This was not a story a thought I’d be writing. While we have heard extremely faint whispers of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway being sold they were quickly followed by assurances that the Speedway was not for sale. Perhaps, the best kept secret in IndyCar was that plans have been moving along since September when Tony George told Roger Penske he would like to talk about the stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Within days the two were meeting and on November 4, 2019 it was announced that Roger Penske’s company, Penske Entertainment Corporation, is purchasing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions. The sale is expected to be finalized in January.
I received a text from my friend Lisa telling me the news and thought for sure she must have been reading a fake news article. I quickly went on twitter and saw my feed had exploded with news about the sale of IMS. Unbelievable!
My first thoughts we sad and disappointment. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been owned by the Hulman-George family for nearly 75 years. Alton “Tony” Hulman Jr. purchased the Speedway in 1945. The Speedway had become quite dilapidated during World War II but at the encouragement of Wilbur Shaw, Hulman bought the facility and turned it into a world famous landmark. The Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would not exist if not for Tony Hulman so it is sad to think that the Speedway will no longer be run by the family.
“I think that Roger, his structure, his resources, his capabilities that he demonstrates, are only going to take this to another level, so that’s what we’re all about. We’re supporting elevating this asset and staking a new claim on its future. We, with emotion, are happy to be here today.”– Tony George
My second thoughts were concern. Roger Penske is a businessman. What changes will he make to ensure he makes money through this deal. What will change within IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500? What will happen to Doug Boles, Mark Miles, Jay Frye and so many others who are involved in the series. Then I moved on to smaller changes- ticket prices, entrance fees, cooler policies. Then to some changes RP has wanted to see in the past- guaranteed seats for regular series drivers in the 500, no international races and his beloved Detroit race taking place right after the 500. My head was spinning. Too much had the potential to change.
At 11:00 am on Monday morning the conference was live streamed and I sat down to watch. My fears and concerns slowly faded. Tony George was visibly emotional about the sale. Tony expressed the the George family would be given an opportunity to buy shares in the new company, quickly followed by Tony’s plans to take advantage of that. While Tony has made some blunders in the past, he sincerely loves the Speedway and I’m thankful he will continue to be involved in its future. Mark Miles spoke and then Roger Penske. Roger stated that they plan to keep current leadership. He looks forward to working with Mark Miles, Jay Frye and others. He named several people holding current positions and at least for now it appears many will stay. He talked about his first trip to the Speedway, his passion for it and his desire to see it become even bigger and better. He respects the past traditions and says the pomp and circumstance of the pre race ceremonies will remain. I felt a lot better after hearing Roger speak. Now if we could just keep him from aging so we know the property will remain in good hands.
Also worth noting the museum at IMS is not part of the sale. They will continue to operate as they always have.
While I continue to have some small concerns, I mostly excited to see how this new era is run. We recently had many traditions from the 500 change or alter. Florence Henderson recently passed so no longer is part of the pre race ceremonies. Back Home Again in Indiana is still sung but no longer by Jim Nabors. The Speedway is getting a lot of pressure to not have a balloon release before the race. A member of the Hulman-George family has been giving the command to start engines for more years than I can count- I’m guessing that will change. While some consider these these minor changes some can’t imagine things any other way. It will be interesting to see what happens come May. As the news has sunk in I find I’m excited to see how Roger and his company can expand and improve on IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 while remaining mindful and respectful of the past. I was also encouraged to see all the higher ups in IndyCar having breakfast with Roger today at Charlie Browns. Perfect way to start the day and this new era.
“I’m sure it was a hard decision for Tony and his sisters, but the family has always done what they thought was best for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I don’t think a better person could have bought the Speedway than Roger Penske because he knows racing and has been racing all his life. His businesses are really well run and he knows how to get sponsors so I think this move will be nothing but a win-win-win. I’ve known Roger from when we both drove sports cars for John Mecom so we go back many, many years. The one thing about Roger is that when he goes and does something, he does it first class and that’s where I give him a lot of credit.” – A.J. Foyt
“I talked to Mario Andretti today and AJ Foyt, and we all agreed what the Indianapolis 500 has meant to us as individuals and as a company, and certainly our company,” Penske said. “I think that what it really says, that in the United States of America, if you work hard and you’re committed and you have a great group of people, you get great success. So today I hope my dad’s looking down at me and looking at this group and saying, Son, you did a good job.”
“I’ve got a big commitment here to take over certainly as the steward of this great organization and what’s been done here in the past for so many decades. It’s my commitment to the Hulman family. The fact that you would select us is an opportunity to take on this investment, it’s amazing, and I just want to thank Tony and everyone else that’s been involved in this.”- Roger Penske