Speedway CEO about to get down and dirty

November 17, 2009
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus has some interesting—and difficult—decisions to make, and by all accounts he’s busy mulling many of those.
Belskus isn’t talking to the press much these days, following a round of layoffs at IMS earlier this month. But his lieutenants tell me he will grant a round of media interviews in the next week or two.

A man with a background in accounting, the former Speedway chief financial officer already has shown he’s willing to swing the budget cutting ax. In July, shortly after taking over for Tony George, he promised me there would be changes in the coming off-season.

Already, about 40 folks have been trimmed from the payroll. At the Izod sponsorship announcement Nov. 5, again, he told me changes would be coming and announced soon.

So, what’s next?

Some of the decisions that Belskus must mull will have a huge impact on the Speedway, so don’t expect him to make them hastily. Some may not even come this off-season. But in the next 12 to 18 months, I think you’ll see some big changes.

From a financial standpoint, there are several items that need to be addressed. Two big-ticket items include the future of the Brickyard 400 and MotoGP race. With attendance for both events falling, and expenses considerable, they’re no longer the slam dunk of profitability they once were.

Belskus has already proven he’s not into loss leaders.

He took the first step in shaking things up yesterday, slashing ticket prices to the MotoGP race up to $25 and offering race day-only tickets for the first time.

Also expect Belskus to address the funding of IndyCar teams. Each team that races the entire circuit, is guaranteed a seven-figure check from the series. Paying to keep teams on the grid is one of the things that helped doom Champ Car, and Belskus is smart enough to know it will eventually do the same to the IRL.

Expect Belskus to look to end that practice, possibly passing that responsibility on to sponsors or just plain making it clear that it’s up to the teams to either sink or swim on their own.

Also look for Belskus to take a hard look at re-organizing the current series schedule. In the end, he may conclude that road and street courses in big city centers are more lucrative than oval races at outlying tracks at such places as Kentucky, Iowa and even Chicagoland. If he does, brace yourself oval fans, some of those round-and-round races will be going away.

Speaking of ovals, expect Belskus to re-examine the month of May. Remembering that he was brought in to examine every square inch of the bottom line, I think he may look to slice that month by a week—maybe more.

Most racing observers would never confuse Belskus for a gearhead, that’s for sure. But he’s about to prove he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty cleaning up the oil slick he inherited.


  • Your Crazy
    This blog has some of the most far fetched ideas out there.... get your facts before you ramble onto things that won't happen.
  • Moto GP
    Offering the cheaper one day MotoGP ticket has been in the works for over a year - that wasn't Belskus making that call.

    Go ahead and cut down on the ovals and get further and further from the tradition around Indy. This was also what helped doom Champ Car. I'm not convinced.
    • The Usual
      So jeenyus, oval races nobody attends and nobody watches is the answer?
    • To Mark...
      CART was moving away from ovals long before the split occurred, and it's part of what made the series the MOST POPULAR form of racing in America(a title it took away from the all-road-course IMSA GT Championship. Think about that for a moment). If you look at the TV ratings for the season, ABC had only one oval(Indy, no surprise) that outdrew it's road courses in TV ratings, and Versus had only two ovals(Texas and Chicagoland) that did the same to THEIR road course races. the majority of oval fans in the US watch NASCAR. The road courses also consistently sold out(with the only exceptions being Toronto and IIRC, Infineon), while most of the ovals had huge gaps in the crowds. Moving away from ovals didn't doom Champ Car - it's what made CART popular. Contrary to what Tony George wanted people to think when he created the IRL, the CART IndyCar World Series was on top of the US motorsport scene and STILL GROWING when he created the IRL. And while CART was not perfect, you don't get to that level by doing everything wrong. Not convinced? Then learn your history. By only having 6-8 ovals per year, CART made every single oval they ran as unique as every road course, which makes them all the more exciting. What's more, how does it detract from the legend and tradition of Indy to make the race MORE UNIQUE? To me, making the race more unique makes it even MORE important, even MORE legendary, and if nothing is changed about the race itself, all the more traditional. Tradition only matters if it means something. And if you have a schedule stuffed full of oval after oval, it takes away the meaning of Indy.

