Do We Really Want To Get Rid Of Tony?

With the back and forth of yesterday’s news and rebuttals concerning Tony George’s reported ouster as CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I found myself going back and forth as well, with my emotions. As I discussed in yesterday’s update, my initial feeling was joy. The joy I felt was pure emotion without reason. I still hold a grudge against the man for what he did to open wheel racing in the mid-nineties. I saw him Sunday at the Speedway and told my friend who he was, then peppered it with a few expletives.

I say the joy was without reason, because after visualizing the big picture, regardless of what personal grudge I may feel against him — I don’t believe his ouster would be in the best interest of IndyCar racing in general, or the Speedway in particular. What’s done is done. My oldest brother and I had differing views when the IRL was formed. Simply stated, he was for it and I was not. But he brought up an interesting point yesterday that gave me something to think about. He said that based on where CART was already headed in the mid-nineties, had Tony George not created the IRL, CART may have imploded anyway and there would have been NO open-wheel racing in the U.S.

That may or not be true, but his point has some merit. CART had good TV ratings—terrific by today’s standards, but their troubles were already brewing before Tony George dropped his bombshell in March of 1994. Their business model was fatally flawed with the car owners running the series. Insert all corny analogies here regarding the inmates running the asylum, but in this case it’s true. Greed and inflated egos ruled CART. There was never leadership that would say no to the owners. If they did, they were fired. If they had a poor year, they were fired. To be chosen as a CART commissioner was a one-way ticket to a career graveyard. Quick! — Tell me what Bill Stokkan, Andrew Craig or Chris Pook are doing today, not to mention the forgettable Joe Heitzler. It’s not a trivia question…I don’t know either.

Which brings us back to yesterday’s news, rumors or combination of both. It does appear that SOMETHING took place in the board meeting on Tuesday night. From the “official” statement from the Speedway, it sounds like Tony George was told he was spread too thin and he had to choose which entity he wanted to focus on, then come up with a plan for those he would give up control of. He made it clear in his interview that Vision Racing was a completely separate venture owned by he and his wife, Laura. When asked if it were true that his wife had been fired from her position at the Speedway, TG conveniently dodged the question. The Miller article made it sound as if George was out immediately. Apparently that is not the case, but something is in the works here. It does appear that at some time, he will be focused solely on running the IRL while someone else is in charge at IMS.

Again, I ask myself…is this a good thing? As much personal resentment as I feel for Tony George, I have to be truthful with myself and say…no, it’s not. Tony George may have a lot of faults and flawed ideas, but he loves the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It has been his life. It is his birthright, so to speak. TG is not a good speaker and he comes across as awkward and aloof. But don’t let that fool you into thinking he doesn’t care about the Speedway. It is in his blood and every move he makes, he fully believes it is for the overall good for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Given all of that and what we now know may be brewing, my question is…who would do a better job?

I’ll give a college football analogy. I am an alumnus of the University of Tennessee. Last fall our football program had a dismal season. The deathwatch started in September on our coach, Philip Fulmer. Sure Fulmer had his flaws, but his detractors were so fixated on getting rid of him, they never stopped to ask themselves “who will replace him”. Unlike some years, there were no sexy names on the available coaches list. Throughout the season I kept thinking that they’d better have a plan to improve their situation before they pull the trigger. There was no apparent plan but they eventually found a replacement. The jury is still out whether they improved the situation or not.

We’re not here to discuss football in May. But the point is – who is going to do a better job at the Speedway than Tony George? The name Humpy Wheeler, late of Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte has been mentioned. Please. Humpy fancies himself as P.T. Barnum and IMS doesn’t need P.T. Barnum. What the Speedway needs is a steady hand on the tiller to guide it through the remainder of the Centennial Era and then into the next phase of renovation when IMS essentially takes over the 16th and Georgetown area for development. Give Tony credit and excuse the pun, but he has a long-term “vision” for where he wants to take IMS into its next century.

