There is no escaping the name. Not that George Michael Steinbrenner IV wants to. He is proud of his family, of its famous baseball team, and of the legacy of his grandfather, George Steinbrenner III.
He also knows the name has practical benefits for a very young sports owner, in his case in IndyCar racing.
“People are curious,” he said in a Manhattan restaurant during a recent media tour. “Why is there a Steinbrenner in IndyCar? The name, it opens doors on the commercial end as well. The majority of what we do as IndyCar owners is find sponsorships. That’s the lifeblood of the series.”
Not to mention a daylong schedule of interviews with major news outlets.
“Obviously in the media world as well, you get a lot of opportunities that maybe another 22-year-old IndyCar owner wouldn’t get,” he said.
Yet, there is something to be said for being a Steinbrenner who has taken a leap into a world far from Yankees pinstripes.
Steinbrenner, whose father is George III’s eldest son, Hank, said he and those in his generation do not talk about an ownership succession plan beyond the structure currently headed by his uncle Hal.
But he did note that many “have been branching out and doing other things. I thought if I would branch out and do my own thing and make a name for myself elsewhere, just like my grandfather did, not only with the Yankees but with horse racing, it would impact me in racing.”
So as much as he loves the Yankees, he said IndyCar is his sole professional focus for now. He grew up in Florida but moved to Indianapolis to be all-in on racing.
“I always like to say that baseball is my life but racing is my passion,” he said. “I think if that weren’t the case, I might not be as motivated to find my own path. But finding something so early that I’m so passionate about, I wanted to chase it and branch out and expand the portfolio of Steinbrenner family success.”
Steinbrenner — the youngest team owner in IndyCar history — was joined by his two drivers, both even younger than he is: Colton Herta, 18, and Patricio O’Ward, 19.
Together they are preparing to embark on Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s first season on the IndyCar circuit after Steinbrenner and Colton paired on the Triple-A “Indy Lights” series the past two seasons. O’Ward is the Indy Lights 2018 champion; Herta was runner-up.
Herta grew up a Dodgers fan in Los Angeles but wore a Yankees cap to the interview. O’Ward, who is from Mexico, said he did not grow up a baseball fan but has come around.
“Now I’m a Yankees fan,” he said. “I think more than anything, I feel like part of the family now, so automatically you cheer for them. You’re aware of the brand. You want to show it off.”
All three men have a sense of humor about the Yankees connection. When Herta referenced the young team’s goal of overachieving and outsmarting the competition by saying, “We’re going to be the Billy Beanes of the IndyCar world,” Steinbrenner quickly corrected him.
“We’ll be the Brian Cashmans,” he said.
Though competing for a championship likely remains several years in the future, winning an Indianapolis 500 as soon as spring is possible. Luck plays a big part, so why not?
But Steinbrenner and his partner, Mike Harding, hope to build a long-term winner.
“I want to keep this IndyCar program alive and competing for Indy 500s for as long as I’m able,” Steinbrenner said. “I see it as a huge, huge part of whatever I do moving forward.”
The young owner’s racing ties are deep. George III had partial interest in Indy 500 teams in the 1970s and Hank sponsored a drag racing team in the early 2000s.
Steinbrenner IV’s stepfather, Sean Jones, was a driver, as was Herta’s father, Bryan. Tony Renna, who died on a test run in 2003, was a close family friend of the Steinbrenners. And Steinbrenner counts Michael Andretti of the famed racing family among his mentors.
The 2019 season begins in Florida in March.
“I feel like we’re all so young, and there’s a new era of drivers coming,” O’Ward said. “There’s also a new era of team owners coming, and what better way to do it than with such a prestigious name like the Steinbrenners and bringing that winning Yankee dynasty to IndyCar?”
Steinbrenner said his father and uncle have served as supportive mentors.
As for The Boss, who died in 2010, George IV said: “I knew him more as a grandfather. I saw more of the family side. It wasn’t until later on that I’ve learned more about how larger-than-life he was and am learning from how he managed things and how he was able to find such success with not only the Yankees as a team but as a brand.
“I’m learning everything I can from how he went about building the ‘NY’ logo to the worldwide phenomenon it is.”