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.
The hulking grey 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.
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.
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.
Industry insiders estimate Penske got it all for roughly $300 million, plus promised additional capital improvements to the speedway.
To avoid appearances of a conflict of interest, Penske said he will step down from the pit stand next season.
Penske plans to keep the current executive team of both the speedway and IndyCar. He had a full day of meetings planned Tuesday. He will put his own board in place, 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.
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. “I think the combination of Memorial Day weekend and also July Fourth gives us the ability to support the men and women of the armed forces and first responders and we can take that to the next level,” Penske told AP. “We can really do something special with this.” (AP)