Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

So what is really going on over in Indy-car-land?

   Tony George: What next for him....what next for Indy-car racing? (Photo:IMS)

   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.  
   Indianapolis Motor Speedway is now suddenly without the top two men who have been running things so well for so many years, Tony George and Joie Chitwood.
   And the Indy Racing League is now suddenly without the man who created it and ran it for so many years, Tony George.
   Two of the biggest motorsports stories of the year….and now there's intense speculation that something is going on behind the scenes.
   Just what that 'something' might be, well, that's not exactly clear.
   The IRL Friday announced its 2010 schedule, and there are some questions about the politics behind it. For example, ignoring Bruton Smith's proposal to have an IRL race at his New Hampshire Motor Speedway, near Boston.
   So now without George and Chitwood running things, what's really going on behind the scenes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
   Now without George running things, what's really going on inside the Indy Racing League?
   And what is going on inside Tony George?
   And – what next for the IRL and the Speedway?
   Just ousted as boss of the family-owned Speedway (IMS) by his own family, George has said little about the entire matter, except in a couple of statements on his race team's website ( http://www.visionracing.com/ ). But he does raise the question of who is going to "lead" the two operations.
   Jeff Belskus, just promoted to president of the Indianapolis track and CEO of its parent company, from his long-time job as chief financial officer, is now handling both George's old job and Chitwood's job too. It's unclear when or if Belskus may hire someone to fill Chitwood's position.
  In fact, there's a lot of stuff unclear here.

