Like most American kids that grew up in the 80's I watched the Indy 500 every year and became interested in motorsports thanks to that race, but I didn't really get hooked until I started watching Formula 1 racing in the late 90's. My favorite era were those years with the great Mika Hakkinen/Michael Schumacher battles. (I was a Mika Hakkinen fan) So my fondness for Formula 1 waned once Mika retired and Schumacher started winning everything, even at the expense of his teammate Rubens Barrichello. My interest in F1 has only been lukewarm since.

Then I turned to Champ Car racing here in the US for my motorsports fix. However that was quickly extinguished once Champ Car and Indy Car merged and we were stuck with Tony George and his many foibles. (It was entertaining to watch the Hulman/George drama I'll admit.) My interest has been less than lukewarm with Indy Car lately, even without Tony George at the helm.

Over time however, the excitement I once had for motorsports has slowly gone. Maybe it has to do with my age, I don't know. But I think I will pour my efforts into my Trooper and my interests in the outdoors to add excitement to my life.

Thanks for checking out my blog, I hope you enjoy it. I will still post racing news when I find something interesting or noteworthy.

Friday, July 31, 2009

2010 IndyCar schedule

(posted by Obi-wan on 7-31-09 in response to the release of the 2010 IndyCar schedule)

In an effort to keep things real, I would like to quote from an October 24, 1995 letter that Tony George wrote to the editor of The Indianapolis Star about the reasons that he founded the Indy Racing League:

"October 24, 1995

The IRL and the '500' Future
To The Editor
The Indianapolis Star

The Indy Racing League and the '500' future

by Anton Hulman George / Indianapolis Motor Speedway President

It is my hope to provide an understanding of the purpose and motivation behind the formation of the Indy Racing League. There is much controversy in this matter, expressed as anxiety and even animosity by certain members of the Indy racing community, several fans, and more than one journalist.

In time, I hope the current wounds are healed and that these disagreements ultimately provide for clearer and stronger relationships throughout our sport. Later, I'll get into specific reasons why I believe so strongly in the formation of this league.

Of immediate concern, though, is the unsettling rhetoric of threats, boycotts and an alternate race on May 26 as leveled by Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) against both the Indianapolis 500 and the IRL. Other than to once again reiterate our almost daily, sincere invitation to the racing community that we consider all racers friends and that IRL events and the "500" are open to any legitimate team with a legal car and qualified driver, I cannot say how this will all turn out.

What I can say, very sincerely, is that any and all teams that have competed in past "500s," many of them CART franchisees, are 100 percent welcome to enter and compete in any of our IRL events. New entrants are welcome too. That said, I'm going to specifically address just a single, highly inaccurate word that has recently surfaced as CART's focal buzzword to describe its self-imposed predicament regarding the "500." The word is "lockout."

Let's make this clear: There is no lockout. What I believe to be the case is that CART, following an effort to eliminate the IRL and gain control of the Indianapolis 500, is in the uncomfortable position of having created deliberate and unnecessary conflicts from which it will not extricate itself.

Those conflicts surfaced with CART's announcements of technical specifications for its 1996 cars and of its 1996 schedule, both of which occurred well after the corresponding IRL information had been made public and put in place for our inaugural season.

Probably 90 percent or more of the discussion (and cussing) has been aimed at the IRL's 75 percent-of-the-field qualifying incentive, the one that conditionally guarantees 25 spots in the Indianapolis 500 lineup to IRL competitors. Although we have not changed any of the four-day, speed-seeded qualifying format for the "500" with the fastest first-day qualifier, whoever it is, still on the pole, let me explain where the new qualifying criteria -- which only affects who gets bumped -- came from.

The IRL qualifying incentives, bridging across different events, provide a new and interesting dimension to how starting fields are established because they provide a hard, venue-to-venue continuity. There is a positive side in terms of publicity and race-to-race interdependency to build the league's identity. But the down side is that if the "500" were to be a true league member, then the rule would have to apply to the 33-car Indy field as well. We were on the fence leaning away from that one until the middle of June.

That was when CART announced its 1996 schedule. The components of our modest, five-race IRL schedule had been announced in January, April and late May, and each announcement was accompanied by an IRL promise not to create conflict with what we understood would be CART's schedule. We obviously hoped they would enter our races.

On June 10, CART announced its 15-race 1996 schedule. Ultimately, four of its dates appeared to us to have been put deliberately in conflict with three important IRL dates: CART's Brazil and Australia races were placed one week before and one week after the IRL's announced Phoenix date of March 24, 1996; CART's Nazareth race was listed on April 28 against USAC's important Indy Rookie Orientation Program; and inexplicably, CART chose to schedule Elkhart Lake directly opposite the IRL's Aug. 18 New Hampshire race.

Travel logistics virtually eliminate the possibility of any team running Brazil, Phoenix and Australia on consecutive weekends. While "ROP" (as USAC's rookie program is called) is not a highly publicized event, it is nonetheless well known in racing circles that it occurs a week before opening day at Indianapolis, when the final preparations to the race track have been completed. All CART could say about its Elkhart Lake date was that it had always raced on that date (it hasn't) and besides, CART stated, it hadn't made any promises that it wouldn't conflict.

What do you do if you are in our shoes? CART had obviously made a perfectly legal, free-market competition move to prevent its teams from participating in the opportunities presented by the IRL. At that point it became incumbent on us to respond in kind, and we did it with a carrot instead of a stick.

On July 3, we announced $12 million in prize money for the five-race series, and qualifying criteria weighted toward teams that participate in IRL events. In August, we weighted our season championship points system very heavily toward consistent IRL participation. Plus we already had an agreement in place with ABC Sports for live television coverage of all five IRL races.

These are strong, attractive incentives for open participation that in no way imply a lockout. Then as now, the IRL is designed for open inclusion of any and all competitors. It is unfortunate CART is forcing its members to choose.

Then there is the equipment question. On Oct. 11, a CART car owner was quoted in The Star sports section about the necessity for the IRL to adopt '96 CART equipment rules or else CART will be unable to compete in next year's Indianapolis 500. That is a true statement, sort of. The problem resulted from CART's decision last May to institute sweeping changes in its own '96 chassis specifications that it knew when it made them would effectively eliminate its cars from competing in the 1996 "500." That was CART's decision, not ours, and I firmly believe the decision was motivated by CART's desire to stifle the development of the IRL by creating the burden on its members of redundant, expensive equipment.

It was, in my view, another free-market competition decision. I respect CART's right to compete against the IRL, although it was certainly not our original intent to compete against them. We wanted to coexist and not force anyone to choose sides. That is why in early March the IRL rescinded its own proposed sweeping changes in both chassis and engine specifications.

At that time, CART told us they felt the IRL's proposed technical changes -- which we had announced in 1994 -- would create hardship because they were too late for 1996 production and too expensive for teams because all new equipment would be required. We did not entirely agree with those assessments, but in the interest of removing obstacles to agreement, the IRL announced March 10 that for 1996 all applicable 1995 USAC and CART specifications would be observed. It was purely a move of appeasement on our part.

Imagine our surprise when two months later, in mid-May, CART adopted changes in chassis specifications that were very close to what the IRL had rescinded in the interest of keeping peace in the family. While technical and safety improvements are the backbone of auto racing, it was obvious to me that CART's chassis change was motivated less by performance than by its political desire to prevent the IRL from conducting races in 1996. I was very disappointed by this, but it was not of our doing and we will stick to the commitments we made for 1996 rules.

Chassis incompatibility and schedule conflicts: CART created both these problems after the IRL was on record as sincerely having tried to avoid them. The purpose of the IRL is to provide growth, stability and opportunity for open-wheel, oval track racing. That mission is certainly not intended to harm or control CART.

In fact, it has nothing to do with CART. We simply do not want the Indianapolis 500 to be controlled by an outside group that does not have as its most important goal the future of Indianapolis type oval track racing. Not to mention a group that is based out of state and is far removed from the significance of the "500" in this community.

It is often said that I am motivated by power and greed in forming the IRL. It certainly is not greed, because this is a very intense financial commitment for us to build a race track in Florida and establish proper league staffing and resources. The monetary payback, if there is any, will be over the long haul. On the subject of power, my desire is not now and never has been control of CART, IndyCar or the entire series of whatever cars run in the Indianapolis 500. The payback on that side is simply a peace of mind that comes from maintaining the sovereignty of this wonderful event.

