George seeks answers on ouster
INDIANAPOLIS -- Tony George has questions for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's board of directors. Lots of them.
George responded to his ouster as the speedway's CEO last month by posting a 13-paragraph statement on his IndyCar team's Web site Sunday. In it, George said he wanted a "reasonable explanation" for the board's decision and questioned the leadership of track officials.
"My question for the board has been not one of who is going to manage the company, but rather, who is going to lead it?" he wrote. "There is a distinction."
Jeff Belskus replaced George as CEO on July 1. Speedway president Joie Chitwood announced Monday he was leaving in August to take another job in racing.
Speedway officials said they would not respond to George's comments, which were released less than two hours before the start of NASCAR's race at the Brickyard and on the same day IndyCars were scheduled to run in Edmonton, Alberta. George was in Edmonton with his Vision Racing team, which he still owns.
It's only the second time since the June 30 announcement that George has commented publicly on the move, and it might not be his last. He instructed fans to "stay tuned" for another installment without saying when it would appear.
The most successful IndyCar owner in history, Roger Penske, credited George with making the series more affordable and having the foresight to make changes at the historic 2.5-mile oval.
"The interest in the [Indianapolis] 500 was up this year, he brought NASCAR to the track and he had the vision for the soft walls. That was his vision," Penske said. "I understood his business sense and his passion."
George also added Formula One and motorcycle races to the schedule.
The board, however, was concerned about George's expenses.
During his 20-year tenure as the speedway's top executive, George spent hundreds of millions of dollars on track renovations and more money to keep the Indy Racing League afloat after he formed the series in 1994. The series did not hold its first race until 1996.
The ramifications were being felt throughout the business.
Over the past six months, about 60 staff jobs were eliminated. George's wife, Laura, who co-owns Vision Racing with her husband and actor Patrick Dempsey, also lost her job as an adviser.
George acknowledged in the statement that most IndyCar and Champ Car teams relied heavily on owners' money to compete over the past five years. Champ Car later declared bankruptcy and was absorbed into the IRL, bringing the two rival open-wheel series back together after more than a decade apart.
But the economic recession created another roadblock for George's plans.
"By the end of the  season it started to become clear that our hopes of catching a tailwind from unification heading into 2009 would be met with more challenges," he wrote. "We were now going to have even stiffer headwinds brought about by the global market and financial crisis. By late fall the rumblings began that teams were going to be expecting financial support from the league if they were going to be able to compete in 2009."
That was something the Hulman-George family, which bought the track in 1945, simply couldn't afford.
"Important to note in all of this is, contrary to popular belief, our family does not have an endless supply of cash to continue to pour into the league in the form of subsidy," George wrote.
George continued to reign as the speedway's CEO until June 30 when the board, which consists of himself, his mother, his three sisters and attorney Jack Snyder, decided to bring in a new management team.
Although George remains on the board and still owns his own IndyCar team, he relinquished his leadership over the IRL by turning down the board's offer to run it.
All he really wants are some answers.
"I continue to be perplexed by the board's recent decision to relieve me from my responsibility as CEO of the enterprise," he wrote. "To date, I have not received a reasonable explanation as to why; the statement they released to the press not withstanding, I feel as though after 20 years I am entitled to one. I understand that maybe they dont feel that they owe me an explanation."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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