Tuesday, June 30, 2009
IMS makes CEO change
Tony George is out effective Wednesday, but it appears the Indy Racing League’s immediate future is safe.
As first reported a month ago on SPEEDtv.com and made official Tuesday, George is no longer president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or CEO of the Hulman-George companies.
The 49-year-old grandson of IMS savior Tony Hulman, who took control of the Speedway in 1990, brought NASCAR to Indy in 1994 and started the IRL/CART war in 1996 before uniting open wheel racing last year, was expected to remain CEO of the IRL but has resigned that position.
Because George controlled the Hulman-George fund and used it to operate the IRL, the IndyCar community has been concerned about continuing this arrangement since SPEED broke the story that he was voted out of power on May 26. The owners even issued a statement of support for TG at Milwaukee last month.
A couple weeks ago when Tony’s Vision Racing team wasn’t able to acquire any more family money to run Ryan Hunter-Reay the rest of 2009 (he was farmed out to A.J. Foyt), it should have been obvious TG no longer controlled the checkbook.
But after IMS chairman Mari Hulman George announced Tuesday that longtime IMS executive Jeff Belskus would replace her son as CEO and president of the Speedway and Kurt Brighton would assume the same duties for Hulman & Company, the press release contained a vote of confidence regarding the IRL’s future.
“These changes underscore our family’s commitment going forward to all of our companies, especially our commitment to the growth of the Indy Racing League and the sport of open wheel racing,” said Mrs. George.
“We believe the Hulman-George family’s long stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, beginning in 1945, and our significant investment in the Speedway and the IRL demonstrates that we have full confidence in all of our companies and that we intend to grow them in the future.”
The immediate reaction from the IndyCar paddock was relief.
“When I first heard about this last month, I’ll admit it was a big worry because I knew Tony put out all the money and gave his life to the IRL,” said Tony Kanaan, the 2004 IRL champion. “So I’m glad to hear the direction the Hulman-George family is taking for the league.
“The good news is that Tony is still on the board of directors and now he can concentrate on his team.”
Chip Ganassi, whose cars have won five of the eight races this year and currently rank 1-2 in the point standings with Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, admitted he had some trepidation.
“Anytime there’s uncertainty you are concerned but I think the Hulman-George family has shown a stewardship for Indy-car racing for many, many years and I hope it continues.
“It sounds like that’s their plan and that’s excellent.”
Kevin Kalkhoven, who co-owned Champ Car with Gerald Forsythe prior to unification and now competes in the IRL with KV Racing, remains concerned about the product.
“We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t know where we go from here but it sounds like the family wants to keep things going and maintain tradition,” said Kalkhoven.
“My immediate concern is the racing and our budgets. Clearly, we have a problem right now with boring races and old technology so we need new cars and engines as soon as possible. And we must reduce the costs of this series.”
It was estimated George had spent in excess of $600 million on the IRL in the past 13 years during the open wheel war and it was no secret his three sisters (Josie, Kathy and Nancy) were not happy with how the family money was being spent. TG also brought Formula One to IMS in 2000 and made massive physical changes to the track, reportedly at a cost of more than $60 million to accommodate Bernie Ecclestone and Company.
SPEED reported his sisters (also on the IMS board of directors) finally voted TG out of power, along with longtime IMS attorney Jack Snyder. It’s not known whether Mari cast a vote or not.
Since launching Vision Racing in 2005, George has not been involved with IMS or IndyCar on a day-to-day basis and the IRL will continue to operate under the direction of Brian Barnhart and Terry Angstadt. Joey Chitwood remains COO of the Speedway.
The Board of Directors of Hulman & Company and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced June 30 that a new management team comprised of veteran IMS executives W. Curtis Brighton and Jeffrey G. . Belskus will head the Hulman-George companies effective July 1.
Brighton, currently executive vice president and chief legal counsel, will become president and CEO of Hulman & Company. Belskus, currently executive vice president and chief financial officer for the companies, will become president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation.