Personally, I would rather see him give up control of the IRL. The Speedway is on solid footing; the Indy Racing League is not. Robin Miller had an excellent article on Tuesday regarding Brian Barnhart. I used to be a big fan of Barnhart but Miller claims he has become obsessed with power and based on the examples Miller cited, I agree. In the last few years, Barnhart has essentially taken the racing out of racing. It has been Barnhart’s decision to continue with only the Dallara chassis when the new cars come out in 2012. He has legislated any ingenuity out of racing. The race at Texas used to be breathtaking to watch. Now it is painful to watch, as the cars go by lap after lap in a single-file parade. It has now been learned that Barnhart was the one ordering the yellow-shirts to prevent Helio from climbing the fence after winning Sunday’s 500.

If some changes need to be made at the top of one of the Hulman properties, maybe it should be the IRL. Terry Angstadt should be given more time on the marketing side. He got rid of the insulting Gene Simmons penned “I am Indy” jingle that tortured us for the last few years, so he must be doing something right. But I can’t say that Tony George and Brian Barnhart have been pushing all the right buttons when it comes to the product they are putting on the track.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is still, undeniably, the most important piece of the Hulman empire. Without it, there is no IRL or anything else other than Clabber Girl – which is where Tony Hulman made his millions. A vested member of the Hulman-George family needs to be running the show at the Speeway. In my opinion, Tony George Is the best person for that job.

George Phillips


5 Responses to “Do We Really Want To Get Rid Of Tony?”

  1. I’d rather Tony hire a genius racing czar to run the Indy Car Series and Indy Pro Series while he helms the Speedway, which he and his family love so much, and his pet race team. If his sisters are upset that he has poured 250 million dollars into his two race series, they should STRONGLY urge him to find a successor to run the series.
    Yes, the ICS & IPS chief should be an iron-fist-in-velvet glove benevolent dictator as in other series, unlike the employee CEOs of CART. The czar must be a business expert who can monetize the two series, get much better TV exposure and title sponsors so that the Hulmans don’t have to prop-up the series.
    He would supervise a more-than-competent competition director (ahem).

  2. I agree, where there is smoke there is fire. The family has told Tony to pick one business and stick with it, and bring in a professional to run the other. I think Tony has done good things for IMS. The place looks better than it ever has, and is a crown jewel. He has proven himself a good steward of the place.

    The IRL on the other hand is staggering along. After the long costly war with CART, it has a lot of ground to make up. Bringing in fresh blood to run the show would be a wise move. I think a promoter like Wheeler would be an interesting edition to the IRL. I think what kills most of us Open Wheel fans is that we see such potential in the product, but are frustrated, and maddened by the careless, and inept management of the IRL-IndyCar-CART-ChampCar series.

  3. I think Tony should sit on IMS and keep that facility up and running for the forseeable future. After all, he’s the one who brought NASCAR, which has been very profitable in the past, F1, which at least brought international attention back to the Speedway, and MotoGP, which is turning a mad profit from all accounts and is really fun to watch. If Tony weren’t running the track, I don’t know that we would have the vast improvements along the front stretch — media and race control would still be sitting scared, watching the Master Control Tower rust and fall apart around them.

    As far as the IRL, they need a competition committee headed by Tony Cotman and Terry Angstadt. Cotman could say what needs to happen on the track and Angstadt could make sure it would work financially. All decisions can then be yea or nea’d by the IMS board.

  4. John McLallen Says:

    I have been going back and forth these past 20 hours or so as well, however, I feel that I am now on one side and that is that Tony George should run IMS and get someone else to run IndyCar. I know that Eddie Gossage has been approached in the past, but if the IRL can’t get him then they need to find someone like him.

  5. George,

    It seems to me, and granted, I’ve never met TG, but the man honestly seems to mostly be excited to run a race team. I do not doubt his sincere desire to turn “Vision Racing” into a legit racing contender. Problem is…..HE’S THE MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Note to Tony…………if you’d rather run a race team, ala Chip, Roger, Michael, John Barnes, that’s just fine. However……you really need to sit down with your “powers to be” and conduct some restructuring! Perhaps………as suggested by a guy who has a habit of running premature stories…..hand the reigns to Tony Cotman, releive yourself of your CEO responsibilities, and just run your team!

    If nothing else……..please make the oval racing more fun. That’s all I ask. To date……St. Pete has been the most fun race to watch this season. Keep in mind..I’m an oval fan! Anyone feel my pain?

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