George apparently still in charge at Indy

Updated: May 27, 2009, 7:36 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tony George is still the CEO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

How much longer he holds the title remains unclear.

On Wednesday, track officials denied that the board of directors voted to oust the 49-year-old CEO and said that George has instead been asked to create a more efficient plan for spending time running the family's businesses. George, the Indy Racing League founder, must report back to the board later this year.

"Contrary to published reports, I continue to serve as CEO of IMS," George said in a statement issued by the speedway. "Our board of directors met yesterday, and we did discuss how to best confront challenges and exploit opportunities facing our businesses. But no changes in leadership or responsibility have been made."

Yet.

The board wants George to focus on the area that needs the greatest attention. The Hulman-George family has run the speedway for six decades and also owns the IRL and Clabber Girl, a baking-powder company based in Terre Haute, Ind.

Tony's mother, Mari Hulman George, made it clear which part of the company that should be.

"The Indy Racing League represents our greatest growth opportunity and therefore deserves the most attention at this point," she said in the statement.

But throughout the day, confusion reigned in Indianapolis.

SpeedTV.com reported Wednesday morning that the board, which is comprised of George, his mother, his three sisters and attorney Jack Snyder, had removed George as the speedway's CEO after 20 years in the position.

Series regulars were shocked.

They were even more confounded when George later appeared outside the 100-year-old track to deny the report.

"I think a lot of people were wondering what exactly was going on," longtime IndyCar team owner Dennis Reinbold said. "The whole thing was confusing. It didn't seem to make any sense."

Clearly, the economy has put a premium on the company finances.

George has spent hundreds of millions or dollars in the past 13 years to make track renovations and keep the IRL afloat.

Construction for a road course, new press tower and new Pagoda cost about $100 million. Those facilities were built for a Formula One race that is no longer held in Indy.

He also broke with tradition by bringing NASCAR and Grand Prix motorcycle to a track that had only hosted one race each year, the Indianapolis 500, until 1994.

But the cost to keep the track in good condition can be astronomical.

"This place wakes up every morning and eats money," George told local TV reporters. "We spend a lot of money keeping it in the condition we do. Certainly the Indy Racing League has in the past required a lot of capital to keep it going when there was two competing series -- and a lot of money was spent last year trying to unify."

The statement indicated the family businesses are not in trouble, but the speedway and IndyCar series have been cutting back.

Over the past six months, about 60 staff jobs were eliminated, and George's wife Laura, who co-owns Vision Racing with actor Patrick Dempsey, lost her job as an adviser. George said she had not been fired.

Throughout the series' signature May event, the 500, there were noticeable differences such as a reduced practice schedule and fewer staff members around the track.

At Tuesday's regularly scheduled meeting, one of the topics was efficiency.

"There was a general discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing all of our companies and where most of our energies need to be spent," Hulman George said. "All of our properties are doing well, given the challenges of the current economy."

That could put George in the position of determining where his energy is best spent -- at the track, with the series or, perhaps, finding a way to still do both.

Reinbold prefers the third option.

"He's done a lot of innovative things that have been good," Reinbold said. "We in the IndyCar series are growing and that's directly under his watch and his responsibility. I've made mistakes in my business, and I think there's been a few mistakes in the IndyCar series as well, but you live and learn. I think to be growing in times like this, that means our positioning is pretty good."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press