A Friend To IndyCar Moves On
The name Gillian Zucker probably doesn’t resonate with the casual racing fan. Hard-core fans of the Verizon IndyCar Series might have a hard time placing her name. Even those that follow the business side of the sport, who know the names of Hulman, George, Belskus, Bernard and Miles might pause when her name is mentioned. That’s a shame, because she has been a very good friend to IndyCar over the years.
So, just exactly who is Gillian Zucker, you might be asking? Since 2005, Zucker has been the President of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Not only that, she has been one of the more powerful forces within International Speedway Corporation (ISC) – the track-owning sister company of NASCAR.
As far as ISC goes, Gillian Zucker was probably IndyCar’s biggest ally within the NASCAR-owned company. She fully believed that IndyCar could work at the two-mile oval that is more than an hour due-east of downtown LA. Even after Mark Miles gave the edict that IndyCar was still dead set on finishing the season by Labor Day weekend, Zucker believed enough in the idea that IndyCar could make it in Southern California, that she moved to a June date rather than bailing on the struggling open-wheel series.
Unfortunately, we must now use the past-tense when referring to Zucker’s reign at Fontana. Last week, she took on the role as President of Business Operations of the LA Clippers. Getting on new owner Steve Balmer’s payroll is probably not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of. Balmer is the former CEO of Microsoft and ranks thirty-second in the Forbes 400. His personal wealth is estimated at over $20 Billion – that’s Billion with a “B”.
This is obviously a very good move for Zucker, but probably at the expense of IndyCar. I always had the idea that her relationship with IndyCar probably did not set well with her bosses at ISC, but her clout within the company gave her the power to move forward in trying to make the open-wheel series work. I’ve noticed that her peer at Michigan, Roger Curtis, proclaims to be an open-wheel fan, but has not been willing to take the same financial risk at his track as Zucker did with hers.
Gillian Zucker is not new to sports marketing. Prior to her going to Fontana in 2005, she had stints at Kansas Speedway and Daytona after joining ISC in 1998. Before that, she served many years in professional baseball; most recently with the Durham Bulls.
The general consensus is that this move will do harm to IndyCar’s future at Fontana. IndyCar has lost a vital ally at one of the few oval tracks that has welcomed them in recent years. Does this mean that 2015 is the last year that the Verizon IndyCar Series will visit Auto Club Speedway? Not necessarily, but it doesn’t help their chances for a return in 2016 either.
Much depends on who will be named to replace Zucker, and how well Southern California fans respond to a June date at a track that is quite a hike from most LA area attractions. But this much I know – the Verizon IndyCar Series continues to encounter major roadblocks along the way as they try to re-establish themselves in the American sports landscape. Unlike some, this one is not of their making.
Good luck to Gillian Zucker. She has obviously made a name for herself in the fickle arena of sports business. IndyCar has lost a rare thing – someone who was a friend to IndyCar. We wish her well in her new career with the Clippers.