Thursday, February 24, 2011

Indy family feud


(Kathi George-Conforti, Nancy George, Josie George, Jack Snyder, Mari George, Tony Geogre)

(by Robin Miller speedtv.com 2-24-11)

After Tony George was re-instated to the Hulman & Company board of directors last week, the IndyCar community found itself buried in an avalanche of anxiety.

Fans, drivers, mechanics, owners, sponsors and promoters were burning up phone lines or furiously typing e-mails and they all asked the same questions:

1. Is this good or bad?
2. What does this really mean?
3. Will it affect Randy Bernard?
4. Should we be concerned?

Here’s the short-form answers:

1. Not good.
2. Too early to tell.
3. Probably.
4. Damn straight.

Just when almost everything in INDYCAR racing seemed to be moving in a positive direction for the first time in 16 years, this thunderclap of potential negativity seemingly came crashing out of nowhere.

George, who had walked away from his positions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy Racing League and Hulman & Company after having his power usurped in June of 2009, had been campaigning to get his former job(s) back for more than a year.

His supposed bid to purchase the IRL last summer (with investors) went nowhere and his attempt to re-join the IMS board a few weeks ago was blunted before he finally got the nod to come back to the family business.

It’s not difficult to gauge the reasons behind TG’s change of heart.

First, without the family checkbook to draw from, his Vision Racing team folded. He lost two decent paychecks by resigning his positions on the board at IMS and Hulman & Company and there’s always been that rumor he was hurting financially.

Having the guy who carried the biggest stick in the open-wheel war from 1996-2008 back in the fold with a seat on the board wouldn’t appear to be that big a deal.

Heck, it’s only one vote, right?

Or, as one car owner said: “I think its fine that Tony is back. He’s not going to mess with Randy.”

Don’t be so sure of that.

First off, I’m sure George has to be mighty jealous about all the rave reviews directed to the man who took his place at the top. Bernard has given Indy car racing direction for the first time in decades.

He smartly hired Tony Cotman to get the new rules, cars and engines in place. He got General Motors back in the game, held onto Honda and also nabbed Lotus. He wisely dumped ISC as a partner and hooked up with Bruton Smith.

Bernard also reduced the series’ staggering losses to a reasonable number in his first year. While George ran the IRL like a country club, Bernard came in and began running it like a business.

And Bernard also dumped the moniker that connotes bad memories (IRL) for INDYCAR.

It’s believed George has been privately critical of Bernard for wanting to break the track record at Indy and for wanting to offer $20 million if a driver could win Indy and Charlotte on the same day.

To put it mildly, he’s not a fan of Bernard.

If TG just had that one spot on the board, it would only be him, his three sisters (Nancy George, Josie George and Kathi Conforti-George) and mother Mari Hulman George. No big deal. That was the same power structure that sent him packing.

Ah, but here’s the kicker. Those three businessmen who were also named to the board (Andre Lacy, Michael Smith and Jerry Throgmartin) with Tony last week not only represent the first non-family members to be allowed a seat, they’re all friends of Tony’s.

To me, it’s mind-blowing to think that a privately held company comprised of family members for more than 150 years would all of a sudden allow strangers into their board room. That they all came as one big package shouldn’t be overlooked.

If these new people are hand-picked by the guy who was outside looking in the past two years, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that, suddenly, George now potentially has FOUR votes in the holding company for the Speedway, INDYCAR series and Clabber Girl. The balance of power at 16th & Georgetown has been completely altered.

Oh, did I mention that the only way to get on--or back on--the IMS Board of Directors is to be nominated and voted on by the board of Hulman & Company? So it’s only a formality before TG and his amigos are making policy for the Speedway.

It’s ironic because Mari has always been a big fan of thoroughbreds and now she’s housing Tony’s Trojan Horse.

After speaking with Nancy George a couple weeks ago, it sounds like she probably helped orchestrate her brother’s return because she felt sorry for him. Of course Mari also had to sign off on it as well as family attorney Jack Snyder.

Josie George, who gets credit for finding, pursuing and hiring Bernard, and Kathi Conforti-George have been vocal supporters of the former CEO of the Pro Bull Riders and they had to be more or less blindsided by their brother’s power play.

One would assume after all the family’s infighting concerning TG’s runaway spending and the depressed, wayward state of open-wheel racing, everybody in the Hulman-George family would be eternally grateful to have Bernard in charge.

Obviously, that isn’t the case.

It’s possible TG will be content to sit back and watch progress instead of doing anything disruptive or trying to regain control. It’s also possible he’ll ruin all the good that’s occurred in the past 12 months.

But, I can promise you this: The first time that Tony George interferes with Bernard’s plans or makes his job difficult, Randy will be on the first flight out of Indianapolis.

The hard-working cowboy will be gone and so will any hope of this series continuing its ascension back to respectability.

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