Indianapolis Motor Speedway Tuesday, July 21, 2009 Jeff Belskus and Joie Chitwood Press Conference Transcript MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us this afternoon. My name is Ron Green, and I'm the director of public relations here at the ...
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Jeff Belskus and Joie Chitwood Press Conference Transcript
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us this afternoon. My name is Ron Green, and I'm the director of public relations here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Joining us this afternoon is Indianapolis Motor Speedway President and COO Joie Chitwood and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation CEO and new president Jeff Belskus. Gentleman, thanks for joining us today. It's a bittersweet day here at the Speedway. First, we are losing a very good leader, senior member of management, in Joie Chitwood's resignation yesterday. But also it's a relief for many of us who don't have to listen to the successes of Urban Meyer and the University of Florida football team, which we do get tired of listening to every fall. No, seriously, we are here to discuss Joie's announcement yesterday of his resignation and heading back to his home state of Florida. We're also here to introduce Jeff Belskus to the media. He was recently named to his new position. He has been a frequent interview request by the media, but because of scheduling, we haven't been able to offer that, so we're also taking advantage of this day to offer Jeff up to the media, as well. Let's talk a little bit about Jeff real fast before we get started. Jeff joined the company in 1987. He has served in various capacities. He has been the treasurer, the CFO, most recently executive vice president and CFO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation. He is an Indiana State graduate with honors. Most recently he received and honorary doctorate degree from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. We're going to start with Jeff today as he has a few comments to make, and then we'll turn to Joie.
JEFF BELSKUS: Well thanks for the introduction, Ron. I'm glad for the opportunity to talk with you today, and I'm looking forward to getting to know you more as I settle into my role as CEO. I appreciate the confidence that the board of directors has placed in me. Most of my working career has been here at the Speedway, and it's where I plan to spend my career. I want to congratulate Joie on the fine job that he has done and wish him well. I've worked with Joie in one capacity or another since 1996, and I certainly appreciate the contributions he has made and the leadership he has shown.
I want to assure you that we have a strong leadership team in place with many years of experience. I was walking around the building today, and I think we have an average of 15 or more years of experience for our leadership team. We have many challenges, but we also have many, many opportunities. I'm quite excited about the future. I'm proud to be in charge of the greatest racetrack in the world. It's an important part of this city, this state, this nation. We have three great events here, and our future is bright.
The challenges, the economic situation is challenging for all of us, but we're better positioned than most to deal with it. A good case in point is this past running of the Indianapolis 500 was a very strong performance. The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and the MotoGP are looking better than we thought they might a few months ago, and things are continuing to improve for us. I'm pleased to be here today, and I'm excited about the future. With that, I'll turn it back to Ron.
MODERATOR: Before we turn it over to Joie, I've been with the company now just about 11 years, and Jeff is very much a behind-the-scenes individual. But I can truly say that he has been a presence in just about every major decision that I have been a part of, and we have great confidence in his leadership. I'm looking forward to working with him. Joie, let's turn it over to you for a couple of comments.
JOIE CHITWOOD: Thanks, Ron, thank you, Jeff, for those kind words. I appreciate it. It's a challenge sitting here today to talk about resigning. When I think back to all the great experiences here, whether it was creating Walt Disney World Speedway and carrying TV's up the grandstands to put in Race Control or creating a sanctioning body after USAC departed after the Texas race and we had to come up with a rules package by the Colorado race, going up to Chicago and working for a partnership between ISC and IMS and to build Chicagoland Speedway, to come back to the Speedway 6 1/2 years ago as a senior VP and then be promoted to president, it's been a heck of a ride. There's been a lot of challenges along the way. Formula One seemed to provide most of those challenges. But it's been a very rich and fulfilling experience -- one that I will cherish and remember for as long as I live. I told Jeff as we got through this process and talked about the transition, there's great history out there for me personally. My grandfather raced her and finished fifth three times. He's credited as being the first man to wear a seatbelt in the Indy 500. I've got to play an important role in some of the great things we've done here at the Speedway, and I hope to come back with my son and my grandson and my family and share those experiences with them. So it is a bit of a challenge leaving that, but I leave with great memories and I'm proud of what the team has really done. I will tell you that standing in pit lane last year as the motorcycles roared down the racetrack was just a great way to encapsulize everything we've done. To think about an event, to create that whole activity around it and to see it come to fruition was pretty special so with that, I will tell you that to go back to Florida for my family and I is a big deal. I was born and raised there. My wife and I both attended the University of Florida. Both sets of relatives are there. The chance to be closer to them is really important at this stage of our lives, and I think life is about a journey. This is what it is. For me, it's the next opportunity, and I look forward to the challenge it's going to present. But I will tell you that I am well-prepared for it. The things that we did here, I don't think there's anything that I'll be surprised with, and I'm looking forward to what that next set of challenges will be.
