Indy Split: Penske Takes Over
Friday, July 2, 2021 - 13:45
Indy Split is a fascinating, authoritative and overdue account of the big money battle that nearly destroyed the sport of Indy car racing. The book traces the roots of Indy car racing’s dysfunction, which began in 1945 when Tony Hulman rescued the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from potential redevelopment. In this post, read about transfer of ownership from the Hulman-George family to Roger Penske. Photo: Members of the Hulman-George family pose with Greg and Roger Penske on November 4, 2020. Courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
At the appointed hour, Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles led Roger Penske and Tony George, Chairman of the Hulman & Co. board, to the dais on the fourth floor of the IMS Media Center. George spoke first. He mentioned his sisters Josie, Kathi, and Nancy by name, and acknowledged the family’s longtime attorney Jack Snyder and financial advisor John Ackerman. Although George didn’t mention the fact, many in the room were aware that his mother, Mari Hulman George, had died almost exactly one year earlier on November 3, 2018.
George noted how the family had recently divested Hulman & Co.’s longtime flagship brand, Clabber Girl baking products (for $80 million earlier in 2019 to B&G Foods), and he thought back to his grandfather Tony Hulman’s acquisition of the grounds on which he stood nearly seventy-four years earlier. He paused, struggling to control his emotions.
“But now this one is extra special to all of us because we’ve all grown up around it,” George said, fighting back tears. “Nancy and I, we came home from the hospital to home just right down the street here.” Their parents Elmer and Mari George built a brick ranch home at 5424 W. 25th Street. “So, we’ve literally grown up around it. Our kids and grandkids have done the same.
“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 it’s 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 at the 2019 IndyCar Series finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to congratulate the team owner on another championship. “I wanted to wish him well on the grid, and just simply said I’d like to meet with him and talk about stewardship.” The approach stunned Penske. After an exchange of emails and a few meetings that included Miles, the basics of a deal were quickly put in place. “Not many things are kept under wraps around here,” George deadpanned. “But this was fairly well contained.”
He added, “It’s obviously emotionally difficult, hence the choking up. But we all love it, and we all care deeply for it. I think we all realize that as a family and as an organization, we probably had taken it as far as we can. I think that Roger, with his structure, his resources, his capabilities that he demonstrates, is only going to take this to another level. That’s what we’re all about. We’re supporting elevating this asset and staking a new claim on its future.
“We, with emotion, are happy to be here today.”
Throughout nearly seventy-five years of Hulman family ownership, rumors constantly swirled that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was for sale. During her lifetime, Mari Hulman George always deflected such talk, saying that the Speedway was an asset that would be passed down to her grandchildren—the children of Nancy, Tony, Kathi, and Josie George. When Mrs. Hulman died in 2018, the rumors about a potential sale accelerated, with International Speedway Corp. (which was acquired by NASCAR and taken private in ’19) and new Formula 1 owner Liberty Media considered the most likely buyers.
But the Hulman-George family independently concluded that Penske was the right man to lead the historic track into the future. They essentially made him an unexpected offer that he couldn’t refuse.
People had joked for years that Roger Penske owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2019, he finally bought it. Transfer of ownership was completed on January 6, 2020.