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INDYCAR’s Apocalypse?

October 20, 2012

Anne Proffit photo

INDYCAR didn’t want to be left out of the public eye from the time the season ended at Auto Club Speedway the middle of September until wheels down on the streets of St Petersburg late next March. That’s tough to do with so many other motor sports ongoing.

So I wasn’t surprised to see IZOD IndyCar Series representatives on-site at the 15th annual Petit Le Mans on the Road Atlanta road course. Two champion drivers are in the field: four-time champ Dario Franchitti teams with brother Marino in one of two Level 5 LM P2 Honda prototypes and newly crowned titleholder Ryan Hunter-Reay is in one of two Viper GTS-R’s racing the very tight GT class.

I spied Keith Wiggins and Tom Brown from HVM roaming the paddock beginning on Thursday. Just checking it out, they said. Former INDYCAR entrant Eric Bachelart’s Conquest Racing became Conquest Endurance this year and has former Firestone Indy Lights standout Martin Plowman as one of his drivers. Might HVM be thinking of joining him?

Will Phillips is in the house; Chip Ganassi was on the ALMS grid Saturday morning.

But none of that has been the real INDYCAR news this week.

It’s now out in the open that Tony George is part of a consortium looking to buy INDYCAR, which Hulman & Company insists is not for sale. George has resigned form the Hulman & Co. board of directors, per a late Friday afternoon release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway public relations.

“Tony George has made the difficult decision to resign from the board because of his involvement with a group that has recently expressed an interest in purchasing the Hulman & Company-owned INDYCAR organization,” said Jeff Belskus, Hulman & Company president and CEO.

“While the business is not for sale and no offers to sell it have been considered or are being considered, we applaud Tony’s efforts to resolve the appearance of a conflict and appreciate the gravity of this decision.”

Okay, but if the series isn’t for sale, why is Tony again leaving the family business?

There’s only one answer I can think of and that he’s forgotten his own sordid and recent history of rending, fragmenting and nearly destroying American open wheel racing. It’s a sad, sad story and one he seems destined to repeat.

While it’s true that this year’s television ratings have been terrible for the IZOD IndyCar Series, that’s not due to the competition itself, which has been superb. Tony’s stepson Ed Carpenter even won the series’ season finale for the second year in a row.

It’s all about perception, and that perception points to a series that has turned off fans to the point of no return.

And if Tony George retakes control of this series after finally ceding his position less than three years ago, it’s pretty much a guarantee that the haters – and there are hundreds of thousands of them – will ensure that open wheel racing disappears from major American motorsports.

Don’t get me wrong – I personally have no vendetta against Tony or anyone in the Hulman-George family. I quite like most of them, including Tony, Laura, Tony Jr and Lauren George – and particularly sister Nancy George. But I do believe that this is an ego-boosted move that shows no regard for fans of the sport, no regard for the many manufacturers and suppliers to the sport and for other interested parties that would, should INDYCAR show added signs of health, join the playing field.

But the question remains: Is the gratification of Tony George’s ego worth the inevitable result?

By Anne Proffit

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