Thursday, July 30, 2009
Sports NewsMayfield's Mutterings: The sweetest Mutterings on earth

Indy's new CEO pondering track's future plans

Send a link to a friend

[July 30, 2009]  INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Jeff Belskus was content living life as Indianpolis Motor Speedway's No. 2 man.

InsuranceHe worked the books, sat in on meetings, offered advice and learned what it took to run a track. Yes, it was good training for a job he never dreamed he'd have, president and CEO of the 100-year-old Brickyard.

Welcome to reality, where everyone wants to know how Belskus intends to run this family owned company.

"I have a lot of ideas floating around in my head, but I think it's premature to talk about them right now," he said last weekend during NASCAR's race at Indy. "It would be easy, having been here for 22 years, to tell you I have all the answers and I have a plan, but I'm trying to learn everything I can to develop a strategy."

Clearly, Belskus is not suggesting a major philosophical overhaul. Yet. He still wants stock cars competing on the storied 2.5-mile oval and is willing to see if MotoGP racing will attract fans. And, of course, he's committed to keeping the speedway's signature event, the Indianapolis 500, front and center.

But changing executives at this venue, where tradition has always ruled, is almost as unfathomable as not seeing A.J. Foyt strolling through Gasoline Alley.

Since the Hulman-George family bought the track in 1945, the speedway corporation has been a model of stability. Tony Hulman was arguably the state's biggest celebrity this side of Bob Knight through the 1970s, and it was his grandson, Tony George, who took over as CEO in 1990.

Now there is uncertainty about the track's plans.

The board of directors, which is comprised of George, his mother, his three sisters and attorney Jack Snyder, replaced George with Belskus. Last week, speedway president Joie Chitwood also announced he was stepping down to take another racing job in Florida, giving Belskus even more power.


Most are convinced the new man will run a more efficient operation, something the board clearly craved after George spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make track improvements and keep the Indy Racing League afloat over the past 13 years.

So how will Belskus be different from George?

"We're different people with different styles," Belskus said. "I hope to bring some clarity to our situation in terms of goals and and objectives. I'll probably be more numbers oriented fiscally because that's my background."

Perhaps that's what the track needs in an economy where sponsorships are becoming tougher to keep.

NASCAR's Roush Fenway Racing confirmed last week that Dewalt Power Tools would not renew its longtime deal with Matt Kenseth, and on Monday, speedway officials announced Allstate was ending its five-year run as the title sponsor of NASCAR's Indy race.

Belskus' top priority is holding the line, something he appears well-suited to accomplish.

[to top of second column]


"I think any property in sports and entertainment faces tough challenges," Chitwood said. "It's about getting customers to attend your events. Jeff has over 20 years of experience here, he's been at the meetings of all the major decisions made here and I don't think he'll miss a beat."

But losing George and Chitwood weeks apart could make things harder.

Belskus is still trying to formulate ideas, choose a leadership team, run the track's day-to-day business and stay on top of the finances. This week, he was also scheduled to discuss next season's race deal with NASCAR president Mike Helton.

The good news is that racing insiders have confidence in Indy's new No. 1 man.


"Jeff Belskus has been a common denominator since we first started talking about coming here, so we are very familiar with Jeff, he knows us, we know him," Helton said. "He's representing the George family, so it's not a whole lot different from other transitions that we've seen at other racetracks over the years. But I would say that Belskus is the key to our comfort level. He's the common denominator in every conversation we've had here the last 17 years."

Belskus also gets a key endorsement from IndyCars' most prominent team owner, Roger Penske.

Though Penske credited George with having the foresight to bring stock cars and Formula One cars to Indy, invest in SAFER barrier development and figure out how to make IndyCar racing more affordable, Penske thinks the switch will be beneficial to the track and the series.

"If you look at any business, you know Tony has been in that role for 20 years, maybe it was time for a change," Penske said. "I think there will be continuity with Belskus and he has the confidence of the entire Hulman family."

All he has to do now is make sure everyone at the track knows he's in charge.

"I showed up at the Pagoda (Saturday) and was trying to get in and this security guy was doing his job and wouldn't let me in," Belskus said, chuckling. "Finally, he says 'Who are you?' I said, 'I'm Jeff Belskus' and then he let me in. There's been a lot of that lately."

[Associated Press; By MICHAEL MAROT]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

< Sports index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor