Roger Penske spent part of Tuesday walking Indianapolis Motor Speedway, using a cool, sunny day to look over the historic venue that will soon be his.
There is work to be done at the speedway, lots of work before it can be the entertainment mecca he envisions. But more than that, there is a legacy to worry about — and not just his.
The hulking gray structure had been in the Hulman family since Tony Hulman purchased it in 1945, and generations over seven decades since have poured everything into the speedway to uphold its status as a beloved slice of Americana, a place where championships are earned every Memorial Day weekend and heartbreak, even death, is familiar.
Hulman’s grandson, Tony George, now runs the showcase Indianapolis 500 race, the sprawling speedway and all things racing that the family treasures. After painstaking research, the family decided the time had come to give it all up — and George was uneasy turning it over to a corporation or conglomerate that might very well ignore 110 years of history and tradition.
He sought out the only person he knew who not only shared his love and respect for the speedway but had the resources and unwavering desire to preserve the Indy 500 as a global spectacle:
Roger Penske, the billionaire businessman and racing enthusiast with a long history of excellence in motorsports.
Penske was approached by George at the Sept. 22 IndyCar season finale and asked if he was willing to discuss future “stewardship” of the speedway, the Indy 500 and the open-wheel series that has enjoyed a recent uptick in popularity. In a stunning deal that took only six weeks to work out, Hulman & Co. announced Monday it was selling its racing portfolio to the man with a record 18 Indy 500 victories. Penske, who last month received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump, will be the official owner by January.
The parties declined to discuss details, but industry insiders estimate Penske got it all for roughly $300 million, plus promised additional capital improvements to the speedway.
Penske, 82, plans to keep the current executive team of both the speedway and IndyCar, and Tony George will likely have a role in some fashion: Penske offered and George, who fought back tears at the news conference to discuss the sale, said he would accept.
Penske wants more activity at the speedway, and is open to bringing Formula One back to the track, as well as sports cars, a 24-hour endurance race and an extended deal with NASCAR. The stock car series first raced at The Brickyard in 1994 in a controversial break from tradition for the speedway. The race has lost its prestige and next year gets an awkward date on the July 4 weekend, just six weeks after the Indianapolis 500.
Penske has already had talks with NASCAR chairman Jim France and made it clear he wants NASCAR at the speedway. He likes the two races running less than two months apart on patriotic weekends. The IndyCar Series itself is not a moneymaker and is propped by the Indy 500 and the speedway, which receives a sizable payout from NASCAR’s television package.
“The series is not broken. We need to enhance it,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure the product remains relevant … all of these things need to be taken into consideration.”
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