They will replace Tony George, who will no longer serve as president and chief executive officer of the Hulman-George companies but will remain a board member of the Hulman-George companies.
Our board had asked Tony to structure our executive staff to create efficiencies in our business structure and to concentrate his leadership efforts in the Indy Racing League, said Mari Hulman George, IMS chairman of the board. He has decided that with the recent unification of open-wheel racing and the experienced management team IMS has cultivated over the years, now would be the time for him to concentrate on his team ownership of Vision Racing with his family and other personal business interests he and his family share.
Tony will remain on the Board of Directors of all of our companies, and he will continue to work with the entire board to advance the interests of all of companies.
Our family and the entire racing community are grateful to Tony for the leadership and direction he has provided since 1990. We are pleased that he will continue to be an important part of the Indy Racing League as a team owner and as a member of our Board of Directors, and we wish him every success.
Mrs. George underscored the confidence in the leadership of Belskus and Brighton, who both were originally hired by Tony George.
Jeff and Curt have both been with the company for many years in positions of top leadership, Mrs. George said. Tony, as well as the entire Board of Directors, has the utmost confidence in their capabilities.
Both of these men have years of experience and leadership within our companies. In addition, each of our companies has effective presidential leadership, and that will remain in place.
Joie Chitwood is president and chief operating officer (COO) of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC. Terry Angstadt is president of the commercial division of the Indy Racing League. Brian Barnhart is president of the competition division of the Indy Racing League. Charlie Morgan is president and COO of IMS Productions. Gary Morris is president and COO of Clabber Girl.
These changes underscore our familys commitment going forward to all of our companies, especially our commitment to the growth of the Indy Racing League and the sport of open-wheel racing, Mrs. George said. We believe the Hulman-George familys long stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, beginning in 1945, and our significant investment in the Speedway and in the IRL demonstrates that we have full confidence in all of our companies and that we intend to grow them in the future.
Jeffrey G. Belskus President and CEO, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation
In his role with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jeff Belskus has had primary leadership responsibility for the financial operation of Hulman & Company in Terre Haute and its subsidiaries, including IMS and the Indy Racing League.
Terre Haute native Belskus joined the company in 1987 and was elevated to treasurer in 1989. Already functioning as the companys chief financial officer, he was promoted to vice president in 1991 and named the company's executive vice president in January 1994.
Belskus graduated with honors in 1981 from Indiana State University, where he received his bachelors degree in accounting, and earned his CPA designation in the state of Indiana in 1985.
His professional affiliations include the treasurer of the Rose-Hulmans Board of Trustees, American Institute of CPAs and the Indiana CPA Society, and the Indianapolis chapter of the Financial Executives International. Additionally, he serves on the Indiana State University Foundation board, where he is a member of the audit committee. He also serves on the board of directors of the Morris Plan Company of Terre Haute and the Indiana board of The Nature Conservancy.
Belskus and his wife, Debbie, reside in Zionsville, Ind.
W. Curtis Brighton President and CEO, Hulman & Company
Curt Brighton joined Hulman & Company in January 1994 as vice president and general counsel. Brighton was promoted in October 2002 to executive vice president and general counsel of Hulman & Company, and serves in a similar capacity for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Clabber Girl Corporation and Indy Racing League, the principal operating businesses in the Hulman family of companies.
Prior to joining Hulman & Company, Brighton practiced law in Terre Haute, Ind. In addition to his duties at Hulman & Company, Brighton is a board member of several business and civic organizations, including First Financial Corporation, First Financial Bank, Indiana State University Foundation, Princeton Mining Company, Templeton Coal Company, Union Hospital and United States Auto Club. His professional affiliations include the Indiana State Bar Association and the Iowa State Bar Association.
Brighton's responsibilities have included coordinating the legal, risk management, human resource, real estate and philanthropic activities for all Hulman-affiliated businesses. He is a 1976 graduate of Indiana State University and a 1981 graduate of Drake University Law School.
Brighton and his wife, Linda, reside in Terre Haute.