Finding The Silver Lining

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Now that we’ve had a little time to digest the ousting of Tony George from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as his voluntary resignation as CEO of the Indy Racing League; we see that the sun still comes up, the sky hasn’t fallen and there will still be a race at Watkins Glen this weekend.

Those that are closest to the situation seemed satisfied that life will continue, as we know it in the IRL. Most people whose opinions I value, seem confident that the two men who have succeeded Tony George, Curt Brighton and Jeff Belskus, are quite capable and will act with the IRL and the Speedway’s best interest at heart. One thing is certain however; both men will be ruled strictly by the bottom line. If you are a member of the Hulman-George family and you are concerned about protecting your inheritance, then that is a good thing. If you are an IndyCar fan already concerned about the future of the series, well then…your fears just got a little closer to reality.

The way it stands right now, all of the hand wringing won’t do anyone a bit of good. It’s fun to blog about and discuss back and forth, but it is likely to be a while before any changes surface…if they do at all. Yesterday, I wrote that the next few weeks and months would be telling for the IRL. I have softened that stance a bit now that I’ve had a little more time to reflect on it and listen to others.

Drivers and team-owners seem to have a “wait and see” approach. They have a lot more hanging in the balance than I do. If they are not worried, why should I be?

We could be in for a pleasant surprise. These are two levelheaded businessmen who apparently have a long track record within the Hulman-George Companies. They didn’t get where they are by making poor, shortsighted decisions. Tony George on the other hand, got where he was by birth. Being Tony Hulman’s grandson does not guarantee you the same business acumen that Mr. Hulman had. Tony George cared deeply about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the state of open-wheel racing. His passion led him to start the IRL, but his lack of business savvy combined with a streak of stubbornness prevented him from seeing it reach its potential.

It could be that these men both have the “vision” to look several years out and will use their business expertise to build the business the right way — rather than allowing a knee-jerk reaction to a problem, completely change the business model. Obviously, Tony George had taken the league as far as he was able to.

It was time for a change at the Indy Racing League, I always felt that way. I thought Tony George had done an admirable job as CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but his ouster from there still puzzles me. It is also shocking that they have no succession plan in place. I realize that Tony George was not expected to resign from the IRL, but I’m a little surprised that the plan seems to be to leave the two “Presidents” in place, for now. I don’t see how the two of them having no accountability, can work for even a short period of time. All I have heard is that they will both ultimately answer to Brighton and Belskus, but that sounds a little vague. Again, none of these people got where they are by being stupid. I’m sure we will have more answers in the future.

For now, I’m going to let this sink in some more and hope that some of our concerns that had seemingly been falling on deaf ears, will now be heard. If that happens and we get multiple engine and chassis manufactures, the teams get a looser rulebook and the marketing and branding questions are addressed…then it will have been worth the current uncertainty.

In the meantime, there is a race this weekend. There is still half a season to be run. The series is hitting a stretch of three road/street courses in a row. The ovals became way too predictable – let’s see if the road courses can shake things up. After today, unless there are new developments, I’m going to try and focus my attention back where it should be – on the teams and drivers.

All of the fear, the worrying and the “what-ifs” are a waste of time. I’m going to give this new administration a chance, mainly because I have no other choice. They are there whether I like it or not. It isn’t my series or my track. If the Hulman-George family wants to bulldoze the pagoda, raze the grandstands and tear up the track to put a new Wal-Mart at the corner of 16th & Georgetown — it’s their prerogative. It’s their track. I certainly hope that doesn’t happen, but I have as much control over that as I do what direction that Brighton and Belskus will take. I might as well just learn to like it.

George Phillips

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2 Responses to “Finding The Silver Lining”

  1. James O. Says:

    A few humble suggestions to whomever takes over the job(s), from a fan.

    1) Please don’t hire another NASCAR guy to do color commentary. John Madden is great, but you don’t ask him to work the World Series.

    2) Please don’t try to make IndyCar more like NASCAR, F1, MotoGP, the NFL or the WWE. There are natural strengths to Indycar that make it unique and why we watch. Play to them. If I want to watch F1, I’ll watch F1 and do it right.

    3) Don’t try to gunk things up with gimmicks. We’re not 10 year olds, we don’t need prizes in our Super Sugar Frosted Flakes. It always boils down to The Race. Anything else is just stuff. If you put on a compelling race, people will want to watch The Race.

    4) Put a quick end to anything that looks suspicious, like yellows for phantom debris. If you start tinkering with the race, it’ll quickly looked like things are Fixed, and you’re only a short step from turning into Pro Wrestling. The WWE gets ratings but nobody takes it seriously.

    5) Please try to get away from sole-source suppliers. Competition = rivalries, and friendly rivalries are fun. I think NASCAR made a big mistake moving away from GM vs. Ford vs. Mopar. Goodyear vs. Firestone–some of us actually care. Same with engine makers, and to a lesser extent chassis makers. People still smile about Ford vs. Ferrari at Le Mans in the 60s. Nobody cares about Dallara/Honda/Firestone vs. Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

    That’s a start.

  2. John McLallen Says:

    I have a suggestion…return to Nashville. At least it is usually a sell out, they pay their fees and were ready to pay more when IndyCar was leaving. I think that a “bean counter” would like that.

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