"I think the Speedway has always been about innovation," says Tony George, CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. George, who has been the Speedway's chief executive since 1989, has guided the world's largest motor sports venue through a variety of transformations, including a major grandstand renovation, creation of the Jonathan Hess-designed Pagoda control tower and the determination to make ethanol the official fuel of the Indy Racing League.
"Ethanol was easy for us to do and makes sense now," George says. While George acknowledges that under present circumstances, ethanol is not a sustainable fuel, he sees the league's conversion to it as part of a continuum that dates back to the Speedway's original reason for being. The track was founded, he says, "to provide an outdoor laboratory for testing [the founders'] creations." Now, George says, "We're looking at offering a platform to showcase other technologies and different fuels that will all be part of an overall energy solution."
George sees the IMS playing a significant role in the reinvention of the American automobile industry. "I think the hundred-year history of the Motor Speedway has been closely aligned with the development of the automobile as part of our culture," he says, adding that he believes this has important implications for the national and local economy. "We bring a lot of jobs - and we want to bring more jobs. Hopefully the engines and the technologies that we use in the future can be manufactured and maintained here in the U.S. and, specifically, in Indiana. Those are things we'd like to see happen and, hopefully, we can deliver."
This year, the Speedway begins celebration of its centennial, culminating in the hundredth running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2011. "One hundred years of history and continuous operation and legacies have provided the city with an international profile," George observes.
George's family has been practically synonymous with the IMS since his grandfather, Anton Hulman Jr., acquired the track in 1945 and created what became known as "the greatest spectacle in racing." Today, George is keenly aware of this legacy and the ongoing role he sees for the IMS: "The Indy Car series is trying to act as a platform for alternative forms of energy, alternative fuels and new technologies for the future. That's the reason the Speedway was built. It's the cornerstone of the League and the Indy Car series. It seems like an obvious and natural forum for us to provide the platform to encourage and hopefully introduce new ways of talking about the next 100 years of the automobile."