Michigan’s Roger Penske buys Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar Series

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Roger Penske responds to a question about the sale of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday.

In a move that stunned the motor sports racing world, Bloomfield Hills-based billionaire Roger Penske announced Monday that he will purchase the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series.

The Hulman family purchased what was then a dilapidated speedway in 1945 and returned racing to Indianapolis after a four-year absence following World War II. Penske, 82, will become the fourth owner of the 110-year-old track.

More: IndyCar competitors have no reservations about Roger Penske taking over series

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 Corp.

The deal is expected to close in early January, after 74 years of ownership under Hulman & Co. Tony George, chairman of the family-owned business, recalled growing up down the street from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and sharing it with his children and grandchildren. His family, he said, had taken it as far as they could.

“It’s bittersweet,” George said during a press conference Monday, “but very exciting because we know we’re passing the torch to an individual who has created the organization that is not only dynamic but ideally suited, I think, to take over the stewardship, a corporation that is family-involved much like ours, but with a track record that is really without compare.”

George said he approached Penske ahead of the final race of the IndyCar season in September. Penske’s race team celebrated its 50th anniversary of first competing at Indianapolis this year.

“I really have to wind back to 1951 when my dad brought me here when I was 14 years old” to the Indianapolis 500, Penske said Monday. His father had received tickets from his job at a metal warehousing company that was a sponsor for the event. “I guess at that point the bug of motor racing got into my blood.

“I think what it really says that is in the United States of America, if you work hard, you’re committed, you have a great group of people, you have great success. Today, I hope my dad’s looking down at me, looking down at this group, saying, ‘Son, you did a good job.’”

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 Simon Pagenaud’s win in May. He capped the IndyCar Season with a championship from driver Josef Newgarden, the 15th for Team Penske.

There are no management changes planned for now, Penske said. Members of a board to oversee operations will be announced when the deal closes. Penske declined to share the value of the transaction, but said he planned to invest capital into the 1,000-acre property.

“It was a great business opportunity for us to grow it to the next level,” Penske said. “We say, ‘Can this be the entertainment capital — not only the racing capital of the world — but the entertainment capital of the world in Indiana?’”

On Tuesday, Penske said he plans to walk the entire facility and then start developing with stakeholders a list of top 10 priorities to improve the racetrack, grow the IndyCar Series and attract other events, including from NASCAR and Formula One. Attracting a third automaker partner also is a priority, said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co.

Penske pointed the work his company has done acquiring the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, building the Auto Club Speedway in California and presenting the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.

“It’s in our DNA,” he said.

Roger Penske poses for a photo on the front straightaway of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway following a news conference Monday.

Penske also brushed off concerns over the new ownership of the racing series and his racing presents a conflict of interest. He expects he will take more time away from the pit stand and said the sanctioning body of the IndyCar will be a separate company.

“I understand the integrity, and there’s got to be a bright line,” he said. “To me, I know what my job is and hopefully we have enough credibility with everyone, and we can be sure that is not a conflict.”

In the past, Penske also has expressed an interest in seeing guaranteed spots for IndyCar regulars in the Indianapolis 500. That is something, he said, that could be discussed in the future.

“Some of the excitement’s been in the past that we wanted some people to come in the race,” Penske said. “We also understand people who commit to the entire season and take this series around the country, around the world potentially, we need to make sure they’re taken care of. I think it’s a debate, but at this point, I wouldn’t comment one way or the other.”

Support from rival team owners was immediate. Chip Ganassi said Penske called him early Monday morning before the sale was announced to inform him, adding “the place is going to be run like a business now.”

Michael Andretti called it “positive news” for the series and the speedway.

“Roger has always strived to do great things for both IMS and IndyCar racing, and I’m sure he will continue to do so in this new ownership position,” Andretti said. “Both the Indy 500 and the IndyCar Series have been on a rise and I look forward to the continued climb.”

President Donald Trump shakes hands with auto racing great Roger Penske during a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019.

Bobby Rahal called Penske the “perfect custodian” for the speedway.

“Roger Penske’s commitment to the sport we love is over six decades long and I am confident that his stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series will ensure a great future for the sport,” Rahal said.

The purchase was applauded by Team Penske driver Will Power, the 2018 Indy 500 winner and former IndyCar champion, who understands all Penske drivers strive to please the boss at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Roger’s love of Indy and racing is no secret, so I can’t think of anyone better to have purchased it,” said Power. “I think this helps secure the future of the sport and continues the positive direction that the series is headed in.”

Penske received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump last month.

Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press contributed.