Change Is In The Air For Roger Penske

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Change Is In
Roger Penske announced his acquisition of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series on Monday. (IMS photo)

INDIANAPOLIS — Next year’s Indianapolis 500 will, no doubt, be a very different experience for motorsports business mogul and veteran NTT IndyCar Series team owner Roger Penske.

It has to be, considering Penske’s announcement on Monday that Penske Corp. is purchasing Hulman & Co., the NTT IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the site of the tour’s biggest event.

The 2020 season will therefore bring a host of changes with it for the 82-year-old Penske, as he transitions from solely being a car owner in Indy car racing to becoming the steward that takes the sport into its much-heralded future.

He addressed one of those major changes — as well as outlining some of his immediate plans at IMS — during Monday’s press conference revealing the IndyCar and IMS ownership change to the public.

“What I plan to do tomorrow, ironically, is to walk the entire facility and strategically sit down with the existing team and get their top 10 (things to do),” Penske explained. “I always like to work from a top 10 and see the things that we can do to make it fan-friendly. From a competitive perspective, I’m planning to step down from being a strategist on the pit box. You won’t see me there on race day. I think I’ve got a bigger job to do now, is to try to see how we can build the series to the next level. It will be nice to bring another car manufacturer in. I know Jay Frye is working on that, as far as can we have someone else come in to join the series.

“When you look at the speedway itself, the investment with the $100 million that was put in a few years ago before the 100th (Indianapolis 500), I think we’ve seen a tremendous change. … This is a great asset,” he added. “This business is not broken. This is a great business and the leadership team that’s been here has done an outstanding job and what we want to do is be a support tool.

“We bought Michigan Speedway in 1973; it was bankrupt. We built California. We help with the promotion of the Grand Prix in Detroit. This (the business of motorsports) is in our DNA, and I think with input from the media, input from our sponsor partners and all the teams and I had a chance to talk to most of the teams today. We’re looking forward to getting together with the car owners and seeing what we can do to make IndyCar even stronger. That’s something that is a priority for me.”

Penske called strategy for Helio Castroneves for the second half of Castroneves’ long Indy car career, and more recently has been atop the pit box for Will Power since Castroneves’ move to IMSA sports car racing with the Acura Team Penske program in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Now, though, Penske’s business-savvy will take center stage as he works to grow the Indianapolis 500 and American open-wheel racing as a whole back to the glory it basked in several decades earlier.

“Number one, I want to be sure that we’re as good as we’ve been, and I’m going to count on this team here. Remember, I’m going to be the new guy in town, so we’re going to take those plans and see if we can add anything to it that makes it better,” said Penske of the Indianapolis 500. “I don’t think you build a business overnight. This didn’t get to 300,000 (attendees) in three or four years, so we have to be rational on our investment.

“But we’re interested in economic development in the community and the Hoosiers that support this all over the state want to see this become and still be the iconic race of the world. So we’re going to do this a step at a time and build all this as we go along.”

With such an investment now at his fingertips, Penske will have a lot of juggling to do as he balances his NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA sports car and Australian Supercars properties.

Such a portfolio, he noted, is going to have his already-busy schedule even busier going forward.

“I don’t know if there’s any more weekends than 52, but if there are, I’ll probably fill them up with some racing opportunities,” Penske quipped. “I tell my wife that this is my fishing trip and golf game. My golf game is not good these days anyhow. But I spent a lot of time at the tracks. I love it. I want to be there, and I think that’s a knowledge base for me, too. I’ll continue. The good news is that it’s a short flight from Detroit to get to Indianapolis. We know a lot about it, and I think with the communications capabilities we have today, we can be connected from a business perspective.

“From a racing perspective, I’m committed 100 percent to our teams. We’ve got more than 500 people down in Mooresville where we have all our teams, and with Tim Cindric as our leader, I’ll be working with him just as I have in the past as we go forward. That part will not change at all.”

Monday’s announcement marked both a landmark day for the motorsports industry and for Penske.

And one thing is for sure, when the month of May rolls back around, there will certainly be plenty of change in the air at the most iconic racing facility in the world.