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IndyCar Series / Indianapolis Motor Speedway / Auto Racing / Sports Business

Tony George: 'I didn't start the split, I helped end it'

June 16, 2011

Two days after this year’s Indianapolis 500, former Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar Series boss Tony George sat down for an in-studio conversation during the JMV show on WFNI-AM 1070 The Fan.

I’d heard that George mentioned my name and an article I had written in May 2009 that discussed the series’ profitability. He wasn’t complimentary.

Naturally, I was curious, so I listened to the whole 80-plus minute podcast. What George said about me, my article and the Indianapolis Business Journal wasn’t nearly as interesting as the other nuggets I gleaned from the discussion, which included one of George’s biggest critics over the years: motorsports journalist Robin Miller.

The first thing that struck me was George’s take on the split between IndyCar and CART/Champ Car. “I didn’t start the split, I helped end it,” he said.

To be fair, there was a quite a bit of dissention in open-wheel circles before George formed the Indy Racing League in 1996. Still, I’m not sure many fans or open-wheel insiders would share that view.

Also, George spoke about his relationship with IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard. George clearly is miffed Bernard hasn’t asked for advice from his predecessor.

“I am disappointed Randy hasn’t sought my counsel on things I am well informed on, but wastes no time seeking the counsel of people like Robin Miller,” George said, adding that he likes Bernard and thinks he is doing a good job.

George also said he turned down an offer to be the series CEO because he didn’t want to answer to new Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus.

Miller, who also was in the studio, was on his best behavior and didn’t become too combative, though he pointed out that in 1995—the year before the split—there were 28 fully-funded cars and 12 American drivers.

Miller also accused George of getting him fired from his job as columnist and motorsports reporter at the Indianapolis Star and from a radio show on WNDE-AM 1260.

George laughed that off, saying he didn’t have that kind of power. Miller pointed out that the year he was fired, the Star and IMS entered an extensive business partnership.

One of the strangest parts of the interview was when George talked about the possible sale of the Speedway, which has been rumored for more than a year. It sounded as if George was on the outside looking in, though he sits on the Hulman and Co. board of directors that essentially controls the future of the facility. George is not on the IMS board, but his mom and three sisters are, so you’d think he’d have an insider’s perspective.

For starters, George said he doesn’t think the track is for sale.

“I’m not privy to any conversations,” George said of a possible sale of the mammoth facility. “That’s not to say overtures haven’t been made … I guess if the family were contemplating it, they haven’t mentioned it to me.

“If they are contemplating it, I would be disappointed if they didn’t offer me an opportunity to get in on the bidding.”

George added that he is “sure that people would be interested and are interested” in buying the track.

Other tidbits:

--George lauded the 5 percent attendance increase at this year’s Indianapolis 500 when other sports are seeing double-digit percentage declines.

--He said the only good place for double-file restarts for IndyCar was at Texas Motor Speedway.

--The Brickyard 400 NASCAR race is profitable, he said, and would be profitable even if the track was only half-full on race day.

As for George’s future involvement in the IMS and IndyCar Series, George told JMV he doesn’t want to be involved at this point day-to-day, though he clearly has an interest in the future direction of both enterprises.

“Make no mistake,” George added, “I have an interest in it. I have a passion and a love for it.”

Since George accused my 2-year-old article of taking his comments about the series’ profitability out of context, feel free to long onto WFNI’s website and listen to the podcast yourself.

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