(posted on 6-1-08)
Tony George saw his job as protecting the Indy 500. Amid CARTs growth of the early 90s, two of the things that caused IMS concern were: 1) the lack of opportunity for 'Mericun drivers (witness the oft-repeated story of Jeff Gordon being turned away from CART for want of sponsorship $s), and 2) the relative shrinking of importance, in the eyes of IMS, of the Indy 500, what with talk of reducing 'the month of May' to 'the final two weekends of May'.
He felt the only way to reverse this trend was to break off and form his own series with IMS at the center of the series, both as the heart of the schedule and the seat of power.
This is akin to being stricken with a hangnail on your big toe and deciding the only prudent course of action is to amputate your foot.
There is no way of knowing how things would have happened had he not split off. My own personal opinion was that CART may well have collapsed under its own weight by now, anyway. (Let's face it - the innate greed of the CART owners was never more apparent than when they decided to sell year-old cars to the fledgling IRL teams, without which there probably would not have been an IRL season in 1996 and the war may have been averted before the first shot was ever fired) But what is unequivocal and irrefutable is that open wheel racing in this country took an immense and possibly irreversible downward turn in 1994-1996 with the creation of the IRL. And one man and one man alone bears responsibility for making that decision.
It's just that, like any good inside joke, there's a grain of truth to it. More than one high-ranking CrackForum Gomer has claimed that Emmo's "disrespect" for Indy 500 traditions in refusing to drink milk in winner's circle was the straw that broke the Idiot Grandson's hump.
After all, Emmo represented everything that the Gomers feared: he was a foreigner and a multiple Formula 1 WDC champion road racer whose primary competition at the 1993 Indy 500 was another foreign F1 WDC champion, Nigel Mansell. Moreover, Emmo was driving for the Darth Vader of CART, Roger Penske; who Brickyard rumor had bragging that he was going to buy IMS from the clueless Hulman-Georges and rule the sport.
All throughout 1993, any time a journalist would talk with Tony George they would find him royally pissed off about something to do with CART. Finally, in January 1994 he quit the CART BoD in a hissy fit and in March 1994 Tony announced early plans for what would become the Indy Racing League (IRL), publicly stating that Indy car racing should "be more like NASCAR".
To the simple-minded Gomers there had to be some reason for Tony to go off the deep end when he did and they had it more or less down to (a) Roger Penske and CART threatening to take over the Brickyard and "steal" George's inheritance/legacy, in which case Emmo's act was seen as his champion throwing down the gauntlet, or (b) George's fury over a "joke" that U.E. "Pat" Patrick had recently made about Mari's virtue and Tony's parentage.
What the Gomers have never had the guts to admit (to themselves or anyone else) is that Tony devoted most of his time after his appointment as IMS president in January 1990 to saber rattling, threatening the CART team owners and calling them names, and generally trying to destabilize IndyCar racing and, then, had the chutzpah to claim that they (CART team owners) were threatening him! Soon after his rise to power, Tony formed very public alliances with Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, of Formula 1/FIA, and started paling around with Bill France Jr., Bruton Smith, and Humpy Wheeler, of NASCAR. When the CART team owners had the temerity to make a counteroffer to Tony’s demand to buy CART for a dime on the dollar in November 1991, he immediately broke off all negotiations with them and threatened in the IndyScar to (a) adopt the new Formula 1 specifications for the Indy 500 and (b) open the doors of the “shrine” of American open-wheel racing to NASCAR’s stock cars. In relatively short order he made good on both threats: he didn’t adopt F1 specifications but he made up ones of his own that were equally incompatible with CART’s and he immediately began testing at the Speedway for a NASCAR Winston Cup race (i.e. Brickyard 400).
It was not the CART team owners who devalued and disrespected the Indy 500 but rather Tony George; the CART team owners were only too aware of the importance of the Indy 500 as the exclusive and defining event of IndyCar racing and it provided the sport’s financial backbone. That’s why George could coerce them into doing his bidding by holding the race hostage and threatening the very structure of the sport. If they hadn’t respected Indy, they wouldn’t have cared about George ruining it. They went along with Tony as best they could until he demanded they turn over the organization and the sport they had invested more than a dozen years of their lives in, for a song … or face ruin.
The Gomers would have it that Tony George was a hapless victim without a choice. The reality is that he was the one sitting in the cat-bird seat and had the most choices of any of the players in AOWR. From 1990 to today, George has had everything his way at IMS and with the sport anchored on it; and look at the result. Look at the video of Emmo in the 1993 Indy 500 winner’s circle and gauge the strength of the sport and then look (if you can stomach it) at the same basic scene enacted a couple of weeks ago. You can chalk the differences up to the actions of one man: Tony George.
Thank you. Great picture!
Emmo was and is like any other successful businessman: he does what's best for his businesses. After Senna's death, he spoke in favor of the Senna Foundation in Brazil. He didn't do that for personal gain. But in other cases, of course he may have a profit motive. How does that make him any different than Bill Gates, T. Boone Pickens, Donald Trump... or Mario Andetti, for that matter? It doesn't.
Other than Mario Andretti, I see Emmo as the main man who gave CART international legitimacy early on - then came Nigel Mansell. And he was also the man responsible for Ayrton Senna deciding to test a CART IndyCar, which added that much more legitimacy to CART.
Look at the 1993 Indy 500 starting field. There were four drivers with seven (7!!!) World Driving Championships among them. Can anyone (even under the influence of heavy drugs) imagine four World Driving Champions even sitting in an IRL car???!!! Can anyone imagine the likes of Mario Andretti, Emmo Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell even being at an IRL, much less entered to drive in one???!!! If it wasn't such a complete joke now, I can imagine Jacques Villeneuve might have returned to a CART, though not an IRL. Probably Montoya too. Maybe Damon Hill. I doubt Schumacher (Michael), but maybe Ralfie. Maybe Mika. But as things stand now, IRL fans on the Speed board are going gaga over Mike Conway testing a Dallara. Mike Conway? Good grief, how the mighty have fallen!
What we're left with now is Danica Patrick, auto racing's answer to Paris Hilton, and a couple of metrosexual lads, who wouldn't be considered among the best of the best in the world of auto racing. Only when I look back do I get angry. It still boggles my mind that someone would take something so beautiful and grand, and $#!^ on it... yet still expect people to hold it in high regard.
I know this thread is supposed to be a joke about Emmo and his OJ. Excuse the rant. But sometimes you just need to clear your system.