INDIANAPOLIS — It was a quiet Monday morning, just like a hundred other mornings. And then at precisely 8 a.m. an email was distributed from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Penske Corp. is purchasing Hulman & Co., including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IMS Productions and the IndyCar Series. For just the fourth time in history, ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is changing.
The news registered double-digits on the Richter scale and was felt in all four corners of the U.S. and beyond.
To a 30-year-old fan of racing, this is probably no big deal. Iconic brands and properties change hands every day in the real world. But for people who have expended a lifetime of love and devotion to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s difficult to contemplate this transaction without a high level of emotion.
To begin, it’s the end of a very significant era. When Tony Hulman purchased the speedway in 1945, it began a storybook period of stewardship unmatched in motorsports. Hulman was beloved because his gentle demeanor and heartfelt devotion to racing was nothing short of inspiring.
When an Indiana family owns an Indiana institution for nearly 75 years and builds it into an international symbol of greatness, it’s a tremendous accomplishment. When such tenure ends, it’s a significant and sobering occasion.
Reading the press release and listening to the press conference following the announcement, it became obvious that we know very little of the behind-the-scenes circumstances that led to this transaction. Suffice to say, this must have been a painful conclusion for Tony George and members of the Hulman-George family. Handing over the keys to a family business that dates back more than 100 years and spans many generations can only be acutely emotional.
Even if they believe that the future of the speedway — and the other business units — is in the best of hands, this was a traumatic process. In that vein, I feel a genuine sense of sadness for Tony George and the Hulman-George family.
That said, it’s a new day for IMS. Roger Penske’s reputation as a business leader is stellar and his results speak for themselves. He is nothing less than a business titan and he has a history of making astute decisions. Penske operates at a very high level and his leadership has lifted every entity he has touched.
If you are alarmed by his ownership of IMS, it is based simply on emotion and not business logic. Across the entire spectrum of potential buyers, none could match the pedigree and bona fide racing credentials as those of Penske. None.
It would be very easy to hate all of this. It would be easy to cry out and wish that it could be 1958, 1978 or 1998 all over again. But it’s 2019. It will never be 1958 again. Not ever. Nothing we do or say can bring back any of the aura and emotion of those past times.
It’s a safe bet to assume good times lie ahead for Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. Under Penske’s direction, both could flourish. IMS remains one of the most important racing venues in the world and it is positioned to become even more so. Additional events and the strengthening of existing events are both very likely.
Like you, I sometimes have trouble welcoming developments such as these. I don’t like change and it usually makes me squirm. I catch myself wishing things could stay the same, or maybe even rewind a bit. But that’s always a mixed bag. And besides, we can’t live in the past, or the future. We can live only in the here and now, and that’s one of those laws of nature we’re never going to alter.
But if I really did have a rewind button, I wanted to use it on that Monday morning. Not permanently; I only want a brief visit with 1946, a day or two after the momentous running of the 30th Indianapolis 500. I want to find that businessman from Terre Haute, Tony Hulman, and shake his hand.
I want to tell him how much I appreciate that he saved IMS, and the 500, from oblivion. I want to thank him for preserving an entity that shaped all of motorsports, and the lives of countless people, in an infinite number of ways.
I want to tell him that his actions, and the devotion and work of his family in the years to come, will have implications far beyond anything he could possibly imagine.
Tony Hulman and his family gave us something special. Yes, it’s the end of an era. But I wish I could shake his hand, all the same.