Indy has job cuts, hiring freeze

Updated: January 4, 2009, 11:41 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Add the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the list of sports institutions hit by the recession.

Speedway officials have completed their budget review and some positions have already been eliminated, though spokesman Fred Nation did not provide a figure. Speedway officials have also implemented a hiring freeze and acknowledge more jobs could be lost next year if the economy continues to fizzle.

"As time moves forward, there could be more restructuring, depending on the economy," Nation told The Associated Press on Friday.

Earlier this week, the speedway began making changes as it closed its 45-year-old hotel, the Brickyard Crossing Inn, where some drivers used to stay in May and scenes from Paul Newman's movie "Winning" were shot. That decision cost 15 full-time employees their jobs.

Speedway officials join a growing group of sports leagues and teams that have been forced to cut back.

Last week, the well-financed NFL announced it would lay off 10 percent of its staff. The NBA, NASCAR teams and the company that runs Major League Baseball's Internet division also have announced layoffs. The NHL hasn't laid off workers, though it is under a hiring freeze.

But auto racing, whose teams, tracks and races are often funded by major corporate sponsorships, could be especially vulnerable.

The Indy Racing League replaced its fuel provider with a Brazilian-based Ethanol company last month. The new company, APEX-Brasil, has agreed to pay an undisclosed sponsorship fee and purchase TV time.

One sign of trouble came Thursday when race promoters announced that the IRL's September event in Detroit would be canceled, in part because of the economic crisis. They hope to put the race back on the schedule in 2010.

Plus, after a strong season in which Danica Patrick became the first woman to win an IndyCar race, Graham Rahal became the youngest driver to win a major open-wheel race and the re-unification of the former Champ Car and the IRL series reinvigorated interest in the series, the number of cars racing next season could drop.

"I expect that it will be down some, it will probably be similar to pre-unification levels," Nation said. "A lot of these deals don't get done until early in the year."

All of it could make the year more competitive off the track for series and speedway officials.

"We are as challenged, I will assure you, as most other industries," said Terry Angstadt, president of the IRL's commercial division. "When our job, all day, every day, is to make sure our business is well-supported financially, that's part of our responsibility."

Other concerns include ticket sales.

The speedway has already seen a decline in advance ticket sales for NASCAR's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and is now offering a discounted rate for tickets purchased by Dec. 26. Nation attributes the decline, partly, to the tire problems that turned last year's race into a series of 10- to 12-lap shootouts.

Tickets for the Indianapolis 500, the track's signature race, have been selling at a better pace, Nation said.

"We depend on discretionary spending," he said. "We're not immune from some of the pressure that has been seen in NASCAR, the NFL and all kinds of other sports."

It's not entirely bad news for IndyCar racing.

Nation said some sponsors looking for better value from their money have started taking another look at the IRL. No deals have yet been announced.

"There has been interest from a number of sponsors, some are from NASCAR and some are from other motorsports," Nation said. "There certainly has been more interest than in other years."

As for the hotel, the track hopes a new tenant will rebuild a hotel with more modern amenities, something speedway officials deemed too expensive for it to do in these challenging times, which expedited their decision.

"Our motel is an example of the decisions we have put off for several years," Nation said. "I think the economic situation is what moved us to make that decision now. In a perfect world, we would have made the decision to close it at the same time we had a decision to make a new venture and kept the other one working until then."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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