By: Tanner Watkins
November 3, 2018 | 8:18 AM
It was announced this morning by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that Mari Hulman George, age 83, passed away with family by her side in the early morning hours of November 3, 2018.
Mari was born the day after Christmas in 1934, the daughter of Anton “Tony” Hulman and Mary Fendrich Hulman. She grew up an only child, though the wide net cast by her racing family made that seem irrelevant. Hulman George was friends with many of the Indianapolis 500 drivers and their families, an opportunity granted to her when her father bought the Speedway in 1945.
The Hulman George family is credited with the revitalization of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the time following World War II. Mari Hulman George served to play a large role in that span of time, holding the position of track chairperson from 1988 to 2016.
In that time, Hulman George oversaw the greatest levels of popularity for the Indianapolis 500 and the Speedway. IMS, though controversially, expanded its portfolio during this time to bring NASCAR to the track in 1994, and later the Formula One United States Grand Prix from 2000 to 2007.
Mari also gave the command made famous by her father, “(Ladies and) Gentlemen, Start Your Engines,” at the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 from 1997 to 2015. In 2016, Mari was joined on the victory podium by the rest of the Hulman George family to give the command before the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
Hulman George is known best for her time spent as an executive figure at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but she also left a legacy away from motorsports that will continue standing after today.
After many generous donations to her alma mater, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, the Roman-Catholic university renamed the School of Equine Studies to include her namesake. The Mari Hulman George School of Equine Studies pays homage to Mari and her love for horses.
Hulman George was active in the adoption (and rescue efforts) of racing greyhound dogs, and in 2001 the Indiana Department of Homeland Security renamed their search-and-rescue training facility at Camp Atterbury the Mari Hulman George Search and Rescue Training Center. This recognition was granted out of respect to her efforts regarding care for animals displaced by disasters.
In the mid-1950s, Mari befriended one of those Speedway drivers and later married him. The man’s name was Elmer George, and the couple had four children together: daughters Nancy, Mary Josephine and Katherine Marie, as well as son Anton “Tony” Hulman George. In May of 1976, Mari would file for divorce from Elmer, and on the day of the 1976 Indianapolis 500, the man was killed at the family’s ranch in Terre Haute.
Her son, Tony, is the Chairman of the Board of Hulman & Company, and he has given the command to start engines the last two years at IMS.
Mari will be remembered as a kind soul with a big heart – one that included a love for racing, among other things. Her passing this morning will sweep across the world to all who follow the Indianapolis 500 and open-wheel racing as a whole, producing heavy hearts.
Open-Wheels offers its greatest condolences to the Hulman George family in this difficult time and wishes them strength and courage while remembering the tremendous contributions Mari made to the racing community and society.
Image courtesy of the Tribune Star.