INDIANAPOLIS — Tony George called the sale of his family’s legacy — Indianapolis Motor Speedway — bittersweet.
Most of us in the motorsports never really considered a day when the Hulman-George family didn’t own the historic 2.5-mile race track that opened for business in 1909 and ran the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.
But George and sisters Josie, Kathi and Nancy did and sought out a high-profile and fitting buyer in 18-time Indy 500 winning team owner Roger Penske, who has agreed to purchase Hulman & Co., the parent company of IMS and IndyCar, under the Penske Entertainment Corp. banner.
With the sale expected to close in January, Penske takes over from the Hulman-George family, which has operated the facility since George’s grandfather, Anton Hulman, purchased the track, which was in a terrible state of disrepair in 1945.
Tony Hulman has been hailed for decades as the speedways savior and his grandchildren are giving it a business transformation in the form of Penske’s operation.
It wasn’t a decision George took lightly.
“Over the course of business through the years, we’ve always looked at strategic opportunities, things we might be able to do to grow and expand our capabilities here,” George explained. “We’re a 169-, almost 170-year-old business and we’ve been in a lot of different businesses during that time. We’ve been distillers, we’ve been brewers, we’ve been grocers, we’ve been produce, canned goods, just about everything, financials, utilities.
“But in 1945, in fact about two weeks, 10 days from now, it will be 74 years since that last transition of stewardship took place and 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,” George continued. “But now this one is extra special to all of us because we’ve all grown up around it.”
George hasn’t known a life without Indianapolis Motor Speedway being part of it.
“Nancy and I, we came home from the hospital to home just right down the street here, so we’ve literally grown up around it.” George said. “Our kids and grandkids have done the same. 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 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 his family decided it was the right time to sell Hulman & Co.
“Well, it’s obviously emotional, emotionally difficult, hence the choking up,” George said. “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, his structure, his resources, his capabilities that he demonstrates is only going to take this to another level, so that’s what we’re all about,” George said. “We’re supporting that continued — elevating this asset and staking a new claim on its future. We, with emotion, are happy to be here today.”
Penske said there is a chance the Hulman-George family may retain a minority interest in IMS, and that’s a prospect Tony George found interesting.
“We’re just fortunate that our family and our family business has had a 73-year run being part of it and being a steward, and we continue to be grateful for the opportunity that we may have going forward, and I for one intend to take advantage of it,” George said. “We’ll be here supporting the events with teams. Maybe our little team can expand to do other things, which we’re going to need to do.”