IndyCar Indianapolis Penske Purchase Auto Racing

In this May 26, 2019, file photo, Simon Pagenaud, of France, leads the field through the first turn on the start of the Indianapolis 500 IndyCar auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in Indianapolis.

Roger Penske was a car-loving, 14-year-old who regularly listened to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio when his father landed tickets to the 1951 race. They made the trek from Cleveland, and when Penske saw the cars zipping around Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 200 mph he fell instantly in love.

Now he owns the iconic speedway, its hallowed grounds, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the IndyCar Series and all its properties in a stunning deal announced Monday. By early next year, Penske Entertainment Corp. will take over all those entities owned by the Hulman family for 74 years in one of the biggest transactions in the history of motorsports.

“The bug of motor racing got in my blood,” Penske recalled about that day with his father, Jay. “I hope my dad is looking down at me and this group and saying ‘Son, you did a good job.’”

The sprawling, 110-year-old speedway and its famed, 2 1/2 -mile oval track is one of the most famous venues in sports and crowds for its showcase race every May, the first one dating to 1911, used to swell to more than 400,000 people. The speedway with its famous pagoda tower, Gasoline Alley garage area and massive grandstands was a dilapidated mess in 1945 when Tony Hulman bought it and brought racing back to the corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Avenue after a four-year absence following World War II.

The speedway itself spun off multiple subsidiaries, including the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Productions, which are also being acquired by Penske Entertainment, a subsidiary of Penske Corp., which is owned by the billionaire.

Experts were unsure how to value the deal and Penske quipped to AP: “I haven’t paid anything yet.” But the sale was a bombshell in a industry that has struggled with declining attendance and interest over the past decade.

“IndyCar has had a good few years but motorsports still has this challenge going forward,” said Andrew Baker, director of motorsports studies at IUPUI in Indianapolis, whose campus is just a few miles from the speedway. “What people don’t realize is how much it is on the business to business side. That’s where Roger can help, is essential to the sport. It can spill over into things like hospitality and then they can use that to schmooze people and businesses and bring more sponsors into the sport. “

The deal was done in roughly six weeks and began when Tony George, grandson of Tony Hulman, approached Penske before the season-ending race in California in September. George wished Penske luck in the championship battle, then asked “The Captain” if they could have a conversation about the speedway.

“We as a family agreed we all needed to have a conversation with Roger Penske,” George said.

“I simply said I’d like to meet with him and talk about stewardship and he got a very serious look on his face,” said George, who several times choked back tears discussing his family’s legacy. “It’s obviously emotionally difficult. We all love it and we all care deeply. We all realize that as a family and organization we had probably taken it as far as we can. Roger Penske’s resources will only take this to another level.”

Tony George, along with his sisters and the Hulman & Co. board of directors, have most recently been in charge of Hulman properties. Mari Hulman George, Hulman’s daughter and matriarch of the family interests, died last November and the family businesses have slowly been divested. Hulman & Co. sold its other primary business, the baking company Clabber Girl, to B&G Foods for $80 million in May.

The family has now turned its racing properties over to Penske in an announcement made one day after the one-year anniversary of Hulman George’s death. The family will have an opportunity from Penske to remain involved with both the series and the speedway, and Tony George said he will take Penske up on the offer. He is also co-owner of Ed Carpenter Racing, the team run by his son.

Penske said he will step down as race strategist for his IndyCar team — he most recently called races for veteran driver Will Power — and focus on turning IMS into “the entertainment capital of Indiana.” He said the heavy lifting begins Tuesday when Penske plans to walk the IMS property — it includes the track, a golf course, a museum and in 1987 was designated a National Historic Landmark — then meet with the existing executive team.

Penske, who is also a giant in the NASCAR stock car series, said he plans no management changes at this time.

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