The Story That Won’t Go Away

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For the past few months, there has been a story brewing that has been like a sore hangnail to most of those involved with the IZOD IndyCar Series. In fact, this story has been swirling around since just after this year’s Indianapolis 500. That is that some owners are operating behind the scenes in order to position themselves to buy INDYCAR from the Hulman-George family and oust CEO Randy Bernard.

Every time this story has popped up this summer, it was shot down by those owners who were rumored to be involved. Now it has popped up again, this time in print this past Monday, from a semi-credible source – Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal. This story ran on Monday and it names names. According to the story, Tony George has allegedly put together an investment group to purchase the series from Hulman & Company. Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi and Kevin Kalkhoven were all named as major players in this move. Also mentioned was motorsports marketing guru Zak Brown. These are some of the most powerful names in all of racing – not just IndyCar.

Of course, the obligatory denials soon followed the release of the story on Monday. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway strongly denied anything that would give this story any legs. Tony George has also denied the story, even though he was quoted in the article. Michael Andretti supposedly kiddingly said that he was shocked to learn that he was buying IndyCar. Other owners had the more conventional “no comment”.

Why does this story keep surfacing? The first one or two times I heard this story, my thought was there was nothing to it. But the fact that here we are in October and we continue to hear different versions of this story coming out; makes me wonder if there might be something to this.

Of course, what I think doesn’t really matter. What does matter is what potential sponsors think. Those owners that are adamantly denying that this story has any merit, are openly complaining that this story is hampering their efforts to land sponsorship for next year. Most of the big teams try to work out their sponsorship for the next season around August of the previous year. With this story swirling out there, the perception is that the leadership is in limbo and the overall stability of the series is in serious jeopardy.

Corporate America is not knocking each other out of the way to get to sponsor IndyCar teams. With declining TV ratings and poor attendance at many races; it’s already a tough sale, at best. Having this story continue to float out there gives companies another reason to say no – as if they need another reason.

Personally, I hope it’s not true – for many reasons. First of all, I’m a big supporter of Randy Bernard. In all the years I’ve followed this sport, I would say that Randy Bernard is the most effective leader of American open-wheel racing since Tony Hulman. Not only do I want to see him fulfill the remaining two years on his contract, I would hope that his contract is extended. He is that good.

Secondly, we’ve all seen how it worked out with owners calling all the shots. CART succeeded in spite of itself for a while following that model, but eventually reality crept in and the entire concept imploded. There are some very sizeable egos among the owners in the paddock. Having a hand-picked commissioner to serve as their puppet simply didn’t work. If a commissioner ever tried to do something for the good of the series rather than for the good of the owners, they were quickly done away with in favor of a new puppet. That explained the ever-swirling revolving door of CART commissioners from 1990 until they went bankrupt in 2004.

Perhaps my biggest fear from reading this story is that Tony George would have control of this series again. I don’t care to get into a debate about the split of 1996, but I just think that Tony George has proven that he is not capable of steering open-wheel racing to where it needs to be. I don’t question his passion for open-wheel racing nor his commitment to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But I think his passion sometimes has caused him to make emotional decisions that were not the best decisions in terms of growing this series. As was said on Trackside the other night, there is a group that thinks Tony George had fifteen years to grow this series his way and he did nothing. Count me as a member of that group. Whether or not he was passionate or not, he was a very ineffective leader and does not need or deserve another chance.

Now that I’ve climbed off of that soapbox, I’ll ask the question again – why does this story keep popping up? Does the story really have legs? Is this just another non-racing writer looking to make a splash with some old rumors? Is there a lone rogue owner out there that hates Randy Bernard so much that he keeps “leaking” this non-story to young and hungry reporters that are more than willing to run with it? That scenario is the one that I tend to believe. I even have a strong idea who that owner might be, but that would be pure speculation on my part so I’ll leave that alone for now.

But wherever this is coming from, it is crippling the entire series and everyone involved with it. There is ultimately no good that can come from this – true or untrue. I just wish it would go away for good.

George Phillips

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17 Responses to “The Story That Won’t Go Away”

  1. I feel there is just a rogue owner or three out there that should just get out of the sport. Randy Bernard is the best thing that has happened to IndyCar in a long time. I guess certain people just can’t stand that. I wish Robin Miller would name names because he seems to know who they are.

    Sometimes I just wish IMS & IndyCar would be purchased by NASCAR so we can end all the shenanigans and have some stability. What would Bill France Sr have done to a rogue owner?

  2. it’s frustrating because the story stays alive in spite of the fact that everyone involved denies the story. somebody is lying.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I have little doubt that it was been discussed, but I’m not sure its ever been far enough along to warrant the attention it has gotten. Speculation, of course.

