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.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

IndyCar Series drops IRL brand

(by John Oreovicz 9-10-10)

WEST ALLIS, Wis. -- IndyCar's 2011 schedule announcement was as much about the past as it was about the future.

At an event staged at the Milwaukee Mile on the eve of the 107th anniversary of the first-ever race at the historic venue, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard unveiled a 17-event schedule that welcomes Milwaukee back to the open-wheel ranks after a year's absence.

He also used the occasion to officially confirm that the name "Indy Racing League" is being put to rest.

"'IRL' has a negative connotation since the [CART-IRL] divorce, whereas 'IndyCar' is known around the world," Bernard said. "I just got back from a trip to Europe talking to manufacturers, and everyone I had meetings with knew what IndyCar was, whereas some didn't know about IRL. Same thing with Brazil.

"We want to create perception and we want to welcome back those 15-20 million fans that we lost in the mid-'90s. Let's go back to our roots. Let's go back to what made IndyCar. And the first thing we need to do is make sure that our brand image is positive."

Also being cast aside -- for now, at least -- is IndyCar's relationship with International Speedway Corp., the France family-owned track operator that provided the Izod IndyCar Series with many of its race venues over the past 15 years.

There's a common perception that ISC did a less-than-stellar job in promoting its IndyCar races, thereby ensuring that the France family's other key business -- a little endeavor called NASCAR -- remained America's undisputed No. 1 form of motorsport.

And there's plenty of circumstantial evidence to support that theory. From Homestead to Fontana and everywhere in between, empty seats have been the norm at ISC's IndyCar races.

That fact wasn't lost on Bernard, who quickly determined that running IndyCar races in front of sparse crowds at ISC tracks was hurting IndyCar's image more than it was helping it.

"We don't want to shut doors with ISC, but we have to go with places that we believe are best for the series," Bernard remarked. "We want to work with promoters that are aggressive at marketing and activating IndyCar. Fortunately this brings opportunities with new venues and promoters that are fully aligned with our strategy moving forward.

"We want to be in a position next year where we have 25 or 26 hungry promoters coming to us trying to secure one of our 17 or 18 races."

The four remaining ISC tracks on the 2010 IndyCar Series schedule -- Kansas Speedway, Watkins Glen International, Chicagoland Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway -- have been summarily dropped from the future calendar. They followed other ISC-owned venues into open-wheel oblivion including Michigan Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, Richmond International Raceway and California Speedway.

Most of those tracks enjoyed robust crowds in Indy car racing's glory days, only to go into decline as open-wheel racing lost traction to NASCAR during the bitter battle for control of open-wheel that was waged between CART and the IRL between 1996 and 2007.

Michigan, California and Homestead were among tracks owned by Penske Speedways Inc. before Roger Penske sold his group of tracks to ISC in 1999. Penske's business connections often helped fill the grandstands at those tracks by distributing tens of thousands of tickets to employees of Penske Corp. and his longtime sponsors, including Philip Morris Inc.

So it's out with the old and in with the new -- or not so new, in the case of Milwaukee, perhaps the most popular oval track among Indy car drivers and a venue that drew upward of 40,000 in days when open-wheel racing's popularity was at its peak in the 1980s and '90s under CART sanction.

Like many other tracks, Milwaukee's attendance slumped in the wake of the open-wheel war. But Bernard believes that the return of a unified series marketed as "IndyCar" as opposed to "IRL" can reverse the trend.

"This track has so much history, and I've heard from the purists and the traditionalists and the die-hard fans out there, and they wanted the Milwaukee Mile back on," he said. "We're happy that we were able to deliver."

The IndyCar drivers might be the constituency group that is happiest about the return to Milwaukee.

Scott Dixon, who won the last IndyCar race staged at Milwaukee in 2009, was on hand for the announcement of the series' return to The Mile.

"The history is the easiest thing to look at, but for drivers, they just want to have a shot at winning at this place because it's so tough," he said. "I've had some miserable days here -- I think I set a record by destroying two cars in four laps here in 2005. It's a real challenge and it feels like a definite accomplishment when you win here."

Other new venues on the 2011 schedule include another short oval -- New Hampshire Motor Speedway -- and a street race in downtown Baltimore's Inner Harbor district.

The other short oval on the calendar, Iowa Speedway, moves to a Saturday night format.

The venue for the season finale set for Oct. 16 has not been determined, but it is expected to be Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Bernard revealed that ISC-owned California Speedway made a strong pitch to host the finale, including direct contact from California Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger.

The Vegas connection is indicative of IndyCar's strengthening relationship with ISC's chief competitor, Speedway Motorsports Inc. If Vegas is confirmed, five SMI tracks will be present on the 2011 slate, including Texas Motor Speedway (which will host twin 275-kilometer races on June 11), New Hampshire, Infineon Raceway and Kentucky Speedway.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cup to Kentucky in 2011

(by Obi wan 8-3-10)

Hola, fellow Crappies,

Quoting Kenny Rogers: “I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”

Good read, Rus’L.

I agree that a reckoning is fast approaching the Hulman-George family with respect to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and their misbegotten league.

Also, I think you’re right about Mari Hulman’s desire to keep IMS solvent and in the family but I think she is joined in this by at least Josie George, who was rumored to be behind Tony’s ouster. Josie (and Mari) have been grooming her boys – Jarrod and Kyle Krisiloff – to be heirs to Tony’s now vacated throne. Jarrod Krisiloff currently works in IMS Productions as Director of New Media & Consumer Strategies and has spent the past four years learning the ropes of other departments while brother Kyle pursued a driving career in Atlantics and NASCAR before retiring to go to work for the Speedway last year.

