FROST: Indy’s Future Is Bright

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Tim Frost

WILMETTE, Ill. — As the racing season was winding down, there was another major an­nounc­e­ment in motorsports finance; and it caught almost everyone in the industry by surprise.

Penske Corp. will acquire the principal operating assets of Hulman & Co., including Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions.

The history of the legendary speedway is well documented. It was built in 1909, purchased by Eddie Rickenbacker in 1927 and sold to Tony Hulman in 1975. For 74 years, the facility was under the ownership and guidance of the Hulman-George family.

Was this transaction expected? Not really. The longevity of the Hulman-George family is a remarkable achievement. They operated in the public domain — under the gaze of race fans — while maintaining a generous philanthropic role in the Ind­­ian­apolis community and generating economic returns.

The May 2019 sale of Clabber Girl Corp. to B&G Foods for $80 million may have been an indication.  Hulman & Co. divested this well-known brand to an industry leader with depth in the category.

It is not uncommon for a family business to evaluate options when a unique opportunity arises. Wealth creation is a key goal in capitalism. This may allow current and future generations the ability to explore entrepreneurism and may have the flexibility to continue stewardship in different areas.

Penske Corp.’s Roger Penske is no stranger to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He first visited the 2.5-mile track in 1951 with his father and Team Penske has 18 Indy 500 victories, including this year with driver Simon Pagenaud.

Penske’s off-track business acumen is unrivaled. He is listed on the Forbes 400 with an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion.

Penske Corp. is a closely held diversified transportation services company located in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. It operates in many sectors including retail automotive, truck leasing, transportation logistics and professional motorsports. These businesses have consolidated revenues of $32 billion, operating in 3,660 locations while employing more than 64,000 people worldwide.

Their racing-related entities include Ilmor Engineering and Team Penske. Teams compete in open wheel, stock car, sports car and touring car racing. Team Penske is headquartered in Mooresville, N.C., occupying  425,000 square feet in a former electronics manufacturing factory, with more than 400 employees.

It should be noted Penske has a long history of owning motorsports facilities. He first purchased Michigan Int’l Speedway out of bankruptcy in 1973. Over the years, he expanded his ownership interests to include Nazareth Speedway, North Carolina Speedway, Auto Club Speedway and the Detroit Grand Prix.

Penske Motorsports (SPWY) went public on NASDAQ in February 1996 at $17 per share, raising $60 million. These proceeds were used toward the construction of California’s Auto Club Speedway.

Three years later, in July 1999, Penske Motorsports merged with International Speedway Corp., doubling ISC’s revenue and the number of tracks it operated. The offer price was a combo of stock and cash, valued at $50 per share, and resulted in a $691 million transaction.

Penske sold a portion of his holdings three years later for $100 million. Greg Penske was CEO of Penske Motorsports at the time of the ISC merger and held a seat on the board of directors until 2007.

Keeping anything confidential in racing is difficult. This deal was an exception. The number of people involved on both sides was limited to four from each team. Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., met with Penske in Detroit on weekends.

The Nov. 4 press conference provided details that Tony George approached Penske on the grid at the IndyCar season finale in September.

After an initial discussion, the transaction moved into the fast lane, taking seven weeks until the announcement.

The deal is expected to close in early January. Hulman & Co.’s financial advisor is Allen & Co. and its legal counsel is Ice Miller LLP.

Debate over conflict of interest was raised by some since the combination of track, series and team ownership could lead to decisions favoring a few.

Centralized ownership is not uncommon in motorsports — the France family, NASCAR and ISC provide the most recent example. This illustrates a strong commitment to motorsports from an operational and financial perspective.

There has been favorable reception of the sale of Hulman & Co. to Penske Corp. The stewardship of a storied institution is being passed from one legendary company to another.

The next century for the Brickyard is bright.