I Wish I Had Been Wrong

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Bob Kravitz is not my favorite writer for The Indianapolis Star. In fact, of the few writers for that paper that I am actually familiar with, he may be my least favorite. However, he wrote an article Wednesday, which confirmed the fears that I had expressed before.

Last Friday, I wrote about Jeff Belskus, the new man in charge at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. It was my take that Belskus was an excellent behind the scenes worker, but was inexperienced at being the new face of the league. My ego isn’t so inflated that I enjoy saying “I told you so”. In fact, I wish I were wrong on this topic. Unfortunately, according to the Kravitz article, I was right.

Apparently, Jeff Belskus is more ill-equipped to face the public than I originally thought. Belskus and outgoing Speedway President Joie Chitwood met the media Tuesday to address the leadership change at IMS. The Kravitz article dares to compare Belskus’ public speaking ability to the stoic Tony George by saying he “makes Tony George look like Robin Williams on methamphetamine.” Kravitz goes on to describe Belskus’ public delivery as “alternately painful and excruciating”.

Now that may be a little extreme, even for Kravitz, but I get the impression that embedded in that article is a good bit of truth. If that’s the case, this isn’t good.

The Indy Racing League is at one of the most critical junctures in its relatively short existence. As we head into August, when teams are pursuing sponsorship deals for 2010; the potential sponsors need to know they are investing into a stable entity. They need reassurance that whatever they have heard about a leadership change in the league is for the better. An ill-at-ease accountant that is mumbling and stumbling over every word is not what they need to hear.

I’m not sure that any great ideas were forthcoming from the outgoing Chitwood. What he brought to the table at IMS was debatable in the grand scheme of things. But one thing you can say about the man; put a microphone in front of his face and he doesn’t flinch. His behind the scenes contributions may have been a bit shallow, but he was a good face and voice for the Speedway.

Word is that the Speedway has no plans to replace Chitwood and that Belskus will assume his duties. Didn’t Belskus just assume Tony George’s duties three weeks ago? He has now assumed the duties of two men in three weeks to be added to his own previous duties he already had at IMS Corp. I know that companies are downsizing, but not at the very top. This is taking corporate frugality to a whole new level. The man needs help.

I’ll reiterate what I’ve said before. Based on what I’ve read and heard, I think Jeff Belskus is a very capable man. I believe he “gets it” so far as the Indy 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are concerned. I don’t think he has an agenda that will go against the wishes of most fans and I think he will make the right decisions in the coming months as for what is best for the Indy Racing League. But I also think he is best suited to make those decisions behind the scenes and away from TV cameras and the media.

If they are not going to replace Chitwood, then maybe Belskus needs a figurehead. Yes, that’s right…a figurehead. He needs someone that has an exalted title, who appears confident and competent while giving every appearance of being part of the inner-circle that makes such decisions. Whether this person is actually given such authority would be decided behind the scenes, for only the board to know for sure. But they need to command such a presence on camera and be so convincing, that none of us in the general public would ever question his or her authority.

Who is this person, you might ask? I have no idea. But they need to get someone out there pounding the message on a daily basis that the Indy Racing League isn’t going anywhere. Whether it is or not, there are now legitimate questions surrounding the perceived uncertainty of the league. Someone who makes a press conference unbearable for even the reporters, will not soothe the present anxiety that exists among potential sponsors.

George Phillips

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3 Responses to “I Wish I Had Been Wrong”

  1. redd carr Says:

    They need a Press Secretary. Someone from television and/or racing who can be the “face” of the league and serve as liason to the press. Some one entertaining/charismatic with an interest in racing.

    I sure your readers could nominate some interesting choices.

  2. I think that if they are looking for a “face” for the league, and speedway, then the best thing they could do would be to bring back one of the “family”. No, I don’t mean a Hulman George, I mean a respected legend from the 500’s past.

    I vote for Rick Mears.

  3. I like the idea that was posted on Curt Cavin’s blog. Hire John Andretti. He knows IndyCar and Nascar. Also, he is a very good public ambassador.
    He makes several appearances at Andretti Karting and Games in Atlanta, which he co-owns, and has always came off as a very personable every day man’s man. Lets put the question to him and see what he thinks.

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