Ross Palmer first made major headlines when he took on Kerry
Packer over ANI’s problems in Europe back in the mid 1990s. Since then
he has busied himself in some car racing ventures which have all gone
horribly wrong and now sees former colleagues fighting defamation
battles. Patrick Fitzgerald explains.

The deeply troubled local motor sport PROCAR Champ Series under
the management and ownership of Brisbane businessman and chairman, Ross
Palmer, has financially imploded after a series of disastrous setbacks
and unprecedented acrimony over the last six months.

Ross
Palmer issued a media statement on Friday afternoon to confirm that
following a PROCAR board meeting, the directors had unanimously agreed
to commence a “strategic withdrawal from the motor sport industry”. The
statement went on to say PROCAR Australia has in the past been
supported by a substantial subsidy from Mr Palmer personally and also
other businesses within the Palmer Group of companies, but this was a
situation that could no longer be viably sustained.

Until
it ceased operations with immediate effect on Friday, PROCAR events
encompassed classes contesting the Australian Nations Cup Championship,
Australian GT Performance Championship, Australian Production Car
Championship and V8 Brutes Series. According to the same media release,
“strategic alliances were also in place to run Formula 3 and Porsche
Drivers Challenge races at PROCAR Champ Series events”. Interestingly
there is no mention of another business alliance that has been cause
for much intrigue and has been of interest to Crikey for some time
given the many wild claims made for the business and its success both
locally and offshore – Futureracing Pty Ltd.

While
the demise of PROCAR, which was founded in 1994, has come as no
surprise to the many critics of Palmer and chief commercial rival
AVESCO which runs the hugely successful V8 Supercar Championship.
PROCAR online forum chat groups were shocked by the developments,
including it seems even key participants in the sport itself.

One
such contributor wrote: “Why do I feel there is more to this story
though? The media get a press release at 4pm, I contact a few teams who
know nothing about this. I then spoke to someone who had spoken to one
of the directors and they weren’t too sure on the subject. I feel truly
sorry for the teams that have busted their ass*s in getting sponsorship
together along with new cars etc. PROCAR, you have disappointed a lot
of people. You should of done this at the end of 2003 or at least have
the balls to tell the teams first rather than them reading it on the
website or hearing it from someone else. Shame, shame, shame… I can
only hope AVESCO pick up a few categories.”

The timing of
Palmer’s demise is extraordinary for a sport just two events into its
2004 racing season. Not only has it left teams and sponsors high and
dry but obviously fans and TV rights holders such as they were. Palmer
said PROCAR would consult with its “competitors and other constituents
to seek input on the future of the company’s intellectual properties,
including the racing categories”, with a meeting possibly set down for
tomorrow in Sydney.

PROCAR WEBSITE CHATROOM FORUM GOES FERAL

But
Palmer’s problems don’t just end with the crash of PROCAR and its
related interests; he is also facing a defamation action from former
Palmer business associate, past PROCAR deputy chairman John Cowley,
one-time former Queensland Newspapers Managing Director, and currently
Gold Coast Indy Car board chairman.

Cowley is suing Palmer
as the alleged online author of an extraordinary personal attack that
makes a series of startling claims against Cowley and other former
senior PROCAR officials.

These totally bizarre and
unsubstantiated allegations first appeared on a December 4, 2003,
PROCAR.com.au website forums supposedly posted as a detailed rant in
the name of Rossp (Palmer’s forum identity as a lively regular chat
room contributor).

The author whoever it was certainly
displayed an expert knowledge and understanding of what appeared to be
the inner workings of PROCAR business. It not only spat out detailed
facts and figures relating to TV contracts and advertising rates and
making informed direct commercial comparisons with V8 Supercars, but
also alleges a range of business abuses by named individuals. The
author even manages to bask in the possibility that such claims might
provoke a legal challenge.

“If your rubbing your hands
together and thinking what a fantastic opportunity for defamation.
Think again.” Then goes on to add: “in any case I would just love the
opportunity to meet you all in court it would be fantastic.” The author
also manages during the course of their many accusatory claims to drop
the names of Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes into events, although
neither is remotely accused of anything untoward.

The
author also invites anyone: “who is able to shed more light on these
mysterious subjects to please get in contact”, while going on to wish
individuals including Cowley for whom he reserves the greatest venom:
“Merry Christmas to all including John, Ian, and Chris I am sure you
will learn from this shocking experience of being exposed in public on
the PROCAR FORUM. You must be so disappointed that I am still in
business and thriving”.

Palmer has since unreservedly
apologised to Cowley and posted the following comments on the PROCAR
web site on April 13th, but it doesn’t seem to have yet done the trick
as regards Cowley withdrawing his defamation action over the feral
“mystery” forum attack on his integrity and reputation.

