MOTORCYCLIST OF THE YEAR
Bringing bikes back to The Brickyard
WORDS: Aaron Frank PHOTO: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
What sacrilege is this, naming a car guy Motorcyclist of the Year? And not just any car guy, but Anton H. "Tony" George, President and CEO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, founder of the Indy Racing League (IRL), a current IRL team owner and a former Indy Lights racer himself. That's a bit like awarding Lucifer a key to Heaven, no?
Before you petition for our entire editorial staff to be reassigned to Motor Trend, know that Tony George is a licensed motorcyclist, a long-standing AMA member and an experienced street and off-road rider. And, thanks to his exceptional efforts to bring MotoGP to his legendary sanctum of speed, George is certainly the most impactful person in American motorcycling this year--making him a worthy recipient of our MOTY award.
George's influence in the world of motorsports is impossible to underestimate. This is the man who oversees the Indy 500, the so-called "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," among the oldest and most prestigious racing events in the world. George also hosted the best-attended Formula 1 race ever (the 2000 USGP, which drew an estimated 225,000 spectators) and also created The Brickyard 400, the richest event on the NASCAR calendar that attracts a quarter-million fans. With a track record like this, the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix could easily become the highlight of the MotoGP calendar.
The groundwork for Indy's MotoGP was laid when the corporation began looking for ideas to celebrate the Speedway's 2009 centennial. The Brickyard's first-ever race in 1909 was for motorcycles, and George wanted to acknowledge that by incorporating motorcycle racing into the 100th-anniversary events. Speedway COO Joie Chitwood III and Senior VP of Operations Mel Harder (both of whom George is quick to credit), opened concurrent discussions with multiple sanctioning bodies, including the AMA, World Superbike and MotoGP, with the latter emerging as the obvious choice.
"We feel like we have in the Speedway a world-class venue," George says. "We pride ourselves on providing world-class entertainment, and offering motorsports enthusiasts the opportunity to see world-class events. From a stature standpoint, MotoGP belongs here."
Initial plans called for a one-time race in conjunction with the centennial celebration, but this soon evolved into an annual affair. IMS spared no expense in making this a reality, breaking out the bulldozers and radically re-configuring the Speedway's infield road course (originally built for F1) to better accommodate the 800cc, 220-horsepower MotoGP bikes.
George has likewise spared no effort in promoting the inaugural race--most significantly by inviting 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden to do an exhibition lap in front of an estimated 400,000 racing fans at this year's Indy 500.
"Demonstrating motorcycle racing in front of our other audiences builds interest for us," George says. "We have a number of fans that are fans of the Speedway itself and anything that we do here. This might have been their first exposure to motorcycle racing, and with the number of people there, I'm sure it was enjoyed by many."
More than anyone else in the world, Tony George has the power, the ability and the will to showcase the excitement of MotoGP racing before another universe of motorsports fans. He's done it already with Hayden's exhibitions, and will make an even larger impression on the afternoon of September 14th, when 18 of the fiercest machines in racing streak across Indy's iconic, brick-paved start/finish line.
Not bad for a car guy.