Far from wanting to run the sport, I'd love to see even the IRL develop an autonomy. There is much I would like to do in my life, but I'll be unable to enjoy any of it if the "500" is not secure.

That's why the Indy Racing League was formed. I felt the long-term protection of the "500" depended on a solid series of top level open-wheel, oval track races. To that end, this league was created because CART provided no long-term guarantees to the "500" or to oval track racing. Nor has CART as an organization exhibited long-term stability, with four different board voting structures and four different chief executives just in the short five years I've been president of the Speedway.

The Indianapolis 500 will not be controlled by CART. They are welcome to join us as competitors, but not to impose their will or their governing structure on the Speedway.

Our timing in all of this was pretty good. The threat I feared might someday materialize -- a CART sanction in a power move against the Speedway -- is evidently upon us. Although you can argue that we brought it on ourselves this time, I am convinced it would have happened over some other issue at some other time. This time, though, we were in the middle of exercising some very important American ideals -- those of free competition, open markets and entrepreneurship. We are in a position of strength, and we are steadfastly in a position to defend the future of the "500" with the Indy Racing League.

It breaks my heart when I see CART drivers quoted as saying the "500" is "just another race," and I can't count the number of CART owners who have stated on various occasions that they would prefer to emasculate the month of May, and instead re-make the greatest automobile race meeting in the world into a single-weekend event. I would be ashamed if we let that happen here. It would be an incalculable loss for both the world of racing and the local community."

The just-released Indy Racing League 2010 schedule of events is abundant proof that Tony George’s vindictive fourteen-year attack on the motor sport he professed to be trying to “save” has resulted in a disjointed, weak series of top level (by default) open-wheel races where road and street course events outnumber oval races (9 to 8). In fact, over the course of its existence the IRL has abandoned twice as many oval venues as it currently races on:

IRL oval hit list:

1. Walt Disney World Speedway (abandoned 2001)
2. Phoenix International Raceway (abandoned 2006)
3. New Hampshire International Speedway (abandoned 1999)
4. Las Vegas Motor Speedway (abandoned 2001)
5. Texas Motor Speedway’s “Texas II” (abandoned 2005)
6. Pikes Peak International Raceway (abandoned 2006)
7. Charlotte Motor Speedway (abandoned 1999)
8. Dover International Speedway (abandoned 2000)
9. Atlanta Motor Speedway (abandoned 2002)
10. Richmond International Raceway (abandoned 2010)
11. Nashville Superspeedway (abandoned 2009)
12. Gateway International Raceway (abandoned 2004)
13. California Speedway (abandoned 2006)
14. Nazareth Speedway (abandoned 2005)
15. Michigan International Speedway (abandoned 2008)
16. The Milwaukee Mile (abandoned 2010)

The day or so after Tony’s ouster, the Indianapolis Business Journal featured the article, "New Speedway boss might trade tradition for revenue." In it, a Chicago-based motorsport business consultant named Tim Frost speculated on George’s replacement, Jeffrey G. Belskus’ likely approach to his new job as IMS president:

"On the expense side, Belskus and his lieutenants—most of whom have been at the Speedway for a number of years—will also begin examining everything from infrastructure maintenance to utility bills, sources close to the track said.

“You can bet the month of May will get a hard look,” Frost said. “It’s a long month with significant operational expenses. Some of the events they’ve traditionally held during May simply don’t attract the crowds and generate the revenue they did two decades ago.”"

Meaning, a likely target for cost cuts at IMS by the new regime will be many of the traditional May events (and days) associated with the Indy 500. This approach would simply follow in the footsteps of George and his lieutenants, who have been steadily “condensing” the month of May activities for the past several years.

In short, the probable end result of Tony George’s war on our sport will be to make his dire prophecies for what the CART team owners supposedly wanted to do to The Greatest Spectacle In Racing come true. I wonder if he is ashamed yet?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dear Anton: Miss you (sort of)

(by Ed Hinton 7-26-09)

Dear Tony,

You didn't miss much here on Sunday in Indianapolis, at the track you used to rule. But we sure missed you.

A race without much action is bad enough, let alone one on a track without a face -- without someone for everyone to blame.

The 16th Allstate 400 at the Brickyard was a dog. I know, I know: What's new?

But a faceless Indianapolis Motor Speedway, operating on an eerie sort of autopilot without you, made it even more forgettable.

For better or worse, we had grown accustomed to your smirks and scowls with the ups and downs of this place these past 20 years when you had reigned, before your mother and three dear sisters threw you off the throne and under the bus last month.

Can't say I blame you for getting as far from here as you could this past weekend, way up there in northwestern Canada, running your IndyCar team. Nice move, by the way, to assuage any suspicion that you might be pouting.

You would have left here frowning again. NASCAR would have embarrassed you again. I know, I know: What's new?

FYI, in case you care: Jimmie Johnson won again, ho-hum, his second straight here and third in the past four, after some semblance of a late duel with Mark Martin.

Before that, the snoring of the crowd might have drowned out the engine noise, except that these magnificent, once-proud grandstands were half full -- and that's being kind.

Maybe 150,000 showed up, the humblest gathering I've ever seen for an oval-track race here -- smaller even than the Formula One crowds the first year or two on the road-oval course. Your grandfather used to draw bigger crowds than this for Indy 500 time trials.

Snoring notwithstanding, it might have been better if Juan Pablo Montoya had been allowed to go ahead and run away with this race, more dominantly even than when he won the Indy 500 in 2000. Remember how he led 83 percent of the laps that year? He was well on his way to leading 90-odd percent of the laps Sunday.

At least the fans would have seen one for the record books, and your old pals in the media would have had something substantive, memorable to chronicle.

But no, hell no. NASCAR had to act like cops at a small-town speed trap, snuffing anything remotely fascinating about this race by busting Montoya for his hyperhaste down pit road with 35 laps to go.

This pit road speeding thing has gotten out of hand, with NASCAR computers nitpicking to the brink of ruin for the whole Cup series, everywhere NASCAR goes. Now they pull this stunt at the last place on Earth where electronics should determine the outcome.

Remember how outraged and embarrassed you were last year when NASCAR let Goodyear bring such inadequate tires that drivers had to pit every 10 laps or so or risk crashing? And then they blamed the debacle on the diamond-ground surface of your track?

Well, the opposite scenario stunk up the show this time. After extensive testing here -- duh -- Goodyear came up with a more-than-adequate tire. Almost too good. There were only three cautions to bunch up the strung-out (as usual) field, and only two passes for the lead under the green flag all day.

And one of those was artificially induced: Johnson's pass of Martin on the final double-file restart.

Personal question here: I'm hearing that your sisters might have overthrown you for more than just spending a cool half-billion of the family fortune propping up your beloved spawn, the Indy Racing League, and getting your pocket picked for another hundred mil or so by Formula One.

I'm getting vibes of serious sibling quibbling -- issues such as who got the big family jet on which weekends, and why your stepson has been fully funded to race while some of your nephews haven't.

You don't have to answer me now, not any more than you ever did. Families deserve their privacy, even the very rich ones who control the fate of American institutions such as Indy.

Hey, this joint would have been a shopping mall decades ago if your late grandfather, Tony Hulman, hadn't saved it at the end of World War II. That's why your IRL believers said the Indy 500 was yours to do with as you pleased, even though I countered that, no, the American people owned the Indy 500. They made it.

I'm sure you've left Edmonton by now, but I'm hoping the track will forward this letter to you, wherever you might be. You've been hard to catch this summer. Hell, I had better access to you while you were trying to ban me from the Indy 500 in 1999. (We had a lot of laughs that year, didn't we?)

I really did miss you this past weekend. Regardless of the business of motor racing and how you conducted it, and how I criticized you for it, I've always liked you as a person. Through our roller-coaster years, you would always stop to talk and shake hands, no matter how adversarial our relationship might be at a given time.

And I'll give you this: You had guts. You were and are a racer at heart. You were a gambler -- more so, by far, than your fellow third generation of racing royalty, NASCAR's ruling France family.

The only thing is, you lost. Terribly.

And now you're sort of like Steve McQueen in the old movie "The Cincinnati Kid," after the no-limit stud poker game, walking the streets of New Orleans with a stoic face and a quarter in his pocket.

