The Hulman family will end more than seven decades of control over Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) after a surprise deal for subsidiary of the Penske C0rporation to take over the iconic motor-racing circuit and the IndyCar series.
The deal, announced November 4, will call for the parent company of one of IndyCar’s most successful outfits, Team Penske, to become the new owner of the series and succeed Hulman & Co. The transaction is slated to close in early January. A document sent to IndyCar teams reads in part, “we have found the ideal steward of the company and its iconic assets.
“Penske Corporation — with its 64,000-plus employees and more than $32bn (€28.7bn) in consolidated revenue — will bring tremendous energy, leadership and resources to IMS, IndyCar and IMSP. For a number of years, the Hulman & Company management and board have engaged outside advisers and experts to consider the full range of strategic options available. Ultimately, it was decided to focus on the possible sale of the company and finding a buyer that would be the best steward of the company and its iconic assets.”
As that process unfolded, Penske approached the Hulman board earlier in the fall about a potential deal, and an agreement materialized in just six weeks. Financial terms were not disclosed, but it remains one of the most dramatic business transactions in motorsports history.
“It’s obviously emotionally difficult,” said Tony George, grandson of company founder and family patriarch Tony Hulman. “We all love it and we all care deeply. We all realize that as a family and organization we had probably taken it as far as we can. Roger Penske’s resources will only take this to another level.”
Management at Hulman, the track, and IndyCar Series will remain intact, but Penske has clear designs for growing the assets, including a possible return of Formula 1 to Indianapolis, where such races were held from 2000-07, and staging a 24-hour race there. Penske Corp. owner Roger Penske said he has designs for turning Indianapolis Motor Speedway into “the entertainment capital of Indiana.”
“This business is not broken,” Penske said. “We’re going to invest capital. We want to grow this.”
Penske, 82, is also a giant figure in Nascar circles, and recently was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the country’s highest civilian awards. He was quick to say upon the deal’s announcement that he will work to avoid potential conflict of interests with simultaneously owning a circuit, race team, and event within IndyCar. To that end, he is stepping down from a role as race strategist for his IndyCar team.
“I understand the integrity. To me, I know what my job is,” Penske said. “Hopefully I have enough credibility to ensure that there is not a lot of conflict. I’ve got a lot of guys watching me.”
The 110-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway, meanwhile, remains one of the most famous venues in all of sports, typically drawing around 300,000 people each May for the annual Memorial Day weekend running of the Indianapolis 500.
Tony Hulman first bought the Speedway, home of the historic Indianapolis 500, in 1945, with the circuit having opened in 1909. IMS subsequently spun off a number of subsidiaries, including IndyCar and IMS Productions.
Penske currently also operates IndyCar’s Detroit Grand Prix. The team won the 2019 Indy 500 with Simon Pagenaud, while Josef Newgarden claimed Penske’s 15th IndyCar drivers’ title.
The sale of the racings assets comes as part of an ongoing transaction for the Hulman clan with their family assets. George, along with his sisters and the Hulman & Co. board of directors, have most recently been in charge of Hulman properties. Family matriarch Mari Hulman George, Hulman’s daughter, died last November. Since then, the family businesses have slowly been divested, and the company in May sold its other primary business, the baking company Clabber Girl, to B&G Foods for $80 million.
Penske, meanwhile, received strong support from rival race team owners. Chip Ganassi said Penske called him shortly before the deal was announced publicly, adding “the place is going to be run like a business now.”