The Story That Won’t Go Away
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.