International Speedway Corporation has staged a successful raid at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by hiring Joie Chitwood as Vice President of Business Operations. Chitwood resigned Monday from IMS, where he has been President and Chief Operating Officer since December 2004.
"Joie is a stud," Just Marketing International founder and Chief Executive Officer Zak Brown said. "He is as good a track president and operator as they get. I think it's a big loss for the [IMS] Speedway. They're going to need to fill that void. They're going to have to get a hell of a track president to fill his shoes. IMS is the most profitable part of their [Hulman-George family] world."
Brown's company works closely with both ISC and IMS and many other prominent racing organizations and teams. It's the world's No. 1 motorsports marketing agency, representing Subway, Verizon, UPS and many other companies in their allocation of sponsor dollars.
ISC announced at the same time that Grant Lynch will move from Senior Vice President of Business Operations to become Chairman of ISC-owned Talladega Superspeedway and VP, ISC Strategic Initiatives. Combined with bringing in Chitwood, they are the first major management changes of the Lesa FranceKennedy era. She became ISC's CEO on June 1 after serving as President in charge of day-to-day operations since April 2003.
"I think Joie's hiring is part of a larger ISC plan," Brown said. "My guess is it's been in the works for a while. She's [France Kennedy] definitely taking charge and making decisions. This [Chitwood] was high on her to-do list."
ISC, publicly held but whose majority stock is controlled by the France family, owns 12 racetracks that have 18 Sprint Cup events. NASCAR is privately owned by the France family.
"I know Joie pretty well and the opportunity to go to ISC is a huge opportunity," Brown said. "[Chitwood] goes from running one race track to 12. I'm not surprised he decided to leave. He felt a sense of accomplishment at IMS, bringing in MotoGP and managing the track with tremendous skill, and the chance to have 12 tracks roll up to him was very enticing. He'll run the operational side, try to increase ticket sales and revenues and increase efficiencies."
It also is possible Chitwood could be ISC's point man in building new tracks. He oversaw the building of Chicagoland Speedway from 1999 to 2002 as Vice President and General Manager of Raceway Associates LLC, a company owned 37.5 percent by ISC, 37.5 percent by the Hulman-George family and 25 percent by the owners of Route 66 Raceway, which is on the south end of the property.
Chitwood worked closely with France Kennedy and ISC on the Chicagoland project at the same time France Kennedy was in charge of building Kansas Speedway. Chicagoland was completed on its budget of $135 million. ISC later bought out the partners to take full control of Chicagoland.
ISC has pursued building new tracks in metro New York City, the Seattle-Tacoma corridor in Washington state and Denver. To secure the Colorado region, ISC went to the expense of purchasing and then shuttering Pikes Peak International Raceway in Colorado Springs.
It's doubtful in this difficult economic environment that ISC will break ground on any of those three targets soon, but the intent is still there once conditions improve. Cup dates for new tracks would undoubtedly come by moving events from other ISC tracks that are not performing to expectations -- like the fall dates at the California Speedway in Fontana and at Martinsville, Va.
ISC's release said Chitwood "will lead strategy development and oversee business execution" at its motorsports facilities, plus the Americrown Service Corp. catering, concessions and merchandising subsidiary.
"He's a proven leader and has demonstrated his ability to execute on various major projects, including the development of Chicagoland Speedway," ISC Chief Operating Officer Roger VanDerSnick said.
Chitwood, who will work through this weekend's Brickyard 400, becomes the second major management change at IMS in less than a month. Longtime CEO Tony George was removed from power in the last week of June, replaced by Jeff Belskus. Belskus also is CEO of the IndyCar Series.
"This is a disappointment for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," Belskus said in a release. "Joie provided the leadership you would expect for a facility that hosts the largest sporting events in the world."
IMS says Belskus will take over Chitwood's responsibilities, at least on an interim basis. It says no decision has been made whether to hire a replacement for Chitwood.
"Jeff is a real nice guy with a background in finance," Brown said. "He's a very astute person. He'll bring some good business leadership. What he's not been, and I don't think he has any interest in being, is a very public figure. I don't see Jeff significantly stepping up his public appearances."
It raises the question: With George and Chitwood gone, who will be the face and voice of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
"I think you need that," Brown said. "You clearly need someone or several someone's carrying the vision of IMS and IndyCar to the public through the media."
Chitwood's departure is not linked with George's. The grandson of seven-time Indy 500 starter Joie Chitwood received an offer he couldn't refuse from ISC, but it's also a blow to the 100-year old Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is now in a full-fledged transition of leadership.