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Top Moments of 2019 - #1: Penske Buys IMS, INDYCAR

Editor’s Note: This is the last of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2019 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

If you’re a fan of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and/or INDYCAR, think back to where you were and what you were doing when the news broke just a few hours past dawn Monday, Nov. 4.

The Hulman-George family was selling the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after 74 years of ownership and INDYCAR, the sanctioning body of the NTT IndyCar Series. The buyer was Roger Penske.

Every racing season and series has big news. This was something far beyond that.

This was huge. Seismic. A moon landing moment for motorsports. One of those “Remember when?” events in our sport. Veteran racing reporter Robin Miller called it easily the biggest story in his 50 years of covering the sport.

There were no warnings this was coming. No scoops or exclusives by racing reporters or the general Indianapolis or global business media. No tea leaves to be read. No smoke signals coming from the Scoring Pylon at IMS.

The fact this was perhaps the best-kept motorsports secret in anyone’s memory only added to the shock and awe. But even if the entire world knew in advance, the fact that Penske, whose team record of 18 victories in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is unmatched, was buying the track and the series would be enough to drop the jaw of everyone in global motorsports.

Penske Entertainment Corp. became just the fourth owner of IMS in the facility’s fabled, 110-year history. The Hulman-George family, led by the vision and stewardship of track savior Tony Hulman, owned IMS since November 1945 and rescued it from oblivion after World War II.

The Hulman-George family wasn’t prepared to sell this hallowed ground to just anyone. But when Hulman & Company Chairman Tony George approached Penske on the grid of the NTT IndyCar Series season finale in September at Laguna Seca to discuss an opportunity, it seemed to be a match made in horsepower heaven.

That otherworldly match became reality very quickly for a transaction of this magnitude. It took about six weeks. That’s how perfect this is.

No one in the racing world could think of someone with such incredible business acumen and success, resources and loyalty and devotion to the IMS as Penske. The overwhelming sentiment from fans and media was, “If anyone was going to buy IMS, thank God it was Roger Penske.”

The acquisition by the Penske organization will carry the future of the legendary Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series forward for the next generation of racing fans. 

“We recently approached Roger Penske and Penske Corporation about this opportunity and began working to put an agreement in place,” Tony George said when the sale was announced. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the centerpiece and the cathedral of motorsports since 1909 and the Hulman-George family has proudly served as the steward of this great institution for more than 70 years. Now, we are honored to pass the torch to Roger Penske and Penske Corporation, as they become just the fourth owner of the iconic Speedway. There is no one more capable and qualified than Roger and his organization to lead the sport of IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway into the future.”

Penske Corporation has a rich history of managing major motorsports properties, beginning with the acquisition of Michigan International Speedway in 1973. Over the course of its history, Penske and its subsidiaries have also operated the Grand Prix of Cleveland, Nazareth Speedway and California Speedway, along with investments in North Carolina Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Penske Corporation currently promotes and operates the Detroit Grand Prix, hosted annually at the Belle Isle Park street circuit.

But this is IMS. The Crown Jewel. It’s Yankee Stadium, Churchill Downs, Lambeau Field and Madison Square Garden, all wrapped into one glorious facility.

Penske knows it. He gets it as much as anyone on Earth. The Captain is now steering the ultimate ship in racing, and he humbly accepts the responsibility of stewardship.

“My passion for racing began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1951 when I attended the Indianapolis 500 with my father,” said Penske, whose race team celebrated its 50th anniversary of first competing at IMS in 2019. “We have so much respect and appreciation for the history and tradition of the Speedway and the sport of IndyCar racing. I want to thank Hulman & Company for the opportunity to build on this legacy, and it will be an honor for Penske Corporation to help lead these great institutions forward into a new era.”

The Penske era will be underway in 2020 at IMS and INDYCAR. Both could not be in better new hands.

 
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