I’m a little late to the party. I should have been writing about this news a few months ago. What many in Indy think is that the new owner of the Indianapolis 500 enterprise, Roger Penske seems like a natural fit.
Having met Mr.Penske years ago at the launch of the new-to-the-U.S. SmartCar in San Francisco, it's easy to tell he’s the ‘boss man,’ answers to nobody and often travels with a posse. One wonders how long he’s had his eye on the infamous track here in Indy. After days of cloistered meetings, somewhere in this city, Penske and others went through 10,000 pages of documents transferring the track to him.
It’s been 50 years since Penske’s first entry at IMS. To date, he has walked this hallowed ground 18 times, back and forth from his trailer, through Gasoline Alley to the pit lane. Eventually winning the race, gathering in the Winner’s Circle. Penske often jokes that he has spent more than three years of his life inside the Speedway’s walls.
Word has it that Roger Penske first came to Speedway at age 14. He could be seen sitting in a show car near Georgetown Road. Perhaps a far-away dream, Penske has been a constant here in Indy.
Tony George, Chairman of Hulman & Co., is handing off the family-owned and run IMS enterprise after 170 years. Not without tears in his eyes. The sale of IMS, the IndyCar series and IMS Productions to auto-racing mogul Roger Penske and his Penske Entertainment Corp was a biggie. George’s grandfather bought IMS in 1945, the iconic pomp and circumstance witnessed and loved by so many Hoosiers. Tony and his sister, he says, were “brought from the hospital to their home just down the street from the track.”
This isn’t Penske’s first track purchase. In 1972, he bought Michigan International Speedway before selling it to International Speedway Corp. in 1999. Penske Entertainent Corp is a subsidiary of Penske Corp which is a transportation services company with revenues in excess of $32 billion, according to their website. The company employs 64,000 people worldwide.
The sale of the landmark company in autoracing came together in just six weeks. George waited, he says, until the 2019 Indy-Car season finale at Laguna Seca to reach out to Penske. The IndyCar team owner admitted he’d never thought about being a track owner. Rather, it was a faraway dream that is now sure to come true. When sitting down with Tony and Mark, Penske said his mind/stomach were running at 100 mph. “Could this really be happening,” he asked himself. “It’s like a dream come true.”
According to Tony George, there had been offers in the past from various entities, potential backers. Back in 1977-78, and more recently, he admitted, they took a step back when actually selling IMS. The family has been more than committed to the track’s success and all it stands for. He realized, too, though, the family has taken the track as far as they can. In its best interest, the family wants to see IMS taken to the next level. With someone like Penske, who has had many successes, connections and history, he may just be the perfect person. According to early news, Penske plans to keep some of the big decision-makers in place, such as IndyCar’s president Jay Frye, and Doug Boles as IMS’s president and Miles in his current role.
Since the 100th anniversary year in 2011, the town of Speedway has also benefitted with major infrastructure and streetscape improvements, new restaurants and a feel that makes visitors want to hang out. There now exists a reason to come down to Speedway, especially if you’re a car/racing fan. Speedway was originally built around the racetrack. The first race held in 1911 was cause for local businesses to open. Since the launch of the Speedway Redevelopment Commission, Speedway continues to grow.
Early in its purchase, the Indy Star reports Penske is thinking about a few possibilities, such as bringing in another car manufacturer, adding someone to the series, and even adding a 24-hour race or Formula One race. And, building additional fan zones. What is a definite is that Penske will be investing in the track. Penske has offered Hulman and Company shareholders an opportunity to hold onto a minority stake after the completion of the sale. George says he plans to do just that.
Penske will become the track’s fourth owner, with big plans to continue putting money into the track.
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