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Fast track.

At age 32, former race driver Tony Hulman George is in the driver's seat of his family's business--the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

If you take the fishing and hunting magazines Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield or Sporting Classics, you read tempting stories about Pinedale, Wyoming. It crouches in the western shadows of the towering, snow-shrouded Wind River Range, topped by 13,804-foot Gannett Peak. You start from Pinedale to float the Green River in the spring to fly fish for trophy rainbow trout. You arrange in Pinedale for horses to pack up beyond the Fork River to the high country in the fall to hunt elk.

In the middle of this pristine, outdoor sporting paradise, eight miles northwest of Pinedale, is a wide place in the blacktop called Cora. Anton "Tony" Hulman George grew up here, on the family guest ranch, with his mother and father and three sisters. This is the same Tony George who now is president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. and Foundation as well as Terre Haute Realty; executive vice president of Hulman & Co., the extensive family business; and a member of 16 boards of directors.

As a kid in big sky country you kick big pine cones around the yard, skip flat stones across the river, curry burrs off saddle horses and begin to fill out to the size of your feet. Out there you learn to look people straight in the eyes, speak in deliberate, sincere statements and make handshake deals that last into eternity.

"It was a great place," Tony recalls. "All the fresh air and beautiful scenery, 30 miles from the nearest big town. We bought the ranch in '62 and I have memories of being there as early as '64. By the time I was 9 years old I was taking guests out on the trails by myself and on all-day fishing trips. When we first moved there I only had two sisters. My youngest sister, Cathy, was born in Jackson Hole, the south gate of Yellowstone National Park, in the summer of '68. When I was older I remember my grandfather, 'Paw Paw,' and his friend Joe Cloutier up at the high hunting camp, 28 miles into the mountains. We lived in tents in about two feet of snow. It was a wonderful time.

"We spent a couple of years out there all year around because the hunting camp operated well into the fall. I went to kindergarten in Cora but once I got into first grade they started sending us back to Terre Haute. We'd go to Wyoming in the spring."

That was Tony George then, in his Western, growing-up life that shaped the man. We want to tell you how he's doing now. First, just because it's May, we'll start with Tony at the Speedway. Then we'll talk about some of the other Hulman enterprises and what Tony intends to do about them and with the rest of his life.

"We consider ourselves to be in the entertainment business," Tony claims. It's a long way from a guest ranch, although that was good training. Now it's a guest motordrome, the best known racing venue in the world. It is the reason you can say "I'm from Indianapolis" to a crowd of scruffy settlers on a river bank far back in the Brazilian jungle and they'll go, "Barrrrrum! Barrrrrum! Barrrrrum!" and make passing-car gestures. They--and the rest of the world--are guests at Tony's Memorial Day Weekend race, from start to finish, in front of a radio or a tube.

The setting is called "the brickyard." That's because it was paved mostly with brick when Granddad Tony Hulman bought it for $750,000 in 1945 from Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War I flying ace. It was also called a "white elephant" at the time because of its dilapidated condition. There is still a line of the original bricks across the track to mark the start and finish. The event is called "the world's largest single-day sporting event" or "the greatest spectacle in racing." It has a huge international following. In fact, Tony says, "it is televised live in Japan in the wee hours of the morning. The broadcast starts at midnight and ends at 4 a.m. and the rating is very high."

In Indiana, and especially in Indianapolis, the last days of May spawn race hysteria. Checkered flags flutter all over the landscape. There are parades, balls and parties, and silliness abounds in the "snake pit." Tony says, "As far as I know we have more seats than any other sports or entertainment facility." Some say there are 300,000, and for qualification days and the race they are packed.

Tony, the auto impresario, was born Anton "Tony" Hulman George Dec. 30, 1959, in Indianapolis, the only son of Tony and Rose Hulman's only daughter, Mari, and Elmer Ray George. He was named Anton for his grandfather and his great grandfather, good German stock from Lingin, a village north of Hamburg. Young Anton has called Indianapolis, Cora and Terre Haute home.

His first marriage gave him some bruising memories and one son. Tony and others in the family have made a few jolting headlines and sound bites on the evening news; all the wages of maturation. In 1985 he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Indiana State University in Terre Haute. After graduating from college at 26 he immediately took his place as a director on the board of the Hulman family enterprises.

Tony met his second wife, Laura, in the Cayman Islands on a scuba-diving trip. They were married in 1989 and went back to the Caymans on their honeymoon. They have a six-bedroom, three-level house with a swimming pool and a four-car garage in suburban Indianapolis. His son, Edward, 10, and Laura's son, Tony, 8, are dedicated Cub Scouts. The family attends Traders Point Christian Church. "My boys are interested in racing and both drive Quarter Midgets," Tony says with a smile of pride. "We have a little girl, Lauren. My older sister, Nancy, and second sister, Josie, are here. We all live on the northwest side in the Eagle Creek area. My mother and grandmother are in their homes in Terre Haute. My younger sister, Kathi, has no interest in the family business. She is developing a career of her own down in Florida as a commercial artist with an advertising agency."

