End Of An Era For Hulman And George, Why Now?

INDIANAPOLIS – For years the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has said that they’re not for sale. Now, they’ve sold. On Monday, a press release stated that Penske Corporation has bought the rights to not only IMS, but the NTT IndyCar Series and everything else that the Hulman & Company owned.

It marks an end of an era for the Hulman George family.

Hulman & Company has owned the famed track since 1945 when Anton “Tony” Hulman bought the track from Eddie Rickenbacker for reportedly $750k that year. At that point, the track was barren and needed big repairs. It sat dormant during World War II and was close to being sold to become an outdoor shopping mall. Rickenbacker and Hulman saved the track as Hulman purchased the facility and resumed the Indy 500 in 1946.

He’d remain in his leadership position until he passed away in 1977. The track has remained in family control all the way until now. It was one of the few tracks in the country that hosts big time series’ but privately owned.

NASCAR just bought out ISC and takes possession of all of those tracks. SMI owns most of the other tracks on the NASCAR circuit. The only ones not owned by ISC or SMI is Indy, Pocono and Dover.

Now, IMS has sold and Penske has stepped in to buy it. The million dollar question though is, why?

Why now? Why for years say you’re not for sale and why after all the growth that IMS and IndyCar has seen do you sell?

My initial thoughts were, maybe no one in the Hulman George Family wants the burden anymore. Maybe no one is in place among the family to run the track. Penske, is a smart businessman and a brilliant mind. He doesn’t half ass things. So, him and his people running IMS is actually a good thing in my opinion. Him owning the series? Well, I’ll get to that later.

But, I can’t come to grips as to why now though? Why for all these years is the track not for sale and it all the sudden is? There’s no way this just happened this morning or over the weekend. Penske is a smart man and wouldn’t do that. The plans had to be in motion for a while. But, while were they even put into motion in the first place?

Was it the family not wanting IMS anymore?

For years, the track operated in the red. They were hemorrhaging money and were desperate. While everyone wanted the Brickyard 400 to go away, Doug Boles had repeatedly said that even if no one shows up to the NASCAR race in the summer months at IMS, the track was still making tons of money based off the TV contracts. Then, with the 100th Anniversary celebration in 2011 and the 100th Running of the ‘500 in 2016, everything started to change on the Indy 500 side.

The NTT IndyCar Series found a direction under Mark Miles from 2012 on. The track also had a purpose and direction under Boles. All the lean years were a distant memory. The track and series found solid footing for the first time in literally decades and was starting to grow each and every year.

The Indy 500 just had a crowd near 300k this past May. It was an attendance which grew over 2018. The 2018 race was bigger than the 2017 one. The 2017 one was bigger than 2015. The 2016 race was bigger than everything we’ve seen in decades. Everything was on a rise.

The series’ TV numbers were growing by the year. The attendance everywhere else was growing.

Now that the series was thriving, why sell? Why relinquish control?

Maybe that was the goal all along though. Maybe Miles wanted to get the series back off the ground and get out once his job was done. Maybe Penske is the best guy to come in and take it to depths we’ve not yet seen. Maybe since the series was no longer in the red, now was the time to sell. It’s attractive to do so now than say 2016 or 2017?

But, the one thing I’m fearful of, is the backlash in the paddock. Remember prior to the split in 1995 when Tony George was fearful of the CART owners gaining too much control? It was a fierce battle of George vs. the powerful owners of CART. In the end, a split happened. George went his way with a new league (IRL) and the Indy 500 and the big CART owners went their way.

The CART juggernaut was gone. At that point, open wheel racing was the biggest form of motorsports here in the United States. NASCAR wasn’t on their rise yet. This put open wheel racing out of its misery.

From 1995 on, major open wheel racing was in peril. They’d spend years trying to get out of that mess and even after a reunification in 2008, they still struggled. When Miles took over in 2012, the numbers were bad across the board. Eight years later, due to Miles and Boles’ leadership with IndyCar/IMS, everything has come back again.

IndyCar is one of the few sports in the world that was on the rise. In a day and age where attendance and ratings are dropping, IndyCar’s keeps rising. In came a new entitlement sponsor. In came a new TV deal. In came a new car, a new engine package, a new direction for the future.

Now, a team owner has gained control of IMS and the series as a whole. What do the other teams think? What would NFL fans think if Robert Kraft owned the NFL? Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

Yes, Tony George ran the league as well as Vision Racing in the 2000s, but lets be real, Vision Racing isn’t what Team Penske is today.

Penske, has been whopping the field in Indy Car for years. Now, he owns the league outright. How will this be received in the paddock?

The big reason to why this whole thing has grown was a sense of direction again. Prior to 2012, the owners were a big reason to why IndyCar was failing. Nothing could appease them. One change would keep one side of the paddock happy but the other side not. Get on the bad side and they’d threaten a revolt. Appease the entire paddock and the fan base wasn’t happy. Being in leadership in IndyCar was a death wish.

Under Miles and Boles’ watches, they found a way to get the series on solid ground and to align everyone. The constant bitching and complaining were gone. They brought in Jay Frye to run the paddock and his vision and respect from all sides helped IndyCar rise.

Now, how will it look when a team, one that has won three of the last four championships, is running the league in general? Won’t the other teams question every move that is made? Won’t this go back to what it used to be?

If everyone aligns, then this could be the best move and direction for IndyCar. Penske can keep this thing going. But, will the teams let him?

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