Thursday, July 2, 2009

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.

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