Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series were sold to Penske Entertainment in a stunning move Monday that relinquishes control of the iconic speedway from the Hulman family after 74 years.
Indiana businessman Tony Hulman bought the dilapidated speedway in 1945 and brought racing back to the corner of 16th St. and Georgetown Ave. after a four-year absence following World War II. Billionaire Roger Penske, who owns one of the most successful companies in racing, will become just the fourth owner of the 110-year-old speedway.
The speedway spun off multiple subsidiaries, including the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Productions, which are also part of the deal to Penske Entertainment. That group is a subsidiary of Penske, which is owned by Roger Penske.
The IndyCar Series is on an upward trend with improved television ratings and increased interest. Penske is the winningest team owner in Indianapolis 500 history with 18 victories, including French racing driver Simon Pagenaud's win in May. He capped the IndyCar Season with a championship from driver Josef Newgarden, the 15th for the Team Penske organization.
The speedway is to discuss the deal in a news conference Monday. The sale is expected to close in early January, according to a document of message points sent to IndyCar teams on Monday, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
"We have found the ideal steward of the company and its iconic assets," the document states. "Penske Corporation — with its 64,000-plus employees and more than $32 billion in consolidated revenue — will bring tremendous energy, leadership and resources to IMS, IndyCar and IMSP.
"For a number of years, the Hulman & Company management and board have engaged outside advisers and experts to consider the full range of strategic options available. Ultimately, it was decided to focus on the possible sale of the company and finding a buyer that would be the best steward of the company and its iconic assets," it continued.
The document states Penske Corp. approached the Hulman board in the fall about the purchase.
Penske's love of motorsports
Penske's love of the speedway dates to 1951 when his father, Jay, scored a pair of tickets to the Indianapolis 500 from the metal fabrication company in Cleveland where he worked. He brought his 14-year-old car-loving son to the speedway to see the event live after listening to it only on radio for many years.
Penske was instantly hooked and has missed only six Indianapolis 500s since, five of which came when the IndyCar Series was formed by Tony George and split from CART. Penske teams remained in CART, and CART teams were not welcome at the 500.
CART was once the most popular form of motorsports in America, but NASCAR swallowed open-wheel racing during the tumultuous times after Tony George created the Indy Racing League. The split fractured open-wheel racing in North America and it has never recovered even after CART conceded and merged into what is now known as IndyCar.
Penske has mixed track ownership and team ownership before, and the Detroit resident first purchased Michigan International Speedway in 1973. He later owned California Speedway, as well, and currently runs the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader IndyCar weekend.
George, the grandson of Tony Hulman, has long run the speedway and its properties along with his sister and a board of directors. But matriarch Mari Hulman George, daughter of Tony Hulman, died last December and the family has now turned over all its racing properties to Penske.
"I cannot think of a better owner than Roger Penske and his corporation to ensure the future and growth of IndyCar," Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren, told the AP. McLaren is entering IndyCar next season and Brown was a longtime Indianapolis businessman who ran a racing marketing business.
"His business acumen and dedication to IndyCar racing and passion for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is second to none," he said.