The deconstruction of Tony George

Posted by Iannucci | 6/30/2009 | 13 comments »
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Honestly, I don't know how to react. I mean, this can't be good simply because it indicates a level of uncertainty this sport doesn't need to go along with vanishing TV audience, overtaking free racing, and constant "Danica to N****R" chatter. The timing of this coming in the middle of an IndyCar season is probably the most troubling, but here IT is, in edited form.

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, June 30, 2009 – The Board of Directors of Hulman & Company and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced June 30 that a new management team comprised of veteran IMS executives W. Curtis Brighton and Jeffrey G. Belskus will head the Hulman-George companies effective July 1.

Brighton, currently executive vice president and chief legal counsel, will become president and CEO of Hulman & Company. Belskus, currently executive vice president and chief financial officer for the companies, will become president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation.

They will replace Tony George, who will no longer serve as president and chief executive officer of the Hulman-George companies but will remain a board member of the Hulman-George companies.

“Our board had asked Tony to structure our executive staff to create efficiencies in our business structure and to concentrate his leadership efforts in the Indy Racing League,” said Mari Hulman George, IMS chairman of the board. “He has decided that with the recent unification of open-wheel racing and the experienced management team IMS has cultivated over the years, now would be the time for him to concentrate on his team ownership of Vision Racing with his family and other personal business interests he and his family share.

“Tony will remain on the Board of Directors of all of our companies, and he will continue to work with the entire board to advance the interests of all of companies.

“Our family and the entire racing community are grateful to Tony for the leadership and direction he has provided since 1990. We are pleased that he will continue to be an important part of the Indy Racing League as a team owner and as a member of our Board of Directors, and we wish him every success.”
I realize some people will be all excited about this, as if their personal grudge against Tony George outweighs the stability of the sport. Others may say this is yet another example of how the sky is falling and the 2013 Indy 500 will most assuredly involve stock cars. Me, I'm still trying to figure out what tangible impact this will have. I can't tell who's in charge of the actual League now, and I'm sure teams and sponsors are sitting in the same boat of ambiguity right now. And that ain't good.

What I do know Mr George spent a TON of money trying to invest in what he thought was best for his family's speedway. Many words have been and will continue to be spent on what his motivations and results were, but now that's moot because it looks like he's been given the heave-ho by his family. How ironic that after this all started as a conflict with a racing series formed by team owners that he's now, even after emerging last year as a sort of victor in the open-wheel war, ending up as merely one of them.

Here's some more reaction around the IndyCar blogosphere:

One has to think that Tony George, the man, unburdened by the titles President & CEO, is also feeling a sense of relief tonight.

Much the same way those of us that work in racing sometimes long for the days when we we’re ‘just fans’, when we went to the track ignorant of the insider gossip & news, and just enjoyed the racing, unaware of the ugly underbelly of the industry, it will be interesting to see Tony ease into the fulltime roll of just team owner. - So, here's what I'm thinking...

As Puff Daddy once said, it's all about the Benjamins. That's why Tony George is out as CEO. He'll still be around serving on the board but the move sends a message, the IRL is now about money. - IRL-O-Rama

The other story will be what happens to the Indy Car Series. The future leadership of that entity seems up in the air. Maintaining a healthy Indy Car Series is vital. Most important, however, is IMS. Tony was a remarkable caretaker and took it to spectacular heights. The IRL? Not up to its potential. The one thing recent history has taught is that it is all about Indy, and Indy fans are hoping for the best in this transition. - Defender of the IRL

13 comments

  1. Anonymous // July 01, 2009 6:59 AM  

    The Merger is now complete.

  2. Anonymous // July 01, 2009 7:01 AM  

    I'm baffled as to why he was ousted from the IMS. That's where he did the most good. Let's face it, the IRL is marketed terribly and the league would be much better off with someone with a marketing background running it.

  3. redd // July 01, 2009 7:05 AM  

    Somebody needs to step up soon. We need a sort of "state of the union" address from someone at IMS/IRL to explain the present and future of the series.

    If I'm Versus or Honda or Audi or a possible sponsor or Danica or a car owner or that kid who predicts the winners...I'm pissed.

  4. Anonymous // July 01, 2009 7:49 AM  

    Finally the reign of errors is dead, thank you Ms Hulman

  5. Joe // July 01, 2009 9:08 AM  

    So if Tony's not leading, who is?

    I don't mean to imply I feel a leadership vacumn, but Oreck might be the most appropriate title sponsor for the IndyCar Series right now.

  6. Dave Cornutt // July 01, 2009 10:46 AM  

    Everybody chill. Tony's not going away. The guys who are replacing him at Hulman-George and IMS are guys he hired and tutored. Tony remains a board member, and most of the family, including Mari, is still behind him.

    When all this started a couple of months ago, it became obvious: The family wants TG to concentrate on the IRL. Because that's where they need him. TG has worked himself out of a job at IMS; with the improvements that have been made, it no longer needs him running it. It can pretty much take care of itself for the next couple of decades. The IRL is what needs his full-time attention. The family fully recognizes that a healthy IRL is essential to the well-being of IMS.

