Resignation Adds To INDYCAR Ownership Saga
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Speculation surrounding Tony George’s ownership pursuit of INDYCAR was rekindled over the weekend following his resignation from the board of directors of Hulman & Company.
The board issued a statement accepting George’s resignation, effective Friday, from his family’s Terre Haute, Ind.-based business.
“Tony George has made the difficult decision to resign from the board because of his involvement with a group that has recently expressed an interest in purchasing the Hulman & Company-owned INDYCAR organization,” Jeff Belskus, Hulman & Company president/CEO, said in a statement. “While the business is not for sale and no offers to sell it have been considered or are being considered, we applaud Tony’s efforts to resolve the appearance of a conflict and appreciate the gravity of this decision.”
George has played a pivotal role in Hulman & Company business during the last two decades, serving as president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1990-2004 and as IMS chief executive officer from 1990-2009. INDYCAR is the sanctioning body for the IZOD IndyCar Series – the premier domestic open-wheel series –Firestone Indy Lights and the Mazda Road to Indy developmental series.
“I realize that my recent efforts to explore the possibility of acquiring INDYCAR represent the appearance of a conflict, and it is in everyone’s best interest that I resign from the Hulman & Company board,” said George, who served as CEO of INDYCAR from 1994-2009 and previously was president of Hulman & Company. “It goes without saying that I want to do what is best for this organization.”
On March 11, 1994 George rocked the open-wheel world by announcing formation of the Indy Racing League _ an all-oval, open-wheel series with the Indianapolis 500 as its centerpiece – as an alternative to the Championship Auto Racing Teams. George’s stated goal was to preserve the traditions of open-wheel, oval-track racing at a time when CART was gravitating towards street and road-course venues.
The resulting schism between the IRL, CART and its successor, Champ Car, continued from the 1995 season through Feb. 22, 2008, when the IndyCar Series and Champ Car reunited under the IndyCar banner. According to a report earlier this month in the Sports Business Journal, George paid $40-million to unify the competing series. George resigned a year later during the economic downturn and was replaced on March, 1, 2010 by Randy Bernard, former CEO of the Professional Bull Riders, Inc.
George is the grandson of Tony Hulman, who purchased a dilapidated IMS from Eddie Rickenbacker after World War II and guided its emergence as “Racing Capital of the World.” Along those lines, George oversaw the return of the Formula 1 World Championship to the United States in 2000, following a multi-million-dollar reconstruction project at IMS that included an FIA-approved road-course incorporating sections of the famed oval, exclusive garages, new suites, a new Pagoda tower and state-of-the-art media center for the United States Grand Prix.
In the latest rumor, Sports Business Journal reported that George had assembled an investor group including IndyCar Series team-owners Michael Andretti, Chip Ganassi, Kevin Kalkhoven and Roger Penske as well as motorsports marketing executive Zak Brown in a bid to purchase INDYCAR. Brown is the founder and CEO of Just Marketing International, an Indianapolis-based motorsports agency. The group reportedly had hired Faegre Baker Daniels, a Midwest-based law firm, and begun a financial due diligence evaluation of the IndyCar Series.
Hulman & Co. would retain majority ownership of IMS and continue to run INDYCAR’s Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 – a tradition-breaking event George brought to IMS in 1994 – according to Sports Business Journal. Hulman & Company also could opt to take a minority stake in the IndyCar Series during negotiations.
Belskus indicated there was no immediate plan to fill the vacancy left by George’s resignation and thanked George on behalf of the Hulman & Company board. “Tony has been involved with our businesses for many years and has contributed significantly through his leadership role with IMS and INDYCAR and as a member of this board,” Belskus said. “We wish Tony much success in the future.”
The Hulman & Company board is led by chairwoman Mari Hulman George and includes Nancy L. George, M. Josephine George, Katherine M. George-Conforti, Andre B. Lacy, Michael L. Smith, John F. Ackerman, Mark D. Miles, James T. Morris and Belskus.
Founded in 1850, Hulman & Company’s current holdings include Clabber Girl Corporation, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation and its affiliated companies, including Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC, INDYCAR, IMS Productions and INDYCAR Entertainment.
The IndyCar Series completed a transitional season in 2012, marked by introduction of the Dallara DW12 spec chassis developed by the late Dan Wheldon with power supplied by turbocharged V-6 engines from Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus. Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport emerged as the first American to win the driver’s championship since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.
But Bernard also faced serious problems. The death of Wheldon, a former series champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, during the controversial 2011 series-finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway triggered a season-long debate about the safety of racing on high-banked ovals like Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The series also lost a street event scheduled in August for Qingdao, China, when it was cancelled by the promoter.
On Oct. 1 Bernard released an expanded 19-event schedule for 2013 featuring three doubleheader weekends, and the return of open-wheel racing to Pocono Raceway’s oval. With a 400-mile race in Long Pond, Pa., joining the 500-mile events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Southern California, INDYCAR will institute a Triple Crown award paying a $1-million bonus to any driver who wins on all three ovals. A driver who wins two of the three races will be awarded a $250,000 bonus. In addition, Saturday-Sunday doubleheaders have been scheduled for the street courses at returning venues Belle Isle Park in Detroit and the Streets of Toronto as well as a re-introduced Reliant Park layout in Houston.
“The biggest thing for us is the fact we are going from 15 races to 19 races and continue to showcase the fastest, most versatile race car and race car drivers in the world,” Bernard said. “I think the schedule this year really allows for that in a big way.”
Bernard also acknowledged that a street race in Providence, Rhode Island, remains under consideration for 2014.
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment