Monday, I had lunch with two Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials, and the level of excitement couldn’t have been higher.
The new reign of Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus was bringing about much optimism among the rank and file at 16 and Georgetown. Walls of bureaucracy had come down and there is a refreshing free-flow of ideas, I was told.
Belskus, my sources told me, regularly visits and talks with executives, middle managers and underlings and often takes their ideas straight to the board overseeing the racing operation.
Sponsorship talks for the pagoda among other things are warming up, and there were even ideas being discussed to diversify the famed Brickyard and bring in new events—including some non-racing events. Think music festival.
The more aggressive sales and marketing approach at the Speedway was lifting spirits and hopes for a better tomorrow.
Then that afternoon, IMS employees—along with its sponsors and other business partners—learned that Tony George had resigned his position as board member of the IMS and Indy Racing League. Belskus himself learned of Tony George’s resignation Friday.
And just as quickly, that optimism hit the floor. Not all of it, but surely some of it. Faster than a speeding open-wheeler, questions began to arise.
Why now? What’s the issue dividing the members of the IMS and IRL board (the Hulman-George family)? How deep is the rift? What's next?
Tony George wasn’t any help in answering those questions. According to officials at his Vision Racing team, George is in Europe on business. But, I was told, there would be an announcement forthcoming—from Vision’s Web site no doubt.
The board of directors let a press release do the talking for them. That's no better than a statement on a Web site. It's just not good enough any more. Not if they want to right this listing ship.
Meanwhile IMS and IRL staffers are left hoping this smoldering situation doesn’t erupt into a fire. At the very least, the uncertainty has lead to re-kindling some old questions. The very questions that Belskus has worked so hard to douse since taking his new job last summer.
Does all of this mean the Speedway will spin-off or kill the money-draining IRL? Are the Brickyard 400 and MotoGP motorcycle races in jeopardy? Is the famed Speedway itself up for sale?
Belskus has been clear that none of those scenarios is up for consideration—at the moment. But you can’t blame Speedway and IRL followers for asking. After all, not many in motorsports would have predicted one year ago where we are today.
The happenings of the last seven months have brought out naysayers from every crack and crevice. And this is the type of situation participants—and more importantly money-paying sponsors hate to have hanging overhead.
Speedway employees told me there is one silver lining to the dark cloud draped over 16th and Georgetown like it’s the Adams Family’s place.
There’s hope, among Speedway staffers, that all this means there’s genuine dedication by the remaining board members to this operation's future.
The five remaining board members are Tony’s three sisters; Nancy George, Josie George, Kathi George-Conforti, their mother, Mari Hulman George and attorney Jack Snyder.
It’s time one or all of these board members get out in front of this situation and tell their constituents—ticket buyers and sponsors not to mention team owners, drivers and track operators—their vision for the future, and a path to prosperity.
But first they must prove they know the way.