There are numerous questions swirling since the bombshell news broke this morning that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its associated IndyCar series have been purchased from the Hulman-George family by the ancient track’s most storied team owner, transportation magnate Roger Penske. There were rumors for years that Penske had an interest in acquiring this most sacred of all automobile racing facilities, but it all seemed too good to be true. Put plainly, Penske has squeezed boundless success out of virtually everything he’s ever touched. From a single Chevrolet dealership in Philadelphia, the company he founded more than a half-century ago has grown into a global transportation conglomerate with annual revenues of some $32 billion and more than 64,000 employees worldwide. He is arguably the most successful team owner in the history of American motorsport, with 18 victories in the Indianapolis 500 plus championships galore in both IndyCar and NASCAR. He’s also successfully operated race tracks, starting with Michigan International Speedway in 1972. He is the longtime promoter of the Detroit Grand Prix, and has been an under-the-radar hero in trying to reverse years of unrelenting blight and official malfeasance in his adopted home city. Recently, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifetime of achievement.
If you’re even remotely familiar with racing, you’re aware of the Effort Equals Results mantra upon which Penske has built has built his empire. All of today’s developments grew out of a morning news conference at the speedway, and a lot of questions are yet to be answered. Perhaps the biggest is why Penske, who will turn 83 in three months, is doing this at all. And yet that’s the easiest one to answer. His unwavering commitment of money and talent to the track’s most fabled race underscores his deeply held affection for both the event and its historic venue. Another issue is, what of his three full-time IndyCar teams (Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud, plus an Indy-only effort for three-time winner Helio Castroneves)? Will he continue to personally operate those teams once he takes the keys to IMS? Will there be a new influx of capital investment in the speedway? What about a boost in a purse for the 500, which has remained largely stagnant for years? What about building the sport’s anemic TV ratings and remedying its longtime dearth of effective promotion? And will the management of IndyCar shift from Indianapolis to Penske’s sprawling team facility in Mooresville, North Carolina? Speaking personally, I’m exuding nothing but confidence and gratitude from this quarter. In one fell swoop, the future of American open-wheel racing has been secured. It’s going to be all good. Roger Penske has never failed at anything in his life, and he sure as hell isn’t about to start now.