  The new boss: Jeff Belskus (Photo: IMS)
  The private, family-owned operation – Mari Hulman George, Tony's mother, is the boss, as chairman (since 1988), with three daughters and Tony on the board – doesn't have to say much about anything if it doesn't want to. And apparently it doesn't want to.
   There has been speculation that Humpy Wheeler might be a pick to run IMS.
   Now there is more speculation about other things that may be – and probably are – going on in the executive offices at the legendary track.
   Chitwood, on the other hand, is pumped up and ready for his new job with the France family's ISC, as boots-on-the-ground for the company at the ISC's 12 speedways, traveling to those NASCAR tour venues. Chitwood helped launch Chicagoland Speedway, when it was a joint venture with IMS, and he's a Florida native. Chitwood may well have a big role in NASCAR's Grand American sports car series too; there has been talk of a Grand Am-NASCAR road course test session later this summer on the Indy F1 course. It would be a shame to let an F1-caliber track like that just waste away.
   Still, Chitwood's departure from IMS to ISC comes as a sudden surprise. Why? And what's really behind it?
   "It's a great opportunity to be involved with all the race tracks, our national footprint facilities, and work with some people I know…and I can get back to Florida," says Chitwood, who starts work in Daytona on Monday August 10th.
   "So it was just too good an opportunity to pass up. It will be exciting to get down there and get going. I'll be on the road a bunch.
   "I've had great experiences at Indianapolis….I've worked with motorcycles and Formula One." And anyone who is able to deal with F1's Bernie Ecclestone has to be a man to be reckoned with -- that's Chitwood and Tony George both. That's rare talent.
    And Chitwood has had to deal with both the Formula One tire debacle in the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix and the 2008 NASCAR tire debacle.
    "That's what makes your experiences so fulfilling – that not every one is good," Chitwood says with a laugh.
   Chitwood, having run those gauntlets, and having worked so closely with some of the sport's big guns, should be a great addition to the ISC operation….though what precisely he might try to help boost the ISC's Los Angeles and Chicago franchises he isn't saying yet.
   Meanwhile the questions are mounting at Indy. 
   Tony George ran the track as president and CEO from 1989 until last month. And he says he is not exactly sure why he got fired. "Perplexed" is how he describes it.
   Mrs. George's decision to fire her son was rather odd, to say the least. Ostensibly she and the rest of the family wanted Tony to spend more time and effort managing the Indy Racing League, which has been funded largely through the Speedway's own profits. Tony George may have stunned the family by turning down that option.
    Jerry Gappens, who runs the New Hampshire track for Smith, was not pleased with his track being left off the 2010 IRL tour: "For the second year in a row I'm extremely disappointed for our fans who continue to hope for the return of Indy-car racing to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
   "Our discussions with series officials explored an early August date. But according to them that turned out to be logistically challenging with the schedule commitments they had in place. 
    "Then I offered to run on the traditional Milwaukee date (the weekend following the Indy 500) if they decided not to return to that venue.  The feedback I received on that option was that they were concerned about our ability to sell tickets three weeks out from our NASCAR  301 weekend.  That in my opinion was an insult to our team here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Speedway Motorsports.  I assured them we have the ability to promote, and have a pretty good track record of selling tickets.  In fact I told them we would promote June as the Month of Speed in New Hampshire, opening with the Indy-cars, followed by the 87th Annual Loudon Classic/Laconia Bike Week, and finishing with NASCAR. 
    "I think it would have created a lot of synergy. 
    "Unfortunately they didn't give me that opportunity.
    "What troubles me as much as being left off of next year's schedule is that they are exploring an option of racing in the parking lot at Gillette Stadium (where the NFL's New England Patriots play) in 2012 -- right here in our back yard.  That would be a real slap in the face.
    "We have a real speedway that produces great racing, located in the seventh-largest media market in the country, offering 93,000 grandstand seats, and a dedicated staff that knows how to promote racing and sell tickets.
    "For the past two years we have made a concerted effort to bring Indy-car racing back to New England.  Unfortunately that interest has not been reciprocated."
    That's not the only curious twist over in the Indy-car world.
    Thursday Richmond dropped its own IRL race, after a very disappointing event in June.
    Without Tony George at the helm of things in the Indy-car world, it's not clear just what might happen next.  
    During Tony George's run at IMS, he not only brought in NASCAR and Formula One, building an F1-caliber road course, but he also built a world-class golf course, pushed for development of soft-walls, one of racing's greatest safety achievements, and created a fairly cost-controlled Indy-car racing series (with spec engines supplied by Honda, a contract soon to be up).
    Now Tony George asks "who is going to lead" the track, which he says is different than just managing the place.
   Indeed, not only who is going to run the track but who is going to run the IRL, which itself is in a state of economic transition, Tony George says.
   Well, here's some food for thought for the Hulman-George family:
   Ask the France family and Bruton Smith, fellow promoters, for advice.  
   Would the France family's International Speedway Corp. or Smith's Speedway Motorsports company perhaps be interested in taking over management of the Indy track? Or perhaps even buying it? Or buying the IRL?
   Sounds outrageous maybe.
   But consider some of the puzzle pieces – Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself; the IRL, which fills out the other 15 events of the Indy-car season; and the eight ISC/SMI/NASCAR tracks that are key to the IRL's success.
   And consider that the ISC just decided to drop the IRL from its Richmond schedule next season.
   And consider the financial problems surrounding the Milwaukee track.
   The real question may be how to straighten out the economics of the IRL, which has been financed in part by the Speedway itself. How many Indy-car teams will be strong enough in sponsorship next season, without financial support from the Speedway?
   The IRL and the Speedway are both owned by the Hulman-George company. And IRL teams have been subsidized by the IRL itself, up till this year, when the family decided it couldn't afford to do that any more. What that might mean for the various IRL teams is unclear.
   Maybe the France family's NASCAR arm could absorb the IRL and run it; NASCAR certainly has experience in that area. In fact Tony George himself got advice from the late Bill France Jr. on how to create the IRL, when George was trying to regain control of that branch of the sport in the early 1990s.
   Now, with the U.S. economy and the general motorsports economy struggling, Tony George says the IRL may need to be restructured, to deal with the new economic realities. And he says he doesn't see any signs of that happening.
   There is certainly a lot to consider here.
   Of the 15 IRL events outside of Indy, five are at ISC tracks this season: Chicago, Homestead-Miami, Kansas, Watkins Glen, and Richmond; three at SMI tracks: Texas, Kentucky (this weekend's IRL stop) and Sonoma.
    Without the ISC and SMI, the IRL wouldn't have many ovals, or real tracks, to run on. And without a strong, viable IRL, those ISC and SMI tracks would have fewer event-paying race weekends.
    Of course the Hulman-George family probably has no desire to sell the place.

    But it appears the family almost certainly needs to find two strong promoters now, one to help Belskus run the Speedway, another to help run the IRL.
   And to buy the Indy track, if it were ever for sale? Well, the most recent price point: Smith spent $340 million for the Loudon track and its two Cup dates in 2007, though he probably overspent. (Smith's purchase of the $152 million Kentucky Speedway is a still-complicated financial venture.)
   So what next in Indy-car-land?
  Hard to say.
  But this much is clear: Tony George and Joie Chitwood know how to run big-league race tracks and big-league racing series. Tony George, remember, beat Roger Penske in the CART vs IRL war. Not many others in racing can say they beat Roger Penske in anything.
  Like Tony George says on his website "Stay tuned for the next Tony George feature installment…"