The Speedway has loomed mammoth in Tony's life for as long as he can remember. "I saw it at a very early age. When they brought me home from the hospital we lived over on 25th Street about three blocks away, across from Speedway High School. There were just cornfields around then and a narrow road. We were close enough to hear the roar of the engines. There are pictures of me with my grandfather on the straightaway in 1962 when I was 3 years old. The first race I saw was in 1968. I was 9 then and up in the tower with my mom. Bobby Unser won."

Tony George learned track business through osmosis by growing up in the middle of it. When he was a school kid in Terre Haute, he came over on weekends. At 15 he spent a summer in Indianapolis, worked as a cart boy at the Speedway Golf Course and got to play a little golf. At 18 he spent time with Charlie Thompson, the grounds superintendent, learning the facility and its procedures. He worked on A.J. Foyt's pit crew occasionally. Tony became a fixture in Gasoline Alley, knew all the cars and teams, drivers and mechanics.

Always present in his life was granddad Tony Hulman. He was "Mr. Speedway" to the world but "Paw Paw" to young Tony. He built a dynasty in Indiana. He was doing royally in Terre Haute toward the end of World War II when he had this idea. He reasoned that Kentucky had its famous Kentucky Derby, so his Indiana should foster its own world-class event. As an act of state patriotism he bought and bankrolled the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Hulman ran the track until his death in 1977.

There is a lot of tradition to live up to as Tony walks in his grandfather's footsteps. "An awesome responsibility. You can't fall back on the past. I'm starting to feel more comfortable going through my third race. People have a lot of expectations. While we are not the biggest company by a long shot in Indiana, we are probably the most recognized internationally.

"It's not a seasonal business by any means. It's a year-round job and we are working on 1994. I spend 85 percent of my time on Speedway business." Tony has a youthful, enthusiastic staff. Bill Donaldson, age 36 and a DePauw University graduate, is vice president of marketing and has been with the Speedway 13 years. Jeff Belskus, age 32, is treasurer and financial officer and has been with the company for 10 years. He and Tony knew each other in high school and college. Bob Walters, age 37, is the new public relations man. He is familiar to Indianapolis Star readers for his race coverage in the sports section. One brother-in-law and an ex-brother-in-law are vice presidents and work in the executive suite. Steve Krisiloff's primary responsibility is retail sales in the concessions and gift shop. Terry Gunter, a former 500 driver, is involved in the museum and plans special events such as Armed Services Weekend.

On race day in May, Tony George mostly hangs out at the track. "Sometimes I spend the night here. Sometimes I drive in by myself at 3:00 in the morning. I usually watch the first 10 laps and the last 10 laps. Then I float around for the rest of the time. Things may arise that require a decision, but for the most part, once the thing starts, there is going to be a winner. The race is being run by the United States Auto Club, not me," he says.

"First and foremost I hope for a safe race and that it doesn't rain. I want a competitive race that provides a great show for the fans so they feel they are given a good value for the dollars they spent to be entertained. It is always a bit of a let down around here at 6:00. You could shoot a cannon through the infield and not hit anybody. You realize May has been a long month but somehow you hate to see it end. I usually watch Channel 6 on Sunday night to see what happened."

As Tony watches the cars shriek around the oval, his view is different from other spectators. He has what fellow drivers call "cockpit time." In 1984 he attended the Skip Barber, the Jim Russell and the Bob Bondurant racing schools and drove in Bosch Super Vee and American Racing Series competition. These are smaller versions of Indy cars. His best finishes were a third and a fifth. In 1987 he piloted A.J. Foyt's Lola around the Speedway. Tony recalls this with a slow shake of his head.

"I was not comfortable. My frame is too large for driving Indy cars. I didn't fit down inside. I couldn't get my shoulders low enough so I was actually sitting up out of the car. The wind velocity was trying to rip my head off. My vision was all blurry. I just kept it in the middle of the track, hoping my heart would quit shaking. It was probably not the safest thing to do. I only took about 10 laps, was able to average 180 with a top speed around 200. I had a great time." Insiders say Tony's cockpit experience helps him understand and deal with the Indy drivers.

At this point Tony faced a big choice: Should he opt for a racing career on the track or off? He says, "Joe Cloutier was president of the Speedway. His health started failing and I had to make a decision either to devote myself to racing or devote myself to the family business. I wasn't being effective in either one by trying to do both." The family job won over the roar of the crowd.

Tony became president of the Speedway in January 1990 at age 30. The appointment was likely by acclamation. His mother is chairman of the board and has a say in all major family business matters. The other board members are Tony's grandmother, his two older sisters and the family's attorney.

