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 instantly fell 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 sprawling, 110-year-old speedway and its famed, 2 ½-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 was a dilapidated mess in 1945 when Tony Hulman bought it and brought racing back to the corner of Sixteenth 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.
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
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 and 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 has no management changes planned at this time. He was eager to address any potential conflict of interest that could arise from the most powerful man in motorsports owning a three-car race team, the series and one of the most important races in the world.