MODERATOR: Thank you Joie. Also, just a reminder of why we're here today. We're really focusing on the Speedway and the leadership of the near future of the Speedway and Joie's departure. This is not a state-of-the-company address by Jeff. So feel free to ask anything you wish, but he might not yet be prepared to answer certain questions on certain departments of the company.
Q: Jeff, what is your grand vision for the Speedway and the Indianapolis 500?
BELSKUS: The Speedway has a proud history and tradition and is the finest racetrack in the world, the greatest racetrack in the world, and I hope we can continue that and continue to build our events. The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard is this week and should be another great race for us. Knock on wood, I think NASCAR and Goodyear have their tire issues worked out. Hopefully, we can meet and exceed our fans' expectations with that event and all of our events here.
MODERATOR: Joie, do you want to elaborate on this weekend's race? I know you worked very closely with NASCAR and Goodyear.
CHITWOOD: I think I still hear NACAR cars testing. We tested so many times this year, and I was privy to each and every one. In fact, Mike Helton and Robin Pemberton were here for one of the last tests, and with a green racetrack they went out and ran 26 to 30 laps on a set of tires. So we feel really comfortable that they put the right effort in to the tire situation and that our fans will enjoy the competition. That's the goal. I have to applaud their effort because they realized that last year's event didn't meet anyone's expectations. So, if weather cooperates, I expect that we'll do fine this weekend.
Q: Jeff, could you give your thoughts on the relationship between the Indy Racing League and the Speedway and maybe discuss your role in guiding those two entities?
BELSKUS: Well, they're extremely important to one another and dependant on one another. We're hopeful that the League can continue to grow and we can continue to develop it and that it will help us with the Indianapolis 500 in terms of our show. We've had a couple of great races here the last couple of years. We need the IndyCar Series to be strong. Conversely, the IndyCar Series needs a strong Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We're all in this together. The Hulman-George family has made a huge investment in open-wheel racing, and they intend to continue to pursue that and continue to try and grow it.
Q: Jeff, Joie and his people have started the Centennial Era and that's going to fall into your lap. How do you see expanding on it, and what are your thoughts on things that are coming here when we get to 2011 to really knock 'em dead?
BELSKUS: I know that Joie and his team have done a lot of good work in that regard, and we have a lot of plans in place. Of course, it did get under way this year. We're going to continue to celebrate out 100 years -- the 100-year building of the track, a hundred years since the first running of the "500" and the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Those are important events, and we're going to continue to try to celebrate those milestones.
Q: Jeff, coming out of Indiana State and Terre Haute, of course you knew about the family and everything, but what attracted you to come to work to the Speedway rather than some other venue?
BELSKUS: Well this is an interesting place Just look at the last 30 days and what we've gone through. This probably has got to be one of the best jobs in sports, and it's a great facility and a great place, and we put on good events and big events. Who wouldn't want to work in this environment?
Q: Jeff, what in your mind are the most pressing issues regarding the Indianapolis 500, specifically the way the schedule is set up right now?
BELSKUS: We need to continue to put on a good show for our fans. We're economically challenged like so many businesses are today. We continue to deal with those headwinds, so we hope to be able to continue to put on a good show. We hope the race teams can stay strong. We need strong teams. We need committed sponsors. So, there's certainly a revenue aspect to what we're doing. From a management perspective, we're like so many businesses. We need to manage our expenses and manage our costs and, again, doing so in a way that continues to provide the best show that we can provide.
MODERATOR: Joie, you worked closely with the IndyCar Series in crafting the schedule for the last couple of years. Any follow-up to that, as well?
CHITWOOD: Well, there's always a balance between on-track product and the cost of competition and miles equals dollars. So, as Jeff will continue through this transition to work with the IndyCar Series about the amount of laps they put on, that's the challenge. I think that we've done some fantastic things with the month of May. The moving of Carburetion Day to Friday has been a really strong boost to the weekend. You know, our infield GA was as big as I've ever seen it this year. So, I think the key is that they continue to promote all of the great things about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, specifically the Indianapolis 500. But, I think you can look from the last couple of years, the improvements that have been made and the fan response has been so positive.
