SBD/Issue 197/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Tony George Steps Down As IRL, IMS CEO, Will Remain Board Member

George To Remain On IMS BOD,
Continue Leading Vision Racing Team
IRL and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) CEO Tony George yesterday "relinquished all three of his major job titles," resigning as CEO of IMS, the IRL and Hulman & Co., according to Curt Cavin of the INDIANAPOLIS STAR. George will remain on the IMS BOD and in charge of the Vision Racing team. He was "asked to remain in charge of the IRL but declined." The changes "come amid pressure from family members who make up the board," and financial concerns over IMS' "shrinking bottom line are believed to be at the core of the power struggle." IMS CFO Jeff Belskus will take over control at the track, with IRL President & COO Brian Barnhart, IRL Commercial Division President Terry Angstadt, IMS President Joie Chitwood and IMS Productions President Charlie Morgan all reporting to him. IMS General Counsel Curt Brighton will become Hulman & Co. President & CEO. Cavin notes George's family members "have been concerned about the financial commitment to the IRL," and BOD members last month "declined to continue funding the second Vision car" driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay. The news of George's departure has been rumored since May, but his formal departure "still shook the sport." George "has not said what aspects of the business he will concentrate on as a board member only, but he figures to have the interest of the IndyCar team owners at heart as they struggle to remain viable in these tough economic times" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/1). George yesterday "refused to comment, saying he would release a statement next week" on his departure (AP, 6/30).

IRL NOW ON ITS OWN: ESPN.com's Terry Blount reported the moves yesterday indicate the IRL "will have to make it on its own and become financially viable without extensive financial support from IMS." George's three sisters, who are IMS BOD members, "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 racing circuit has not made a profit during its 14-year existence, and Blount wrote this is a "defining moment for the IndyCar Series." George's departure "will cause IRL competitors to question where things are headed." The change "will cause some uncertainty about the future," and it "might even push Danica Patrick closer to a move into NASCAR." Meanwhile, the "surprise" from yesterday was that George did not become IMS Chair and replace his mother, Mari Hulman George, who was "expected to retire" (ESPN.com, 6/30).

NO IMPACT EXPECTED ON SPONSORSHIPS: The INDY STAR's Cavin reports George's departure from IRL is "not expected to have an adverse impact on the series' ability to attract additional sponsorship." Just Marketing Founder & CEO Zak Brown, whose company is an IRL consultant, said, "People aren't that close to the sport, so their questions are more marketing- and commercial-related. ... I don't think Tony George leaving his position has an impact on those questions. He doesn't bring a commercial value, if that makes sense." But Brown called George's departure "unsettling for the industry." He added that sponsors "will be eager to hear" from Belskus. Brown said sponsors will "want to know what are the strategic decisions to make the league profitable." Penske Racing Owner Roger Penske said Belskus and Brighton are "good people and capable people, and they represent the family's interest." Meanwhile, IRL Panther Racing co-Owner John Barnes "does not expect IMS Corp. to reduce its commitment to the league." Barnes: "From the league standpoint, IMS and the IRL are hooked at the hip. Only a fool would believe that's not the case" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/1).

Kalkhoven Says People Will Have To Wait
And See What Happens With IRL
KEEPING THEIR SUPPORT OF RACING: Hulman George in a statement stressed the moves with George do not change the family's "commitment to the growth of the Indy Racing League and the sport of open wheel racing." IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan said, "When I first heard about this last month, I'll admit it was a big worry because I knew Tony put out all the money and gave his life to the IRL. So I'm glad to hear the direction the Hulman-George family is taking for the league." KV Racing Technology co-Owner Kevin Kalkhoven, who was a co-Owner of the Champ Car World Series before it unified with the IRL last year, said, "We'll have to wait and see. I don't know where we go from here but it sounds like the family wants to keep things going and maintain tradition" (SPEEDTV.com, 6/30).

LASTING IMPACT: USA TODAY's Gary Graves notes George oversaw the arrival of NASCAR, F1 and Moto GP motorcycles during his 19 years at IMS, the "outer walls of which are lined with padded SAFER barriers George introduced to racing in 2002 to enhance chances of surviving a hard crash." George "modernized other parts of the century-old facility while retaining many of the original touches that have made the Brickyard a destination for racers, fans and tourists." George's contributions to IMS and the IRL "required a huge financial commitment that ultimately factored most in Tuesday's IMS board power shift." Just Marketing's Brown said, "The league was losing a lot of money, and given that and the world economy there was a lot of concern at [IMS]. At the same time he's (nearly) 50 and has a life away from the league, and he probably felt he has done his job and decided to leave" (USA TODAY, 7/1). FANHOUSE.com's Holly Cain noted George "spearheaded the unification between America's top two open-wheel series last year" (FANHOUSE.com, 6/30).

Bloggers Express Unease For IRL's
Future Without George In Charge
BLOG REAX: MYNAMEISIRL.com's Jeff Iannucci wrote, "I don't know how to react. I mean, this can't be good simply because it indicates a level of uncertainty this sport doesn't need." The timing of this "in the middle of an IndyCar season is probably the most troubling. ... I can't tell who's in charge of the actual league now, and I'm sure teams and sponsors are sitting in the same boat of ambiguity right now. And that ain't good" (MYNAMEISIRL.com, 6/30). OIL PRESSURE's George Phillips writes IMS "will be in good hands and will continue to function and thrive." The question is "who is running the IRL?" The league "appears to be structured with two Presidents with distinctly different roles. Brian Barnhart is in charge of the competition side, while Terry Angstadt heads up the commercial side. Who reports to whom? Who is accountable?" Phillips: "No matter how you spin it, a rudderless ship is never a good thing. Poor leadership is better than no leadership" (OILPRESSURE.com, 7/1). IRLDEFENDER.com writes the future leadership of the IRL "seems up in the air. Maintaining a healthy Indy Car Series is vital" (IRLDEFENDER.WORDPRESS.com, 7/1). IRLORAMA.com wrote, "I wouldn't be surprised if in five years, the IRL has more road courses than ovals, and even more races in other countries. The future of the IRL now rests in the hands of the almighty dollar" (IRLORAMA.BLOGSPOT.com, 6/30).

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