Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 4, 2019

With 18 Indy 500 Victories, Roger Penske ‘Owned’ the Brickyard; Now, He Actually Does

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS Museum)

INDIANAPOLIS

Roger Penske, the former racer turned billionaire entrepreneur, stunned the sporting world today when

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Roger Penske

he bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the IndyCar Racing series, which includes the famed Indianapolis 500-mile race, and related businesses.

The purchase price was not announced.

The speedway, the famed “Brickyard”, had been owned since 1946 by the family of Anton “Tony” Hulman, a Terre Haute, Indiana, businessman who rescued the dormant property after World War II. The Hulmans, and later the George family which is related by marriage, have also been involved in sanctioning the IndyCar Racing series since the 1990s. The Hulman heirs recently sold the family’s other core business, Clabber Girl Baking Powder, for $80 million.

Penske, 82, developed an interest in sports car racing as a young man in the 1960s, and made quite a name for himself, winning races and a championship in 1962. But he suddenly retired from his promising driving career – his invitation to race at Indy was taken instead by a young Mario Andretti – to operate the business end of his racing pursuits.

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Penske at speed, 1962

From there, Penske built a racing empire that has enjoyed unparalleled success; today Team Penske includes competitors in IndyCar Racing, NASCAR, sports cars and even Australian stock cars. In the 1970s, he even fielded a rare American entry in Formula 1.

He also acquired stakes in Hertz truck rental (now Penske truck rental), a vast auto dealership group, Detroit Diesel, and, at one time, a collection of speedways – in Michigan, California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania – which he sold in 1999 to International Speedway Corp. He has served as a director and/or board member of General Electric, The Home Depot, and Delphi Automotive, to name but a few hats he has worn in his business career.

A native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, got his start in business selling aluminum chicken coop roofs.

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Receiving presidential medal

Most recently, Penske was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Despite his steady climb to success in the business world, Penske never lost his love for racing, and he could dependably be found most every weekend calling the shots on his IndyCar and NASCAR teams from the pits.

But with his purchase of the Brickyard, Penske says those days are ending. “I will personally walk the facility tomorrow morning,” he said at a news conference at the speedway, announcing his purchase. “I will sit down with current leadership and get a top-10 to do list, and get to work.”

Although Penske’s announcement took even some in speedway management by surprise – I thought, “It’s too early for April Fool’s” said one when he first heard the news this morning – there had been rumors the speedway might change hands since the death of Hulman’s daughter, Mari George exactly one year ago. Her son Tony George had been actively involved in speedway and racing series management off and on the past 25 years – a turbulent time in the sport.

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Penske driver Simon Pagenaud wins 2019 Indy 500 (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Penske said he was committed to keeping and nurturing the core events at the speedway, including the 108-year-old 500-mile race, and the newer Brickyard 400 for NASCAR cars. But he was also open to exploring new racing opportunities, and perhaps even bringing back Formula 1 cars. The speedway underwent a $30 million upgrade to add a Formula 1 road course two decades ago.

“Hopefully I have enough credibility with everyone to understand that this is not a conflict,” Penske said of his continuing interest in entering his racing teams at Indy, where he had won a record 18 500s. “If there is, I know you guys will tell me pretty quick.”

Jerry Garrett

November 4, 2019

 

 

 


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