    I can understand why Tony George would be involved, but not why any other team owners would. As much as they all like to control things, I can’t imagine that they would welcome the monetary risk of running the whole show.
    I always thought that was one reason that fewer and fewer team owners wound up owning more and more of CART, and without a strong commissioner or a lot of other powerful team/series owners to keep them in check, the whole business started to break down.

  4. Tin foil hat time: what if this story is, in fact, bullshit that someone keeps putting out there specifically to harm indycar?

  5. Where there is smoke, there is fire. This won’t go away because there is something to it. Tony George does not scare me, though I agree he had his chance and was not up to the task. But if the owners get control again, we will be headed for a third bankruptcy.

  6. There are actually two things in play.

    1. An owner, and I think there is one, and it’s none of the usual or mentioned suspects stirring the pot.

    2. A web editor willing to post this nonsense in the interest of increasing their page views if only for a day.

    It’s interesting Robin seems to have backed off when he posted his bunnies and rainbows piece the other day about how the negativity must stop – ironic from a man who for years made the theme of his weekly Mailbag column “Everything sucks and it’s all stupid”.

    There was something in the comments section of that article which gives plausible insight to the identity of the disgruntled owner.

  7. Penskefan Says:

    The story won’t go away due to the fact that writers such as yourself keep writing about it. Let go of the speculation already. If it happens, it happens.

    • So…to follow your line of thinking, George owes it to the series and his readers to simply stick his head in the sand and never comment on this big elephant in the room. It was a big enough story this week that it completely overshadowed the release of next year’s schedule, yet you think if no one discusses it that it will just quietly go away. Interesting logic.

  8. Perhaps the story won’t go away because people keep writing about it. Does anyone come to mind?

  9. My line of thought is that there is more truth to SBJ story than not. One thing about that story, if I recall it correctly, is it left out John Barnes and Ed. I am a Randy Bernard backer and I can’t say enough about his work. With that said, I don’t know why the owners want to buy the series when it hasn’t turned a profit, yet, and I don’t think it is the cost of the car that has got them this riled up.

  10. Savage Henry Says:

    I strongly believe that there is something to it. I also believe that IMS Corp. currently has no intention of selling the series. <> The owners who want to buy the series are trying to hold it hostage by continually leaking the story because it hurts the series. They are probably poisoning the well with potential sponsors, too. They are telling IMS Corp. “sell it to us or we’re going to kill it”.

    If Tony George, Penske and Ganassi are the players, they all have very deep pockets. They can afford to run their teams with limited sponsorship while trying to screw everybody else. If they can weaken the series enough through these tactics, then IMS Corp. will need to sell it to while they could still get something for it. Clearly, there aren’t any other buyers out there.

    Penske, Ganassi, and George have a lot of credibility in the racing world. If Roger Penske tells a potential sponsor that Indycar is a cluster*** that’s about to go under, I’m betting that sponsor stays away. It seems ridiculous that someone would play this kind of game with small-potatoes such as Indycar, but this is a fairly common tactic in other areas of business.

    I just don’t understand why someone would want to do this now, after the sport was laid very low by the split. George and Penske were both major players in the split in the first place. Actually, weren’t they on opposite sldes of the splt? Hasn’t anyone learned anything?

    • Savage Henry Says:

      I’m rocking my tinfoil hat today. Can you tell?

    • Henry, I believe there is something more to it, too, but I don’t think the owners are out to tear down the series while holding Hulman and Co. hostage. Andretti is well funded, but he doesn’t have that kind of money and Penske doesn’t operate like that. TG on the other hand….I also strongly believe that the fans aren’t going to come back with another hostile take over. A good example is me. Everyone knows my passion for the sport, but if anything untowards happens by the hand of the owners then I am done. I am NOT going to do this a second time.

      With that said, I am a Nashville Predators fan and the NHL is doing everything that they can to drive me away with this current lockout. They are doing a fine job of running me off, too, and if things aren’t settled around the end of October then I will be done with the NHL. The AOW split was savage and cost so much while watering down the sport to almost nothing. Frankly, since 1996 there wasn’t a whole lot to brag about before 2006. INDYCAR, in my opinion, has just staggard to it’s feet at the nine count but it still needs the smelling salts close by. So, to me, it’s apparent that decent punch can do the series in.

      I’ll stay a Indianapolis 500 fan, but I might stop attending because I’ll watch it in a condo by the beach off 30A in Florida. No more Racin Gardners for me. 1996 sucked and I still get pissed thinking about how I bought in on it because of my love for the 500.

  11. james t suel Says:

    Its not happening, nor will it. Com down and get your but to the race track!!

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