Opinion – The addition of Mike Harding and George Steinbrenner IV brings much needed ownership diversity to the IndyCar paddock

By Steve Wittich

The addition of racing outsiders Mike Harding and George Steinbrenner IV can be nothing but a good thing for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Before the year 2000, Indy car teams came from a relatively equal mix of former participants and entrepreneurs with little to no ties with racing.

Let us use the 1989 CART PPG Indy Car World Series season as an example.

Former Formula 1 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi won the title while driving for wildcat oil man Pat Patrick, who would win three Indianapolis 500s and two Indy car championships.

Rick Mears (2nd) and Danny Sullivan (7th) drove for former racer Roger Penske.

Carl Haas, a lifelong racing parts importer, teamed up with nine-time Oscar-nominated actor Paul Newman to field current IndyCar team owner Michael Andretti (3th) and his father, Mario Andretti (6th).

Italian Teo Fabi finished fourth and won a race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course driving for a factory Porsche team.

In fifth place was third generation driver Al Unser, Jr., who was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet powered Lola entered by New Mexico auto dealer Rick Galles.

Scott Pruett finished eighth while driving for Red Roof Inn owner Jim Trueman and his Colombus, Ohio based Truesports.

Right behind Pruett was former Truesports pilot Bob Rahal, who was driving a car sponsored by automotive aftermarket specialist KRACO and owned by that company founder Maurice Kraines.

In tenth place was Arie Luyendyk who was in the employ of former journeyman driver Dick Simon.

Quite a diverse mix of team owners and a far cry from the top ten in the final 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series standings, who are all employed by former drivers.

Take a look at the full-time teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018. Team owners A.J. Foyt, Michael Andretti, Bryan Herta, Michael Shank, Chip Ganassi, Dale Coyne, Ed Carpenter, Bob Rahal, Sam Schmidt, Roger Penske, Ricardo Juncos, and Trevor Carlin all have one thing in common. They were racers, or have been in racing their entire lives.

Harding Racing, who is led by team owner Mike Harding is the one outlier. Harding is the CEO of Indianapolis based asphalt, and concrete contractor Harding Group does not have a background in racing.

From Ted Field, the heir to the Marshall Field fortune and his Interscope Racing, to lumber and hardware mogul John Menard and his turbo V6 engines, to Treadway Racing founded by asbestos abatement specialist Fred Treadway, to fitness mogul Ron Hemelgarn and the 1996 Indianapolis 500, to energy billionaire Gerald Forsythe and his 28 Indy car wins. The team owners in the various iterations of Indy car racing came from diverse backgrounds.

Lifelong racers and team owners like AJ Foyt, Vince Granatelli, Dale Coyne and Tony Bettenhausen were regularly joined by outsiders like Tom Kelly (car dealerships), Aat Groenvelt (Veal), Bruce McCaw (cellular communication) and Dave Billes (Canadian Tire Stores) to make a successful patchwork of owners that hired drivers.

Harding and Steinbrenner IV should bring a fresh perspective to a paddock that has been chasing the same shrinking pool of sponsors for the past decade.

Earlier this spring Steinbrenner Racing hired Daniel Wale, a dedicated salesperson from outside of racing. More recently, Harding Racing added former Indianapolis Motor Speedway Productions President and COO, who has an extensive sales background, to their payroll. This duo combined with the contacts that Harding and Steinbrenner IV bring to the table has the chance to force more teams to up their sponsorship game.