The complete 2010 IndyCar Series schedule:
Date                            Location                                  Venue
Sunday, March 14       Brazil                           TBA
Sunday, March 28       Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.   1.8-mile street course
Sunday, April 11         Barber Motorsports Park            2.38-mile road course
Sunday, April 18         Streets of Long Beach, Calif.     1.968-mile street course
Saturday, May 1          Kansas Speedway                     1.5-mile oval
Sunday, May 30          Indianapolis Motor Speedway     2.5-mile oval
Saturday, June 12*      Texas Motor Speedway             1.5-mile oval
Sunday, June 20          Iowa Speedway                          .875-mile oval
Sunday, July 4             Watkins Glen International        3.37-mile road course
Sunday, July 18           Streets of Toronto                    1.721-mile street course
Sunday, July 25           Edmonton City Centre Airport   1.973-mile airport course
Sunday, August 8        Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course     2.258-mile road course
Sunday, August 22      Infineon Raceway                      2.245-mile road course
Saturday, August 28*  Chicagoland Speedway             1.5-mile oval
Labor Day Weekend    Kentucky Speedway                 1.5-mile oval
Saturday, Sept. 18      Twin Ring Motegi  (Japan)         1.5-mile oval
Saturday, October 2     Homestead-Miami Speedway    1.5-mile oval
* Denotes night race                                        Schedule Subject to Change



   Jeff Belskus (L) and Joie Chitwood (Photo: IMS)

Tony George was booted 15

Tony George was booted 15 years too late, long after he screwed up open-wheel racing. Despite the few good things he did that you mentioned, he will never live down the 10-year degrading of the Indy 500 and the ruination of CART. He pretty much single-handedly was responsible for the split, although that's the first I had heard that NASCAR gave him some advice in how to do it. Not too surprising there, as NASCAR is good at screwing up a good thing, too. Now Indycar has a 17-race schedule that starts in a foreign country? No Michigan? No California? Those tracks are better suited for Indycars than stock cars. And instead of going to Japan, why not go to Europe instead for a road course race on one of the F1 circuits? Get rid of Japan, replace with Silverstone, add Michigan/California, Road Atlanta, and the Indy road course and you would then have a pretty decent 20-race schedule.

CART's ruination was entirely

CART's ruination was entirely self-inflicted. If ever there was a sanctioning body that personified pro sports corruption, it was CART, run of by and for its richest car owners, Roger Penske and Carl Haas. The Indy 500 was already being degraded in the CART era; Tony George got some of the local-track connection back in the early years of the IRL.

CART was responsible for the split because they insisted on their own absurd program instead of working for a saner economic and competition structure - limiting team spending, curtailing and even disbanding some of the sport's technology, making an actual effort to get American short trackers instead of overseas road racers into Indycars, making the racing itself better, etc. When Penske railroaded the sham "stock" block Mercedes into Indy in 1994 and then CART hinted it would start asking for sanction fees from IMS, that killed any hope of a working relationship because it was CART openly defying Indy's rulebook.

Tony George did the only correct thing here.

oh, i agree completely. so

oh, i agree completely. so when the irl puts brazil down on its 2010 sked, with a TBD, I'm thinking 'what's up here?' I dont profess to know a lot about indy-cars, but aren't roger penske and chip ganassi about the only two with the package to do it all right? maybe that's one reason danica is looking to nascar?

Danifraud is looking at

Danifraud is looking at NASCAR as a way to get her IRL salary boosted. As for IRL's scheduling, going to Brazil when CART did so and it failed is baffling - I suspect it's being hoisted on IRL by Honda, because I can't think of any other reason.

i agree that brazil TBD is

i agree that brazil TBD is really weird. Even if they had a place to race, without needing police protection to get to the race site, it would be strange, especially consider tony george's game plan of creating an american open-wheel series for american drivers. now i don't profess to understand much about indy-car racing, but i am very confused about the new irl schedule. sorry, edmonton doesnt make much sense, if you've only got 15 race weekends to schedule. but now danica: i know (grin) what you think about that, but honestly the only reason to watch the first two hours of sunday's nascar race at pocono was for the danica ads. and i really believe if gillette would think twice about it, they'd have tony stewart doing a danica deal for eldora. i mean i would pay to watch danica in a gillette ad, wouldn't you? LOL. Realistically, Danica, if she wants to step it up in IRL, has two options: Ganassi or Penske. Ganassi, last week, all but said thanks but no thanks. the irl is dying, face it. if you're danica -- or tony stewart circa 1997 -- what do you do? NASCAR. If i were honda, i'd take this golden opportunity and tell nascar 'you want danica, we can deliver.' or else maybe GM should jump in there. how many of these nascar cup tour prima donna drivers, making $15 million a year for idling around, does it take to make a series?

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