Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Speedway poised for more change

May 19, 2012

The Indianapolis 500 thrives on tradition, whether it’s the winner’s ceremonial swig of milk each May or Florence Henderson’s annual rendition of “God Bless America.”

We’re glad the race and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the storied track that hosts it, respect the past. But we are even more excited that IMS’ owners, the Hulman-George family, seem increasingly willing to change.

Failure to adapt to a new world order has felled many once-mighty businesses, from Montgomery Ward to Kodak. For management, it’s all too tempting to stick with the playbook that used to work rather than innovate and evolve.

To be sure, there is no reason to mention the IMS in the same breath with firms that landed in the corporate graveyard or are headed there. By all accounts, the Hulman-George racing empire is in respectable shape these days, even though the IndyCar Series continues to lose money and its signature race, the 500, is nowhere near as popular as it once was.

But this is no time for complacency or insular thinking—a point that, fortunately, the family is recognizing.

For race fans, the most obvious sign of change this May is the advertisements now emblazoned on the track walls. The family previously has been extremely conservative about signage—even as other sports venues here and across the country raked in lucrative sponsorship deals. Even more ambitious advertising programs are in the works, as Anthony Schoettle reports on page one this week.

The new approach comes at the behest of the board of Hulman & Co., the IMS’ parent company, which itself has taken on a new look over the past 18 months. For years, it was dominated by Hulman-George family members, some with thin business experience. But that all changed early in 2011, when the board began adding some of the best business minds in the city.

Directors now include the likes of private-equity investor John Ackerman, veteran businessman Andre Lacy and Michael L. Smith, the former chief financial officer of WellPoint Inc. Also new to the board are Mark Miles, CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, and Jim Morris, president of Pacers Sports & Entertainment.

It’s great to see such an impressive team of corporate and civic heavy-hitters working together to ensure a bright future for one of central Indiana’s most iconic businesses.

The challenges the board will face are substantial. Open-wheel racing doesn’t have the broad fan interest it had a generation ago, and the sport lacks drivers with the star power of a Mario Andretti or A.J. Foyt.

But with strong leadership, innovative thinking and risk-taking, it still can have a bright future. We expect to see the Hulman-George family and the Hulman board unleash myriad other changes at the track and in the IndyCar Series in future years—and that’s a good thing.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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