Jeff Belskus became CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League July 1, replacing Tony George, the grandson of Tony Hulman—who saved the Speedway from ruin after World War II. George had led the Speedway since January 1990 and launched the Indy Racing League in 1996.
Faced with the need to save money, the six-member board of the IMS and IRL voted on May 26 to replace George. The board, which included George’s three sisters and mother, turned to Belskus, the IMS’ chief financial officer, to take the helm.
On May 27, amid swirling speculation and a report on SpeedTV of his departure, George held an impromptu press conference in front of the Speedway at West 16th Street and Georgetown Road to deny that he had been ousted.
One month later, however, Speedway officials confirmed that George was out. He was also removed from his executive position at Terre Haute-based Hulman & Co.
George spent tens of millions of dollars creating the IRL, crushing CART—the rival open-wheel racing circuit—and updating the Speedway to lure Formula One here. The IMS’ and IRL’s problems were compounded by a crumbling economy and a tire debacle at the track’s 2008 NASCAR race that killed attendance at the 2009 Brickyard 400.
Belskus faces a bevy of challenges, including signing a long-awaited IRL title sponsor, improving the league’s attendance and television ratings, and expanding into profitable global markets—all the while assuring the series’ teams achieve long-term viability.
In November, Belskus conquered his first challenge, as Izod was named the league’s title sponsor through 2015.
On the Speedway side, Belskus must manage the facilities’ three events while evaluating a plethora of other opportunities, including hosting a second IRL or NASCAR race on the road course, increasing commercial efforts at the Brickyard, and determining to what extent the IMS should financially support the IRL. In November, Belskus began to do what many had expected, reining in costs. He oversaw the firing of about 40 Speedway employees, including several longtime veterans. He continued the effort in December, announcing that the schedule of events leading up to the Indianapolis 500 would be trimmed to two weeks.•