George shuts down IndyCar team
Former Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Tony George's stunningly swift departure from the world of IndyCar racing was seemingly completed Thursday morning when his Vision Racing team announced it was suspending racing operations until sponsorship can be secured.
Around 20 employees were laid off.
Along with his wife, Lauren, George formed Vision Racing in 2005 out of the former Kelley Racing operation based in Indianapolis. George's stepson, Ed Carpenter, served as a co-owner and the team's lead driver for the past five years.
Actor/racer Patrick Dempsey joined the team as a co-owner in 2006, while Vision's race-winning Indy Lights team is co-owned by George's 18-year-old daughter, Lauren.
Tony George and Carpenter addressed the staff at Vision's northwest Indianapolis race shop on Thursday morning for what team members described as "an emotional announcement."
"He told everyone that as difficult a decision as it was to make, he had to inform them they decided to cease racing operations until sponsorship is secured," said team spokesperson Pat Caporali.
"Efforts will continue to locate sponsorship," she added. "But the reality is at the moment there is no sponsorship in place to get the team on track for the 2010 Izod IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights Championship."
The series' first of two open tests is set for Feb. 24-26 at Barber Motorsports Park, a road course in Birmingham, Ala. The season-opener is March 14 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and without money, it would have kept George and his team scrambling for money.
Carpenter scored his and Vision's best result with second place at Kentucky Speedway in August 2009. Ryan Hunter-Reay notched an additional runner-up finish for Vision earlier in the year at St. Petersburg.
Vision secured title sponsorship from the Menard's home improvement store chain for the last two years, but that deal was not extended. It is believed that John Menard did not inform George of his decision to withdraw until within the last two weeks.
Aside from its notoriety as "Tony George's team," Vision Racing was groundbreaking in its innovative use of social media.
"Right now I'm just terribly saddened, like many, about the news," said Michael Kaltenmark, who worked in a part-time marketing and public relations capacity for Vision since its inception. "We had a very good thing going with a great cast of crew members.
"It's a shame to have to suspend operations at such a crucial point in the team's history, but as life teaches us, adversity holds no biases nor exceptions."
For George, the decision is the latest chapter in a strange fall from the top.
In the fall of 1994, the powerful George announced he would form his own racing series, the Indy Racing League, to compete with the more established CART series. Two years later, the bitter rivalry began that split America's IndyCar fans.
Many bemoaned the fact that open-wheel's biggest race, the Indianapolis 500, was on the IRL schedule, while the big-name drivers like Al Unser Jr., Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy were all competing in CART.
George eventually won that battle. In January 2004, CART filed for bankruptcy and George attempted to purchase the remaining assets, a bid to reunify the series. But the judge awarded the assets to three former CART owners, who revived the series under the title of Champ Car World Series.
Financial problems eventually caught up with Champ Car, too, prompting the merger between the rival series just before the 2008 season.
Reunification was supposed to be a boon for IndyCars, but it wound up being the start of George's downfall.
Last summer, George was ousted as CEO and president of the IndyCar series by the speedway board, which is controlled by his mother and sisters, because of concerns over too much spending on track upgrades. He was replaced by Jeff Belskus.
Less than two weeks ago, George resigned from the board that oversees the speedway and the family business, Hulman & Co.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.