Published February 01, 2010
Tony George's descent from the top of the sport appeared to reach its final conclusion last week. Vision Racing, the team he created five years ago, announced it would suspend operations after being unable to come up with sponsorship to run the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights campaigns.
The team has indicated it will continue to search for funding, so maybe this isn't the last we've seen of him. But there's no denying that for many open-wheel racing fans, the apparent demise of Vision is the perfect ending for the man they see as the reason for American open-wheel racing's current state.
In a matter of eight months, we've seen George get ousted as CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by his own family, step down as CEO of the Indy Racing League, resign his board memberships at IMS and the Hulman-George companies and now turn off the lights on his franchise. To his detractors, karma has finally paid him back.
Indeed, he certainly played a major role in the chaotic schism between his IRL and CART/Champ Car that lasted from 1996 to 2008. Even if he felt disrespected and that his voice wasn't being heard, he should have known better than to push the button.
But he was just one of many players that prolonged the war through a toxic mix of stubbornness and stupidity. If we are to rip Tony George for his pride, then we must rip the CART owners for their arrogance. Why didn't they just say "to hell with the 25/8 rule," show up at Indy in 1996, and beat the crap out of the IRLers -- a supposedly inferior breed of driver? Wouldn't that have saved the union, so to speak?
Instead, George got to hand the Brickyard to a bunch of racers that the public couldn't pick out of a police lineup while CART staged the U.S. 500 at Michigan -- and saw a giant accident take out much of those "stars and cars" before it even started. The madness had begun.
This is my conclusion: I'm tired of caring about the split. I don't care who or what caused it. I just want the sport to move forward -- with or without Tony George.
Maybe it's because I believe that what's done can't be undone. But at the end of the day, I look at the split as a mess that needs to be cleaned up, regardless of the circumstances surrounding its creation.
And when I look at George, I don't see black. I don't see white. I see gray.
I see his failure to make the IRL a well-known national product despite having 15 years of time and IMS treasure. I see his success in helping to create the SAFER Barrier, which has been one of the most significant safety advancements in motorsports history. I see his failure in using the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as a pawn in his battle for supremacy. I see his success in turning the Brickyard into a diverse motorsports mecca, with NASCAR, Formula One and MotoGP supplementing the Indy 500 during his reign.
Unfortunately for George, the connotations of gray aren't as easy to comprehend as those of black and white. Gray is often left up to the interpreter. I think this is how it will go for him as he is judged by history. If he was a good guy, he is a good guy; if he was an idiot, he is an idiot. When you think about it, it has been that way for a long time, and it'll stay that way, perhaps up to the day we see him in the obituaries.
I can't absolve Tony George. I can't condemn him either. All I can do is hope he has peace in whatever he does, and most important, with himself. And as he goes on his way, the fans of this sport must go into the future.
It has been two years since unification, and yet here we are reliving the bad old days. People have a right to be frustrated with what occurred in the split. But as the IRL goes into the third year of its reboot with plenty of questions yet to be answered, the sport needs its divided followers to find a way to shake the troubles of years gone by.
There's no point in rehashing old rivalries and remembering hurt feelings, because there's too much coming in the future. The last thing the sport needs is a base that is hopelessly divided and shackled to the past.
American open-wheel racing is what it is. People can either continue to beat the dead horse or do their part to help revitalize it and make it something to be proud of.
What's your choice?