Steinbrenner sets sights on Indy Lights championship, move to top series
It’s rare to find a 21-year-old who is ready to own a professional sports team, but it’s also rare to be the grandson of late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
George Michael Steinbrenner IV is co-owner of Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, a team that started competing last year in the Indy Lights Series, the league that is one step below America’s premier open-wheel racing competition, the Verizon IndyCar Series. Teamed with fellow sport icons the Andretti family as part of his venture into racing, Steinbrenner spent last year learning the ropes of team ownership, management and sponsorship sales.
Heading into his second year in the role, he’s still got his eye toward moving up to IndyCar’s premier series as soon as 2019. But, even with a legendary last name, Steinbrenner knows he will need to land some big sponsors and further hone his business skills before making the jump.
“I’ve grown more passionate over the years for the sport, so that’s why I chose team ownership as my goal and what I wanted to do,” said Steinbrenner, who moved from Florida to Indianapolis to start the team. “I think the executive side is what I always imagined.”
Steinbrenner was imbued with a love of racing after being inspired by his uncle, Chris Simmons, who is an engineer on Chip Ganassi Racing’s IndyCar team, and his late cousin, open wheel racer Tony Renna, who died during a crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2003. His father, Hank Steinbrenner, whose younger brother Hal is managing general partner of the Yankees, is heavily involved with the team.
Steinbrenner’s team finished third in last year’s Indy Lights championship, led by driver Colton Herta, son of former American open-wheel driver and current IndyCar team owner Bryan Herta. Herta is returning as the team’s driver this season, which begins March 10 in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Steinbrenner said that learning the business of corporate sponsorship has been the toughest part about his adjustment to being a team owner. With Indy Lights having little to no broadcast exposure, Steinbrenner has been limited to mainly pitching local Indiana companies on deals. Steinbrenner said the team has secured some associate sponsorships but is still seeking a major primary sponsor.
Steinbrenner said he has been getting help from Andretti Autosport executives on landing sponsorship, namely from owner Michael Andretti, CMO Doug Bresnahan, COO JF Thormann and the elder Herta, who also has a partnership with Andretti.
“Just really learning the process of how to approach sponsors, continue correspondence with potential sponsors, more or less learning the ropes of salesmanship,” Steinbrenner said of what he learned last season. “I’m still learning and in that process. Every meeting and email chain I learn a little more. I’m sure it’ll be a never-ending process but it’s good to learn and get better.”
Steinbrenner said there are no current plans to expand into NASCAR or any stick-and-ball sport. For now, he’s got his eyes set on winning an Indy Lights championship this year before reaching his goal of competing in the Indianapolis 500 next year.
“It’s the dream for me to be able to compete in the Indy 500 and [IndyCar] championship — it’s what I got into it for,” Steinbrenner said. “To be able to do that would be a dream come true.”