By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer & Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
For the first time since November 1945, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a new owner.
The Board of Directors at Hulman & Company have announced the sale of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, INDYCAR and IMS Productions to a subsidiary of Penske Corporation named Penske Entertainment Corp.
“We’re very excited to be in a place where our process took us to a point where we as a family all agreed we needed to have a conversation with Roger Penske,” said Tony George, Chairman of Hulman & Company. “I approached him 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 was a pretty easy — not easy by any means, but this isn’t their first rodeo, your first rodeo, your first rodeo. So they were able to execute around diligence very quickly, and it led to an announcement that miraculously — not many things are kept under wraps around here, but this was fairly well contained, and we were able to really, I think, present this to the world this morning.
“That’s kind of the way it came about, and we’re just very thankful for the opportunity to be here today and to work towards this closing. Very excited about welcoming the Penske Corporation, Penske Entertainment as new corporate citizens.”
Penske Corporation has experience with track ownership and management roles, having acquired Michigan International Speedway in 1973. In the years that followed, it also handled operations at venues like California Speedway, the Grand Prix of Cleveland and Nazareth Speedway, and currently the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle.
As a team owner, Penske has set the standard of success at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with 18 victories in the Indianapolis 500, including this year’s edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” with Simon Pagenaud.
“I really have to wind back to 1951 when my dad brought me here when I was 14 years old, and I guess at that point the bug of motor racing got in my blood I’d have to say, and to think about what it’s meant to our company, the brand that we’ve been able to build — it’s interesting, 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.
“And 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.
“Certainly Mark (Miles, President and CEO of Hulman & Company), you’ve got a great team. We don’t have a gymnasium full of people to bring here. When we buy a business, we look at the people, and the great thing is we’ve rubbed shoulders with many of the people here over the years, so we’ve seen this organization grow, and I certainly think that certainly IMS Productions does a great job.
“What’s happened today with the media partners, there’s just no question that we have the opportunity to grow, and the IRL will be one of the greatest series as we go forward.
“I’m humbled today to say that, and I want to thank Tony, you again and the family for this opportunity, and Mark, I look forward to continuing to work with your team in the future.”
Miles added his own thoughts on the significance of the announcement.
“I think we have 260 people or so that work either at the speedway or IndyCar or IMS Productions, and it’s fair to say that every day people understood that whatever progress we were making was based on what had come before us,” Miles said. “So before we say anything about the last few years, we just want to recognize that it was really everything that came before us that gave us the opportunity to try to make more progress and to achieve more growth.
“And I think Tony and perhaps other family members will continue to be involved, so I think that’s really important.
“We will make great progress because to me this is an absolute hand-in-glove fit. Roger’s background in racing and his superb effectiveness of everybody that works in the Penske Corporation is pretty well-known to everybody, and as was said, he didn’t need a lot of diligence on the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or IndyCar to know us.
“So the most important thing I think in this transaction in making these arrangements was the convergence of really the transition from the phenomenal heritage we come from and the understanding of that with Roger to what is possible going forward. We are very proud of what’s happened over the last several years, and many of you are from Indianapolis. You know here that we have this unbelievable opportunity with the 100th running in 2016. I think the community really responded to that. And that gave us the chance to build from there, and so we’re still staying at a really good place in terms of attendance and all that — in terms of fan engagement here. And we’ve tried to be innovative in the events we bring here, and I think that will probably continue.
“IndyCar we’re just so proud of. It’s probably been a little bit more of an up-and-down history over the longer term, but there’s no question we have great momentum now. Every fan metric shows growth. We’ve kept our traditional longtime fans, and we’re growing the fan base and adding younger fans all the time.
“It’s without a doubt in our minds the best form, most exciting form of racing object the planet, and with Roger and Penske Entertainment as our leaders now, we see nothing but more of that growth.
“And I don’t want to forget IMS Productions. It’s a great company that has turned — has earned a reputation of being great story tellers, so they create a lot of content, not just for racing but for other customers, as well, and of course they are the nerve center for the television productions that allows IndyCar racing and everything from the 500 to reach so many people around the world.
“So the shorter answer to your question is we have a parent now that appreciates the history of the past, the history and the past, knows our business inside and out, gets things done. I love that Roger has said more often than not he cares about the talent, the people around him and how hard they work, how much we can get done, and I know that everybody at the Hulman & Company has felt that way for some time and looks forward to working for you, Roger.”