You have a lot more than a quarter left in your pocket, maybe even a quarter of a billion -- yeah, with a B -- but you still lost horrifically. And you took the American public on the ride with you, so that the late actor/racer Paul Newman once opined to me grimly that it was "damn near criminal what he's done," dividing and devastating Indy car racing.

Oh, on a brighter note, I almost forgot! We see that you're blogging now, on your racing team's Web site, Your latest installment was a big hit around the media center Sunday morning.

We were all reading it, interested that you, in your words, "have decided to use the Vision Racing website [sic], in a therapeutic way, to help clear my mind …"

Seems you might be opening up the family feud to the public soon, writing that, "I continue to be perplexed by the board's [your sisters' and mother's] decision to relieve me from my responsibility as CEO of the enterprise."

But you say, "I understand that maybe they don't feel that they owe me an explanation."

At long last, you've written that "contrary to popular belief, our family does not have an endless supply of cash …"

A lot of us have always realized that. Some just wondered at times whether you did.

Assuming your family really hasn't explained what happened to you, I'll offer my best educated guess, just for old times' sake.

Ultimately, nothing within the Hulman-George family did you in. You stepped onto the slippery slope the minute you let a France -- or as I understand it, one of the family's intermediaries -- whisper in your ear the notion of stampeding NASCAR cars down the hallways of your family estate.

It didn't work Sunday, any more than it has since 1994 on this narrow, flat, rectangular track built in 1909. And now, after 15 years of chronically boring racing, the "hallowed ground" rationale for NASCAR stumbling around this lovely old place has worn thin.

But the huge crowds and profits of those early Brickyard 400s emboldened you, filling your coffers for 13 years of all-out war with CART (and its carcass, Champ Car), until finally you reigned over little more than the scorched earth of American open-wheel racing.

Remember how you told me yourself -- a few years back, at Joliet, Ill. -- that the big NASCAR bucks had replenished your war chest?

Did NASCAR intend to devastate Indy car racing?

I don't know.

But Bill France Jr., who made the original deal with you, did say on the phone to me, with a chuckle, during the open-wheel civil war you wrought, "It hasn't hurt us any, has it?"

Lore is that his father, NASCAR founder Big Bill France, while being ejected from your grandfather's track in the 1950s, before you were born, shouted over his shoulder, "I'll own this place someday!"

His heirs don't need to.

Olympus has been razed, the Indy 500 toppled from the pinnacle, 100-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway humbled.

NASCAR handed you so much cash that you were a little like the Vegas crapshooter who figures, What the heck, I'm playing with house money, until he finally walks away with far less than he brought.

And now NASCAR, its own fading appeal addled further by the clunky Car of Tomorrow, can hardly half-fill the place where the Indiana State Police used to estimate crowds at 400,000 for that singular race of each year, in all the world, the Indianapolis 500.

Don't blame your own family, nor the currently tempestuous economy, for your downfall.

Indy survived two world wars and the Great Depression, standing staunch for a century. But now I can't help wondering whether it will survive NASCAR and the deal you made that looked so brilliant at the time.


Ed Hinton

IndyCar to add "Push to Pass" starting in Kentucky

(posted on in response to IndyCar announcing they will implement a "push to pass" system like ChampCar had starting with the upcoming race in Kentucky)

Push to Crash on an oval? I may have to watch this disaster. Where are they racing?

Helio's button will bring out a yellow flag and turn yellow lights on around the track.
Marco's button will bring on the light that indicates that the pits are open so he can park it.
Kanaan's button will turn on a fire extinguisher.
Dario's button will turn on his wife.
PT's button will ring a bell indicating the start of the third round. Rock'em'sock'em!!
Danica's button will go "ahhhooooooooooooga, ahhhoooooooooooga"
Milka's button will just vibrate.

Settling In

( 7-26-09)

Vision Racing Team Owner Tony George contributes this feature, written in his own words, as a follow up to an official statement posted on this site July 10th, 2009.

After having a week off from racing I have had a chance to relax and reflect on the events that have taken place over the last few weeks. I have decided to use the Vision Racing website, in a therapeutic way, to help clear my mind and clear the air by sharing some of my thoughts:

Settling into a different routine after 20 years has been quite an adjustment. I must say, it was neither something I was expecting nor something I had given much consideration to, but not unusual given the time in which we currently live. All around me I see that people’s lives are being affected by the realities of a deepening recession, and we all hope it begins to turn around soon and that better days are what lie ahead.

I would be less than honest if I said that last February 2008, after we were able to unify open-wheel racing, I didn’t at least let the thought of possibly “dialing back the boost” a little bit slip into my mind. However, I knew there would be a couple of more years of hard work ahead of us, as we had asked for and been given the opportunity to provide the leadership of the sport going forward. Knowing that there would be reservations expressed by some in our ability to lead, I had confidence that the right team of people had been assembled to take it forward.

Knowing that the decision made would be good for all concerned, we set out to do the nearly impossible and to bring about an immediate transition. It came at great expense and would not have been possible without the support from some great partners, but the majority of the heavy-lifting would be borne by our company. I knew that the historic start to the 2008 season would be rocky, but felt that by May things would start to sort out and the series would start to come together as one. That proved to be the case.

Most, if not all, of the early concerns expressed began to subside; many who had expressed their concerns began to provide positive reinforcement for the job that had been done bringing it together under challenging conditions.

Little did we know just how challenging it was going to become. The second half of the season rolled along while most started to look toward 2009 and the promise that, together, we could now really start to capitalize on the momentum we had been gaining all season long. Higher gas prices were starting to have an affect on race attendance, mainly at NASCAR events, as people were beginning to have to make choices between discretionary spending and providing for their basic needs. But IndyCar fans were still turning out in support of a unified series.

By the end of the season it started to become clear that our hopes of catching a tailwind from unification heading into 2009 would be met with more challenges. We were now going to have even stiffer headwinds brought about by the global market and financial crisis. By late fall the rumblings began that teams were going to be expecting financial support from the League if they were going to be able to compete in 2009.

Now, I don’t think it is a secret that most IndyCar and Champ Car teams have relied heavily on financial support from series owners to fund or subsidize their operations over the last 5 years. In fact, I know that in the case of the IRL, every team that has ever competed in the series, since inception, has received support to some degree. Given those facts, it is a testament to the commitment of the teams and sponsors in the series today that they have persevered this season without any subsidy from the League.

Important to note in all of this is, contrary to popular belief, our family does not have an endless supply of cash to continue to pour into the League in the form of subsidy. Rather, it is incumbent on the league to provide the leadership expected during this challenging economic time to grow the business, to grow the sport, and to position it for success in the future.

A good plan to start the year had been developed, but not before executive management had sufficiently challenged the business group leaders to re-examine their own budget planning process and goals for 2009. I had to convince my colleagues that the only way we could develop a comprehensive enterprise plan would be to have regular, frequent and transparent management meetings so each unit could see and understand the big picture. This is something that was going to require time, given how we had previously operated.

Anyone who has any aptitude at all for running a business would realize that the task of creating and following through with a successful long-term plan is something that takes a great deal of time and patience. While the plan has been put into motion, and positive growth is evident, it will require much more time and effort to fully see the plan through. This is a process that I had been committed to being a part of, even though others had different ideas of their own.

That being said, I continue to be perplexed by the board’s recent decision to relieve me from my responsibility as CEO of the enterprise. To date, I have not received a reasonable explanation as to why; the statement they released to the press not withstanding, I feel as though after 20 years I am entitled to one. I understand that maybe they don’t feel that they owe me an explanation.

One thing I can tell you is that I stood resolute in my conviction on the direction we needed to go and that the measures we have taken since January are only a beginning. A complete review of how we are structured and operate is necessary. Beyond my being dismissed, I am unaware of any changes that are being contemplated that will have a meaningful impact on the organization.

I have been replaced in my role as manager by two individuals who have been with the company for many years. In that time they have also been members of the executive management team and have participated in all of the strategic decisions that have been made over the last 15 years, so they are well aware of the challenges ahead. My question for the board has been not one of who is going to manage the company, but rather, who is going to lead it? There is a distinction.

At this time Tony wishes to continue to limit his communications regarding this matter to statements posted on this website. Requests for interviews made to date should be viewed as being under consideration by Tony who will grant them at such time that it becomes appropriate to do so.

