Racing team owner Mark Olson is suing IndyCar after he was suspended from the second-tier Firestone IndyLights series for allegedly trying to orchestrate a boycott.
Olson denies that he attempted such a thing, and his lawsuit alleges that IndyCar officials knowingly perpetuated a false rumor, damaging his reputation in the process.
The suspension effectively killed O2 Racing Technology, which had signed up-and-coming driver Peter Dempsey and landed $750,000 in sponsorships, Olson said. His lawsuit, filed in late September in Marion Superior Court, seeks damages for defamation, violation of Indiana’s franchise law, and breach of contract.
“We are aware of the lawsuit filed by Mr. Olson,” IndyCar spokeswoman Amy Konrath said. “Our position is that it is without merit, and we will refrain from further comment at this time.”
Olson is a racing enthusiast who has owned other businesses, including a pipeline consulting firm and advertising agency.
His dispute with IndyCar began last spring, after the league penalized the top two finishers in the May 27 Freedom 100 over a technical violation. IndyCar later rescinded the penalties, but according to Olson’s lawsuit, offered little explanation.
The controversy raised questions about IndyLights’ credibility, Olson’s lawsuit says, and damaged his team’s sponsorship sales for a June 19 race in Milwaukee. Without enough cash to cover costs, O2 pulled out of that race and a subsequent race in Iowa.
IndyLights suspended O2 for the remainder of this season and the 2012 season after he pulled out of those races. In a June 29 letter, IndyLights Executive Director Roger Bailey said he’d heard “reports” that Olson tried to drum up a boycott, a violation of the franchise contract.
According to Olson’s lawsuit, IndyCar officials didn’t contact him to investigate the rumors, and Bailey has since admitted that he didn’t hear or have any personal knowledge of a boycott attempt.
Olson tried to appeal his suspension with the league but was denied, despite supporting testimony from fellow owner Eric Jensen.
“IndyCar insisted that the burden of proof was on me to prove a negative,” Olson said.