      I say a 50/50 oval/road course mix is pretty much perfect. But I won't shed a tear if a couple ore ovals are lost. It'll just make me enjoy the Indy 500 that much more.
    • FormulaFox...
      NASCAR was more popular than c*rt before the split even happened.
      • What about F1
        There is a constant rumbling about the need for the F1 schedule to include a USA date and location.

        Is Belskus ready to get his hands dirty on that one??

        Indy (and the US) needs F1 back - we are the right answer.

      • the IRL
        Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once!
      • Turtles
        I like turtles
      • Kudos
        Kudos to Belskus for trimming the fat and cutting through the Tony George business accumen (aka BS). I strongly suggest the sacrifice of "month of May" for a week of May. I strongly favor the elimination (once and for all) of the IRL brand...which will always be associated with the AOW split. Formally kill it and move forward as "IndyCar". Do a complete re-brand without that crappy IRL logo. Folks CRINGE when they see or hear it. And why are they gonna dump OVALS? Because there's no Ticket giveaways, no nascar tix extortion packs, no fans, no attendance...and if so, no sponsorship from Izod for empty grandstands. So this is WIN-WIN for AOW...but a loser for all of the IRL enablers who allowed this all to happen in the first place. You enablers need to suggest 25/8 again so your precious Indy heroes don't go down the drain. Oh I forgot, you don't have any heroes since 1996.
      • Fuk everyone else
        I say cut them all....no brickyard... no motogp etc..

        then run the orad coarse on laborday weekend ..... and tell bernie he can bring his circus to town and run as the # 3 support series on the undercard....Indycars, FILS, F1

      • Rubbish
        If Belskus had any business sense whatsoever, he would have shuttered this abortion by now, and photocopied the for sale sign in Anton the Brilliant's yard and stuck it in front of IMS.

        But since he's a bootlicking Hulmanista, this fraud will continue to be perpetuated for another year apparently, and that will receive all the mocking, ridicule and derision that can be heaped unto it, deservedly so.

        Pretty funny that the lemmings still think the 'vizhun' was a good and necessary thing. They should race short busses around IMS, that's about all that's understandable to what little audience it has left. :)

        code = ew5mw
      • Motorock...
        That statement was so wrong it's not even funny. The rise of NASCAR was the result of the split, everyone who studied their racing history knows that. CART was on top until then.
      • to Formula Fox
        Then why did NASCAR outdraw cart at Loudon, Michigan and Phoenix, the only venus where both series raced. NASCAR also had higher ratings during that time. You'd know that if you had really studied your history. As for road racing being more popular than oval racing. There are over 900 oval tracks across the country and less than 100 road courses, do the math.
        • to Motorock
          Every single fact you stated save for the number of road courses compared to ovals is completely false. First of all, NASCAR never outdrew CART at any venue they shared prior to the split. Both series generally SOLD OUT the seats at the tracks, so neither one could boast a higher on-track attendance. NASCAR never had higher ratings prior to the split, either. As for the number of ovals compared to road courses in America, that means nothing to which series got better TV ratings or track attendance. The figures also take the little dirt ovals that dot the country into account, of which the closest thing for a road course is a professional karting track. Which, if you counted those, would bring up the road course count to a number rivaling the oval count.

