based on the USAC and the Indy 500. IRLs first season, in 1996, featured a race schedule on all oval tracks on U.S. soil and mostly American drivers. Tony George all but shut out CART drivers by guaranteeing spots in the Indy 500 to the top 25 drivers in IRL points.

Throughout the rest of the 1990s, CART and IRL remained locked in a bitter rivalry. CART staged the U.S. 500 at Michigan International Speedway in 1996 to compete with the Indianapolis 500. It failed to draw coverage on network TV and the race began with a ten car crash. CARTs reputation suffered as a result.

Things went downhill for CART in the 2000s with the defection of several teams to the IRL, angry engine manufacturers, and perceived mismanagement, and sponsors that wented into the Indy 500. IRL continued to gain prestige during this time and was joined by Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, and Andretti Green Racing. IRL even took over CARTs premier event, the U.S. 500. CART filed for bankruptcy and rebranded itself as Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford beginning in 2003.