By: Tanner Watkins
November 3, 2018 | 1:59 PM
Anyone who has enjoyed the Indianapolis 500 over the past 30 years has had their race day experience touched by Mari Hulman George, whether they know it or not. The daughter of the late Anton “Tony” Hulman and Mary Fendrich Hulman, Mari passed away yesterday at the age of 83.
Her passing was on the minds of IndyCar racing’s most recognizable individuals, each with their own interactions with Mari impacting their time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt was one of the first to release a statement. One of Mari’s closest friends over the years, Foyt’s message was heartfelt and thick with emotion.
“I was really sorry to hear that Mari passed on,” said Foyt. “My wife Lucy and I were close friends with Mari and Elmer George, we spent a lot of time together.
“When I was coming up through the ranks, we lived with (Mari and Elmer) two or three summers,” Foyt continued. “We’ve been close for over 60 years. We spent many a Christmas together; our kids are about the same age so we had a lot of wonderful times together.”
Foyt, who has had ties to the horse racing industry, credits Mari for his interest and time spent in thoroughbred racing.
“(Mari) is the one who got me in the horse racing business,” Foyt explains. “She had quarter horses and talked me into buying a horse. I’m still in the horse business… We did a lot of things together and had a lot of fun. She’s going to be dearly missed, especially by me.”
Another driver from the “old guard” who grew close to Mari was three-time winner Bobby Unser. Unser, just one year older than Hulman George at the age of 84 currently, shared his memory of Mari with the Indy Star.
“I remember Mari going back to my first Indianapolis 500 in 1963 – actually I remember her before that, she loved racing and would come to USAC Sprint Car races and other races around the Midwest before I raced in the ‘500,” said Uncle Bobby.
“She was a good friend to me and she was a good friend to all of us in racing, just like her father Tony Hulman,” Unser continued. “Mari truly had fun and enjoyed being part of the Indy 500 and other events. She was also very, very into horses and Greyhounds, her passion away from the track.
“She was a good person and always had others in mind – her charity work benefited lots and lots of people, something we all admired her for. Basically over the years we all grew up together at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and shared a lot of fun times and memories there. We will miss Mari as a racer and true friend.”
The 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner, Mario Andretti, summed up what most of us were thinking when he said yesterday, “So sad to hear that Mari Hulman George has passed. It marks the end of an era that so many of us are grateful to have been part of.”
And while it does mark the end of a time period in which the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway oversaw its greatest growth to date, a cast of those that will carry on her memory are still woven into the fabric of the IndyCar Series today.
A year and a half removed from his breakthrough victory at the Indianapolis 500, Takuma Sato said yesterday “I remember Mari from the very first time I met her. She always greeted me with a smile. Thank you Mari for everything you did to the sport. Very sad day… she will be missed. Rest in peace, Mari.”
Another driver of the current generation that grew close to Mari Hulman George was three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and fan favorite Helio Castroneves. The Brazilian driver released a warm message with emotion, stating “We will miss you and the words from ‘Drivers, Start Your Engines’ will be forever in my memory, in my heart!”
And then there was Simon Pagenaud, a championship winner in IndyCar that has yet to kiss the bricks as victor in the Indianapolis 500. Even without a victory in the “Greatest Spectacle” it is easy for Pagenaud to see the impact Hulman George had on the Speedway and its most prestigious event.
“Mari and her family work tirelessly to make the Indy 500 a reality each year,” said Pagenaud. “We can’t thank them enough for letting us experience that magic each May.”
At this time it is difficult to envision a month of May – for anyone who had been to the track in the last 60 years – without Mari Hulman George. While there have been hundreds of messages pouring out their support to the Hulman George family, current IndyCar Director of Competition, Jay Frye, said what we all needed to hear.
“The motorsports world loses yet another legend… it’s all of our responsibility who currently work in motorsports to carry on her passion and legacy,” Frye relayed.
So as time waits for no one, the Indianapolis 500 will once again highlight our fifth month of the year in 2019, bringing back the same emotions that it does each May.
We will hear Jim Corneilson sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” and remember our good friend, Jim Nabors. Tony George will give the command to start engines, continuing a family tradition that spans nearly 70 years.
Maybe now the mood is somber, but in six months we should all hold our heads high and put forth the same effort and excitement in May that Mari, Jim and the rest of those that formed the Indianapolis 500’s heartbeat did.
We should continue in their honor, respect and remember the monumental contributions they made to the event, and then begin to leave our own mark.
Maybe then, we could truly honor the late Mari Hulman George.
Header image courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.