          Prior to the split, NASCAR was still a niche series operating mostly on the south and, outside of the Daytona 500, got nowhere near the level of attention that the CART IndyCar Series got. Just because you don't like it doesn't make it any less true.
        • agreed
          Great points Chief. The "irl" brand must go, it is way past time. And good riddance to Spartucky, Corntucky and empty Chicagoland.
        • Wrong
          Cart geeks, and that is truly what they are, although I'll accept "nerds" or "dorks", somehow think that package is the answer. Well, they have been playing with their own packages too much. Back then, the great American names were still in the sport. Unser, Andretti, Sullivan, and so on...only a small handful of foreign drivers actually resonated....Fittipaldi, Zanardi later on, Moore until he died. But the truth is race fans in American want to see All-American studs racing ov oval tracks and that is why NASCAR has kicked OW racing's azz to the curb ans stomped on it. Doesn't matter what you call it...CART, Champ, IRL. NOBODY cares that Dario Franchtti is the champ or that Helio is a three-time Indy winner. To make Indy Car racing strong again it comes down to Indy, Texas, Iowa, Michigan, Phoenix, and a couple others of the oval variety and white guys in crew cuts, preferably handsome and personable, with the occasional dashing foreginer with a a passion for Indy, Wheldon fits the bill....and you have a sport people are interested in. The rest is all bullstink. There is a reason why Jason Keller is on cereal boxes and Vitor Meira is not. Cut the crap and deal with the facts.
          • your wrong
            The ovals have been the problem, no fans in the seats, Champcar had 100,000 with there street and road course weekends, where have you been?
          • your wrong
            The ovals have been the problem, no fans in the seats, Champcar had 100,000 with there street and road course weekends, where have you been?
          • your wrong
            The ovals have been the problem, no fans in the seats, Champcar had 100,000 with there street and road course weekends, where have you been?
          • your wrong
            The ovals have been the problem, no fans in the seats, Champcar had 100,000 with there street and road course weekends, where have you been?
          • your wrong
            The ovals have been the problem, no fans in the seats, Champcar had 100,000 with there street and road course weekends, where have you been?
          • It's all about Iowa
            Scrap the present system and begin anew in Iowa. The Corntucky 500 would be the end of the open wheel war. No more Mindy in May. We got plenty of sponsors here in Iowa. They're all in the corn business and that makes plenty of money.

            Now some folks don't like the idea of corn as a major sponsor. That's because not everyone likes the same parts of the cobb. Some like the niblets only. I think corn is more than the bits stuck between your teeth. There's the cobb too. So I propose we name the race:


            Not everyone will want to field a car in this so we need to be clever. I propose we make it a requirement that the first 25 starting positions be granted to full season participants.

            Yeah I know some of you are thinking that could be a very bitter and divisive strategy. Don't worry, the fans will forget the 25/8 rule and never look back.

            This will be a huge event!!! People will come from as far away as Des Moines!!!

