Should The Sisters Sell?
Ever since Tony George begrudgingly removed himself from all leadership posts within the Hulman Company, the ownership group of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been irreverently referred to as “The Sisters” – meaning the three sisters of Tony George; Josie George, Nancy George and Nancy George-Conforti. Of course, their mother Mari Hulman George still sits at the top.
Before the DeltaWing concept and Danica Patrick’s run in stock cars stole the headlines, most were discussing Tony George’s eight-month free-fall and how the sisters were going to run things. Jeff Belskus assumed Tony’s duties and he went out and hired Randy Bernard as CEO and to basically be the face of the Izod IndyCar Series. As the popularity of that hire was debated, I started hearing more than a few fans suggest that it was time that “The Sisters” sell the Speedway so that someone could run it better.
I’ll admit, when presented logically – their argument seems to have some merit. The premise is that Tony George is the only family member left, save for his mother, that gives a hoot about the Speedway and motorsports in general. The theory is that the sisters could care less about racing and had grown weary of watching brother Tony shell out over half a billion dollars of their inheritance to try and preserve something they have no interest in. The school of thought says that a corporation would run the Speedway like a business rather than a family heirloom and therefore make much better decisions.
I’ve never met any of the sisters. If any of the three were to walk in my front door, I would not have a clue who they were. And from what I hear, they don’t share their brother’s love of racing or their family’s property at 16th and Georgetown. But don’t dilute yourself into thinking that any fans of open-wheel racing or the race we love in May would be the least bit better off if the property were sold.
I’ve heard Curt Cavin estimate that the entire property and its subsidiary companies could fetch well over a billion dollars. That’s just to buy it before the first operating dollar is spent. Tony George used to be fond of saying that the Speedway wakes up every day and eats money. This is not just a bunch of asphalt surrounded by concrete and steel structures on a big plot of land on the west side of Indianapolis. With its licensed properties, IMS Productions, the radio network, the museum, the IRL and the physical maintenance of the facility – it’s a small economy within itself. But it is a self-serving entity and everything there is about preserving and promoting the racing that is exhibited at the Speedway.
At that price, there would be very few takers. The name I hear tossed about the most is ISC who is basically owned by the France family of NASCAR. I shudder at the thought of some business examples where a large corporation will buy its closest rival with the sole intention of shutting it down. Could that happen with the Speedway? Well, they wouldn’t shut it down but it is not in their best interest to have the Indianapolis 500 continue in its present state. Bruton Smith lives to keep NASCAR honest, but I don’t see where he could be an owner that would please any of us.
Perhaps an entertainment company like Disney could buy it, but then they might be forced to carry all of the races on their own network and actually promote them. Perhaps some mega-corporation that we’ve never heard of nor even know what they really do could buy it, but if it doesn’t meet their bottom-line expectations – what then?
As much as the sisters have been vilified over the last few months, I think the Speedway is still in the best hands possible. As little as they may want to admit it, the place is now part of their DNA. Their grandfather, Anton Hulman, Jr., bought the Speedway in the fall of 1945 at the urging of former driver Wilbur Shaw to save the famed oval from the wrecking ball after it fell into disrepair during World War II. Hulman vowed to pour all of the profits back into the facility and quickly turned around the fortunes of the aging facility. Tony George followed his grandfather’s philosophy and built the Speedway into the premier racing facility in the world.
It has been said that as long as Mari Hulman George is still alive, that the facility would never be sold. For the sake of the traditions we have all come to embrace every May, let’s hope that the hallowed Speedway will stay in the Hulman-George family for years to come. I just don’t think I’m ready to make my annual pilgrimage each May to watch the Apex Brasil 500.