(by Robin Miller speedtv.com 5-27-09)
The controversial, ground-breaking, tumultuous 20-year reign of Tony George at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is over. SPEEDtv.com has learned George was voted out of power in a Tuesday night board meeting in Indianapolis.
Tony George is now expected to focus more heavily on his role within the IndyCar Series and with his IndyCar Series team, Vision Racing. (LAT) » More Photos
A source close to the situation confirmed that the 49-year-old grandson of Tony Hulman would no longer be CEO of the Speedway after a vote of the IMS board of directors which includes mother Mari, sisters Josie, Nancy and Kathy, attorney Jack Snyder and George.
Calls to Snyder and Fred Nation, IMS vice president of communications, were not returned and George did not respond to an email.
George, who started the Indy Racing League in 1996, will continue as CEO of the IndyCar series and is expected to take more of a hands-on role after Tuesday's developments at the Speedway.
It had been rumored for several years that his sisters were concerned with the amount of money George had spent on keeping the IRL afloat and changing the look of the Speedway.
It's estimated that between paying purses, supplying cars, engines and parts for other teams, hiring high powered public relations firms and starting his own IRL team, plus remaking Indy to accomodate Formula One, the IRL founder has spent more than $600 million during the past 13 years.
And his siblings were reportedly concerned about running out of money.
The Speedway currently has two Challenger airplanes for sale, sold the helicopter used by George's family and has cut some 60 people from its IMS and IRL staffs during the past six months.
George's ouster comes a couple weeks after his wife, Laura, was removed from her job as staff advisor at the Speedway.
Since starting his own IRL team, Vision Racing, in 2005, George has stepped away from the day-to-day responsibilities of the IRL and turned them over to Terry Angstadt, president of the commercial division, and Brian Barnhart, the president of competition and racing operations.
He helped orchestrate the unification of open wheel racing with Champ Car's Kevin Kalkhoven in 2008 but since then has mostly concentrated on trying to improve Vision Racing for stepson Ed Carpenter and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
It's assumed Jeff Belskus, the IMS chief financial officer, and Curt Brighton, general counsel for the Speedway, will run the show until a replacement is hired. One name making the rounds has been Humpy Wheeler, the longtime promoter at Charlotte who was at last Sunday's Indy 500 for the first time since 1970.
The heirs to Tony's throne are Kyle and Jarrod Krisiloff (sons of Josie), Jesika Gunter (daughter of Nancy), Olivia Conforti (daughter of Kathy), Tony Jr. and Lauren (son and daughter of Tony and Laura George). None are on the board as yet but Jarrod Krisiloff currently works in IMS Productions and has spent the past four years learning the ropes of other departments while brother Kyle pursued a driving career in Atlantics and NASCAR before retiring to go to work for the Speedway late last year.
Tony Jr. works with Roger Bailey in the Indy Lights program and Jesse recently began working at IMS.
After being named IMS president in January of 1990, George attempted to purchase CART in 1991 but was rejected and angered by the overall attitude of the car owners. He vowed on the flight home to remedy that situation some day.
His first major break from tradition came in 1994, when he staged the inaugural Brickyard 400 and gave NASCAR a foothold in open wheel country. It also gave IMS a three-day cash cow as the stock car crowd embraced the concept with sold out grandstands.
George. who felt unappreciated by the CART owners who seldom sought his opinion, dropped a bombshell in '94 when he announced he was starting his own series. In 1996, the Indy Racing League debuted in Orlando using old CART cars and engines.
But he created a firestorm by reserving 25 of the 33 starting spots for the Indianapolis 500 for the Top 25 in IRL points after Orlando and Phoenix. CART opted to stage its own 500-mile race at Michigan on the same day and the costly open wheel war escalated.
With CART's big stars and teams absent for the next several years, the month of May suffered and has never recovered in terms of practice and qualifying crowds but the race remains the largest single day event in North America.
George then decided to bring Formula One to Indianapolis and, after spending an estimated $70 million to construct a road course, pit suites and a new Pagoda, the United States Grand Prix debuted in September of 2000 to a packed house. But attendance gradually dissipated and, following a debacle in '06 when only six cars took the green flag because of tire issues, Tony pulled the plug on F1 after 2007.
Because Bernie Ecclestone controlled television, the title sponsor and demanded a multi-million dollar fee from IMS each year, F1 was a financial disaster. It was replaced in 2008 with the MOTO GP motorcycles which, despite a fierce rainstorm, drew a decent crowd and turned a profit.