We sincerely appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A statement from Tony George

( 7-1-09)

The following is a statement by Tony George in response to the June 30th announcement by the Board of Directors of Hulman & Company and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 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.

“Nearly 20 years ago, I was asked by my family to represent our business as President and Chief Executive Officer. Since accepting that position, I have served at the pleasure of the board and, in doing so, I enthusiastically agreed to commit myself to stewardship of a great institution. While my service as CEO has now ended, I consider my stewardship to be a life-long appointment.

At a board meeting a little over a month ago, the Board of Directors of Hulman & Co. and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway asked me to propose a management reorganization that would focus my duties exclusively upon the operation, promotion, and development of the Indy Racing League, which I founded in 1994 and have overseen the development of since 1996.

At a board meeting last week, I was asked to continue as CEO of the Indy Racing League, reporting to a new President and CEO of IMS. In my view, this would have created an unnecessary bureaucratic layer between the people in the operations of the IRL and the CEO of IMS that had not previously existed. From the perspective of my experience as President and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I am acutely aware that the interests of IndyCar racing as a sport, the IRL as a league, and the most important motorsports race in the world, are mutually dependant and inter-connected, both now and in the future. I did not feel that a subordinate position as “CEO of the IRL” was a management vehicle which would allow me to accomplish the objectives that the family and the board requested me to pursue. I declined that position.

Since our May board meeting, as requested, I have offered my advice to the board on management reorganization, but also and perhaps more importantly, a reorganization of our board, which would provide a structure for better governance for generations to come. It is my belief that, with the recent unification of open-wheel racing, the focus should be on the future rather than the past.

I am encouraged that in recent conversations with my mother and Chairman of the Board, Mari George, I learned that she also sees the wisdom of taking a forward-looking approach which will provide consistent and coordinated leadership. In the near future, I will be providing a proposal for the board to evaluate. I have been assured by the Chairman that the board will engage in appropriate dialogue, with constructive give and take.

The success of any organization relies on strong leadership from management to execute strategies that focus on achieving results, and a board whose vision is focused on owner and stakeholder returns.

There have been many questions raised in the industry and in the media about whether any of these recent changes reflect a reduction in the commitment of our family or the IMS to the IRL or the sport of IndyCar. I have been assured by my mother that no such reduction of support or commitment is intended or anticipated. I can assure teams, sponsors, media and fans that our family is sincere in its commitment to the Indianapolis 500, the League and the sport.”

At this time Tony wishes to continue to limit his communications regarding this matter to statements posted on this website. Requests for interviews made to date should be viewed as being under consideration by Tony who will grant them at such time that it becomes appropriate to do so.

We sincerely appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter.

Obi-Wan wisdom

(by Obi wan 7-14-09)

I wonder what it takes to be a bona-fide Gomer nowadays?

Robbing Mealworm just announced on TSR that the IRL has signed a multi-year deal to hold ICS events at Barber Motorsports Park!

That would be the 2.38-mile motorcycle road course (meaning narrow) in Leeds, AL with lawn seating (because it has no grandstands).

Obviously, the event will be televised on Versus so the Gomers are going Zen on us: “If a tree falls in an Alabama forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Naturally, the TF Gomers – who in past years would have deemed a Champ Car race at Barber a sure sign of the series’ coming apocalypse – are ecstatic.

They are also salivating at the idea of ICS races at Ribeirao Preto, Brazil – quick, where’s my map – and Qingdao (pronounced CHING-dao), China – hold it, don’t put away that map – at an imaginary stadium that will seat 400,000! Which would make it about twice the size of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I thought Tony formed the league to protect the Brickyard from such foreign incursions by the un-American CART team owners?

Oh, and Panther Racing co-owner John Barnes is all bullish about a possible IndyCar race in Abu Dhabi!

Whoa! Since it is costing Tony. . .er, Mommy and the sisters. . . a minimum of $2 million each for almost all of the current races, I wonder if their checkbook can stand the hit(s)? I mean a 20 or 22-event schedule can get pretty pricey when you haven’t got sanction fees, sponsorship, advertisers, television ratings or ticket and concession sales for your events.

What’s that you say? Oh, that’s why races in Alabama and Brazilian forests, China's hinterland and the desert of Abu Dhabi are such a GOOD thing (if you’re a Gomer): those crazy foreigners are actually willing to PAY to get their own IndyCar event. Kinda like getting your six-year-old a pony or clown for their birthday.

I don’t know, though, some of the homegrown Indy events are looking mighty shaky and may have to be dropped in order to make room for those foreign races.

I mean, you know Milwaukee is probably toast.

Edmonton has been rumored to have lost millions over the years and the local government is looking to close the airport.

Toronto attendance was abysmal to everyone but Kevin Savoree last weekend.

Chicago and Kansas are probably going to drop the NASCAR 'track-pack' for 2010...and we all know what that means: one grandstand colored red and the rest aluminum color.

Kansas was a ghost town this year and the rumor mill has had Homestead-Miami in trouble for a couple of years. . .

Let’s see, except for Edmonton, what do these ICS events have in common. . .besides being failures that is? Oh, they are all OVALS; the raison d’etre of the IRL.

Huh, what’s that you say ‘indycool?’ Oh, right, in his very first IRL press release Tony George talked about road races in Ribeirao Preto and Qingdao (pronounced CHING-dao) and Abu Dhabi; it’s right there in the corner of the Post-It in microscopic fine print.

Meantime, Tony and the league dropped the only really successful overseas event (Surfers) on the ICS schedule. Go figure.

What’s that, indycool? Oh, I see, it’s all part of Tony’s master plan. Er, did that master plan include firing Tony? Ah, I see now, it’s to throw Bernie and Max off his scent as Tony expands internationally and knocks Formula One off its pedestal.


Monday, July 6, 2009

DCR: The Little Team That Could

(by John Oreovicz 7-6-09)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- It was inevitable that Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing's 11-month IndyCar Series winning streak would come to an end.

It was just unlikely that Dale Coyne Racing would be the team to do it.

But that's exactly what happened Sunday afternoon at Watkins Glen International, as Justin Wilson drove Coyne's Z-Line Designs/Sixth Avenue Electronics car to victory in the Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen. Wilson simply sped away from Penske's Ryan Briscoe and Ganassi's Scott Dixon over the last seven laps to claim a remarkable underdog victory for one of the sport's true good guys.

"We were David and we beat two Goliaths today," exclaimed Coyne, who won for the first time in 558 starts in CART, Champ Car and IndyCar Series competition.

Coyne made his CART series debut in 1984 as the owner/driver of a 3-year-old March racer with a tired stock block engine.

"I remember Dale turning that old stock block upside down, rebuilding it in the pit lane," recalled Andretti Green Racing co-owner Kim Green. "He was the only one of us making money back in those days."

Dale Coyne Racing became an integral part of the scenery in the CART series. The 54-year-old Plainfield, Ill., native's team rarely ran anywhere but at the back, and often had to resort to hiring obscure pay drivers to keep the doors open.

But Coyne also made a name for himself as a man with business acumen and integrity who gave drivers including Scott Pruett and Paul Tracy their first Indy car rides.

In recent years, DCR provided a second chance for top-line drivers like Oriol Servia, Bruno Junqueira and Wilson, who was cut loose from the more established Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing operation at the end of the 2008 season despite being the last non-Penske or non-Ganassi driver to win an IndyCar Series race: last August's Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.

Wilson, whom many observers believe is the finest pure road racer in the IndyCar Series, made the most of his opportunity with Coyne this year. He almost won the IndyCar season opener at St. Petersburg, only to lose the lead in the pits during the final round of stops. They struggled during the course of six consecutive oval races, never finishing better than 14th.

But back on a natural terrain road course, Wilson and engineer Bill Pappas were in their element. And when they qualified on the front row at Watkins Glen while still saving an additional set of the faster Firestone alternate tires for the race, the prospect of a Coyne victory appeared in the cards.

Wilson and the DCR pit crew delivered. At the end of the race, when Wilson was on the quicker red Firestone tires and his competition were on blacks, the 30-year-old Englishman pulled away at the rate of a second a lap and won by 4.99 seconds.

"I was grinning from ear to ear on the last lap," Wilson related with a smile. "It just felt so good to do that for Dale. We've been trying to build this team up and we're coming. This is the best and most important win in my career, winning for Dale. It's a fantastic feeling."

