27 May 2009

Are the Rumors True? Who Knows...

Robin Miller of SpeedTV.com (formerly of the Indianapolis Star) is reporting that Tony George has been ousted as President of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (story here)

No one else is confirming this story as of yet, though a few twitterers also have reported the same (and if it is confirmed, I will give them credit for breaking the story).

UPDATE [1:37 p.m.]: Tony George spoke to Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star, telling him,
"I am still CEO and still president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, Hulman and Company, and CEO of the Indy Racing League."
For the full Cavin story, click here.

Regardless, I'll have more thoughts on this later tonight.

UPDATE No. 2: My Take:
Tony George may not be out as president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but when he makes a presentation to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway board later this year, he may be faced with a difficult choice: how to remain in power as the President of IMS and continue to grow the IndyCar Series.

For all of his pros and cons, it cannot be denied that George has overseen a time of massive improvement at IMS - all of which was done without a taxpayer paying a dime to support the renovations. From redoing seating to rebuilding the Pagoda to creating additional safety systems for drivers, George has made sure that the viewing public gets their money's worth when inside the gates at 16th and Georgetown.

Yes, some of the criticisms of George are warranted: it remains to be seen whether or not creating the Indy Racing League and subsequently reuniting it with Champ Car was worth the trouble (you could make an argument that we'd be watching Formula 1-style racing in which mega-budget teams dominate if he hadn't); some would argue that inviting NASCAR and F-1 to IMS was worth it (though it now brings people to Speedway and Indianapolis three times a year, further boosting the local economy).

So, obviously, George comes with his benefits and detractors, but I would argue that most of the moves he has made as IMS president have been for the benefit of the Speedway. IMS continues to be the world's most famous racetrack, and the Indianapolis 500 is still the biggest race in the world. That said, it may be becoming apparent that some on the IMS board would like George to begin focusing his efforts in one area - continuing the growth of the ICS.

In the statement released today by IMS, George's mother, Mary Hulman-George, said the following:
"There was a general discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing all of our companies and where most of our energies need to be spent. All of our properties are doing well, given the challenges of the current economy. The Indy Racing League represents our greatest growth opportunity and therefore deserves the most attention at this point."
So, what can we read from this? It seems like the board at IMS wants to grow the IndyCar brand, using it and the Indianapolis 500 to continue fueling each other's renewal and growth. It appears as if the board would like Mr. George to present a plan for how he feels that he could continue to be a source of growth for both without necessarily pouring the George Family's capital into both. If he can do that, then I would venture to guess George will stay on board as CEO of ICS and President of IMS.

Now, how can he do that? A quote from George is telling:
“This place wakes up every morning and eats money. We spend a lot of money keeping it in the condition we do. Certainly the Indy Racing League has in the past required a lot of capital to keep it going when there was two competing series — and a lot of money was spent last year trying to unify. We got that done and everybody’s hoping to catch a tail wind and then the economy’s in our face. We’re just dealing with that.”
It's easy to blame things on the current economy, but with a new engine package set to roll out in 2011, plus new races being booked internationally, more money will be coming into IMS and ICS, along with an increase in worldwide popularity (with ventures into Brazil, China and even India, the IndyCar Series seems poised to strike should Formula 1 fall flat on its face). Should the international dollars flow into ICS (and some of those conversion rates are pretty darn good), then perhaps the Georges' won't have to bankroll so much of the series.

Basically, it's the economy, stupid. If George is able to demonstrate a growth plan for ICS that displays a clear vision for how its growth will allow the Indianapolis 500 and IMS to continue its resurgence, then he'll stay on board in both places. If he can't, then the board will probably move to bring in someone who can work with George (who would presumably stay on as CEO of ICS) as the new president of IMS.

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