And there’s even more to it.
Racing - any kind - is expensive. George did have some good ideas in that he said he wanted to make it more affordable for little teams and ensure parity in the field by enforcing tougher rules about standardized equipment, with the goal that even if you didn’t have the money of Honda or Toyota or Ford, you could still compete. And although enormously popular at the time, there was a lack of American talent for audiences to get behind- many of the drivers were foreign, and NASCAR’s up and coming popularity I’m sure threw doubts in George’s mind. So his idea of trying to attract more American talent was also laudable, at the base of it.
But he went about it all wrong. His proposal to make open wheel racing more affordable and more American was seen as an attempt to distract people from what many perceived was the real reason for his proposal: his disagreements with many of the engine developers and team owners. Fans felt that he wanted to run his race his way without having to listen to engine manufacturers and team owners, whose opinions increasingly were directing the progression of racing. It became a widely-held notion that George hated big teams, big engine manufacturers, and foreigners (which was partially true - he certainly hated Roger Penske).
As said before, Tony George wanted to control the entire league by virtue of the racetrack he owned, meaning that if you wanted to race at Indy, you’d have to take part in every other race out there. He made things even worse by saying he’d guarantee spots at Indy for drivers in this league.
A little history: traditionally, the Indianapolis 500 allows 33 drivers to compete in it. There’s time trials the entire month, and qualifying really starts to concentrate the week before the race. The fastest 33 qualifiers got to race, leading to a rather exciting “bump day” when everyone would have a go at getting their fastest times in. If you were 33rd, and a faster driver came along, you were out.
George’s new plan changed all that - he’d reserve spaces at Indy for the drivers in his league, with only a handful left over for drivers who weren’t a part of the IRL. Meaning that you didn’t have to be the fastest anymore - you could be the slowest driver out there and still have a spot, so long as you were an IRL member. What’s more, your slow ass could conceivably bump out a much faster, racier driver who wasn’t a member. Under this model, qualifying really only determines who starts where rather than who starts at all.
The CART drivers took this as an affront, because it’s pretty much anathema to what it means to race. And so the split.
So it’s been pretty horrific to be an open wheel fan lately - attendance is down across the board, CART’s pretty much done, and IRL isn’t doing well either. This from a league that used to be much bigger than NASCAR. As the years have gone by, George’s gotten back everything he hated before - large engine manufacturers, rising costs, increasing numbers of foreign drivers, big teams, and Roger Penske. And this is pretty much the only thing that makes CART fans smile anymore.