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MOTOR RACING

IndyCar Series has new leaders

Tony George, founder of the series, is now only a team owner in the Indy Racing League.

July 08, 2009|Jim Peltz

The IndyCar Series heads to its next race Sunday in Toronto with new leadership after the series' controversial founder, Tony George, was replaced by his family's company.

George, 49, had headed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1990 and had created the series and its parent, the Indy Racing League, in the mid-1990s.

But he resigned as chief executive of the track and the IRL amid reports that family members had grown disgruntled with his heavy spending over the years on the speedway and the series, and with the IRL's struggle to improve its popularity and financial health.

Mari Hulman George, chairman of the speedway and Tony George's mother, said George would now focus on his co-ownership of Vision Racing, an IndyCar Series team.

"We are pleased that he will continue to be an important part of the Indy Racing League as a team owner and as a member of our board of directors, and we wish him every success," Hulman George said in a statement last week.

The board promoted veteran speedway executives Jeffrey Belskus to be chief executive of the track and W. Curtis Brighton to be chief executive of the Hulman & Co. family business.

George has not publicly responded to the changes and speedway officials declined to comment beyond the statement, track spokesman Fred Nation said Tuesday.

George triggered the controversial split in what was then the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) series because of concern that oval-track races such as the Indy 500 were losing their value within the series.

He started the separate IRL circuit that divided the sport's participants, fans and sponsors for 12 years, until both sides finally reunited last year. CART, which had evolved into the Champ Car World Series, was absorbed into the IRL.

George also helped bring other types of racing to the 100-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NASCAR has raced at Indy since 1994. The track also played host to Formula One with the U.S. Grand Prix from 2000 to 2007, but at considerable expense, because a curvy road course and new garages had to be built within the oval speedway to hold the race.

George also helped lead development of the SAFER barrier, a wall that helps reduce injuries by better absorbing the impact of crashing cars. The walls are now used throughout racing.

But the IRL has struggled to retain fans and sponsors amid the weak economy.

"This place wakes up every morning and eats money," George told reporters in May, adding that the IRL also has "required a lot of capital to keep it going when there was two competing series, and a lot of money was spent last year trying to unify."

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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