Briscoe and Dixon were flat-out beaten on the afternoon, yet they were both thrilled for Wilson and Coyne.

"It's a huge day for Justin -- he drove superb," Briscoe said. "Big congrats to Dale Coyne and the whole team -- it was a huge weekend for them.

"It's awesome, it shows that they can certainly get the job done and that Justin is a great driver."

"I think it's fantastic and great for the sport," Dixon said. "It's cool to see some of the small teams winning, and that's probably the smallest team in the series. They put a lot of emphasis in the road courses, and clearly they are very well accomplished at what they do.

"It just shows when you have a good driver like Justin, he can take it to the best."

Coyne said he employs "16, maybe 17" people for Wilson's one-car effort. Penske and Ganassi's two-car teams are manned by upward of 70.

Coyne praised his wife, Gail, and said he never makes a decision without her input.

"We didn't buy a new house -- we bought an engineer," he laughed.

"After Long Beach, we worked on pit stops a lot and proved it today," Coyne said. "We have less people than most teams, and we're usually one of the last ones here every night. But all those guys love the sport and have a passion for it. We're at the sharp end of the grid and we need to be at the sharp end of the pit stops. We have a little work to go, but we're making progress."

Wilson, whose career has seen more than his share of heartbreak, said he was fairly certain that he could win for Coyne this season.

"We had a win in our grasp at St. Petersburg that slipped away and a podium at Long Beach that slipped away," he said. "We've made improvements in our pit stops, and I said to the guys, 'Before the end of the season, your effort will pay off -- we're going to win a race.' And now we've done it. Everyone plays their part, and without any one of those guys it wouldn't have been possible.

"We know what Penske put into their cars and what Ganassi puts into their cars and obviously that makes today even better," Wilson said. "The only thing that would taste sweeter than this win today would be our first win on an oval. And we're going to work toward that. We're trying to build something for the future here. We want to get wins and podiums this year, but our goal is to win the championship."

Apart from the obvious feel-good factor, Coyne believes his team's victory at Watkins Glen sends out a positive message about the IndyCar Series in general.

"That's what's good about this sport: A team with our resources and budget can win a race," he said. "For the series to be strong, we need more teams here, and not subsidized teams. We need that for the series to grow, and if teams like ours can win, it shows other teams thinking of coming in that they can win, too.

"We got a solid reward for our hard work today and a platform to build on for the future," Coyne said. "I think this sport is going to survive, and it can only get stronger. I'm encouraged about the future; we're investing in the future and we're looking forward to being up here a few more times."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Obi-Wan wisdom

( 7-3-09)
(regarding the removal/resignation of Tony George)


You know, in hindsight, I think Tony’s motivation for splitting the sport was simpler than a desire to control the sport: I think it was pure greed.

Although harder to explain, I think this motive is easier to understand.

Tony came from a family of wholesale grocers whose considerable fortune was made a fraction of a cent at a time by cornering the market for its many products through cost and price competition. If Herman Hulman and his brothers noted that a competitor was making a good profit by selling some product like a flyswatter, they looked to buy up a manufacturer of flyswatters for a good price, copy the competitor’s product, and then monopolize the market by using economies of scale and their distribution network to sell nearly identical flyswatters at a lower price.

When Tony took over the reins at IMS in 1990, he did so with a sense of entitlement and without a clue as to how to go about using his assets and advantages to make himself rich. Elsewhere in motorsports, non-inheritors like (arguably) the France brothers, Bernie Ecclestone, and Roger Penske were using their brains and talent to transform themselves into billionaires. Tony was envious of them but didn’t have a clue about how to go about doing what they did on a daily basis.

The one thing that Tony DID know was that his inherited property (IMS and the Indy 500) was the cornerstone of American open-wheel racing. With them in his possession, he had the ability to cripple or destroy open-wheel racing in this country by withholding them from CART entrepreneurs like Roger Penske.

As Tony has now admitted, he never had any interest (or ability) in running our motorsport. He was perfectly willing to let the likes of Roger Penske, Pat Patrick, Jim Hall, and the other entrepreneurs in the CART paddock run the sport; Tony was only interested in OWNING the sport and reaping the lion’s share of its profits.

He didn’t think this would be difficult to arrange. The iconic Indy 500 and the CART series were both doing well; seemingly all on their own. Tony’s only proposed changes to the sport he believed he had inherited from his grandfather was to make it cheaper to produce so that his profits would be greater; so he championed such “common sense” (but wrong) ideas as replacing “expensive” race engines with cheap stock-block substitutes and putting price caps in place. This sort of thinking was entirely in line with that of his wholesale grocer ancestors.

In any event, Tony made his move in November 1991 when he demanded that the CART team owners sell him their business, cheap; with a threat to withhold the 500 and ruin them and the sport otherwise. In his view, it was a perfect hostile takeover: he was sitting in the catbird seat and the owners would be crazy to oppose him and once he had bought up both USAC and CART for a dime on the dollar and merged them, all the profits from any premier open-wheel race in America would be his alone.

When the independent-minded team owners resisted, George was furious and moved to make good on his threat to punish them. That’s when he really started to make mistakes by losing sight of his goal. Like his ancestors and their flyswatters, he initially moved to copy the competitor’s product but produce it cheaper. His first problem was that he was legally precluded from copying CART exactly – for instance the law would not allow him to steal its brand name or even mimic it closely. Also, he was convinced that his ace in the hole marketing wise was to make his new series much cheaper to produce than CART. Problem was, fans noticed the less sophisticated ‘spec’ cars, lackluster competition, and no name drivers. Moreover, he couldn’t attract corporate sponsors and automakers to his banner exclusively on the basis of the Indy 500 itself. This eventually meant that he had to establish an expensive series of races and he had to change the outline of his new motorsport to please his automakers (Oldsmobile and Nissan). In the beginning I don’t think Tony thought it would ever go so far as it did; he just kept waiting for the strength and attraction of the Indy 500 to kick in and force the CART team owners to sell out to him. However, here he underestimated the strength of Champ Car and its patented brand of racing.

So, practically from the beginning Tony started to commit the cardinal sin of failing to copy his competitor’s product and offering up a completely different, inferior product instead. In time, his IRL became the “anti-CART” in order to force the sports’ stakeholders to choose one form over the other. This was the functional equivalent of his Hulman ancestors trying to monopolize the flyswatter market with fly paper instead. The immediate result was that he was in unknown territory trying to pitch an unfamiliar product to a different group of customers (than those patronizing his competitor).

Right from the start Tony had a problem getting financing for his attempted CART takeover. He offered approximately $3 million total for CART in 1991, way too low; which may have been all the money he could lay his hands on. His grandmother was a savvier investor than her grandson and Mari stood in line of inheritance between Maw-Maw and him; so it’s probable that his open-wheel takeover plan was a hard sell. In order to get his elders’ support, he had to prove himself first. The only way he could see to do that was to accept John Cooper and Bill France Jr.’s suggestion to throw open the gates of IMS to NASCAR Cup racing. So, focusing too hard on one rival he neglected to keep an eye on an even greater one. His grandmother allowed him to use the NASCAR money to finance his attempted takeover of CART but it proved to be a double-edged sword that drove deep into the heart of The Greatest Spectacle In Racing’s popularity. From the moment the stock cars took to the track at IMS, the Indy 500 would never be the same (or as great). To use a medieval analogy, it was like a castle’s defenders dismantling the castle walls in order to use the stones as catapult ammunition; perhaps effective in the short term but eventually ruinous.

Candidly, I don’t think Tony planned any move in his twelve-year war of attrition beyond the immediate one; his war simply grew like Topsy; each move on his part caused an equal and opposite reaction by his rivals, which in turn brought about the same. George not only constantly transformed his motorsport (for the worse) but he caused CART to do the same. In 1991 he wanted nothing more than to reap the ill-gotten gains from a hostile CART takeover. By 2003, neither CART nor the IRL bore any resemblance to their original forms (in 1991 or 1996 respectively).

The rapid decline in the popularity of both open-wheel series has most often been put down to the ill-feelings generated by a bitter internecine open-wheel war. A simpler, more logical explanation is that the forced evolution of both series left them with an on-track product that nobody wanted to support. The Cartisans were hanging on through boring ‘spec’ racing hoping for a return to the Golden Age of CART and the IRListas were sacrificing everything in hopes that war’s end would get them back to the Indy 500 in its glory years. In the end, neither group’s hopes came true and today’s open-wheel product is pure crap.

