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Meet the new Indy boss...and what next in the shakeup department?

  The Indianapolis pagoda: With Jeff Belskus taking over, the dawn of a new era? Or just a changing of the guard? (Photo: IRL)

   By Mike Mulhern

   It might be appropriate that the new boss of Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a bean-counter.
   Beans, in racing, have been in short supply lately.
   And how many beans will be in these 280,000 seats for Sunday's Brickyard Allstate 400 remains to be seen.
   Jeff Belskus.
   He's been with the track for 20 years, most recently as chief financial officer.
   Now Belskus is the CEO.
   If that is to be his long-term role, or if someone else will be coming in eventually, is unclear.
   But he's certainly a company man for the Hulman/George family.
   With long-time Indy boss Tony George being shuffled to the sidelines, in a sense, and with number two man Joie Chitwood just Monday deciding to leave this track and take a job with the France family's Daytona operations, Belskus has his hands full.
   So at the moment Belskus' job is apparently to stabilize things: "I want to assure you that we have a strong leadership team in place with many years of experience. I think we have an average of 15 or more years of experience for our leadership team.
   "We have many challenges, but we also have many, many opportunities. I'm quite excited about the future.
    "I'm proud to be in charge of the greatest racetrack in the world.
     "It's an important part of this city -- this state, this nation.
     "The challenges: the economic situation is challenging for all of us. But we're better positioned than most to deal with it.
    "A good case in point -- this past running of the Indianapolis 500 was a very strong performance. The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and the MotoGP are looking better than we thought they might a few months ago. Things are continuing to improve for us."
    Of course the Formula One event is now history, after that tire debacle a few years back.
    Belskus concedes the last month has been filled with turmoil, the debate over who would take over the speedway, with Tony George moving on, and now with Joie Chitwood also leaving.
    "We are not planning an active search to replace Joie at this time….we're trying to leave our options open, and we'll cross that bridge as we come to it," Belskus says.
    The different backgrounds of Chitwood and Belskus are obvious: Chitwood is a promoter, Belskus does finances.
   "I'm sure I bring a different perspective than Joie," Belskus says. "But we have a strong team in place, and all of our people bring a lot of different talents to the table, and we hope to continue to be able to leverage that.
    "We all feel pressure to bring results…and yes, Joie has been under pressure to deliver results.
    "We're doing the best we can, given this economic situation we find ourselves in. Actually we are doing quite well.
    "We need to continue to put on a good show for our fans.
    "We're economically challenged, like so many businesses today. We continue to deal with those headwinds.
     "We hope the race teams stay strong. We need strong teams.
     "We need committed sponsors."
    Perhaps the starting time for next May's Indy 500 should be moved back, to open the door to the Indy-Charlotte double again.
    But Belskus says he hasn't gotten that far yet: "I haven't given any thought to the start time of the Indianapolis 500."
    Maybe the entire Indianapolis 500 festival month thing could be chopped down to a more economically viable time frame. Indy used to dominate the month of May, but now even two weeks is a long time to try to keep any enthusiasm going….particularly something as expensive as this deal.
   In fact Daytona could stand to chop its February SpeedWeeks back too.
   However the big thing for the Speedway is for Tony George to get the IRL running faster.
   "They're extremely important to one another, and dependant on one another," Belskus says.
    "We're hopeful the League can continue to grow and we can continue to develop it…and that it will help us with the Indianapolis 500.
    "We need the Indy-car series to be strong. The Indy-car series needs a strong Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We're all in this together.
    "The Hulman-George family has made a huge investment in open-wheel racing, and they intend to continue to pursue that and continue to try and grow it."
    Perhaps the France family and Bruton Smith – who together own most of the major tracks in the U.S. – should be playing a role too.

   Tony George: the long-time Indy boss, now with a new job, perking up the Indy Racing League. Maybe NASCAR's Jim France has some ideas....(Photo: IRL)

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