Tony George stood on a second-floor balcony of the control tower at Barber Motorsports Park overlooking pit lane as teams from the IZOD IndyCar Series participated in last week’s pre-season test.
It was like watching a former emperor in exile looking over the kingdom he once ruled.
George was ousted from his throne by his own family members who control the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. Board of Directors just two days after Helio Castroneves won the 93rd Indianapolis 500 last May. The board, comprised of his mother, Mari Hulman George along with sisters Nancy, Josie and Kathi, and Indianapolis attorney Jack Snyder, gave him the opportunity to remain as Indy Racing League CEO, but George turned that down.
He went into self-imposed exile when he decided to suspend operations at Vision Racing, the IndyCar Series team he started in 2005.
It’s hard to believe that the man who created the Indy Racing League in 1994, saw it begin its first season of competition in 1996, endure the lean times and struggles only to eventually gain control and force unification with rival Champ Car in 2008 is no longer in the sport.
George is currently faced with two choices — find a sponsor that will allow Vision to return to action or liquidate the team’s assets.
“We’ve had to go through quite a process that has led us to where we are at today,” George said. “We have tried to look at all of our options. We want to continue to operate and are pursuing options in that regard. We are also looking at options to liquidate.
“I have accumulated a lot of assets, so we are looking at selling a lot of our assets. There are a lot of teams out there in need of acquiring assets to support their programs this year. We still have a lot of assets and if we have to restart our racing operation in some point in time we are ready to.”
Instead of watching his stepson and driver Ed Carpenter prepare for the 2010 season, the two are preparing for the Vision Racing Liquidation Sale while hoping their sponsorship search pays off and the sale is stopped.
“We’ve been putting a fair amount of effort into both,” George said. “Getting a sponsor is what the main focus is. The opportunity to liquidate some of our assets is now, not later.”
Not even the Indianapolis 500 can lure George to put Vision Racing back on the track unless a sponsor signs up.
“Only if we have sponsorship,” George said. “I won’t do it for the sake of doing it.”
But what if the starting field for the 94th Indianapolis 500 is stuck at 32 cars and George could save the day by bringing out a Vision Racing entry on Bump Day to fill the field as the 33rd car?
“Not without sponsorship,” George said.
Lack of financial support has kept Vision Racing on the sidelines, but the outpouring of support that George has received from those in the racing community — including some who were once bitter foes at the height of the CART-IRL Open-Wheel War — certainly gives him pause for reflection and appreciation.
“There has been a tremendous amount of support and expression of support,” George said. “That makes me feel good. It also makes me feel good if we ever get our team back together in time for this season or this year that we have developed an atmosphere that people would want to come work at Vision again.
“It’s been tough laying everybody off; things haven’t come together. It’s been tough selling off assets. Fortunately, it’s making it possible for other teams that have opportunities today to flip a switch and come out ready to start the season. We have provided some turnkey equipment and in some cases personnel to guys that have come together late with their programs.”
As for George, the series he helped create to make it more affordable for team owners to get involved in IndyCar racing remains too costly to operate without a sponsor or without the support he was able to provide when he was the IMS Corp. CEO.
“It’s difficult on everybody, everyone on the Vision Racing team,” George said. “It’s been very difficult for all of us; not just Ed and me.”