Mary “Mari” Hulman George, matriarch of the Hulman George racing family and Chairman of the Board Emeritus of Hulman & Company, which owns and operates the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, passed away early Saturday morning. She was 83.
Hulman George passed away surrounded by family members, according to an Indianapolis Motor Speedway statement.
“Racing is filled with passionate people, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone more passionate than Mari Hulman George,” retired IndyCar and NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, an Indiana native who grew up idolizing the Indy 500 and the speedway, told The Associated Press.
Hulman George oversaw stewardship of IMS – known as the Racing Capital of the World – as its chairman for nearly 30 years, from 1988 until her retirement from active involvement in day-to-day operations in 2016. However, even in retirement, she still remained active in IMS oversight.
Noted for her quiet yet firm control of the company – which included Hulman & Company, IMS and the IMS Foundation – Hulman George also was well known for her philanthropic efforts in Indianapolis and the state of Indiana for numerous groups, including Special Olympics, of which she was involved with until her death.
Hulman George spent her entire adult life in and around IMS, which was purchased in November 1945 by her father, Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr., who saved the facility from almost certain demolition following the conclusion of World War II.
Hulman George was one of the most respected individuals in motorsports, and was one of the first women to be involved in operations and management of such a major facility as IMS in the 1950s and 1960s.
Mary Antonia Hulman – who adopted the nickname “Mari” in her youth – was born to Anton Herman Jr. and Mary Fendrich Hulman on December 26, 1934 in Evansville, Indiana.
While Hulman was involved in helping her family run IMS as a teenager, it was after attending Purdue University that she became immersed in greater involvement in assisting her father in operating IMS.
In 1954, Hulman George, who had not even turned 21 yet, joined with family friend Roger Wolcott to form the HOW racing team, which became successful in both the American Automobile Association (AAA) and United States Auto Club (USAC) Sprint and National Championship series.
Among drivers that piloted cars for the HOW team were Jerry Hoyt, Eddie Sachs, Tony Bettenhausen, Roger McCluskey and Elmer George, whom she married in April 1957. Elmer George subsequently won the Midwest Sprint Car title the same year after finishing third in 1956. Elmer George would also finish third in 1958. In addition, Sachs was runner-up in the Midwest Sprint Car rankings in 1954.
Mari Hulman George and her husband co-owned an Indianapolis 500 entry in 1962 and 1963 that Elmer George drove, finishing a career-best 17th in 1962. Elmer George received relief help from Paul Russo and A.J. Foyt during that race.
Foyt and Hulman George first met in 1958, forming a relationship that evolved into a lifelong friendship. Foyt was one of Hulman George’s closest friends and most trusted advisors, and vice-versa Hulman George was the same for Foyt.
Hulman also maintained close relationships with numerous drivers, team owners, sponsors, Indianapolis and Indiana politicians, business leaders, charitable group officials and more.
Hulman George was a private person who rarely sought out the public spotlight. But she did assume the role of issuing the famous “Gentleman (and Lady or Ladies, if females were entered in the race), Start Your Engines” command to start races for more than 15 years, from the late 1990s until 2015, in both the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
She also became close with stars of TV and the silver screen, including her beloved friend Jim Nabors, who sang “Back Home Again In Indiana” at IMS for nearly 30 years, and Florence Henderson, who also performed for numerous years during Indy 500 pre-race activities.
Hulman George will be long remembered for her oversight of IMS and taking the facility and related events to unprecedented heights of notoriety and popularity.
It was under Hulman George’s watch that IMS not only further solidified the Indy 500 as the greatest motorsports racing event in the world, but also played host to NASCAR and the Brickyard 400, Formula One (2002 through 2007), the FIM MotoGP World Championship, began the Indianapolis Grand Prix for IndyCar in 2014, and more recently, the Red Bull Air Race.
One of Hulman George’s greatest achievements – and one the racing world globally has her to thank for especially – was her determination to constantly enhance safety. She led the move for IMS to become the first major racing facility in the world to install the energy-absorbing SAFER Barrier in 2002.
In addition to her philanthropic involvement, Hulman George was also a tireless advocate for animals, particularly horses and dogs, particularly retired racing Greyhounds.
Hulman George is survived by three daughters, Nancy George, Josie George and Kathi George-Conforti; a son, Anton H. “Tony” George; a stepdaughter, Carolyn Coffey; seven grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and her longtime companion, Guy Trollinger. She was predeceased by her husband, Elmer, and a stepson, Joseph George.
Funeral arrangements are pending and have been entrusted to Callahan & Hughes Funeral Home in Terre Haute, Indiana.