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November 28, 2012

DE LA BASTIDE: IndyCar is in need of spark

Snowball Derby on tap this week.

Last week the Hulman & Company executives announced some changes in their management of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Izod IndyCar series.

The Hulman family appointed Mark Miles as CEO of the company and will be responsible for the refinement and implementation of the company’s long-range strategic plan.

Miles has an impressive resume in sports management including the transformation of the ATP from a start-up tennis league to an international leader, led the Pan American Games in Indianapolis in 1987 and the Super Bowl in 2012.

The addition of Miles, who has served on the board of directors, hopefully will prove to be the right fit to grow the success of the Indianapolis 500 this year and in years to come.

But what was more important was the decision to have Jeff Belskus leave as CEO of Hulman and focus his attention on IMS and IndyCar.

Mari Hulman George, chairman of the IMS and Hulman board of directors, said the racing components of the business are important to the company. Truer words have never been spoken. It is in the interest of the company and race fans around the world that efforts are made to improve the quality of racing and the interest in open-wheel racing in the future.

“By allowing [Belskus] to focus on the racing business and significantly less on the other business units, we are clearly aligning our executive management team to move the company forward,” Hulman said.

The task in front of Belskus is not an easy one. Earlier this year there was a change at the top of the management team of IndyCar, I have to admit the timing was not the best.

IndyCar is looking for corporate sponsors, team sponsors and venues that will attract fans to watch the racing.

“We see opportunities to continue the growth of IndyCar, which I view as an exciting challenge,” Belskus said. “My passion is rooted in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar, and I have been energized by the opportunity we have in the short and long term for both organizations.”

One problem that IndyCar has not dealt with adequately is the loss of young talent, racers who moved up the ladder in open-wheel racing, and then opted to compete with NASCAR. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish Jr., Danica Patrick and Kyle Larson all have switched to stock car racing in recent years.

Fans who watch open-wheel drivers compete at local tracks like Kokomo, Anderson and Winchester speedways and Lucas Oil Raceway would like to see an sprint or midget driver progress to the IndyCar ranks.

Bryan Clausen is attempting to make that move with assistance from Sarah Fisher Racing. But Clausen also attempted stock car racing before returning to his open-wheel roots.

In other racing news

I’m looking forward this weekend to scratching another one off my bucket list when I travel to Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., for the Snowball Derby.

The Derby is the last big super late model race of the year and has attracted a stellar field of drivers from around the country. The last time I looked there were more than 60 entries for the Derby and more than 50 for the Snowflake 100 for crate engine late models.

I traveled to Florida several years ago for the Derby, but for the first time in history the race was delayed a week because of rain.

I’m hoping for better weather this weekend. If it rains again, I might not get invited back.

Ken de la Bastide may be reached at ken.delabastide@kokomotribune.com

or 765-454-8580.

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