          • Dan is wrong all five times
            CART's streetfest model drove it into oblivion. Costly, bad racing, nobody but party faces care. Horrible tv ratings.NASCAR not only body-slammed CART, it broke all of its poor little bones and left a puddle og goo. Indy Cars are about American jocks full of reb-blood and testosterone gunning balls-out at five or six tracks people would go to tops. So an eight to ten race series is what you get, with Indy in the spotlight. Street courses are for fruity sports cars and the Pilotti-wearing, sweater-vesters. Again, NOBODY cares if Vitor Meira or Mario Moraes has a big Top 5 duel at Long Beach or Toronto. They don't either at Texas or Iowa. But THEY do care what happens with Smoke, Mark Martin, and Jimmy Johnson. Guess what? Has nothing to do with the big, ugly car. Again, crew-cutted, red-blooded American guys from Bakersfield or Birmingham, gunning at 200. There is a reason why names like AJ Foyt, Jimmy Bryan, and Parnelli Jones are revered. MMMMMMMM....not so much Gil De Ferran, Dario Franchitti, and Scott Dixon. MMMMMM....most people I know have no idea who they are. MMMMMMM...most people I know who don't even follow racing know who Jimmie Johnson is, know who Buddy Baker was, know the name Rick Mears. Your seat, Dan.
          • De Nile
            I find it fascinating that many folks are in denial about the financial condition (and it's disasterous effects on the IRL) of IMS. Anthony, even you are being ridiculed today across the internet forums as being anti-speedway, which equates to nothing more than "shooting the messenger" in actuality. The sad reality that IMS has made horrific business blunders these past several years is taking the speedway's dedicated followers right over the cliff. And, they're going screaming and kicking....just like Tony George wanted. One week of May, condense the schedule, go for things that pay (like street races). Everything else just pray they can get it back to 1995 levels BEFORE the failed IRL began. Really, think about it, HOW FAR HAS THIS SPORT FALLEN because of TONY GEORGE's influence? Well, he wants nothing to do with it anymore....how's that for a pretty picture?
          • To the IRL crazies
            You can call us whatever you want. CART geeks, CART whatever. The fact of the matter is we have concrete data that backs up our arguments, you only have opinion.
            FACT: With only a couple of exceptions, the road and street courses this season had HIGHER TV ratings and attendance than the ovals.
            FACT: CART was a popular, profitable series up until poor management took over in 2000, whilst the IRL HAS NEVER TURNED A PROFIT IN THE ENTIRETY OF IT'S EXISTENCE.
            FACT: Several people currently involved with the IRL believe Champ Car would have won had they held out on more season.
            FACT: Although slim, Champ Car turned a profit in 2007. Holding out that one more season would not have been a problem.
            FACT: The Champ Car bankruptcy was done only to protect the IRL and Champ Car's former owners from breach-of-contract lawsuits - even Tony George admitted this, the claim otherwise is completely false.
            FACT: Even if you(incorrectly) believe NASCAR was bigger prior to the split, the fact still remains that CART was the most popular OPEN-WHEEL series America ever had. It maintained that status until 2001, when the team exodus began(which was just as much in protest of the new, extremely poor management decisions as it was to go back to Indy).
            FACT: The IRL would not be going to road courses if they were not popular.
            FACT: The IRL must go where the fans are going and where the TV audience wants to watch. As long as these are road courses, that's where they'll go. CART went to those places because they MADE MONEY.
            OPINION: I'd much rather watch a parade on a road course than a parade on an oval. At least in the road course parade, the drivers still have to WORK to maintain their position.
            OPINION: The road courses this year were far more exciting than 90% of the ovals.
            FACT: Almost all the oval freaks in this country are currently watching NASCAR. If the IRL runs too many ovals, they'll be ignored as attempting to copy NASCAR. IF they run too many road courses, they'll be ignored as a Formula One ripoff. Hence, the 50/50 oval/road course split is a MUST. If either one gains an advantage of more than one track over the other, it must be rectified ASAP. If Homestead is lost, it must be replaced with another oval. If Mid-Ohio is lost, it must be replaced with another road course(CLEVELAND, DAMMIT!). The IRL needs to be UNIQUE, and no other series in the world has an oval/road course split like what the IRL will have next year. The IRL needs to market itself as something COMPLETELY different from ANYTHING else out there. And that's what the 50/50 split gives them.
            FACT: What worked for CART in the early 90s won't work for the IRL, but the principles that the IRL was founded on have long since proven to be unable to work, as well.

