The original George Steinbrenner didn’t make the cut to actually appear in the hit sitcom Seinfeld. So as genius as he is, Larry David depicted the voice (and back of the head) of the famed New York Yankees owner, going as far as calling himself the “Big Stein.”
Now, there’s a new Steinbrenner in town. “Little Stein” is George Steinbrenner IV, the grandson of one of the most successful owners in baseball history. While this Little Stein might not be known to many just yet, he’s making waves in what may be perceived as an unlikely world: Motor sports.
However, the young Steinbrenner wants people to know about his family’s great passion for racecars.
“I grew up around racing, much like baseball, primarily on my mother’s side of the family,” Steinbrenner, 22, said. “I had a cousin who was an Indy car driver by the name of Tony Renna [passed away in an October 2003 accident] and I have an uncle who’s a longtime engineer by the name of Chris Simmons, who’s a five-time champion. I grew up around the sport, watching it, going to races and falling in love with it, much like I did with baseball.”
So when Mike Harding presented Steinbrenner an ownership stake in his IndyCar Series team, he couldn’t pass on the opportunity. After a semester in Stetson University, the Florida native dropped out to focus on owning an Indy Lights team, the minor league version of Indy car, before teaming with Harding. In doing so, he picks up where his grandfather left off, owning a team in the 1970s with Pat Patrick.
The youngest owner in the series’ history, Steinbrenner has lofty goals. He wants his organization to be the New York Yankees of the racing realm, and he’s determined to make sure that happens.
“My grandfather had a great passion for horse racing,” he said of the family patriarch, who passed away in 2010. “For him, the Kentucky Derby was the white whale. It was the one he always wanted and always strived for. He won seven World Series championships and loved every single one of them like they were his kids, but he always wanted that derby. For me, the Indianapolis 500 is the same. The 500 is the white whale, the one I’m going to spend my whole life trying to get if I can.”
The young Harding Steinbrenner Racing team fields a full-time entry for Colton Herta, a 19-year-old rookie driver. A mere two races into the IndyCar Series season and the No. 88 car was in the winner’s circle, with Steinbrenner celebrating his first of what very well might be many racing wins.
However, it’s not the prestigious 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s not the one that everyone strives for. It’s not the one that even his grandfather attempted to win.
“People expect the Steinbrenner name at the top,” he said.
The pressure built leading up to this year’s Indianapolis 500. But after a great qualifying run, starting the race in the fifth of 33 positions, Herta’s gearbox broke on the third of 200 laps, putting a premature end to his shot at winning the biggest event of the year.
“When he’s not in Speedway, Indiana, he’s at a Yankee game marketing to more people in New York,” Herta said of Steinbrenner. “He’s an awesome employer and a true friend, so I’d say it’s cool to say I work for him.”
Nonetheless, Steinbrenner won’t give up. Eventually, he will likely take over the Yankees from his father Hank Steinbrenner and uncle Hal Steinbrenner, who currently split ownership duties. Unless they make the unlikely move of selling the team, this lad is next in line to own baseball’s most valuable organization.
“With my uncle and father in great health and they will be for a long time, having success over there, it’s been discussed,” Steinbrenner IV said. “I have a great passion for Yankee baseball. Who knows? Maybe down the line, I’ll be lucky enough to be involved in both of my great passions in life.”
For now, he’s getting plenty of executive experience in motor sports. He’s getting his feet wet and having fun while doing it.
There are plenty of struggles along the way, such as figuring out how to be a productive owner, attracting sponsorship and more. But using lessons learned from his father, uncle and grandfather, he believes there’s nothing that will stop him from being a success in both racing and baseball.
“We’re a close family and we’re all very supportive of what each other does,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s great that way. I don’t know if setting myself apart is what I want. It’s not just the name George Steinbrenner in it. I want to bring the Steinbrenner name as a whole to Indy car racing, and I want to have success in the sport.”
Maybe, just maybe, there will be a full Seinfeld reunion and David will let this young Steinbrenner try out for the role his grandfather couldn’t make.