A big thank you to Vintage Motorsport contributor Fritz Frommeyer for this story and photos.
Indianapolis, IN — For just the third time in its 110 years, the ownership baton of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be passed to new hands. Hulman & Company’s board of directors has agreed to sell its principal operating assets — including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar series and IMS Productions — to the Penske Corporation, specifically its entertainment subsidiary. This comes just 10 days short of the 74th anniversary of the acquisition of the Speedway by the Hulman family from owner Eddie Rickenbacker.
The ownership agreement, which is expected to be approved by regulatory officials within two months, came together quickly. Tony George, Hulman & Company’s chairman, opened the subject with Roger Penske during the final IndyCar race of the season last September at Laguna Seca, and work toward an agreement progressed after that initial discussion.
“Now, we are honored to pass the torch to Roger Penske and Penske Corporation,” said George in a news release. “There is no one more capable and qualified than Roger and his organization to lead the sport of IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway into the future.”
Responding in that news release, Penske said, “We have so much respect and appreciation for the history and tradition of the Speedway and the sport of IndyCar racing. I want to thank Hulman & Company for the opportunity to build on this legacy.” Penske, who has a certain never-to-be-broken record of 18 victories as a car owner in the Indianapolis 500, said that a trip to the 1951 event with his father sparked his world-renowned career in auto racing, as a driver and team owner.
George became emotional as he discussed his family’s relationship with the Speedway, saying it is “extra special to all of us because we’ve all grown up around it.” As owners, “We probably had taken it as far as we can. (Penske will) take this to another level.”
Mark Miles, Hulman & Company’s president and CEO, commented that the Penske acquisition will achieve success because it is “an absolute hand-in-glove fit.” The “500” and IndyCar racing have “great momentum now,” and with Penske, “we see nothing but more of that growth.”
Penske said that he has “a big commitment to take over certainly as the steward of this great organization” and looks forward to working with Miles and his team. He wants to start with their top ten ideas and work from there to build a fan-friendly group of attractions.
“RP,” as Penske is sometimes known, will “step down from being a strategist on the pit box,” he said. “You won’t see me there on race day. I think I have a bigger job to do now: to see how we can build the series to the next level,” including a desire to attract a third manufacturer/engine supplier and another racing venue in the U.S. or Canada.
Penske commented on a number of things during the media Q&A session:
- Economic impact. “I think the fact that we’ve been coming to this track for almost 50 years, seeing the growth of the series and understanding the technology. It’s also a great business opportunity for us to grow it to the next level, and we look around these thousand acres and we say, can this be the entertainment capital, not only the racing capital of the world, but the entertainment capital of the world in Indiana. We’re going to invest capital. We know the economic benefit today that this race brings to the region is amazing, and we want to grow that. It’s important to us.”
- “What can we use this (the Speedway) for? Can we run a 24-hour race here? Can we run a Formula One race here? What are the things we can do? This is a great asset.”
- Is there a potential conflict of interest with Penske as a team owner competing in a series that he owns? “The sanctioning body and the IndyCar series will be a separate company. I understand the integrity and there’s got to be a bright line…and hopefully I’ve got enough creditability with everyone that we could be sure that there is not a conflict, and I’ll do my very best to be sure that it isn’t. If you think it is, I hope that — I know that — you folks will tell me pretty quick. So, I’ve got a lot of guys watching me.”
- Guaranteed starting positions in the “500” for cars that run the entire series. “That will be a strategic discussion” among senior leadership. “I think some of the excitement has been in the past, the fact we had people that wanted to come into the race. We also have to understand people who commit to the entire season and take this series around the country, around the world potentially, we have to be sure they’re taken care of. I think it’s a debate.”
- Nascar. “We’re going to get behind that in a big way. You look at 27 years (at the Speedway) and there’s no reason to break that string. They need to run at Indianapolis. We want them to. There’s no question we’re going to look at opportunities to expand with them in the future.”
- A double-header weekend – Nascar and IndyCar – at Indianapolis? “Can we execute those so we bring value here to the Speedway? Look, we’ve got to break some glass on some of these things, don’t we? We’ve got to try some of this. I’m prepared to take a risk. No risk, no reward in many cases. But I wouldn’t say it’s out of the possibility.”
- Events at night. Would an investment in lights or maybe something else provide the sought-after economic benefit?
- IMS Museum. “We’re going to support the Museum the same way the Hulman family has done in the past.”
- “I have no intention of changing the management team.” A board of directors will have a new look, though.
As the moderator of the press conference said at its beginning, this is the dawn of a “new era” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.