    The IRL has made some good progress the last few years, but there are still dangling threads: What should the IRL be doing in regard to new media? (Race Control isn't getting the job done.) What should the IRL's relations with NASCAR/IMS be, or not be? What about SMI -- should the IRL take their five-race offer or not? What should the oval/road mix be? How many, if any, overseas races should there be? Does the IRL need to invest in tracks to guarantee itself venues? And what direction should the upcoming car formula take? All of these are things that need TG's full-time attention, and how they'll get it. Angstadt, Barnhardt and company are talented and good at what they do, but they are showing signs that they're in over their heads in their current positions. The IRL needs positive leadership, and right now TG is the only guy who can deliver it.

  7. Scott // July 01, 2009 1:59 PM  

    There is no measurement of the IRL that can be considered progress.

    It doesn't bring more fans to the 500. It isn't profitable. The league doesn't add an iota of value to the Speedway's bottom line. The league doesn't improve the 500's television ratings and it certainly doesn't improve 500 attendance.

    If anything, the races outside of Indiana have COST IMS FANS.

    The best case real world scenarios for the IRL still leave the league as a distant second to NASCAR for the next decade or better.

    Being supported by a second rate series does nothing to benefit the 500. Instead it prevents the 500 from achieving it's former potential.

    You cannot build the 500 back up by attempting to improve a series that is viewed by and intrigues nobody. You have to make the 500 great again and let that build the series. The only way to do that is to let the series die and focus on the 500.

    Forget the series and return the 500 to a single race that invites anybody to build and drive any car they think can win. The passionate owners, builders and drivers will show up. Let somebody show up with a 1997 body with an old Chevy engine next year and see what it can do up against a 2009 Dallara with a Honda engine. Eventually the people who field cars and drive them will find ways to race elsewhere, just like in the past.

  8. Ryan // July 01, 2009 3:16 PM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  9. Ryan // July 01, 2009 3:18 PM  

    "You cannot build the 500 back up by attempting to improve a series that is viewed by and intrigues nobody. You have to make the 500 great again and let that build the series. The only way to do that is to let the series die and focus on the 500."

    Don't see how that's possible. One race cannot employ a team for 12 months a year, nor justify the cost of a fast racecar and engine.

    What you're asking for as far as "let the 500 build the series" was done in 1996.

  10. Mike R // July 01, 2009 5:15 PM  

    Selective, short span memory items are always fascinating.

    The health of the Indy 500 and the series that its participants were racing in prior to 1996 was outstanding. One guy didn't like how it excluded him from the power broker position he coveted...so he took his Speedway and started it all over in 1996. He thought it would 'divide and conquer', and it did...but he didn't realize that it was the France family dynasty (who'd encouraged him to do it) who stood to conquer.

    Now it's up to those who care more about the racing than the power and visibility of being "the Man" who will have to step forward to lead big-league American open wheel racing out of this wilderness.

    Tony Hulman never cared about holding the reins and calling all the shots for the series, he just cared about providing the best facility in the country to hold the best race. His grandson would have done well to have learned from that example.

    Let's hope that in whatever role he takes from here forward that he has gathered sufficient wisdom through the past 15 years to wield his influence in a way that will actually help build it up again...and it may, indeed, be a 'ground up rebuild'.

    I'd have my concerns about Penske or Ganassi running the show for the series, but I would listen closely to their (and all the other concerned parties) collective input.

  11. Anonymous // July 02, 2009 4:14 PM  

    Great to see him go. Now he can run his 2nd rate vision team into the ground as well....

    bye bye d-bag...

  12. Anonymous // July 02, 2009 4:17 PM  

    Tony is a Knob......

  13. Dave Cornutt // July 03, 2009 8:37 AM  

    Wow, what a bunch of tools and idiots here. You guys really think you can re-create the 1950s? You really, seriously, think that the 500 can continue to survive indefinitely with teams running old, leftover CART equipment? And when something breaks on that 1997 car, where the hell are they going to get the parts? I've got news for you, those aluminum-tub things from the 1970s that you fancy that anyone could knock together in their garage at home, were death traps. Just ask Jim Malloy or Art Pollard or Mike Spence or Swede Savage... oh wait, you can't.

    "The health of the Indy 500 and the series that its participants were racing in prior to 1996 was outstanding."

    No, they were boring as hell. I for one didn't watch Indycar racing from about 1988 to 1996. The '96 500 was the most interesting one in decades. You guys seems to have this fantasy that CART was some magnificant all-encompassing thing that had all of the best of the best in racing. I beg to differ. CART was, at the end, solely being run for the benefit of the big team owners, to the exclusion of all others. Have you guys really forgotten about Jeff Gordon? Bill Elliott? At least Tony Stewart had a shot. If you really think that CART wouldn't have taken control of the Speedway from the Hulmans and then run it into the ground with its celebrity-worshipping "stars and cars", you've lost touch with reality. And no, NASCAR's rise had nothing to do with the IRL -- that was already occurring before the IRL was thought of. In 1995, CART was viewed by the racing elite as little more than a feeder series for F1. Ask Jacques Villeneuve.

    Without TG, there would today be no Indy 500 as we know it. It would either be a NASCAR race, or it would be gone. And I for one am sick and tired of dealing with CARTisans who, even after 13 years, still can't let it go.