From a strictly business standpoint I think if the parties involved in the AOWR war were given the opportunity to do it over, I think Tony George would (or should) do things differently and the CART team owners would hope that he did (but otherwise change nothing). That’s because in the final analysis Tony’s folly cost his family approximately $1 billion in actual costs and another sizeable amount of money in foregone income and opportunities. By comparison, Roger Penske made something on the order of $1 billion from selling the ashes of his motorsports investments. Other less-talented CART team owners made commensurately smaller but sizeable profits and practically none of them lost money on their investment in CART. So, who were the real losers in the Great American Open-Wheel War? In order of loss, it was probably the Idiot Grandson and the Hulman-George family (financially), followed by the CART shareholders (financially), the sport’s rank-and-file and support industries and, of course, the fans.

End of the Tony George era

(by Robin Miller 7-2-09)

If Tony George had a good support system 19 years ago instead of butt kissers, guys with grudges and people with agendas, he might still be in charge at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

If he had apprenticed under Joe Cloutier and learned the ropes of daily business and the tenuous formula of the Indianapolis 500, the month of May might still be booming.

If he had been seriously embraced by CART and made to feel his opinion mattered, open wheel racing might never have been divided and conquered by NASCAR.

If he chose to be keeper of castle instead of king, his legacy might be on-going and preserved in glowing tributes instead of ravaged by controversy and finished off by a family feud.

Despite all of the positive things he did like bringing NASCAR, Formula One and MOTO GP to town and financing the safer wall, he will also be remembered as the man who murdered May and did irreparable damage to Indy-car racing.

That’s not opinion, its fact.

But, looking back, the grandson of Tony Hulman was totally unprepared to run the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” or preside over any kind of a series. He had no experience working with budgets, schedules or people.

His godfather, the late Dave Cassidy, always tried to get Mari Hulman George to send her son to one of their television stations for a couple of years to learn management skills, the value of a dollar and to interact with a staff. The least they should have done was make TG birddog Cloutier, who was Mr. Hulman’s savvy right-hand man for 50 years.

When Mari gave TG the keys to 16th & Georgetown in 1990, he had zero business acumen and a checkbook with seven figures: a dangerous combination.

TG’s attempt to purchase CART in 1991 at Houston was, by his own admission, very unprofessional and ill-prepared as his $1 million offer was rejected by the owners in less than civil tones.

That meeting was the genesis of the Indy Racing League and CART wasn’t clever enough to consider George’s age, inexperience and clout. He had Indy-car racing’s crown jewel and all they needed to do was ask his opinions on rules, car changes, etc., put their arms around him and make him part of the club. Sure, he did have a spot on the CART board for a while but nobody really cared to hear what he thought, according to a couple owners back then.

This was a critical time for young George and he needed some wise advisors. Instead, he supposedly listened to USAC officials and a former IMS boss who all loathed CART and Bill France Jr., who understood that CART was matching stock cars almost stride-for-stride in sponsorship, visibility and popularity.

I believe George thought France, NASCAR and ISC were his allies until a few years ago when he realized they had no interest in seeing his IRL succeed.

Anyway, at that time CART had Nigel Mansell, 28 full-time, sponsored cars, record attendance and good TV ratings in 1993-94-95. It was the worst possible time for George to start another series. He needed somebody with common sense to reason with him that the Indy 500 was the second toughest ticket in sports (behind the Masters) to get and CART may have been run by the greedy and pompous, but it was succeeding on all levels.

He needed somebody to remind him of Cloutier’s quote from the early ‘80s when the IMS boss said: “I don’t know why Indy became such a phenomenon but I do know it’s a fragile formula that we don’t want to mess with.”

Instead, when Tony announced 25 of the 33 spots for 1996 Indy 500 would be reserved for IRL point leaders and suddenly we had Racin’ Gardner and Bronco Brad Murphy competing instead of Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi, May took a credibility hit that it’s never recovered from.

Instead of following that tried and true tradition of just counting the money in May, George began spending it on purses, races, teams, promoting and marketing. He spent millions without consequence because he really didn’t value it and it came to him so easily.

His three sisters, also members of the IMS board, were reportedly vehemently all against funding another open wheel series and mother Mari was the only one who could check his power and shut down the revolution but she declined.

TG used the fa├žade the IRL was for American drivers and manufacturers (and it was for a couple years) and to preserve the traditions of IMS when, in reality, it was only for control.

Despite some great finishes, the American public refused to embrace the IRL and it was listing badly earlier this decade when Roger Penske, Toyota and Honda came to its rescue. When the rest of the CART stalwarts like Ganassi, Rahal and Andretti-Green followed suit, the IRL suddenly had new life.

But only because it morphed into everything TG supposedly hated: street races, road courses, engine leases and inflated budgets.

A.J. Foyt called it CART Lite.

Still, by 2008 Champ Car had thrown in the towel and there was one series again for the first time since 1995. George had brokered peace and won the war but, incredibly, didn’t want to be king after all. He said he was happy running his Vision Racing team and had plenty of capable people to take care of IRL/IMS.

Of course a reflection of the 12-year war will show that it was expensive, destructive and needless. Indy-car racing is almost irrelevant in North America because of it and Indy has become a dull, lifeless spec series that’s going to slag along with the same boring equipment for at least two more years, providing it can hang on that long.

George isn’t the only one to blame for its demise but he is the one who pushed the red button.

So what happens now? TG’s sisters, who you certainly can’t blame for being angered and concerned at the estimated $700 million that’s been thrown at the IRL, F1 and the track, finally got the checkbook away from Tony and voted him out. There’s a bean counter in charge now and you can bet some changes are in the offing but Mari’s press release Tuesday stated the family would continue to support the IRL and open wheel racing. It didn’t say for how long or for how much but at least there’s a commitment for the immediate future.

A lot of people are convinced Mari is going to sell the Speedway but she’s always maintained it’s for her grandchildren and not for sale. Those grandkids, Jarrod Krisiloff, Kyle Krisiloff and Tony George Jr. are all working for the IRL right now while Lauren George, Olivia Conforti and Jesika Gunter all figure to be part of the process soon.

The Speedway appears to be in good shape. The Indy crowd was up last May, MOTO GP should be a winner with decent weather and the Brickyard may be half full but should still turn a profit. Indy almost ran itself for 60 years and Tony wasn’t hands on for the last few years anyway.

He didn’t have much input in the day-do-day business of the IRL either but it’s still his baby. He started it, nourished it and now it needs a complete overhaul of its financial pyramid because it’s a consistently big loser.

For now, Indy and IndyCar are still joined at the hip and the open wheel community is breathing a little easier after seeing Mari’s confirmation. It still needs leadership and Tony Cotman is the perfect guy to make the rules and streamline the budgets, yet his input doesn’t seem to be wanted.

As for George, he’s gone from one of the most powerful men in motorsports to the owner of a mid-pack, one-car team in IndyCar. There’s no denying he loves IMS and wanted to make it the pinnacle of all auto racing, which it is. But he wasn’t equipped to lead, he didn’t really have a plan, his passion was misplaced and his endless spending on an inferior product finally did him in.

Tony is not a bad person he just got some bad advice and made some bad decisions that May forever define his legacy.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

IRL needs a leader, but who will it be?

(by John Oreovicz 7-2-09)

INDIANAPOLIS -- In March 1994, Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Tony George announced plans to create a new racing series that would preserve the traditions and excitement of American open-wheel oval racing, using the Indianapolis 500 as its centerpiece.

The Indy Racing League staged its first event in January 1996, and after a 12-year struggle, eventually put its unacknowledged competition, the CART/Champ Car World Series, out of business, gaining sole control of what is generically known as Indy car racing.

Fast-forward to the present, and what became known as the IndyCar Series bears little or no resemblance to George's stated goals when he formed the IRL. And now George is no longer even in charge of the league he founded.

An IMS announcement late Tuesday stated that George was being removed from his dual roles as president and CEO of the Speedway and of Hulman & Co., the multifaceted business started in 1850 by Tony's great-great-grandfather, Herman Hulman. Effective immediately.

What the IMS press release did not reveal is that George elected to stand down as the leader of the Indy Racing League.

"He chose not to continue as CEO of the IRL," said Fred Nation, executive vice president of communications for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "He is no longer active in the management of any of the companies. He is on the board of directors of all the companies, along with the other members of his family. And of course the board is the ultimate decision-maker."

