SPARTA, Ky. — Nearly one month to the day when he lost control of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and his position of authority over the IndyCar Series, Tony George achieved his greatest moment as a team owner in Saturday night’s Meijer Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway.
And after the month of turmoil that has ensued after he was removed of his positions of CEO and president of the corporation by his own family, watching his stepson, Ed Carpenter, nearly win Vision Racing’s first IndyCar Series race gave George something to smile about.
“It’s too bad — we would have liked to have won that — but it was a great race,” George said after watching Carpenter lose by just .0162 second to Ryan Briscoe. “I’m happy for the team. They have worked hard for five years now. We have a lot of work to do though, because we have to do this consistently.”
When George formed Vision Racing in 2005, his critics said the team’s logo should be a “Seeing Eye Dog.” At that time, George’s detractors thought it was a conflict of interest for the owner of the series to field a team in the series.
But George was a lightning rod for controversy and criticism for his role in creating the Indy Racing League, which led to the bitter split with teams from CART and later Champ Car, and starting an IndyCar Series just so his stepson could have a ride in the sport gave his critics plenty of ammunition.
The only problem with that argument is Carpenter was more than capable behind the wheel of an IndyCar. He wasn’t known as a “crasher,” he knew the rules of the road and was rarely in the way of a faster driver on the race track.
He was solid if unspectacular, but he displayed momentary flashes of potential, such as his three fifth-place finishes, including the 2008 Indianapolis 500.
George’s wife and Carpenter’s mother, Laura, was stung by the criticism of her husband and son, but refused to engage in a rebuttal to the critics.
She enjoyed some self satisfaction in watching Carpenter and Vision Racing nearly knock off the Goliaths of IndyCar — Team Penske.
“I kind of get tired of hearing that, but it was nice that Ed proved tonight he is capable and the team deserves it,” she said.
“I have to thank my mom and Tony for giving me this opportunity,” Carpenter said on pit lane after driving the race of his life. “I was hoping this would be a break-out race to get our season turned around for the rest of the season. I could have asked for one more spot, that’s all.
“It was fun running on a mile and a half with a Penske car. I was playing with my ‘push to pass’ button on the final laps. It was close and hopefully we can get that next one on a superspeedway. I’ve always known I could win one of these if I got close, and after tonight I know that we can win one. We had more side-by-side racing today than in any other race this season.
“For a long time, I would have taken second in one of these.”
But to get that close to victory is something that will likely linger in Carpenter’s mind for a long time.
Yet, he can take solace in the fact he proved that he belongs in the series and Vision Racing is a team capable of winning races.
“There are so many times that I’ve had to read articles, just like Tony, that say he shouldn’t be owning a team and I shouldn’t be driving,” Carpenter said. “Hopefully, after tonight, some of those people believe I should be here.
“I’m so appreciative to my mom and Tony for starting Vision Racing, and hopefully on nights like tonight I’m sure he is glad that he started this team.”