George's exit a defining moment for IRL

June, 30, 2009
Tony George is out of the family business, so to speak, and so is the Indy Racing League in some ways.

In essence, that's the meaning of the move Tuesday to oust George from his spot as the president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp.

George also officially resigned his position as the CEO of the IRL, so even his role in the IndyCar Series has major limitations.

George's Indy Racing League, which he founded 14 years ago, will have to make it on its own and become financially viable without extensive financial support from IMS.

George's three sisters, all members of the IMS board of directors, got their wish and voted him out. George remains part of the board, but his power is gone. He's no longer running the show.

George doesn't control the purse strings from IMS profits off the Indianapolis 500 and the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard NASCAR race, which he helped bring to Indy in 1994.

Some of those profits (maybe as much as $500 million by some estimates) have been used to prop up the IRL while George was fighting an open-wheel civil war with Champ Car.

That war ended with last year's merger. So George's sisters felt it was time for the IRL to make things work without the monetary pillow from the family fortune of Hulman & Co. and IMS.

The IRL has yet to make a profit, so this is a defining moment for the IndyCar Series. The change of leadership at IMS was first reported over a month ago, but George denied it.

The surprise of Tuesday's news was that George didn't become the chairman of the board and replace his mother, Mari Hulman George. She was expected to retire. That didn't happen.

Moving Tony George to the chairman seat would in some ways save face. Either way, George was losing control of how funds from IMS are spent.

Of course, everyone involved put on a happy face Tuesday with statements of how this is good for the league and the speedway. Maybe it will be in the long run.

But in many ways, this is an odd three-way divorce between George, the IRL and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

George remains a team owner of Vision Racing in the IRL. His official position as the IRL boss has changed, but this league is still his baby.

Moreover, it's his legacy, so he will continue to work toward bringing the league's balance sheet into black numbers. Instead of wishful thinking, it's now a requirement.

This decision will cause IRL competitors to question where things are headed. All the team owners signed a statement last month saying they were in full support of George.

This change will cause some uncertainty about the future. It might even push Danica Patrick closer to a move into NASCAR.

Patrick is in the final year of her contract with Andretti Green Racing. She said earlier this month that the stability of the IRL would factor into her decision about whether she stays in open wheel and makes the move to NASCAR.

What happens now with the IndyCar Series is unclear. What is clear is George has less power to find a way for the IRL to stand on its own as a successful venture.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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