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The Irony Of It All

It's been over a week since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted their first United States Grand Prix. Accolades about how well the event went are still pouring in. Ticket sales for the 2001 race are being purchased at a rapid rate, perhaps quicker than the inaugural event. Yet, there is still one nagging thought that hangs over IMS like a black cloud in an otherwise beautiful sky -- Tony George. Unfortunate for Tony, most people only remember the black cloud, no matter how nice the rest of the sky is.

I'm not saying anything new. It's been said over and over. And it's not just Robin Miller amongst the local writers who take pot shots at Tony. Columnists Bill Benner in the Saturday edition of The Indianapolis Star on the race weekend wrote about how all the achievements of Tony George will always have an asterisk attached because of what he did to the Indy 500.

He writes, "He helped screw up and devalue the Indianapolis 500, and so Tony George's contributions -- hugely significant as they are -- carry an asterisk." He concludes his column, "But Tony, understand, we still want our Indy 500 back. And we want it back as The Race, and not merely as the first of three."

Of course, Robin Miller gets into the act as well. He wrote in Sunday's paper, "Don't you find it a tad ironic (or would that be hypocritical?) that Tony George ran off a bunch of real racers because they were too foreign and too high tech, then spent $60 million to bring F-1 to town?"

And that's the key to all this -- the irony. Not just the irony that Miller writes about. But also the irony of Tony George, totally unwilling to give an iota of control over to CART, yet willing to give complete 100% control of his facility over to the FIA which is what they demand when they come to stage a Grand Prix.

It's about the irony of Tony taking all the drama out of Indy qualifying that less people now turn up for Pole Day as they did for a one hour qualifying session at the USGP. It's about the irony of Tony pouring $60 million into a series that's run by a man eager to destroy American open wheel racing, while Tony also pours millions into his own series with virtually no hope of ever seeing a return in the near term.

Most of all, it's about the irony of Tony George's place in racing history. He could have been hailed as one of the greats along with Carl Fisher, Eddie Rickenbacher, and Tony Hulman. His name could have been spoken alongside those of Bill France, Roger Penske, and Chris Pook. Why wouldn't it be? He brought two huge new events to IMS -- the Brickyard 400 and the USGP. He continued his grandfather's tradition of pouring the huge profits from the track back into the facility assuring it as the greatest racing structure in the world.

Instead, Tony George will be remembered as the man who destroyed the Indy 500 single-handedly, perhaps permanently. He will be remembered as the man who tried to bring down American open wheel racing. And all the great things he did will now be looked at as a means to his end -- bringing NASCAR in to devalue CART, allying with Bernie Ecclestone who would like nothing more than to see CART and the Indy 500 take a back seat to swamp buggy racing.

And whatever happens in the future may never be enough to change his place in history. Richard Nixon is still not most remembered for his superb foreign policy and daring reaching out to China, but rather for Watergate.

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