            Like it or not, the IRL will do whatever makes the most financial sense. All current data says that the 50/50 oval/road course split is what they need. It's like this for a reason, and like it or not, it will be here to stay as long as the numbers say it's what is needed. SO GET OVER IT.
          • I was there
            Having worked for Champcar/Cart for 18 years I can tell you what was the really problem. It was not the oval/ road course ratio. You can discuss all day long which is better and never agree. Both forms of racing have merit. What was the problem was mis-management, poor BUSINESS decisions by owner/team owners who only looked at how things would affect themselves and not the big picture of how things would affect the sport. In the CART days the money was flowing like honey but because of greed they pissed TG off(rightly so) and that started the swirling waters of disaster for both. CART was tanked (and I mean by design not by poor spending, even Pook can't just overspend 80 million by mistake) for the purpose of getting the company out of public stock and team owners control... it was hoped that a privately owned Champcar could take on the IMS and win. But all that changed was instead of a large board of directors made up of team owners, you had three team owners, two who had money in CCWS and one who was "loaned" the start money in order to be a tie breaker. AT firsts they made good decisions but they still looked at the bottom line and ask "what is in it for me" Not what is best or auto-racing. Even in unification they worked a deal best for themselves and left their hard working employees and teams out to dry by rushing to a deal and not making it a proper merger. What makes NASCAR a power house is they have the people making the decisions for the right reasons. WHAT IS BEST FOR THE SPORT. Not the fans, not the teams, not the track owners, not the owners but the sport in general for if the body is health the whole group is health. NASCAR controls everything. Their drivers, their teams, the race and maybe even who wins from time to time but it is ALL for the betterment of the sport and they are all fat, rich and happy for it. If you don't think NASCAR has a plan for the future as their ticket sales are falling then your crazy. Look at how they shock things up with the chase. Everyone said the true race fans would never except it or the Car of tomorrow but they have just like they excepted foreign drivers and foreign cars and yes even taking on Danica. NASCAR is not afraid to rattle traditions and change things up. I think that if you give Belskus time and the chance to mend the wounds of YEARS of mismanagement... the IRL and the IMS will come out of this well and be a force to deal with NASCAR.(The product is better and with F1 troubles the door to the world is opening.) My advice to Mr Belskus is to move forward with new ideas and new racetracks. If attendance falls, leave and go elsewhere. With today's spectator, they bore after two to three years (the Speedway is the exception because of the depth of traditions which Kentucky will never have)so keep the contracts short and bail when crowds no longer are coming. NEVER turn down a race that draws a crowd!!! NEVER under not circumstance. Australia should never have been lost. It was a built in mini Indy with a tradition loving crowd. Even in the CCWS days it was still called the Indy and anywhere on in the country of Australia if you said you were there for the Indy, they knew what you meant AND knew someone who always went to it. Now there is nothing in Surfers. Too sad and very bad business! I love auto racing with all my heart but auto racing is a business and being run like a proper business is the only way it will survive.
          • Run a business
            You guys can bag on Tony, the speedway and the sanctioning bodies all you like. But until you sit in a seat of business and run one, you have no idea what you are talking about. If it is so easy, go earn a ton of cash and test your ideas out. If it is easy and they work, great! Glory only goes to the quarterback that plays on Sunday - win or loose - and never to the one who plays on Monday morning safe in his chair in his living room.
          • Don't know about anyone else...
            But personally, I never said it was easy. We bash on Tony George and the IRL for two very good reasons, #1 being that he destroyed a good thing(you can argue that perhaps CART would have died anyway without the IRL coming into existence, but I don't think anyone with half a brain would believe such a thing would happen in the same period of time if the IRL was never formed), and #2 being that the IRL is all we have left and we want to make sure it becomes the best it can possibly be. History can teach us a lot, so folks like me look at it to find what people liked, and how interests have changed over time(which sometimes they don't). Is it easy? No. There are tons of problems to overcome to make it happen. They can't just make a better car appear out of thin air(nor should we, lest we accidentally compromise safety in worse ways than the Dallara's two major flaws), they can just go to whatever racetrack they want, and they can't just make fans appear in the grandstands. All I know is that we fans need to make our voices heard to get what we want, and that the IRL has been listening - the 50/50 road course/oval split is in place because it's what the MAJORITY of fans demanded. Like it or not, it's the ONLY reason it's happened. It's not FUN being negative all the time, but if we focus on the good too much, the bad will never be fixed. It'll be hard work, but it CAN be done.

