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I Never Thought Tony George Was Stupid, But Iím Willing to Change My Mind

However, when CART declared bankruptcy in December 2003 and announced it would not conduct a 2004 season, the situation changed. By filing for bankruptcy, CART made its assets available to the highest bidder, and the only bidder offered $1.63 million. I decided to give the situation another look. On Jan. 9, 2004, the IRL began an examination of physical assets and contracts, in order to determine whether or not to bid.

We have decided to bid on certain assets of the bankrupt CART racing series.

óAnton Hulman George, from a January 25, 2004 Press Release

Consider this, if you will, one of the following is definitely true:

    a) No one working for Tony George was willing or able to tell the boss the difference between Chapter 11 and Chapter 7 bankruptcy

    b) Tony George, in spite of all his advantages, is stupid and disregards the excellent advice he receives.

I donít know which is worse, but I think Iím leaning towards the arrogant stupidity I thought I had detected before within TG. But, either scenario is pretty horrifying, depending on who you are.

What if you are Josie George, comfortably living in California, and you find out your brother almost wasted $13 million of your inheritance? Or, what if youíre Tony George, and (a) is true, and all your high priced talent let you go out in public and look like a totally doofus?

Or, what if you are a moderately successful corporate controller who also covers Champ Cars for an Internet web site?

If you are that third person, you keep your mouth shut and hope for the best. Which is exactly what I did. I am actually cynical enough to have worried that somehow, the George family had the bankruptcy judge in their pockets. This proved totally unfounded, all apologies to His Honor. Without owning the judge, the only reason I could imagine that Tony George would be submitting a bid would be to actually unify the two series. Which is why I really didnít understand some of the things I heard leading up to the meeting in Judge Otteís courtroom.

I was plenty nervous when I heard Michael Andretti talking about ďunifyingĒ the two series. But, I was totally confused when word came out that TG was only bidding on certain assets. It just didnít make sense. Why? Well, letís go back to that press release of the 25th of January. Two statements within the statement seem totally bizarre, at least to this controller cum motorsports writer. They absolutely jump off the page at me and slap me across the face. Can you see which ones Iím talking about?

For starters, thereís the statement that CART announced it would not conduct a 2004 season (emphasis mine). Just when was this mythical statement made? Never!!! Because, if CART had made this statement, they could never have legitimately filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition.

The reason for Chapter 11, boys and girls, is that itís a ďget out of jail free cardĒ for corporations. It allows them to pay off their creditors at pennies on the dollar Ė but with one important proviso: they have to stay in business to use the card. If CART were not going to conduct a 2004 racing season, it would be pretty hard for them to stay in business, now wouldnít it? And, if they were not going to conduct a 2004 season, they would almost certainly have had to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition for liquidation of assets.

So, if we continue to read the statement, it just gets curiouser and curiouser. CART never announced it was not conducting a 2004 season. CART instead announced they would not have enough cash to conduct the season without an infusion of cash or a sale. Thatís a huge difference, donít you think? It certainly is in accounting terms.

But, wait, thereís more strangeness in the George statement. By filing for bankruptcy, CART made its assets available to the highest bidder, and the only bidder offered $1.63 million. (Emphasis again the writerís.)

Huh? By filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, CART was asking permission to not have to pay its creditors in full. Its assets would remain intact for the use of those operating the company Ė and they were never going on the block to the highest bidder. Where would Tony George ever get an idea like that? Itís beyond strange, when you think about it. George is a multi-millionaire and likely employs or has available accountants and lawyers who know a whole lot more about bankruptcy and related issues than I ever will. Yet none of this high price talent bothered to explain to TG that his statement made it sound like CART was going out of business and had filed Chapter 7, instead of Chapter 11?

Iím going to give all those fine people the benefit of the doubt for the moment. Of course they knew, and maybe they even tried to explain the crucial difference to Tony George. Since the petition is a matter of public record, there is no chance they didnít know about the Chapter 11 filing. So, it begs the question, why didnít someone help The Rich Guy craft a strategy to take control of the series? Or was Tony just so bent on killing CART that he behaved stupidly and didnít listen to good advice?

Weíll never know. But, I wasnít taking any chances, so I almost literally sat on my hands for days, hoping against hope that no one would point out to the George family the fallacious statements contained in the January 25th press release. Either no one did, or he didnít listen. At this point, I donít care, and Iím satisfied that my pointing this out now will cause no harm to Champ Cars or OWRS.

So, how could Tony George have taken control of the series? Well, his checkbook was the wrong accessory to bring to that courtroom. So was that cadre of lawyers. A couple of lawyers would have been just fine.

Better still would have been to bring Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti. Maybe a well-rehearsed A.J. Foyt for seasoning would have helped. Tony George could have made an excellent case that the OWRS team had never operated a major racing series, but he has and is. He could have pointed out he had many of CARTís teams, their engine manufacturers, and some promoters have come over to the IRL. He could have made an eloquent case for unifying the two series to preserve open wheel racing.

He could have done all of this, but he would have had to do one thing that apparently he could not bring himself to do. He would have had to agree to continue to operate CART while all this unification was going on.

Thus, it was his hatred of CART and possibly either stupidity or a proliferation of yes men that kept Champ Car away from Tony George, and like I said before, at this point, I really donít care which it was. I am profoundly grateful that rather than seeking to build a series, he is still focused on destroying CART. Why? Because I know ultimately this strategy will just continue to cost him money, and will not succeed. At least I hope it will not!

At any rate, before this, I never thought that Anton Hulman George was stupid. But, I am willing to change my mind!

Oh, and Georgeís women? Iíd hold on to those Samoleons if I were you, ladies!

Copyright © 2004 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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