So, young Anton followed "Paw Paw" Anton into the top spot at the Speedway. "I think there was concern that I wasn't big enough for the job. I was stepping into some pretty big shoes without having a great deal of experience. I like to think I'm doing a reasonable job of running the organization now. I have to take everyone's thoughts and feelings into consideration when I make decisions. It can be difficult. I'm going ahead cautiously gung ho."

The Speedway offices at the back of the museum building murmur with energetic activity. This February saw the creation of a new, not-for-profit organization called Indy Car Inc. Tony says, "It's basically following through with an idea that we had that the policymaking body involved in Indianapolis-type car racing should have representation from all the various constituents in the sport. They are car owners, facility owners, or promoters, as well as the sponsors, on whom owners and promoters depend heavily for support so they can bring the show to the fans."

There are immediate and long-range plans for the physical plant. Tony says, "We are adding 22,000 seats to the north end of the facility. Last October we played the final round on the golf course as it has been configured since 1964. Pete Dye has been contracted as the architect/designer and we are excited about it. It's going to be one of the great, if not the greatest public, daily-fee golf courses in the world. From '64 to '91 it was nine holes inside the track area and 18 holes outside. But the 18 holes outside were constrained by the amount of land available. The fairways were very close together. The corridors were very narrow. We are doing away with the inside nine and it is going to be 14 holes outside and four holes inside. That will allow us to spread the course out and move some earth and create some spectator mounding. I wouldn't call it a stadium course but it will be very spectator-friendly.

"Pete Dye is interesting," he continues. "When the 500 Festival had their golf tournaments in conjunction with the race activities back in the early '60s, Pete was the tournament director. He and his wife, Alice, are from Indiana. She was the state amateur women's champion several times. As Pete has often said, 'There are a lot of golf courses on the Atlantic and there are a lot of golf courses on the Pacific but there is no golf course that has a backdrop anything like this.' It is primarily a daily-fee golf course. There is a controversy over private club membership and whether the members are willing to accommodate to PGA requirements. We won't have a problem in that respect. We hope to have professional tour stops, maybe a senior's tour stop, and ultimately we would like to host a championship, whether it is a PGA or U.S. Open."

The Speedway's long-range plans also involve building a new control tower with two or three floors dedicated to the working press. It will house radio broadcast booths, timing and scoring. It probably will include some hospitality suites as well, George says. The current tower is 30 years old and is running short on space. "To really be the world-class facility that we want the Speedway to be, it is something that we have to look at in the not-too-distant future," he says.

There has been talk about constructing a hotel with a dining hall that would serve 1,000 and provide catering service. Tony says, "This is something that has not been very well received by the family yet. I still think we can make the Speedway a year-round vacation destination. We have a beautiful museum. I'd like to expand the museum. A hotel would complement the whole facility, especially when the golf course is finished. I think we'll get a lot of outside play and a lot of outings and I think people will actually be traveling here to play. And to have a nice facility for them only complements that. It's down the road. Ultimately I would like to interest some big franchise hotel chain to consider the entire package. I don't think it is a project that we can undertake. It's something that I think may be beyond our expertise."

If so, not much else is. The family owns the Wabash Valley Broadcasting Co. with three television stations and a radio station. It owns Hulman & Co., a wholesale grocery business. "We manufacture three labels of baking powder," Tony says. "Clabber Girl, which is sort of the Chevrolet Caprice. Then there is Rumford, which is the Cadillac. And there is KC. We also package other labels for other people. We have some real estate in the Terre Haute area. We are not active in the business but have two strip centers; we developed some subdivisions, have a lot of farmland and a company farm. We have been streamlining. We assigned our interest in the Terre Haute & Richmond Gas Co. to Indiana Energy. I have a seat on the board at Energy. That's about it."

Tony realizes he is still learning. "I'm pretty focused on the Speedway now and I want to expand beyond that. I'd feel comfortable being away for a few days. We have a great staff here. There are certainly opportunities for me to become immersed in some of our other business activities.

"We have substantial sales in baking powder. I know very little about that and want to learn more. We have a considerable interest in financial institutions in Terre Haute. I serve on the First National Bank and the First Financial Corp. boards. I want to spend more time learning about that. In the last four years I've served on the board of managers of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and that is a tremendous institution. It's an interesting time there, too, because they have decided to go coed in 1995.

"I have some interest in becoming more active in the community, both in Indianapolis and Terre Haute. I've been reluctant to do that because at times I've felt overwhelmed. It's hard to budget your time. I guess I want to become less involved here and work more on the big picture."

This all sounds like the dynamic kind of take-charge talk "Paw Paw" Hulman must have used at age 32. Tony's granddad would be proud.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:former car racer Tony Hulman George manages family owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Author:Johnson, Douglas
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:3169
Previous Article:Unemployment rate drops.
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