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Penske Acquires IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy 500 in Shock Deal

One of racing’s biggest names now owns the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series.

Hulman & Company, longtime owner of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has sold the track as well as the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions to Roger Penske's Penske Corp., the parties announced Monday. The deal seemingly came out of nowhere, with even senior-level IndyCar staff being caught off-guard when they were informed of the pact early Monday morning. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, as both Penske Corp. and Hulman & Company are privately owned companies. The sale is expected to close within a couple of months, "following receipt of applicable government approvals and other standard conditions."

The sale marks the end of the Hulman era of Indy history. Carl Fisher built the 2.5-mile superspeedway in 1909; Eddie Rickenbacker became its owner in 1927, and sold the facility to Tony Hulman and his Hulman & Company in 1945. Along with the world-famous Indianapolis 500—the pillar of the IndyCar Series that has been held 103 times to date—IMS has hosted Formula 1, NASCAR, MotoGP, and other various racing series throughout its history. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, it is one of the world's most famous and most impressive sports facilities.

"We recently approached Roger Penske and Penske Corp. about this opportunity and began working to put an agreement in place," said Tony George, Tony Hulman's grandson and Hulman & Company chairman.

George is the man many race fans and industry watchers blame for destroying U.S. open-wheel racing when he founded the Indy Racing League as a rival to the then main Indy-style racing series, CART, in 1996. The two series unified in 2008, but to many, the damage remains, with IndyCar fighting for years to regain its foothold with the American public. One race that has rarely had that problem, though, is the Indy 500, due to its grand history and sheer legend.

"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the centerpiece and the cathedral of motorsports since 1909 and the Hulman-George family has proudly served as the steward of this great institution for more than 70 years," George said. "Now, we are honored to pass the torch to Roger Penske and Penske Corp., as they become just the fourth owner of the iconic Speedway. 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."

Roger Penske and Will Power celebrate after winning the 102nd Indy 500 in 2018.

Penske, owner of the most successful team in Indy and IndyCar racing history, is no stranger to owning and managing racetracks. Penske Corp. at various times has controlled Michigan International Speedway, the Grand Prix of Cleveland, Nazareth Speedway, and California Speedway, along with investments in North Carolina Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Penske Corp. is presently the promoter and operator of the Detroit Grand Prix.

Penske said of the deal, "My passion for racing began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1951 when I attended the Indianapolis 500 with my father. 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 and it will be an honor for Penske Corp. to help lead these great institutions forward into a new era."

Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, said, "The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, and the NTT IndyCar Series have enjoyed considerable growth over the past decade, with significant increases in television, digital and social media audiences combined with record attendance at many of our race venues. With their track record of business success, their venue, operation, and event experience, and their passion for motorsports, Roger Penske and Penske Corp. will help us take the IndyCar Series, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and all of our properties to new heights. Everyone on our team looks forward to working with them to capitalize on the momentum that the series and the Speedway have achieved."

George, whose family has sold some of its other properties recently, including Clabber Girl baking powder for $80 million in May 2019, said of the process, "I approached [Penske] at the final race of the season, not wanting to distract from the task at hand, which was bringing home another championship, but I wanted to wish him well on the grid, and I just simply said I'd like to meet with him and talk about stewardship. He got a very serious look on his face and followed up after he clinched his championship with an email and then another email the next morning, and we set it up. I invited Mark to join us for that meeting, and kudos to both organizations who worked very closely together very quickly.

"It's obviously emotional, emotionally difficult, hence the choking up. But we all love [IMS], and we all care deeply for it. I think we all realize that as a family and as an organization, we probably had taken it as far as we can.
I think that Roger, his structure, his resources, his capabilities that he demonstrates, is only going to take this to another level, so that's what we're all about."

Penske added, "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."

Penske said he plans to walk the facility on Tuesday, and to "strategically sit down with the existing team and get their top 10. I always like to work from a top 10 and see the things that we can do to make it fan-friendly.

"Certainly from a competitive perspective, I'm planning to really step down from being a strategist on [the Team Penske IndyCar] pit box. You won't see me there on race day. I think I've got a bigger job to do now, to try to see how we can build the [IndyCar] series to the next level. It will be nice to bring another car manufacturer [as an engine supplier] in."

Penske also revealed he is already interested in broadening the types of racing the Speedway hosts in the future, including an interest in bringing F1 back to the circuit. He said he plans to keep the existing management team in place.

"I think we look at the Speedway itself, the investment with the $100 million that was put in a few years ago before the 100th [running of the race], I think you've seen a tremendous change, and we want to add capability as there are more fan zones—what can we use this [place] for, can we run a 24-hour [sports car] race here, can we run a Formula 1 race here? What are the things we can do?

"This is a great asset. Once the tradition had been broken in adding the NASCAR race [in 1994], which obviously we're going to get behind that in a big way … So I look at all of these across the board to see what can we do.
This business is not broken. This is a great business, and the leadership team that's been here has done an outstanding job, and what we want to do is be a support tool.
We bought Michigan Speedway in 1973; it was bankrupt. We built California. We help with the promotion of the Grand Prix in Detroit. This is in our DNA, and I think with input from the media, certainly input from our sponsor partners and all the teams—I had a chance to talk to most of the teams today, the principals, and we're looking forward to getting together with the car owners and seeing what we can do to make IndyCar even stronger, and I think that's something that would be a priority for me."

As for any conflicts of interest Penske might face now that he owns IMS, the IndyCar Series, and one of that series' most powerful teams, he said, "Well, I think as you look at the construct as we go forward, the sanctioning body and [IndyCar Series] will be a separate company, and the other assets will be in the Speedway.
And I think with the proper board—I think you have to ask our competitors at this point. Tony [George] has been a car owner … Eddie Rickenbacker [was a] driver, so there's been some history [with a situation like this].

"But I don't want to leave this conversation without knowing that I understand the integrity, and there's got to be a bright line, and to me I know what my job is, and hopefully I've got enough credibility with everyone that we can be sure that there is not a conflict, and I'll do my very best to be sure that there 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."