Tony George Answers: Was It Worth It?
INDIANAPOLIS -- In part two of FanHouse's exclusive interview, Tony George discusses the state of the Indy Racing League and why he's not a big proponent of the new championship format.
He discusses the possibility of working in the family business again, the upcoming Indy 500 and whether his great gamble 16 years ago to form a second major American open-wheel series was all worth it in the end.
Holly Cain: What is the direction you'd like to see the IRL take in the future to be a successful racing organization? And did you have any input on hiring (new CEO) Randy Bernard?
Tony George: I will answer the second part of the question first. No, I did not. I had already resigned my position effective the end of the year.
I will tell you that Randy came highly recommended by the "Horse Whisperer" Chris Cox, a friend of my sister Josie and my mother. Randy was also known to a fellow rancher in the Wyoming valley Josie lives in. She has said she was looking for a racing outsider and she found one.
Now to answer the first part of the question; I do have thoughts on the direction I would like to see things go. I don't think it is appropriate for me to comment on that. I will say that, so far, not much has happened since my departure that has changed the current positive trajectory of the League. Most everything that has come together was already in the works, in large part due to (President of IRL Commercial Division) Terry's (Angstadt) leadership and efforts.
Over time, I am sure I will form opinions and express them on the future direction of this or that; and like everyone there will be those opinions that are shared or rejected by those in a position of influence.
Rest assured of one thing, there will always be important, political and emotionally charged issues to deal with and not everyone will always agree.
HC: What's your opinion on the new IZOD IndyCar Series championship format, which will now crown champions in both oval and road course disciplines in addition to an overall champion?
TG: I am not sure I understand the need for it; I know the concept was raised by others in the past, but I didn't think then and I don't believe now that we should bifurcate the series, or create sub‐champions to grow.
In my opinion, once we realized unification, what we needed were a couple of seasons to settle in and demonstrate leadership. That is what we committed to doing post unification.
HC: Generally speaking, how is your relationship with your family after such a difficult situation?
TG: Assuming you are referring to the relationship with my mother and sisters, generally I would have to admit that our conversations have been somewhat strained by our business disagreements; how could it not be?
As I said before, I truly love my family and nothing can change that, but we have a very different view of the future and approach to doing business.
HC: Is there any chance that you would resume a position either with the IRL or with The Speedway or another of your family's companies?
TG: I would absolutely love the opportunity to be involved again, but at this point that seems highly unlikely.
I am so excited and focused on the opportunities that Laura (his wife) and I have before us -- and realistically all these good things will keep us very busy for years to come. I have a renewed energy and vigor from this new chance to focus on my personal and immediate family's opportunities instead of dealing the challenges of leading a family enterprise.
Any family enterprise, with the size and breadth of holdings like our extended family, especially by the fourth or fifth generation, likely foments internal grasping and deceit that can come from a lifetime of deep-seated resentment and anger that only a family can inflict on each other.
This is so common in large family enterprises it is almost a cliche. This can be painful and damaging not only on the current generation, but also on spouses and children of the next generation. The bottom line is that I truly love my mom and sisters, but I am truly grateful and relieved to now get the opportunity to explore other ways to live the most productive years of my business life and attend to the needs of my own wife and children. [Ed. note: Tony and his mother, Mari Hulman George, pictured at right]
What Laura and I are trying to teach our children is that families need to realize that their most valuable assets are the ones that don't include financial holdings -- like relationships, shared values, shared history and experience, and a tradition of generosity with shared purpose and accomplishment that can impact our community with a lasting legacy.
HC: What does the future hold for you in the immediate and long-term? Will you go into business outside of racing?
TG: Some of the things I am exploring are automotive-related and to an extent will leverage racing. I mentioned SONAX earlier. SONAX is a car appearance product company -- like wax and other products to protect and detail a car. It is a very high-end, high-quality product and enjoys a huge market share and phenomenal consumer loyalty in Europe. It is distributed in 94 countries and I have secured the rights to distribute these products in the United States and the potential is enormous.
There are other opportunities that are too early in the development stages to elaborate on. Suffice it so say, I have seen many things come forth as a result of the relationships that I have built through the years and a few that have accelerated because I now have the time to focus on them.
HC: What are your hopes for Vision Racing and where does the team stand? Obviously some positive things are coming up in May (partnering for the Indy 500 with Panther Racing) and from what (Panther Racing owner) John Barnes indicated, possibly beyond that.
TG: Well, I mentioned trying to create options for Vision, let me tell you it has been quite a roller coaster ride since learning that Menards would not be back with us as our primary sponsor for the 2010 season. Starting over from scratch has proven difficult, but I just keep working at it.
Partnering with Panther for the 500 will allow the team to stay in the game to an extent, but we will have to see if that leads to anything else for 2010. For the most part, my focus has to be on creating that sustainability for the future, so realistically that would be 2011 and beyond.
There are some interesting challenges in trying to anticipate which direction to go. I have been a two-, three- and four-car team at times so I have accumulated a lot of stuff. I have been paring down recently, selling redundant assets to others.
If I am successful putting together a program for a multi-car team, then we can expand again easy enough with the proper funding in place. On the other hand, if we joint venture or shut down, I will have simplified greatly and it will make the transition easier. With the potential of new equipment as early as 2012, I don't want to have more obsolete stuff sitting around to figure out what to do with.
Recently we have had good spring garage sales both at home and work, that have provided a real sense of cleansing. Hopefully the clear direction will soon present itself and in the meantime, I look forward to the month of May and the Indianapolis 500.
HC: Your feelings about being at the Speedway for the first time in two decades not affiliated with the league or the speedway management, but as team owner?
TG: It will be different for sure, but I can't say exactly what my feelings are; I think I will have a better sense for my feelings after having experienced it.
I am not exactly going into the event viewing myself as even a car owner so much as just having an involvement. It might be splitting hairs, but if (Vision Racing driver) Ed (Carpenter) wins the race, it won't be recorded in the annals that Vision was the winning entrant.
If Ed wins the race or has another reasonably good result, I will enjoy great satisfaction for having had an involvement.
HC: Reflecting back in general, are there any misconceptions you'd like to set straight?
TG: Misconceptions are only a concern to those that hold them.
HC: Given all that you know now -- all that you have been through -- was it all worth it to form the Indy Racing League? And why?
TG: That is a very broad, open question and the only thing I can do is reiterate what I said earlier, but perhaps say it another way.
There is great value in the Indy Racing League; it exists to support the institutions of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 Mile race; and I am proud of its contributions to the sport.