George was unavailable for comment.

No matter how his actions have been interpreted, even long before the IRL ran its first race, George always maintained that he was not interested in leading the sport.

"It is often said that I was, or am, motivated by power and greed in forming the IRL," he wrote in a five-page letter to the editor of The Indianapolis Star on Oct. 16, 1995. "I can only say it as simply as this: My desire is not now, and never has been, control of CART, IndyCar or the entire series of whatever cars run in the Indianapolis 500 … far from wanting to run the sport, I'd love to see even the IRL develop an autonomy. There is much I would like to do in my life, but I'll be unable to enjoy any of it if the '500' is not secure."

Since the IRL absorbed the remains of the Champ Car World Series in February 2008, George has been the de facto leader of American open-wheel racing. But just when it appeared he had finally grasped the brass ring after a 12-year struggle, he seemed to want to let go. Even though he was perceived as the winner of the CART/IRL war, TG never stepped up into the role of front man.

And while the future of the Indianapolis 500 is likely to remain secure simply because of the event's tradition and stature, the prospects for the sport of IndyCar racing are anything but stable.

The long, bitter struggle for control between the IRL and CART/Champ Car left IndyCar racing decimated, as fans, drivers, sponsors and manufacturers deserted the sport in search of a less political atmosphere. IndyCar racing's critics have long complained about a lack of leadership at the top level of the sport, and now with George's decision to step aside and focus on his own team, Vision Racing, that assessment is more accurate than ever.

George has rarely presided over the day-to-day operations of the IRL, leaving those tasks to Terry Angstadt, president of the league's commercial division, and Brian Barnhart, who is in charge of competition and racing operations.

Angstadt, who joined IMS in 2001 and assumed his current role in 2007, is generally credited with doing a good job for the IndyCar Series in an economic crisis of historic proportion. Barnhart, who has been a key member of the IRL since it started, is a more controversial figure, heavily criticized for the IndyCar Series' recent decline into a spec-car series with processional racing as well as his attempts to micromanage the on-track action.

Both are solidly entrenched in the IRL hierarchy, yet neither is considered a candidate to be the outright leader of the IndyCar Series. And that's the key problem that IndyCar racing faces: If Tony George is not willing or able to be the leader of the sport, who is?

Beyond that, the management shakeup at the IMS and IRL creates serious questions about the long-term financial stability of the sport. It's widely believed and been reported that George invested millions of the Hulman-George family trust fund into the creation and operation of the IRL -- some sources believe more than half a billion dollars. That supply of ready cash is likely to diminish considerably, if not dry up completely, despite statements to the contrary by George's mother -- IMS and Hulman & Co. chairman of the board Mari Hulman George.

"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," she stated in Tuesday's release. "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 in the IRL demonstrates that we have full confidence in all of our companies and that we intend to grow them in the future."

What Tony George and his family discovered during the IRL era is that operating a racing series is an extremely expensive proposition, especially when that form of racing has been devalued by a prolonged political battle. But there was plenty of historical evidence out there to provide warning signs.

CART, which ironically was formed in 1979 to address concerns about the Hulman family's prior stewardship of the sport under the guise of the United States Auto Club, burned through an estimated $300 million war chest, generated by an initial public offering, in about six years.

CART filed for bankruptcy in 2003, citing the following "special factors": a downturn in the economy, which resulted in reduced corporate promotional and advertising expenditures; decreased attendance at some venues attributed to the split with the IRL; the departure of two of the series' three engine manufacturers, followed by several key teams financed by those manufacturers; and the loss of several key venues along with the substantial sanctioning fees they generated.

Those conditions required CART to expend significant amounts of capital on entry support programs and team participation payments. CART also began self-promoting events to maintain key race markets, resulting in additional multimillion-dollar losses. Finally, CART also lost a significant revenue stream when it was forced to buy airtime and/or bear production costs for its race telecasts.

The IRL has been following that exact same path to destruction.

So now, the IRL is facing the overriding key issue that ultimately led to CART's demise: Who is going to run the show? In its 25-year history, CART never did find the right person who could manage the company and serve as a dynamic front man for the sport.

Bruce McCaw, who owned the PacWest Racing team that competed in CART from 1994 to 2001, said he believes that CART did have a strong leader during its most successful period in the 1990s -- ironically, the time span in which relations with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway deteriorated, prompting George to create the IRL.

"I think we did have a great leader in Andrew Craig [CART CEO from 1993 to 2000], but the board and the team owners made it impossible for him to succeed," McCaw said. "That was the big challenge for Andrew. After that, we never had the right people to lead it."

George's weaknesses as a public speaker are well known, but at least he had his family's 60-year association with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy 500 as a basis for why he should be considered for a leadership role for the sport as a whole. There really aren't any similarly qualified candidates out there.

This year, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicked off a three-year-long "Centennial Era" celebration set to culminate in May 2011, with the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500.

But at this juncture, IndyCar racing's fans and participants can only hope that their downtrodden sport still exists in some shape or form by then.

George's mother 'surprised,' 'disappointed' by resignation

(by Curt Cavin 7-2-09)

Tony George's resignation as chief executive officer of the Indy Racing League this week came as a surprise to his boss.

George's mother, Mari Hulman George, the chairman of the board for Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp., said Wednesday she still can't explain why Tony George vacated the position after being replaced as president and chief executive officer of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. and Hulman & Co.

"I was surprised, and I'm still surprised," George said in a telephone interview from her home in Terre Haute. "I don't really understand. I'm disappointed that he didn't want to continue."

Tony George declined to comment until he posts a statement next week on Vision Racing's Web site. He co-owns the IndyCar Series team with his wife, Laura.

Tony George, who retains a board seat at IMS Corp., is expected to negotiate a contract with the board to serve as a consultant to the IRL and perhaps the Speedway. Both subsidiaries will report to his successor at IMS Corp., Jeff Belskus.

Mari Hulman George said her son didn't want to be an intermediary between IRL presidents Brian Barnhart (competition) and Terry Angstadt (commercial) and Belskus. Tony George hired them.

"He's got a lot of confidence in who he's got, and he just felt he didn't want to get in their way," she said. "It really wouldn't be like that. There are other things to do."

George, 74, said she did not consider retiring as board chairman.

"I said I really didn't think it was the time to do that," she said, adding, "that I really am getting up to where I wouldn't mind."

George also said Belskus and Curt Brighton, who was named the president and CEO of Hulman & Co., which controls the family's real estate, banking and investment properties, were "kind of surprised" to learn of their new roles. She described the family power struggle that led to Tony George's resignation as "not that unusual."

But she acknowledged there is no certainty for the company as it moves forward.

"We'll keep our fingers crossed and hope everything goes well," she said. "I don't know what's going to happen next."

Meanwhile, those in the motor sports industry are trying to come to grips with the changes.

Belskus, who knew Tony George from their younger days in Terre Haute and as students at Indiana State, has worked for the Hulman-George family since 1987, most recently as its chief financial officer.

Most people know him as a quiet, guarded numbers expert.

"He's not a public figure, and I don't think he has any desire to be," said Zak Brown, the founder and CEO of Just Marketing International, a Zionsville-based company that pursues motor sports sponsorship packages.

"He's got good business acumen. He's a good, level-headed businessman."

Where Belskus stands on financial support for the IRL or other Speedway endeavors remains to be seen. An IMS spokesman said Belskus wants time to absorb his new role before speaking publicly.

Belskus is not expected to attend this weekend's race at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

George Attained Major Goal

(by Bruce Martin 7-1-09)

Not even Tony George could withstand the ire of his three sisters, who ganged up on their brother and ousted him as President and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation but in the end, Tony’s ultimate decision was quite clear: Either I run all of it, or I run none of it.

Not only did George agree to leave his role as the ultimate leader of all Hulman George companies, he turned down the one job the family actually wanted him to take – to be the CEO and leader of the Indy Racing League, the sanctioning body of the IndyCar Series.

As of today, George is just a member of the board of the family-owned IMS Corporation. For the man who led the company when he assumed the roles of president and CEO in 1990 until Tuesday’s board meeting, he guided the company through a period of unprecedented growth even if he had to broker the popularity of the Indianapolis 500 to make that happen.

