George's ouster clouds IRL's future


If the reality saga "John & Kate Plus 8" goes where their marriage is headed -- right down the drain -- an Indiana family is poised to fill the time slot.

"Hulman George Clan Hits the Wall" is a good working title.

How often does a family get to fire one of its members? Maybe not often enough.

Tony George went from running all of his family's businesses to being virtually fired by his mother -- board chairwoman Mari Hulman George -- and three sisters, who comprise four of six board seats for companies that own Indianapolis Motor Speedway, its events, the Indy Racing League, a race team and Hulman & Co., which includes Clabber Girl baking soda.

The trust for George's business acumen seemingly fell flat with his family. Maybe it's payback for when George left the toilet seat up as a kid.

The man responsible for creating the breakaway IRL that nearly killed major league, open-wheel racing in this country 16 years ago had his goose breaded and cooked Tuesday at a family feast when he "voluntarily" resigned but was allowed to keep his seat on the board.

Provided he leaves the seat down.

His resignation was as voluntary as Richard Nixon's but without the fanfare and farewell wave.

George, 49, had been the chief executive officer of the family businesses. The distaff side of the family allowed him to remain as director of Vision Racing, the IndyCar team for which stepson Ed Carpenter drives.

There is -- or was -- a lot of nepotism within Indiana's first family of racing.

George has been a hero to loyal IRL owners and a zero to just about everyone else who relishes when the Indy 500 was king and open-wheel racing ruled the country's circuits.

With George gone, the future of the IRL isn't any less precarious.

George believed it was prudent to allocate significant profits -- likely hundreds of millions of dollars -- from the speedway to start and then keep the IndyCar Series on life support. If the flow of those funds is cut, IndyCar racing's future is tenuous at best.

Detractors can say what they want about George, but he can't be accused of showing favoritism toward his IRL team while being the league's boss. Vision has not won in 150 races and finished in the top five only 10 times, including none this year.

You also can't give him much credit for vision, at least clear vision.

Although the IRL forced the Champ Car World Series (formerly CART) out of business 18 months ago, George has done little to improve the role of IndyCar racing in America.

He should have known he faced a bumpy road in the series' early years, starting when Manny, Moe and Jack pulled their Pep Boys title-rights sponsorship of the IRL two years into a five-year deal scheduled to run through 2003. Internet search engine Northern Lights stepped in to sponsor the series in 2000 and left after the second year of its five-year deal.

Just as well, or some astronomers would have sued over how the caliber of racing was demeaning to the spectacular "northern lights" that glow in the polar regions.

Noted motor sports journalist Robin Miller reported on Speedtv.com four weeks ago that George would be fired, but everyone in the Hulman George family denied it, including incurious George.

To George's credit, however, he approved implementation of energy-absorbing SAFER guardwall barriers and other safety measures in the IRL and major improvements to the speedway and did his best to get Formula One to return to the United States.

Unfortunately, he probably spent close to $1 billion on his pet projects, and that figure was magnified during the economic downturn.

A lot of that can be recouped if the "Hulman George Clan Hits the Wall" reality series is a success.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at jwolf@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.

 

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