1st Week On The Job, Roger Penske Already Making Major Changes To The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS — Last Fall, it was announced that Roger Penske would purchase the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was an earth shattering move, one that everyone knew would take the famed grounds to a much higher level than we’d ever believe. Penske, would not only inherit IMS, but IMS Productions as well as the NTT IndyCar Series too.

The deal though, wasn’t official until January. While Penske toured the grounds like never before, it wasn’t until last week that the keys were turned over to him.

Now, only a week into his tenure as the head man in charge at IMS, Penske is making major changes. I think everyone agreed, in order for the NASCAR weekend to work in the future, big changes were needed — whether that be on lights or run on the road course, something needed spruced up.

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Roger Penske congratulates Simon Pagenaud last May following his Indy 500 triumph

On Wednesday, IMS announced that they have moved the NASCAR XFINITY Series race that will run during the Brickyard 400 weekend from the oval to the road course.

That’s a major change.

The schedule for the 2020 season is already out and done. Plans are far down the line and in almost in place. For most people, it would be enough to look at and say, well any changes we make moving forward will be for 2021 or even further out. That’s not how Penske operates though.

Penske, at the helm for one week, has made drastic changes already. This in fact, is his first major change in his new role.

It’s not surprising though.

Just look at the hoops that had to be jumped through to make this happen — work with NASCAR to change, the TV partner, sponsors, etc.

“Having Roger Penske, the Penske organization, the deep bench that they have to help you understand, look at data, understand how you get from Point A to Point B or how you say, ‘Look, we don’t want to go from Point A to Point B because it doesn’t make sense. We’re going to pivot.’ That’s what he brings,” said track president Doug Boles”

Penske said this of his purchase of the famed grounds back in November.

“It’s a great business opportunity for us to grow it to the next level, and we look around this thousand acres and we say, can this be the entertainment really capital, not only the racing capital of the world but entertainment capital of the world in Indiana, and be able to support the state, the governor, the region, the city, the town of Speedway, and continue to grow it.

“We’re going to invest capital. We know the economic benefit today that this race brings to the region is amazing, and we want to grow that. It’s important to us.

“I think we look at the speedway itself, the investment with the 100 million dollars that was put in a few years ago before the hundredth, I think you’ve seen a tremendous change, and we want to add capability as there are more fan zones, what can we use this for, can we run a 24-hour race here, can we run a Formula 1 race here. What are the things we can do? This is a great asset.”

Penske, said then and remains that way now, that NASCAR isn’t going to leave Indianapolis on his watch. He sees the value that NASCAR brings to IMS and what IMS also brings to NASCAR.

“Well, I think you look at 27 years, there’s no reason to break that string of races,” Penske said of the Brickyard’s future. “I had a chance to talk to Jim France late last night to tell him that we were going to have this conference here in the morning, and he obviously was excited. We’ve worked together. We were partners with ISC at Homestead. We actually sold our business to them back several years ago. So we have a very close relationship and certainly with Jim and with Steve Phelps and Steve O’Donnell and the entire France family. We would expect to take this for many, many years.

“They need to run at Indiana. We want them to, and there’s no question that we’re going to look at opportunities to expand the relationship with them in the future.”

Penske, half joked, but said he wasn’t, that once the 2020 racing season is over for Indy, they will reevaulate on more changes to potentially be made.

“Maybe we will run the XFINITY cars on the oval and the Brickyard on the road course,” Penske said. The media chuckled. Penske didn’t.

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