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LAYING RUBBER TO RETURN : GOODYEAR'S MEHL EMBRACES INDY JOB.

Byline: Steve Herman Associated Press

Retirement didn't sit well with Leo Mehl.

The former general manager of worldwide racing for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., missed the Indianapolis 500 this year for the first time since 1963.

He won't make that mistake again.

``I obviously have been watching all this carefully for a long time,'' said Mehl, who this week became vice president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and executive director of the Indy Racing League.

``I always felt I wanted to be involved with Indianapolis. I got my start here as an engineer, and my whole life has been involved around the Indy 500. So, I always wanted a chance to help with it.''

Besides, he added, ``My golf game wasn't working out at all.''

With IRL and the Speedway, his clout should be considerable, though.

``He shares our vision that the future of Indy racing must include an emphasis on oval tracks and an openness and affordability for new teams and drivers,'' Speedway president Tony George said.

Mehl, 60, retired last spring after 37 years with Goodyear, where he ran all aspects of its race tire program, including sales, marketing, public relations, advertising, tire development and production. As a chemical engineer, he helped develop tires that put Goodyear in the winner's circle in more than 83 percent of all events in some two dozen racing series over a span of a quarter-century.

His appointment, announced Monday by George, was one of a series of staff changes at the Speedway.

``Over the past year or so, our company been engaged in process of evaluating itself and looking at its organizational structure and how we need to position ourselves to be the leader in the international motor sports industry,'' George said.

The new structure, which also includes two other vice presidents and two executive vice presidents, will allow George to spend more time with the IRL. The next IRL race will be Jan. 25 in Orlando, Fla., where the series' new chassis and engines will make their debut.

``The IRL schedule that's pending is a good second year,'' Mehl said. ``The No. 1 thing is to get the cars running and help the new teams get started.

``If you look at attendance, TV ratings and investments, the IRL has a great future. The concept was absolutely right from the beginning.''

George founded the IRL because he felt Championship Auto Racing Teams, which sanctioned every Indy-car race except the Indianapolis 500, had strayed from the sport's oval-track roots and had become too exclusive and too expensive for many American teams and drivers. He angered many in CART by guaranteeing up to 75 percent of the starting spots - which at Indianapolis is 25 of the 33 cars - to IRL regulars, and CART staged its own U.S. 500 in Michigan on the same day as this year's Indy 500.

The IRL has scheduled nine races this season, with the possibility of adding more later, including some outside the United States. CART will run 17 races, beginning in March at Homestead, Fla., but doesn't plan to go head-to-head with the Indy 500 in May.

``I really don't see a problem,'' Mehl said of a possible glut of racing with two competing series. ``With five or six new ovals being built and all the race tracks wanting races, it's conceivable you could have a CART race and an IRL race at different times. I think the IRL will be able to stand up very well on ovals.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 8, 1996
Words:583
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