Tony George Shuts It All Down

First, he was removed as the head of the company that owns and operates the Indianapolis Motor Speedway among other enterprises.  Then, he refused a position as the head of the Indy Racing League.  After that, he resigned from the board of director for the company he used to run.  Yesterday, he suspended operations at Vision Racing.  That was Tony George’s last link to Indy Car.  In less than a year, George has gone from The Man to a guy.

Whatever happened, and for whatever reasons, anyone who has watched the open wheel racing saga unfold over the past 15 years has to say that Tony George has balls as big as the oval at 16th and Georgetown.  He started a major league.  Starting a team in a major league is a generational issue.  Expansion teams take forever to grow roots.  The IRL had an advantage in that its showcase was the world’s greatest single day sporting event, but starting a league is crazy bold.

I know as much about open wheel racing as the average fan, but I am an expert in recognizing a person who has vision, and Tony George has vision.  He had a dream, pursued it, and it became real.  How many of you reading this has ever done that?  Let’s see some hands.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller? 

Whether he was right or wrong in creating the IRL, history will judge.  The people who were violently anti-George still voice their opinions, as do those who were in George’s corner.  I can say this from experiencing it – the vibe was different last may.  For the first time since moving here in 1993, I didn’t have to call and invite anyone to come down for the race.  Friends called me.  It wasn’t just about the Indy 500.  They wanted to be here for Carb Day.  It was the party and fun in addition to the cars and race.  That’s a reflection of the experience of the weekend, which somehow became hip again.  It takes a long time to build back loyalty after radical change, and there seemed to be a tipping point last year for the Indy 500, if not for the entire series.

There must be great pain within Tony George right now.  All of the activities and thoughts that defined his life have either been stripped away, or he has abandoned.  All of the responsibilities that motivated his work day are now gone.  As he wakes up this morning, all he needs to think about are his wife and kids, and what he can next throw his energy toward.  Wow.  That is a change in dynamic that can be dizzying.  If there isn’t pain, there is certainly a void.

While tethered to the board and Vision Racing, George was seen as a guy that still had something to focus on.  Since the news yesterday, professional George is now an empty vessel who needs to sit down and decide what’s next. 

He has enough money for his family to live comfortably for the next 20 generations if they employ even a modicum of discretion in their spending, but a man like George who is used to waking up with enormous responsibilities weighing on his mind needs to feel needed, challenged, and ultimately culpable for the success of a staff.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been George’s passion for his entire life, and now he is no longer tied to it in any official fashion.

All of the blood, sweat, tears, fears, joys, successes and failures have been judged as valueless by his family, and that must be exceptionally painful for George, especially as the tide seemed to be turning in the erosion of popularity of open wheel racing.  George will get up this morning and find something to do beyond watching “The Price Is Right” and “Judge Judy”.  His DNA is to get moving, so that is what he will do.

As silly as it sounds to wish strength for a guy with Tony George’s wealth, money doesn’t do much to help fill a man’s soul, and right now all of the responsibilities that gave George the self-image he enjoyed for the past 20+ years are gone.  Say a prayer for this guy.  He has given Indianapolis a great deal, and he has earned our sincere good wishes and more.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has never asked for a dime from the City of Indianapolis or the State of Indiana.  As our tax dollars and subsidies have supported the Colts, Pacers, Indians, and so much else through the C.I.B., the IMS has been a self-sustaining money pump for businesses in Indianapolis.  That fact alone demands our respect, and should move all of us to thank George if we see him, or pray for his strength when we don’t.

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