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Ask Me Anything: George Steinbrenner IV, IndyCar Team Owner

Grandson of the notorious New York Yankees owner, George IV comes from baseball royalty but wants reign over a different kingdom. At 22, he’s the youngest team owner in IndyCar history. This month, he’ll get his first shot at 500 glory.

So how does the grandson of George Steinbrenner get into racing?
Racing started for me at a very early age. My cousin was former IndyCar driver Tony Renna. I was a huge fan of his and always sort of looked up to him as a hero. Later on, my uncle Chris Simmons became Scott Dixon’s engineer, and he’s had a lot of success at Chip Ganassi Racing. IndyCar would often be on TV at home, and I was going to as many races as I could. Of course, we’d always make it a point to go to Indy.

Did you ever want to be a driver?
I always had a great appreciation for what the drivers could do, but I never karted. Not starting at a young age can hurt your potential in this sport. And I was always interested in the behind-the-scenes parts, more so than wanting to be on the track. I wanted to be a team executive because that’s the background I grew up with. By the time I was 12 or 13, I just wanted to be on the pit stand.

Did being a Steinbrenner make that ambition more realistic?
My first job in racing was washing the cars in high school. Then I moved to Indianapolis for the 2016 season and worked for Bryan Herta’s Rallycross team. I manned the front desk, answered phones, mopped floors, and got lunch for the crew at the races. But I had no problem doing it. Bryan took me under his wing and taught me about managing a racing team. I got to see the day-to-day operations from the bottom and get my hands dirty.

What was your big break?
Colton Herta [Bryan’s son] was driving over in Europe. I had been following his career since I was 12. He had always wanted to be an IndyCar driver, so I said, “Hey, do you want to start this journey together?” In 2017, we began in Indy Lights, him as driver, me as part-owner. I had the good fortune to partner with Andretti Autosport and get two seasons in Indy Lights learning the ropes from a multi-championship, multi-500-winning team.

You’re the age of the fans IndyCar wants to attract. is the league going about it the right way?
I think they’re doing a lot of good things. There are people who go to the 500 just for the Snake Pit. That’s tickets sold. Those are eyes on IndyCar. And I think the expansion into social media and streaming is great. This new broadcast deal with NBC will help a lot with our digital footprint, not only on the network but on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. For folks my age and younger, you need to get our eyes in front of screens if you want your sport to grow.

But you’re drawn more to the tradition of the sport?
Well, growing up, I was fortunate to be able to go to a lot of amazing sporting events. It could be your 8th, 9th, 10th 500, and that hour before the race is still one of the greatest experiences you can have. The atmosphere. The tradition. The emotion. It’s just special. I’m really looking forward to being a part of this year. I get emotional thinking about it.

A slender man stands smiling behind an IndyCar

George Steinbrenner IVTony Valainis

What’s your favorite 500 tradition?
My absolute favorite part is always “Back Home Again in Indiana.” The drivers are in their cars, everybody is silent, and there’s that thought: It’s about to get going. We’re about to go on this 500-mile journey. It’s a great tone-setter. I got to see Jim Nabors sing it a few times. I remember having my phone out and recording the screen on the front stretch for his last one. I miss him, but they’ve got a great guy [Jim Cornelison] doing it now. I’m sure he’ll be around for years to come.

Do you consider Indy to be your home?
I’ve been living here for three years now. I don’t know if that’s too soon to call yourself a Hoosier, but I’m getting pretty close.

You’re definitely the new kid on the block among IndyCar owners. Has it been a tough transition?
No, I’ve been welcomed. I try to make it apparent that I’m young, and I’m here to learn from the Andrettis, the Penskes, the Ganassis. I can’t kick the door down to my first owners meeting. But more teams mean more growth for the series. When the series grows, it’s good for all of us.

What will you do if you somehow manage to win your first 500?
I’m not sure. Even thinking about it now, it blows my mind that it’s a possibility. It hasn’t sunk in that this Memorial Day, I’ll have the chance. I can’t imagine actually winning it.

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