Speedway CEO about to get down and dirty

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.

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