Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Indy's Joie Chitwood moving to Daytona, signing up with the Frances

Joie Chitwood (L) and NASCAR's Robin Pemberton. They hope to be this happy after Sunday's 400 too (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   So with Tony George leaving, and Joie Chitwood too, who's left to run Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
   And just what is going on up here, that the family that owns one of the world's most famous race tracks would abruptly decide to take it out of the hands of the son, George, who has run it – so well, it should be noted – over the past so many years?
   And why is Chitwood, the track pres, and a key figure here for some 10 years, leaving, to join the France family's International Speedway operation down in Daytona?
   Probably can't blame this shakeup on last summer's Brickyard 400 fiasco, where tires lasted only 10 laps or so before blowing out. That bizarre event was the result of too much complacency and not enough testing and oversight.
   And even the fact that the Indy 500 itself is no longer the premier event here – Sunday's NASCAR race, despite the threat of a poor crowd (relatively, in a place that can hold some 280,000 to 300,000), has been the hot ticket – is probably not to blame either.
   So why, and what?
   Maybe it's the Indy Racing League. That's the 16-event Indy-car tour, which this weekend is playing in Edmonton, Canada.
   Hmmmm. Maybe that's part of the problem. Yes, Edmonton is a great sports town, but it's almost 2,000 miles from here. And with only 15 race weekends other than the Indy 500, the IRL might need to look at its schedule to see if it's maximizing things.
   For example, the IRL races through the streets of Florida's St. Petersburg, through the streets of Long Beach, Calif., through the streets of Toronto, and over at Motegi, Japan (homage to tour engine sponsor Honda).
   Some of the best racing in the U.S. is Indy-car racing at big ovals like Texas Motor Speedway. (But then what in the world went wrong for the IRL at Richmond three weeks ago, when speeds were so fast on that three-quarter-mile that there was virtually no passing?)
   From a purely marketing standpoint does all that really work, considering how dependent motorsports is on sponsorship?
   And in these economic times isn't it asking a bit much of the hard-pressed race fan to support all those tours?
   Perhaps George and NASCAR's Jim France should sit down and discuss things. George has a series that needs some help; France has, well, too many series perhaps: the hallmark Cup tour, the fuzzy-imaged Nationwide tour, the good-racing but poorly-sponsored Truck tour, and the Grand American sports car tour.
    Indianapolis and NASCAR have appeared at odds at times the past few years, about the time the split in the Chicagoland track developed.
   And perhaps George and France could review that apparent ticket debacle at Chicagoland Speedway last week – where fans have been forced to buy a full season ticket package to all the track events, even if all they want to see is one of the races. Some fans say they showed up at the ticket gate that Saturday night wanting to buy seats to the Chicago 400 Cup race, only to be told they also had to buy a ticket to the Friday night Nationwide race --- which had already been run.
   It has been suggested that George and France try some double-header weekends, IRL and Cup. Synergies, in sponsorships and demographics. More new car owners for the IRL (Jack Roush, Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick, for example).
   With Honda's IRL engine contract deal ending soon, the time is ripe for new ideas.
   Maybe France could even entice Honda into NASCAR. (In fact, maybe that's what Danica Patrick should suggest – they could both grow into NASCAR together….)
   Certainly at the midpoint of the racing season it's time to start coming up with new ideas.
   Chitwood already has – he's leaving Indianapolis and moving to Daytona, to take a new job with the Frances.
   But Chitwood insists that George being shuffled out of the IMS head office didn't play that big a role in his own decision to move on.
   "I don't think the events of the last 30 days factor into this at all," Chitwood says. "When you start thinking about life decisions, that's not something you do at the drop of a hat, or something that happens within 30 days.
   "Sometime in the spring Jeff and I might have had a small talk about it. Nothing substantial. But I started to figure if I needed to figure out what was next in my life.
    "I still think I'm a young man…kind of. But at 40 I feel I've accomplished a lot in my career…. and I think it's only natural you start to ask the question is there something else? What is next?"
   Chitwood was key in the Indy-ISC project to get Chicagoland Speedway up and running some 10 years ago. That joint George-France project has worked fairly well (though last week's 400 crowd was pretty weak for a track in America's third biggest market).
    Chitwood, a third-generation racer (his grandfather is credited as being the first Indy 500 driver to wear a seatbelt), has been a go-getter during his time at Indy, with its various projects.
   And he concedes he's wistful about leaving: "It's a challenge sitting here to talk about resigning.
    "When I think back to all the great experiences…creating Walt Disney World Speedway…and carrying TVs up the grandstands to put in race-control…creating a sanctioning body after USAC departed after the Texas race….and we had to come up with a rules package by the Colorado race…
   "Going up to Chicago and working for a partnership between ISC and IMS to build Chicagoland Speedway….
     "To come back to the Speedway six years ago, and then be promoted to president…
     "It's been a heck of a ride.
     "There have been a lot of challenges along the way. Formula One seemed to provide most of those challenges.
     "But it's been a very rich and fulfilling experience, one I will cherish as long as I live. There's great history out there for me personally."
     Chitwood added "Life is about a journey. This is what it is. For me, it's the next opportunity, and I look forward to the challenge.
    "And I will tell you I am well-prepared for it  -- with the things we did here, I don't think there's anything I'll be surprised with."
    Hey, maybe this is the guy for the Frances to put in charge of reviving that New York City Speedway project.
    However first Chitwood has some unfinished business here – helping make Sunday's 400 crowd forget last summer's disaster.
    "I think I still hear NACAR cars testing, we tested so many times this year," Chitwood says. "And I was privy to every one."
    The last test here, a month ago, Chitwood says "with a green track they went out and ran 26 to 30 laps on a set of tires."
    That's 65 to 75 miles. Not quite a fuel stop (that's 85 miles or so), but better than last year's 15 miles on a set.
   "So we feel really comfortable that they put the right effort into the tire situation and that our fans will enjoy the competition," Chitwood says.
    "I have to applaud their effort. Because they realized last year's event didn't meet anyone's expectations.
    "So -- if weather cooperates -- I expect we'll do fine this weekend."
    And next week Chitwood packs his bags and heads south to Florida.


   Indy 400 fans weren't very pleased with last summer's tire debacle (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




Brickyard 400 is a hot

Brickyard 400 is a hot ticket? Says who? How come Joie Chitwood has been saying for months he's "worried" about Brickyard 400 ticket sales?

You may want to play around on imstix.com and see how many seats are still for sale. Remember, double letters are high up - and I can buy them by the bunches.

Where's the beef?

Litigation...Litigation...Lawsuits....:insurance...Where's the race?

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com