While his lasting legacy will be the creation of a new series in 1994 that began competition in January 1996 as the Indy Racing League – and the ultimate split of the sport when teams from CART abandoned the Indianapolis 500 before slowly returning with team owner Chip Ganassi in 2000 and team owner Roger Penske in 2001 – he accomplished his one major goal. That was to bring the sport of IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis 500 under the same umbrella of leadership for the first time since 1978.

When George and the IRL were able to outlast CART and later Champ Car, he was able to orchestrate unification with Champ Car boss Kevin Kalkhoven in February 2008.

When George made the official announcement at Homestead-Miami Speedway flanked by drivers and team owners from a newly unified series, he never appeared more confident in his role as the unquestioned leader of IndyCar Series.

Instead of the hesitating and stammering, as has been his trademark throughout the years, George spoke with clarity and confidence.

The sport was on an upward path and IndyCar was finally able to become relevant again.

Attendance was up at many of its venues, the crowd at the 2008 Indy 500 was packed, car counts for regular races was as high as 28 and there were actually more cars entered in the Indianapolis 500 than the 33-car starting lineup which meant bumping had returned to Bump Day.

Companies such as IZOD saw value in the IndyCar product and signed a sponsorship and licensing agreement with the series on July 4, 2008. In an effort to better tell its story, IndyCar abandoned ESPN to take a gamble on cable TV partner VERSUS so that the story of the series could finally be told.

With Terry Angstadt as president of the commercial division of the IndyCar Series, new deals were being developed. Capital One and Subway were ready to sign lucrative sponsorship agreements with one of the entities becoming the series sponsor – something IndyCar hasn’t had since Northern Light in 2000.

But when Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers investment bank collapsed on September 15, 2008, it triggered a collapse on Wall Street that sent the financial world into a tailspin.

And that, more than anything else, is what led to the George’s ouster, not because of the money he spent over the years to upgrade and improve the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or to bring Formula One to the United States from 2000-2007 or the development of the SAFER Barrier which may be one of the greatest safety innovations in auto racing in our lifetime, but the fact the Hulman George family fortune shrunk with the stock market collapse.

Now, it should be pointed out that the Hulman George family is still wealthy, its financial portfolio is worth less today than it was a year ago. But that can be said about many others who have diversified their holdings with financial investments in the market.

So when George’s sisters, Josie, Nancy and Kathi Conforti started to ask, “Hey, what happened to all of our money?” they couldn’t attack anyone at Wall Street or the United States Government.

The only person they could vent their frustration at was Tony George, who reportedly has spent as much as $600 million since 1996, but it’s likely that amount of money was recouped throughout the years by the gate at the Indianapolis 500 and for many years, the Brickyard 400 before it fell on hard times with declining attendance the past five years.

For anyone who knows the history of the Hulman George family, it can be rather contentious – probably not much different than other families around the globe. But most of those families aren’t rich and money often outweighs family loyalty.

So the sisters turned on Tony. Reports of screaming and shouting in board meetings and family gatherings began to surface. One report that was never substantiated was Josie threw her checkbook at Tony in the May 26 board meeting and screamed, “You’ve spent all my money so here, go ahead and spend the rest of it.”

George had already lost his power as CEO after that meeting but when news leaked out that he was ousted, even the sisters had to be surprised at the backlash that followed. George’s mother, Mari Hulman George, issued a statement saying her son was still in power and George met television reporters to say he was still in charge but as the days went on, it became obvious while he still had the title, his decision making power had been stripped.

His fellow IndyCar team owners rallied around George and signed a letter of support that they sent to Mari Hulman George on May 31 urging the board to keep Tony in charge.

Their minds were already made up and when all three sisters, along with Indianapolis attorney Jack Snyder (the only non-family member of the board) voted to oust Tony, it’s likely they expected he would move over to run the IRL.

But in this instance, Tony had the last word.

Either I run all of it, or I run none of it.

And with that, George has stepped away. His vote on the board carries the same weight as Josie’s or Nancy’s or Kathi’s. He will continue to be involved as the owner of Vision Racing but he is no longer in charge of plotting the course of the Speedway or of the IndyCar Series.

Or, maybe he is?

George has been replaced by W. Curtis Brighton and Jeffrey G. Belskus, already members of the executive staff who will both head the Hulman-George companies effective July 1.

Brighton, was previously executive vice president and chief legal counsel, and is now president and CEO of Hulman & Company. Belskus, previously executive vice president and chief financial officer for the companies, is now the president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation.

It’s the first time since the late Joe Cloutier was at the helm that someone other than a member of the Hulman George family has been in control of the company.

Both of these men are close associates of Tony George and both are from Terre Haute, Indiana – George’s hometown.

So when a decision has to be made, which member of the board do you think it going to get the phone call for advice – Josie or Tony?

And don’t be surprised if one day, George regains his power of authority within in the company because the three sisters are going to realize that their brother probably had a better understanding of the business than they gave him credit for.

One of these days, Mari Hulman George will step down as Chairman of the Board of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Corporation and a family member will assume that role.

The only family member that deserves that position is Tony George.

As for now, the Admiral has left the deck of the ship and the Captains and Lieutenants are in charge of steering its course.

Knowing both Brighton and Belskus, it’s likely they won’t veer too far off course because they have been heavily involved with the company for two decades.

But when IndyCar was showing signs of growth and improvement, the uncertainty regarding leadership couldn’t have come at a more curious time.

“You can’t pick your families,” said IndyCar Series driver Scott Dixon, who won both the IndyCar title and the Indianapolis 500 in 2008. “Everybody goes through that crap in their life at some point. Any person you have a relationship with nine times out of 10 you don’t see eye-to-eye with them. But they are on a much bigger scale than I’ve ever had to deal with. I don’t think it’s good news but I don’t think it’s bad news either. He hired those people and obviously he has faith in them and is chasing the same vision as he did so that is good.

“I don’t think it changes how I look at Tony George, though," he continued. "I don’t know the ins and outs and what it means but I think it’s kinda sad. He’s not being involved at all on any of that stuff now. Until we see how it flushes out, I don’t know. If it continues to run as it has been and everybody is heading in the right direction to make the IndyCar Series successful it won’t make a huge difference but it’s unfortunate because Tony did a hell of a lot and does a hell of a lot.”

What impact it has on the IndyCar Series is unclear.

“I don’t think it is as big a deal as people make it seem,” driver Graham Rahal said. “Mari (Hulman-George) wrote an email that made it pretty clear she is fully behind the IndyCar Series and the family wanted to see it succeed and the family is behind it as much as ever. Until proven otherwise, you have to believe what is said. I think everything will be all right. I’m not sure it is going to change much at all. When I saw Tony I thought of him as a rival team owner any way. I don’t think it will change much. At the end of the day I don’t know what the circumstances were but someone felt it was time to change and that is what happened. I still feel comfortable and confident that the sport will move forward. I’m not worried about it. I think the sport will be just fine. I’ve been in IndyCar a short time and things have gone well for us. I don’t think things will change that much and a little change might not be a bad thing.

“We will see.”

The good thing is the Indianapolis 500 runs on its own energy. Through ups and downs, the race continues to survive. And time will tell what effect it has on the IndyCar Series – only time will tell on that matter. But look for Angstadt and Barnhart to step up and assert more of their authority in control of the IndyCar Series now that they have been empowered more.

But the laws of unintended consequences can come into play, too. And nobody can predict that.

As the sport looks for leadership, George could have been that man. He survived the bad times trying to start the IRL, stayed the course through the long split and was there to help bring the sport together in February 2008.

But in the end, he couldn’t outlast his sisters, who showed growing concern about the family fortune and how it has diminished for a variety of reasons, mostly because of the economic collapse that happened last September.

That should not diminish the accomplishments George has had during his term as president and CEO that began in 1990 which include bringing NASCAR to the Speedway beginning in 1994 with the Inaugural Brickyard 400, the creation of the Indy Racing League that eventually won total control of the sport in 2008, the creation and implementation of the SAFER Barrier in 2002 and bringing Formula One back to the United States from 2000-2007.

As the Indianapolis Motor Speedway celebrates its 100th birthday in 2009, much of the focus was going to be on the glorious past of the “Greatest Race Course in the World.”

Now, it must deal with changes that will shape the future of the Speedway and the IndyCar Series.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Explain to me

how a world class race car driver can go from this,

to this.

Only in the IRL.