On 27 January 1996, plans that Indianapolis Motor Speedway President and CEO Tony George presented two years earlier for a new open-wheel series came to fruition at Walt Disney World Speedway.

That competitive first race, in which Buzz Calkins beat Tony Stewart to the finish line before a sellout crowd, has been matched 98 times in excitement, drama and intensity.

Now the Indy Racing League celebrates its 100th race this weekend at Nazareth Speedway.

IRL President and CEO Tony George thinks the best is yet to come.

Q:
Nine years and 100 races.

Has the time since you announced plans for the Indy Racing League passed quickly?

Tony George:
Yes it has passed quickly, but when I try to recall some of the early days, it seems so long ago.

One of the ways I have been able to mark the passing of time has been to go back through my family photographs. At the first race, at Walt Disney World, we had the opportunity to be photographed with Mickey Mouse, in front of Cinderella's Castle.

Our oldest, Ed, was 14, Tony Jr. was 12 and Lauren was 4. Now Ed (Carpenter) is racing in the IndyCar Series, Tony just celebrated his 21st birthday last week at Pikes
Peak and is working with the Menards Infiniti Pro SeriesT, and Lauren became a teenager this past May. And while it would be easy to say I have missed out on their childhood because I was so busy at work, I know that they all have been right there in support of me and the League, along with my wife Laura, every step of the way.

Q:
From that first event right up to the last one at Pikes Peak, which races stand out in your recollection?

TG:
Looking back, there is something memorable about each and every one of them, some of the memories are good, and some are not so good.

I recall the first event at Walt Disney World Speedway, and now realize how fortunate we are to have ever run that race, much less make it to our 100th.

In many respects it was amazing; a permanent oval track on the grounds of Walt Disney World, Roy Disney as the Grand Marshal, the Florida A&M band for pre-race, Michael Buffer doing driver introductions to a sellout crowd and Cinderella's Castle in the background. What a tremendous feeling.

While we struggled to field a starting grid, we could not have asked for a better storybook ending with Buzz Calkins edging out Tony Stewart for the win. That first race was the result of enormous effort on the part of many. Phil Casey, particularly, did an amazing job of pulling together enough equipment to run the race. That would have been difficult to do for just about anyone else. Phil has proven himself respected and resourceful.

Q:
There have been 44 races (under green) with a margin of victory of less than one second. Has the Indy Racing League reached the competitive racing you envisioned?

TG:
I would have to say it has probably exceeded what I had envisioned. I knew that oval racing had the potential to showcase the most exciting racing, from the spectator standpoint, and I knew that NASCAR had a reputation for close racing. But in our young history we may be redeveloping the standard by which close motorsports competition is measured. To the credit of our technical team, they have done a good job of developing specifications and writing rules that, for the most part over the last eight years, has led to the parity on the race track that in turn has produced the
close finishes.

It really has created the opportunity for teams to show their mettle on any given weekend. The best team on that day usually comes out on top.

Q:
The Indy Racing League continues to grow in popularity and exposure. With 99 races in the books, where do you see the League after 200 races?

TG:
Obviously, next year begins a new era for the IndyCar Series as we branch out into including road racing as part of our schedule. That is something that we fully intended to do at some point, and frankly I believed that it would have happened by now. While the opportunity to do so has only recently presented itself, we plan to make the most of the opportunity by expanding to new markets, adding historic venues and keeping the competition close on track.

While road racing will add cost to the competitors, we will apply our founding principles of access, stability and cost control so to make the most of the opportunity to provide the greatest return to our constituents.

The second 100 races will come over a shorter period of time, probably in the next 5-6 years, and by then we will have hit a stride that has open-wheel racing at top of mind with the public.

Q:
The Indy Racing League has been a motorsports leader in areas from safety - through research and development of the SAFER Barrier - to fan involvement with the Indy Racing Experience two-seater and Indy Racing Fan Experience.

What are a few of the accomplishments that stand out?

TG:
There are many, but of the few you mentioned I am most proud of the development of the SAFER Barrier. Much of the credit goes to Leo Mehl and his establishing of the IRL Safety Committee. Also developing and implementing SWEMS, our wheel restraint system, was an accomplishment which has now become the industry standard.

The Indy Racing Experience two-seater and Indy Racing Fan Experience have been two League-supported initiatives that demonstrate our commitment to the organisers that promote our races at their facilities. While the primary responsibility falls to them to promote and sell tickets to the event, we show our commitment by investing in resources that help them to be successful, by creating awareness and offering an interactive insight into our form of racing. Both programs have been well-received.

Q:
Buddy Lazier recently said that winning the IndyCar Series championship was one of the two highlights of his career. Winning the 1996 Indianapolis 500 was the other. His sentiments have been echoed by other IndyCar Series and Menards Infiniti Pro Series drivers.

Does their passion and drive to succeed in these Series surprise you?

TG:
Not really, if you think about why the Indy Racing League exists, it makes sense. It was created to provide the assurance that the Indianapolis 500 would remain viable and a focal point in American motorsports. It was created to provide opportunity to drivers and car owners who want to pursue the dream of competing in and possibly winning the greatest race in the world. Driver's love competition, they love to compete in a championship that represents the highest level of competition, and at some point I have to believe that those who want to achieve at the highest level also dream of winning the Indianapolis 500.

Q:
Recently, World of Outlaws star P.J. Chesson joined the Menards Infiniti Pro Series - and has won three times in six races. His opportunity to compete substantiates one of the founding principles you laid out.

Through 99 races, are you encouraged by how these principles have withstood a decade of tumult in motorsports?

TG:
Again, it's all about opportunity and seizing the moment when it is presented. It has been my hope that there would be opportunity for young drivers like P.J., with a background in sprint cars, to pursue the path of open wheel.

Not everyone wants to run stock cars, but the allure of being the next Jeff Gordon is there. It is important that we build the Indy Racing League to the highest level, to the point that drivers can achieve earning levels commensurate with top levels of racing. Requirements for success are the same in every series - desire, commitment and patience.

P.J. has been a pleasure to watch over the course of the second half of the season. I suppose he could have opted to go the other direction, but I believe he wants to remain in open wheel. His approach has been refreshing. He doesn't expect things to be handed to him. He has a carefree attitude and has learned in every race he has been in. He knows this is a new ball game for him, and he has demonstrated the desire, commitment and patience I spoke of earlier, and it has paid off now with three wins in a row. I believe his plan is to run the Menards Infiniti Pro Series again next year, and I would expect if he continues to turn in the type of performances I've witnessed the last three races, (IndyCar Series) car owners will be looking seriously at him in the future.