Q: Are you inclined to shorten the month of May at all?
BELSKUS: You know, that's something that we haven't decided, and I really don't have an opinion about that today. We need to continue to evaluate the situation, and I'm going work with Brian Barnhart and Terry Angstadt on the schedule as we move ahead.
Q: Not that I'm pushing Joie out the door any quicker than he's already leaving, but have you thought about a replacement for Joie or are you acting as president right now of the Speedway? My other question is if your head is still spinning over the last month with what's gone on with your life?
BELSKUS: Yes, my head is still spinning. But for now, I am assuming the duties of president, the role of president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We had a little bit of confusion in terms of the way we're structured. We have the Speedway Corporation and Speedway, LLC. I'll now be president of both, so hopefully that will eliminate some of that confusion. We are not planning an active search to replace Joie at this time. We're trying to leave our options open, and we'll cross that bridge as we come to it.
Q: The differences between the two of you are pretty apparent to most of us. Joie comes from a promotions background. He's a promoter by definition, and you're a financial background. Do you think you bring a different perspective on things and are you under any directive to really tighten things up efficiently and make them more efficient financially?
BELSKUS: I'm sure I bring a different perspective than Joie does. We're all different people. We have a strong team in place, and all of our people bring a lot of different talents to the table and we hope to continue to be able to leverage that. That's one of the very good things Joie has done in terms of developing a good team. We all feel pressure to bring results and, yes, Joie has been under pressure to deliver results. We're doing the best we can given this economic situation we find ourselves in, and actually we are doing quite well. We feel like we're well positioned for the future, and the future is very bright in that regard.
CHITWOOD: Jeff, I'd like to jump in. Actually, Jeff and I have known each other since 1996 and a lot of the big decisions that have been made, Jeff has been sitting at the table and it all revolves around finances, and I think there's one thing that Jeff and I share and that's the ability to talk numbers at length and in depth. So, I think that's one of the strong things that has been great in our relationship. Maybe more so than others that we can talk numbers with each other and really know where things are, so that's really been a strong thing in our relationship over many years.
Q: Joie, would you be leaving now if not for the events of the last 30 days?
CHITWOOD: You know, I don't think really the events of the last 30 days factor into this at all. When you start thinking about life decisions, that's not something you do at the drop of a hat or something that happens within 30 days. Sometime in the springtime, in fact, I think Jeff and I might have had a small talk about it -- nothing substantial - but I started to figure out if I needed to figure out what was next in my life. I still think I'm a young man, kind of. My son doesn't think that anymore. I think I'm kind of over the hill now, but at 40 years old I feel like I've accomplished a lot in my career, and I think it's only natural at some point you start to ask the question: "Is there something else? What is next?" Having been born and raised in Florida and now spending 13 1/2 great years in the Midwest with the wonderful winters, who knew that I would get a chance to go back to Florida? So I don't think the last 30 days really had any real factor in this decision. It was a much bigger decision than just that.
Q: Joie, to see you leave is a great shock to the Speedway.
CHITWOOD: Thanks. Understand this: This property has been here for 100 years, it will be here for another 100 years. If anything, I am a small part of the team here. There's no way that I'm out there selling the tickets, selling the sponsorships. We have a good team in place. At the end of the day, I was a caretaker of this property for 6 1/2 years, and I'm ecstatic that we have a transition in which Jeff gets to play that role. I think he's going to enjoy it immensely. It is a fantastic position, and I think he's going to do well. I've offered any assistance I can in the future. But understand this: I was a small part of this team effort, and a lot of folks really work hard to make all of these things happen the way they do.
Q: If you could address, is there any talk of altering the start time of the Indy 500? What thoughts do you have on that? Relative to the MotoGP race and the future of that.
BELSKUS: I haven't given any thought to the start time of the Indianapolis 500. No to that question. The MotoGP race, we're in the second year of a three-year deal. We need to see how this year goes. The first year, of course, we had all kinds of weather issues that I don't think allowed that event to show its true colors. Hopefully this year we'll have better weather and another great event.
Q: Does it concern you that Joie is going to a company that could be perceived as a rival to the Speedway or does that perhaps present an advantage in terms of crafting the IRL's schedule?
BELSKUS: I hope it's an advantage. I know we have a friend in Joie Chitwood. I'm sure Joie is going to make the decisions he needs to make to be successful at International Speedway Corporation, and we're going to continue to try and make the decisions we feel like we need to make here to be successful on this end. I know we have a friend in Joie, and hopefully we can continue a good relationship into the future.