For decades the Hulman-Georges have treated IMS as their own WPA, with scads of family members on the payroll and partaking of Speedway perks. Son-in-law Elmer George was probably the prototype sponge being a Speedway vice-president in charge of its radio station one month a year and managing the family’s Wyoming dude ranch the rest of the time. Josie’s husband, Steve Krisiloff was a Speedway vice-president whose primary responsibility was retail sales in the concessions and gift shop; before they divorced and he headed off to become a team manager (eventually). Last I knew Nancy George’s ex, Terry Gunter was a tour guide at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum; I assume he is/was an IMS vice-president.

I believe the only sister relatively uninvolved with the Speedway is Kathy George, who owns Conforti George Advertising in tiny Pacific Palisades, CA with her husband Steve Conforti.

Members of the next generation of Hulman-Georges working in the “family business”, besides the Krisiloff boys, are Nancy’s daughter Jesika Gunter – who works at IMS -- and Tony’s son, Tony Jr., who works with Roger Bailey in the Indy Lights program.

The first inkling I got that Tony was in serious trouble was when the Hulman-George women gave Laura George the boot a week or so before her husband bit the dust. She’d been serving as a salaried “Staff Advisor” to IMSC for the past 13 years; before that she had a job in IMS accounting. I don’t think that bodes well for “Special Ed” where the rest of the heirs are concerned. His sister Laura is a Hulman-George, so she’ll probably join her cousins Olivia Conforti and Jesika Gunter on the IMSC board eventually. It probably would have been too weird for Tony anyway; having Carpenter on the IMSC BoD while he dusts cob webs off the ranch in Wyoming.

In any event my point is that I think that Mari and at least two of her daughters are quite attached to IMS, viewing it as the future for their children. What they are NOT attached to is Tony’s bogus league.

Their problem is that the IZOD IndyCar Series nee Indy Racing League has always been the single biggest threat they faced to their continued ownership of IMS. A conservative estimate is that the family is already out of pocket a half billion (with a “b”) dollars in support of Tony’s folly and, despite what bean-counter Belskus says, there is no end to the losses in sight.

Very soon Mari and the girls are going to have to decide to either jettison the IICS (in order to save IMS) or sell the Brickyard. There are no other options, IMO.

Mari has painted herself into a corner because she is still relying on 20-year-old preconceived notions and false assumptions. For example, she no doubt believes that her half billion dollars has bought her the right to determine the technical outline for the Indy 500 and by extension the sport. Well, she’s right. What she isn’t considering, however, is that she is still left with the responsibility to pay for her choices.

With the Delta Wing LLC proposal – which ironically was Tony’s last investment in the sport – the collective team owners were essentially saying to Mari: “You let us specify the sport’s outline and we’ll pay for it. Otherwise, all bets are off.”

The family evidently couldn’t handle the idea of giving up the power to specify the sport’s blueprint. It’s not hard to see why. Tony and Mari’s war against the evil team owners of CART has cost them nearly everything and now threatens to suck out their last remaining resources. American open-wheel racing lies in ruins; its popularity not likely to return in our lifetimes. The Indy 500 is a faint shadow of its former glory and will probably take decades to recover some semblance of health; assuming, of course, that it survives in Hulman-George hands past 2013. The family’s two speedway investments – Walt Disney World Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway – are gone. The $69 million the family got for Chicagoland (from the Frances) in 2006, evidently never bought the big projects Freddy Nation said were planned for IMS’s Centennial Era; likely the money was lost in the ICS’s sea of red ink. Speaking of which, the three-year Centennial Era looks like it is a bust, too. Now, the family’s cash cow – the NASCAR Cup race Tony bought with a pocket full of mumbles – is dying of anemia. One could go on … but why bother? All the Hulman-Georges have LEFT, is control. Like a caretaker who owns the graveyard.

But, as said, control doesn’t mean Mari doesn’t have to pay for it. If she orders dinner, she’s going to get the bill.

In my view, Mari’s only hope now that she has shunned the team owners' offer of help is to abandon the moronic ICONIC fantasy and put in place specifications for the Indy 500 that are achievable with current equipment with a clear path to a revival of the evolution of the sport. Ask Roger Penske. Yes, everybody hates him (including me), nobody trusts him, but he did basically write the rule book for the sport from 1979-2001. Plus, he’s got the resources to back his own play and a burning desire not to be the last of the Mohicans. Do that and shut the garage door on the ICS, forever. Then, post the Indy 500’s usual prize purse and pray that 33 cars show up for the Most Diminished Spectacle in Racing.

Will Mari do it? Not a chance in hell. She’s going to rely on bean-counter Belskus who’s cooking the books and telling her that IMS broke even this year or next (without telling her that he cut loose the expenses of the IICS). Ropin’ Randy Bernard has been set up as the fall guy when he fails to do the impossible and deliver a profitable IICS by 2012. For his part Bernard got his hands on an old CART playbook, and since he doesn’t know any better he’s going to relive the last three years of the CCWS with the expectation of a different outcome.

The bottom line is that if the Hulman-Georges put in place a new specification of their own device for 2012 and they aren’t willing to pay for it, the team owners won’t be able to pick up the slack; the current state of the sport simply doesn’t justify the expense. If they get squeezed that far into the corner, the H-G’s only out will be to declare a moratorium, allow the Indy 500 entrants to run what they brung … and sell the Brickyard.