A couple of days ago, the IZOD IndyCar Series’ reigning champion was the guest of honor at a party that was thrown by his hometown.
Andretti Autosport pilot Ryan Hunter-Reay, who rallied to defeat Will Power in a thrilling finish for the 2012 championship, received the Key to the City of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and soaked up the praise that he definitely deserves.
Meanwhile, as Hunter-Reay and his fellow Floridians celebrated the biggest achievement of his career, rumors continued to swirl in Indianapolis about, possibly, yet another fight for control of open-wheel racing.
After resigning from the Hulman and Company board of directors last week, series founder Tony George is reportedly attempting to buy it back as part of an investor group. Hulman/Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus has stated repeatedly that the series is not for sale, and there’s been reports saying that George isn’t actually interested in handling day-to-day operations of the series.
Regardless, many in the fan base have vowed to stop following the sport if the grandson of Speedway savior Tony Hulman comes back into power and sends current INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard packing.
George may be the most polarizing figure in all of American motorsports. In some quarters, he is hailed for helping to create the SAFER Barrier and opening the Speedway to other forms of racing. But in others, he will never be forgiven for his role in the devastating schism between his Indy Racing League and CART that lasted from 1996 to 2008 and shook open-wheel to its core.
It was Bernard who took the reins from George after the latter was ousted by his own family in 2009 as CEO of the Speedway (he later chose to resign as CEO of the IRL as well), and while Bernard’s tenure has been far from perfect, INDYCAR appears to be in a better overall state under his stewardship.
Yet despite Bernard’s good deeds – such as overseeing the much-needed introduction of new cars and engines, expanding the 2013 schedule, and even helping INDYCAR hit the silver screen with next year’s DreamWorks flick “Turbo,” he hasn’t been able to fully mute rumblings that involve his days somehow being numbered.
One could argue that it had gotten to the point that any talk of Bernard getting the ax was almost comical since it had been repeated so often. But it’s not funny anymore, and neither is the fact that INDYCAR must deal with this type of situation once again when it should be building up for 2013 with an American champion and a stellar racing product at its disposal.
What must this be doing to teams trying to nail down potential sponsors who may be skittish about joining the series? Those valuable entities are probably even more skittish now with news that the man who ran it for 15 years but was unable to make money off of it may be aiming to get it back somehow.
For the last few seasons, INDYCAR has shown noticeable progress coming out of open-wheel unification in 2008. The last thing it needs is something (or, in this case, someone) that could completely kill that growth by its mere presence. And while I do not dislike Tony George, whose personal love for the sport and his Speedway cannot be questioned, he is simply too divisive a figure for most followers of open-wheel racing.
He’s been tolerated as a team owner, but he simply won’t be if he takes control of the whole operation again. He’s just not the guy that can take the sport forward.
And now more than ever, that’s where it needs to go.
Condolences go out to former INDYCAR broadcaster Bob Jenkins and his family on the loss of his beloved wife, Pam, who passed away Thursday evening after a months-long battle with a form of brain cancer. According to the Indianapolis Star, the couple was married for 44 years.
Jenkins, who most recently served as the voice of NBC Sports Network's racing coverage, retired from the broadcast booth at the end of the 2012 campaign in order to spend time with his ailing wife.
Our thoughts are with him and his loved ones at this time.