Like many of us, Roger Penske’s love of racing and the Indy 500 began with a trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a youngster.
He was 14 years old when he attended his first 500 in 1951, and since then has become a respected name in business and a legend in racing.
His legacy at IMS was long ago set in stone, to date he has won the race 18 times, captured 18 pole positions and has won 15 series titles. Those records will never be broken — at least in any of our lifetimes.
But the 82-year-old Penske may have topped all of that Monday when it was announced that his company would be purchasing IMS, the NTT IndyCar series, and IMS productions. The purchase, which should be finalized in January, also closes the chapter of the ownership of the Hulman Family, who have overseen the facility at 16th and Georgetown since family patriarch Tony Hulman purchased the track on November 14, 1945.
If Roger Penske has a bucket list, something like this had to be on it, and he is the right person for the job. While it will be a little difficult to get used to the idea of the Hulman family no longer owning the facility, I expect to see a “Penske Perfect” stamp on IMS as early as next year.
From his comments in today’s press conference, it seems like Penske plans on being a very hands-on owner. The biggest surprise from the presser was Penske saying that he will no longer be on a pit box for one of his drivers, which this year was Will Power.
What I do anticipate is Penske taking both IMS and IndyCar a necessary step forward, especially financially. A tearful Tony George said today that in discussing the sale among the family members, they had come to the conclusion that they had taken everything as far as it could go, and that Penske could be a person who could take it further.
While there is always a bit of trepidation in a transaction such as this, some of the best news to come out of the press conference was that Penske intends to keep the management team that is already in place. IndyCar as taken some big steps forward over the last few years under the leadership of people like Doug Boles, Mark Miles and Jay Frye, so keeping them on means that Penske is on board with their vision as to the future of IMS and the series.
That’s not to say things are standing pat. Penske promises to “break the glass” of some ideas that he has in mind, and mentioned IMS once again hosting Formula 1, the potential of an endurance race (which I’m on board with), and the idea of some sort of NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader in the future. He also wants IMS to be an entertainment capital as much as it is a racing capital, which is kind of interesting.
One thing that will change is that Penske will be willing to take risks that we hadn’t seen done in the past. Changes will be coming, so be ready for them. In fact, Penske wants to prepare a Top 10 list once the sale is complete of the most pressing items that need immediate attacking.
With that in mind, here’s my Top 5 list for Roger Penske:
* Double the purse of the Indy 500. Also award prize money by merit and finishing position rather than giving one-off efforts the same amount of money. If a one-off finishes in fifth place, they should be paid fifth place money. This year Conor Daly was paid $230,000 to finish 10th, while 11th place finisher James Hinchcliffe got $365,000.
* Add an endurance race at IMS. That’s one thing that has always been missing from the IMS schedule. Penske floated the idea of a 24-hour race, but a 12-hour race in the spring or summer would be cool too.
* Improve the fan experience with better wifi and video boards. Video board technology has come so far in the last few years, and IMS should be upgrading to that technology. As it is, if you don’t have a direct look at a video board, you can’t really see them very well, and for a track that you can’t see the cars all the way around, that’s necessary.
*Try a midweek race. This is an idea whose time has come. Hold it at a track in a major market the day after the MLB All-Star game and put it on network TV.
*Keep the Indy 500 as a daytime race. With the plans Penske has for IMS in terms of both racing and entertainment, we may have reached the time where lights will be on the agenda. For all I care, they can add lights and run races, put on concerts, etc under the cover of darkness, but the 500 should always be run in the afternoon. One thing I’d like to see if lights are installed, though, is a night practice. It may only be for a couple of hours and will accomplish absolutely nothing, but I think it would get fans out, especially if there were a concert afterwards.
A couple of other things I’d love to see would be a college football game in Turn 1 and an NHL Stadium Series game across the yard of bricks. Now that would be cool.
Before they go, let’s give credit to the Hulman family for all they have done over the last 74 years. When you look at what the Speedway is today it’s hard to believe that when Tony Hulman purchased the track it was in disrepair and in danger of closing for good. The family have been great stewards over the years and have given rise to a facility and a race that are known all around the world, building most of what is there with their own money. As race fans, we should be very thankful for the Hulmans and the effort and care they put into the track, and that they chose a worthy person and family to pass that stewardship along.
Pit Lane Parley
When Team PLP gets on the mic for an unscheduled, very special episode, you know it’s a really big deal! Hear what they have to say about Monday’s news here!