George's Vision Racing suspends operations

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tony George is out of the racing business — for now.

The man who spent 20 years as president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and founded the Indy Racing League told his Vision Racing team Thursday he was suspending operations because he lacked enough sponsors.

"He had a meeting with all of his staff this morning and he was fairly emotional," team spokeswoman Pat Caporali said. "The reality of the situation was that we had not secured sponsorship for 2010."

George was not available for comment, though Caporali said the team may continue seeking sponsors. If George finds one, the team could jump back into the series later this season or next season.

But the reality was that George and his team were running out of time to be ready for 2010.

The series' first of two open tests is set for Feb. 24-26 at Barber Motorsports Park, a road course in Birmingham, Ala. The season-opener is March 14 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and without money, it would have kept George and his team scrambling for money.

The decision to suspend operations means his primary driver, Ed Carpenter, is now looking for a new ride and that about 10 to 15 other employees are out of work. Carpenter is George's stepson.

"I know he (George) and his family and Ed worked very hard the last couple of years to secure long-term partnership," Caporali said. "We're not the only team struggling to secure sponsorship, but not having a sponsor a month before training was going to make it too difficult."

For George, the decision is the latest chapter in a strange fall from the top.

In the fall of 1994, the powerful George announced he would form his own racing series, the Indy Racing League, to compete with the more established CART series. Two years later, the bitter rivalry began that split America's IndyCar fans.

Many bemoaned the fact that open-wheel's biggest race, the Indianapolis 500, was on the IRL schedule, while the big-name drivers like Al Unser Jr., Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy were all competing in CART.

George eventually won that battle. In January 2004, CART filed for bankruptcy and George attempted to purchase the remaining assets, a bid to reunify the series. But the judge awarded the assets to three former CART owners, who revived the series under the title of Champ Car World Series.

Financial problems eventually caught up with Champ Car, too, prompting the merger between the rival series just before the 2008 season.

Reunification was supposed to be a boon for IndyCars, but it wound up being the start of George's downfall.

Last summer, George was ousted as CEO and president of the IndyCar series by the speedway board, which is controlled by his mother and sisters, because of concerns over too much spending on track upgrades. He was replaced by Jeff Belskus.

Less than two weeks ago, George resigned from the board that oversees the speedway and the family business, Hulman & Co.

And now with Vision Racing shutting down, George is completely out of the racing business.

Brian Barnhart, IndyCar's president of competition and operations, and Terry Angstadt, president of the series' commercial division, were both at an executive retreat Thursday and not immediately available for comment.