Jan 8, 2002
Indy Racing League Loses Title SponsorBy JR Nerad
Just when it looked as if the Indy Racing League was gaining the upper hand over its arch-rival, Championship Auto Racing Teams, which endured a tumultuous 2001, the IRL tripped over a stone of its own. Northern Light Technology, a company that is best known for its Internet portal and search engine, has dropped its sponsorship of the Indy Racing League. The IRL announced the big news on Monday.
Of course, this news was not unexpected by those who have been following the fortunes of Internet companies over the last two years. Northern Light has struggled with the rest, and a multi-million-dollar title sponsorship of a major racing series just became too big a burden to continue to carry in these troubled times, though some pundits now claim the recession spurred by the collapse of the NASDAQ is already over.
"Northern Light has been proud to contribute to the momentum and growth of the series, and we are saddened by the necessity to scale back our involvement," said David Seuss, Northern Light CEO.
He must be especially saddened because it appears the IRL is finally winning its battle for open-wheel supremacy in the United States. A key indicator of that is the recent defection to the IRL of Team Penske, the CART aggregation that boasts the current CART champ among its number. The IRL's recently inked TV contract with ABC/ESPN may be an even better indicator of where things are headed. But if the cash isn't there, the cash isn't there, and the guess here is that Northern light is now circling its wagons a little closer to the campfire. The company inked what was supposed to be a five-year agreement with the IRL two years ago, but that came right before many dot-coms became dot-bombs.
IRL President Tony George seemed sanguine about the loss, telling the Associated Press, "We understand the business challenges Northern Light has been facing, and we admire the positive way it has responded to those challenges."
George must be used to getting dumped. Do-it-yourself auto supply chain Pep Boys was the previous Indy Racing League title sponsor, but it jumped ship in the middle of an agreement before Northern Light came on board, and the IRL ended up suing the company.
Now the IRL is again on the hunt for a title sponsor, and George has indicated that a new agreement might not be in place until the 2003 racing season. But don't expect to see George, who rules Indianapolis Motor Speedway, standing by a freeway off-ramp holding a sign saying, "Will Grant Title Sponsorship for Food."
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