            I just hope the guys in charge now are up to it.
          • The Customer Is ALWAYS Right

            I wouldn't trade shoes with Belskus EVER....he's got a lot of work cut out for him. I will offer one nugget of wisdom for you though....the CUSTOMER is always RIGHT. You can run your business anyway you want, but when you screw the customer over, your business is SCREWED. 60% TV rating loss, paid attendance dropping. On a 4th tier backwoods cable station for 10 years. Those "metrics" don't lie. So, keep on screwing over the AOW customer with All oval, all american promises...sellout your vision for Japanese YEN. Aquire a competitor in a merger and treat them like underlings with "transition team" terminology. Masquarade as a great series that once existed by assuming their name and races. 10,000 showed up for an IRL weekend in Toronto where 175,000 fans attended previously. DUMP Austrailia where 200,000 attended but add a race in Alabama and one in Brazil. Jeff....please, is that anyway to run a business? The IRL is the most UNATTRACTIVE unappealing option in the auto racing arsenal WORLDWIDE. Thats' something they've been successful at.....dissing the customer. At least they're successful at that.....some great business. Huh?
          • solution
            He should just run the Indy 500, no other race. and go back to 30 days in may. and not allow anyone that supported cart over the irl, admission to the indy 500 at any price, except for the ones they hang in the infield where the snakepit for downtime excitement. this should get the Harley riders back. after all the only thing that sucked worse than cart was cart fans !!!!
          • Less ovals is better for Indianapolis
            I don't understand people saying less ovals would hurt the Indianapolis 500. If anything, it makes it all the more important as it would be more unique on the schedule instead of the same thing we see every other weekend for 30 weeks.
          • The Indy Fallacy
            I will offer this arguement: Centering the AOW sport around Indy has essentially killed it. Let's face it, the only benefactor to the INDY traditions and legacy was NASCAR over the past 15 years. Indy 500 tarnished itself the day NASCAR was allow to finance the IRL's existance. AND YOU WANT TO KEEP THAT INDY FOCUS FOR AOW? Tony George sold the soul of the speedway to gain control of the AOW sport, which in turn destroyed it all. As a dedicated 40 year fan of this sport, CART proved a successful series with a major race (Indy 500) worked to perfection. The speedway has no choice but to continue this charade, but seriously the "center around" arguement is a proven FAILURE. Just existing doesn't count, the IRL is a failure every respect, especially with regard to the "Indy Fallacy". Ask yourself this question "Is the sport better now than in 1994"? Come on you business degreed geniuses....
          • This is probably the best illustration of how some haters do not care about Indy, IMS, or OW racing. The hate spilling out of their comments ranging from make the 500 a support race to closing it all down show it is not about TG, it is not about the OW split (unless they are still upset they lost their money or jobs when cart/owrs/ccws went under) but it is about some deep rooted hatred that is not at all constructive. To think of the economic devastation Indy and all of central indiana would suffer if IMS "went under" or the Brickyard "went away"' would be devastating both financially and phsychologically. But yet the haters do not care about that, they want to see it all go away. I am now curious of some of these haters are not from around here, but are out of towners or staters who are jealous of what Indianapolis has developed.
          • Seriously, are you on drugs?
            Indyman....put down the crack pipe. The "business as usual" approach of the IRL and IMS has not netted any gains for AOW, just status quo failure. No one advocates the destruction of Indy, the IMS and the IRL have done that all to themselves. Instead, the "haters" want Indy to survive and eclipse AOW heights that existed before the IRL abomination was hatched in Tony George's $600 million dollar pea-brain. Trust me....the IRL brand could go away in name only and it all continue on as just the IndyCar series and no one would shed a tear at it's loss. In fact, it just might ATTRACT sponsors eager to get back in but the moniker "IRL" has bad conotations attached to it. So, climb back into your Indy bunker with your NRA approved firearms while you await the black helicopters. The rest of us, including (apparently) Jeff Belskus will work together to improve the health of IMS, Indy 500 and AOW in general. And if that's being a hater....so be it.
          • The Usual
            my sources tell me there's a blue light special in the works in Gasoline Alley
          • Sao Paulo
            How many races did OWRS have again? Just remember that all thing that were bad in CART/CCWS are all good in the irl*. Street courses, foreign races, and ride buying Brazilians are all lapped up by the Gomerati.

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