(Dec. 26, 1934-Nov. 3, 2018). Businesswoman, racecar team owner, and philanthropist, Mary Antonia (Mari) Hulman George was born in Evansville, Indiana. She was the only child of business magnate Anton (Tony) Hulman Jr. and Fendrich cigar heiress Mary Fendrich. Hulman George attended St. Benedict School in Terre Haute, Indiana; Ladywood Schoo in Indianapolis, Indiana; and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.    

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Dick Zapapas, Mari Geroge, and Joe Claulen at the 1983 Press Party. Credit: 500 Festival, Inc. via Indiana State Library View Source

When she was 10, her father purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), and she was thrust into the world of auto racing. By her 21st  birthday, she represented a rare feminine presence as co-owner of the Hulman-Wolcott racing team, which fielded race cars in the American Automobile Association and the United States Auto Club Sprint and National races. Drivers included Jerry Hoyt, Eddie Sachs, Tony Bettenhausen, Roger McCluskey, and Elmer George, whom she married in April 1957.

After the death of Tony Hulman in 1977, Joseph R. Cloutier became President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mari F. Hulman took over as chairperson of the IMS and the family’s primary business Hulman & Company, while Mari Hulman George became vice president and a board member of the companies. Mari Hulman George was named chairperson of the company upon the death of her mother in 1988. Upon the death of Joseph R. Cloutier, Hulman George’s son Anton Hulman (Tony) George became chairman, president, and CEO of the IMS and the Hulman & Company from 1989 to 2009.

Before Mari Hulman George rose to chairperson, she used the IMS as a platform for her philanthropic interests. In 1981, she organized the “Save Arnold” Barbecue to benefit the Indiana Special Olympics. Held every May for almost 25 years, the event generated close to $1 million over its existence. She also created a complementary field trip program for thousands of Indiana students to visit the IMS so that they could learn about the connection between education and motorsports.

Hulman George was a leading charitable force for horses and retired racing greyhounds. She established an endowment for equine studies at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana. She raised and bred horses, many racing competitively. Hulman George rallied for the care of animals displaced during natural disasters and promoted the rescue and adoption of retired racing greyhounds. Her devotion to horses and greyhounds will be remembered through the Mari Hulman George School of Equine Studies and the Mari Hulman George Thoroughbred Adoption program, both at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College; the Mari Hulman George Stakes at Indiana Downs; and the Mari Hulman George Search and Rescue Training Center at Camp Atterbury in south-central Indiana.

During Hulman George’s tenure as chair of the IMS from 1988-2016, the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race grew in popularity. IMS hosted the Brickyard 400 and added the United States Grand Prix and Red Bull Moto GP races. To support the new races, she added an infield racecourse, rebuilt the pagoda control tower, and built pit-side garages. Notably, in 2002, the IMS developed an energy-absorbing safety barrier system, SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction), which was soon adopted at nearly every major oval track in North America and many road courses worldwide.

Hulman George’s contribution to motor racing was recognized with an induction into the IMS Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2015. Millions of people around the world will remember Mari Hulman George for her business acumen, her philanthropy, and as the voice starting each Indianapolis 500 race with, “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

Revised February 2021
 

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