Roger Penske at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (IMS Photo)
Roger Penske at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (IMS Photo)

Indy: End Of An Era

The end of one era is the beginning of another for the Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar.

For the first time in 74 years, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be operated by someone other than the Hulman-George family.

On Nov. 4, officials announced the sale of Hulman & Co., which includes IMS, IndyCar and IMS Productions, to Penske Entertainment and 18-time Indy 500-winning team owner Roger Penske. Penske Entertainment is a new company that will be a division of the Penske Corp. conglomerate.

On the track, Penske’s cars have owned the Indianapolis 500 in recent years. Now, Penske owns the track and everything that comes with it.

The sale, which is expected to close in January, marks the end of the family dynasty started by Tony Hulman, who purchased the dilapidated Indianapolis Motor Speedway from Eddie Rickenbacker on Nov. 14, 1945. The track had been shuttered from 1942 through ’45 because of World War II and fallen into a tremendous state of disrepair.

Beginning on Memorial Day 1946, the Indianapolis 500 was revived by Hulman and IMS President Wilbur Shaw, a three-time Indy 500 winner who convinced Hulman to purchase the speedway for $750,000.

Under Hulman’s leadership, the modern-day Indianapolis 500 became the largest single-day sporting event in the world, drawing nearly 400,000 fans to the annual event.

Hulman and his wife, Mary Fendrich Hulman, had one child, a daughter named Mari. She married race driver Elmer George. Children followed, including a son, Tony, and daughters Nancy, Josie and Kathy.

The George children were born down the street from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and that fact was not lost when Tony George, Hulman’s grandson and the chairman of the board of Hulman & Co., announced the sale.

It came just 10 days short of the 74th anniversary of his grandfather’s purchase of the massive 2.5-mile facility.

More than a sale, the deal marks a transfer of “stewardship” of one of the greatest sporting institutions on Earth.

If not for Tony Hulman’s purchase of the track, the 1941 Indianapolis 500 may have been the last, and the track could have become a residential area.

Hulman did more than restore the Indianapolis 500 to its glorious past, he built it into a  world-renowned sporting event.

After a 74-year run, the Hulman-George family recognized it had taken IMS as far as it could and realized the need to find the next “steward” who could take the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar to greater heights.

That is why Penske was not only the obvious pick, but the only choice to guide IMS, IndyCar and the 500 into the future.

“We’re very proud to have come together the last several months, I think, to make some very important decisions, one about an iconic asset that the family cares very deeply about, as well, and that’s Clabber Girl Baking Powder,” Tony George said. “But now this one is extra special to all of us because we’ve all grown up around it. Nancy and I, we came home from the hospital to a home just right down the street here, so we’ve literally grown up around it. Our kids and grandkids have done the same.”

At that point, the emotion of the moment overwhelmed the 59-year-old George and tears welled up in his eyes.

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

“We’re very excited to be in a place where our process took us to a point where we as a family all agreed we needed to have a conversation with Roger Penske,” George explained. “I approached him at the final race of the season, not wanting to distract from the task at hand, which was bringing home another championship, but I wanted to wish him well on the grid, and I just simply said I’d like to meet with him and talk about stewardship.

“He got a very serious look on his face and followed up, after he clinched the championship, with an email and then another email the next morning, and we set it up,” George continued. “I invited Mark (Miles, CEO of IndyCar) to join us for that meeting and kudos to both organizations that worked very closely together very quickly.

“It was a pretty easy — not easy by any means, but this isn’t their first rodeo. So they were able to execute due diligence very quickly and it led to an announcement that miraculously — not many things are kept under wraps around here, but this was fairly well contained, and we were able to present this to the world this morning.

“That’s kind of the way it came about and we’re just very thankful for the opportunity to be here today and to work toward this closing. Very excited about welcoming the Penske Corp., Penske Entertainment as new corporate citizens.”

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