LEGAL DISPUTE WITH JOHN COWLEY

Statement by Ross Palmer

Re: PROCAR Forum 4 December and John Cowley

A
statement appeared in the PROCAR Forum on 4 December 2004 which was
attributed to me, Ross Palmer, which clearly unfairly and improperly
denigrated Mr John Cowley, who was previously deputy chairman of PROCAR
Australia.

I dissassociate myself, Ross Leslie Palmer and
PROCAR Australia Pty Ltd from that publication and have, on my own
behalf and that of PROCAR Australia, undertaken appropriate inquiries
to ascertain how the article appeared on the site – so far without
success.

In those circumstances I, Ross Leslie Palmer, for
myself and PROCAR Australia, hereby state that to our knowledge the
statements and imputations contained in that Forum were scurrilous,
false and had and have no basis in fact.

While we were not
party to this offensive publication and therefore cannot accept
responsibility, nevertheless we deeply regret its occurence. We
apologise unreservedly for the obvious hurt and anguish caused to Mr
Cowley and his family. We affirm that, to our knowledge, John Cowley is
a man of the highest integrity, honesty, and business propriety, who
was a loyal employee who complied with his high fiduciary obligations
and acted in the best interests of his employer.

On my own
behalf and that of PROCAR Australia, I ask all contributers and readers
to accept these assurances and respect the sentiments expressed in this
statement as sufficient to dictate that any continuing dialogue on this
matter can only undermine the intended sincerity of its posting.

We happily consent to Mr Cowley using this statement in any circumstance to attest our confirmation of his undoubted probity.

Signed,

Ross P.

BUT HAPPIER DAYS AT PROCAR NOT SO LONG AGO

Clearly Palmer and Cowley were traveling somewhat more smoothly when Palmer made this announcement:

On
the 27th of February 2002, PROCAR made the following announcement about
key staff appointments as it prepared for its biggest season to date.

Chairman
and Chief Executive Officer Ross Palmer announced well-known Queensland
businessman John Cowley had joined the staff as Executive Deputy
Chairman, adding valuable senior management expertise to the company.

“John
Cowley has been a Director of PROCAR for some time, but following his
recent retirement as Managing Director of Queensland Newspapers I’m
delighted he now has time to lend us his considerable expertise on a
day-to-day basis,” Mr Palmer said.

“PROCAR is enjoying
rapid growth and John will contribute particular experience in
motorsport management. He is the Chairman of Gold Coast Motor Events,
which organises the Gold Coast Indy race, and as a racing driver
himself, brings first-hand understanding of the sport.”

In
other appointments, Chris Edwards becomes General Manager, Operations,
his responsibilities including organisation of the six independent
PROCAR Champ Series events this year.”

While earlier this year
another Palmer announcement also gave little hint of troubled times
ahead when revealing the composition of a revamped PROCAR board on
January 17th after final approval by the Palmer Group Board.

At
the time Palmer described the board as having: “the right mix of
Sporting, Business and Marketing Experience and that all board members
are committed to the objectives of Procars owners, The Palmer Group,
and indeed Procar itself, with all members being team owners
themselves”.

In fact legendary race driver Peter Brock has
been active since Friday in attempting to salvage something from the
wreck of the sunken PROCAR vessel. It’s claimed that in a radio
interview Brock reported his phone has been running hot with potential
investors wanting to get involved in PROCAR’s successor. Yet outside
AVESCO who might cherry pick say the Bathurst 24 hour endurance race if
it didn’t stage one itself, who would touch the failed PROCAR series in
any shape or form? With so much of the basic infrastructure including
teams and sponsors, and even loyal fans left high and dry when surely
the writing must have been on the wall for the sport even before the
first race of the season, any investor inherits a very poisoned chalice
indeed?

Although this hasn’t stopped motor sport regulatory
body CAMS paying tribute to Ross Palmer and the PROCAR staff for a
decade’s development of the sport. President Colin Osborne said CAMS
will work co-operatively with PROCAR, its directors and staff to
produce the best results possible in the situation.

“We
will provide whatever assistance is reasonable to see that all relevant
stakeholders in PROCAR activity, particularly CAMS members’ interests,
are as well protected as possible under the circumstances.” Osborne
promised CAMS would be represented at this week’s meeting convened to
consider the fate of PROCAR assets such as they are?

In the next couple of days, Crikey will take an intriguing look at other aspects of PROCAR and affiliated interests?

Muffler note: Right event – wrong weekend!

Clearly the sports fest in prospect for the Anzac Day weekend was
too much for this scribe in anticipating a big weekend of V8 Supercar
racing at the circuit whose name I could not spell. Pukekoje circuit
and the general Kiwi population was indeed hoping their own Supercar
champ Greg Murphy could make it four straight wins at the track, but
speedy Kmart Racing star has it all in front of him this weekend, not
last!

Peter Fray

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