How significant is the impact of Penske’s purchase of INDYCAR, IMS?

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The full shape of Roger Penske’s purchase of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway won’t be seen for months. The final purchase from the Hulman George Family won’t be completed for the next 30 to 60 days while it gets reviewed by lawyers and approved by the government.

Beyond that, however, the future for both INDYCAR and IMS got a lot brighter.

Already on the upswing since the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 revived interest in the series, and a new television package with NBC and sponsorship with NTT went into effect in 2019, the series is now under control of one of the most successful businessmen in the world.

Penske epitomizes excellence from the boardroom to the racetrack. The Penske Corporation has revived businesses such as Detroit Diesel and is in charge of some of the most successful automotive dealerships in the country.

But it’s Team Penske and its 53 years of success that have made Roger Penske a legend.

He has a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins and 16 IndyCar “National Championships.” In all forms of racing, Team Penske has more than 545 victories and championships ranging from sports cars to two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series titles.

Success is not just celebrated; it’s expected. And that is why this acquisition is so important to INDYCAR, IMS, the Indy 500 and its future.

When Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairman of the Board Tony George approached Penske “to talk about stewardship” of one of the greatest sporting events on Earth, Penske was “the only choice” to take control of the Indianapolis 500, INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

At 82, this may seem like an extremely ambitious project, but it also will be his legacy.

Under the guidance and direction of Penske, it is set to succeed. It will be operated with a look to the future while maintaining and respecting the traditions of the past.

“We have a parent now that appreciates the history of the past, knows our business inside and out and gets things done,” INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles said. “I love that Roger has said more often than not, he cares about the talent, the people around him and how hard they work, how much we can get done.”

Penske’s accomplishments have already made him a face on auto racing’s “Mount Rushmore.” On Monday, however, he has taken on a “Mount Everest” challenge.

“I’ve got a big commitment here to take over certainly as the steward of this great organization and what’s been done here in the past for so many decades,” Penske said. “It’s my commitment to the Hulman family. The fact that you would select us is an opportunity to take on this investment, it’s amazing, and I just want to thank Tony and everyone else that’s been involved in this.

“We don’t have a gymnasium full of people to bring here. When we buy a business, we look at the people, and the great thing is we’ve rubbed shoulders with many of the people here over the years, so we’ve seen this organization grow.”

Penske vows to “walk every inch” of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and make some capital improvements where needed. He hopes to improve the business and ensure its future in a manner that he has done with his other business ventures.

“I think we look at businesses that we invest in where we have domain knowledge, and I think the fact that we’ve been coming to this track for almost 50 years and seeing the growth of the series and understand the technology and it’s also a great business opportunity for us to grow it to the next level,” Penske said. “We look around these thousand acres and we say, ‘Can this be the entertainment capital, not only the racing capital of the world but entertainment capital of the world in Indiana? Will we 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.”

Penske attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1951 as a 14-year-old with his father. He has a photo of himself sitting in the seat of an old “Roadster” show car from that day. He entered the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in 1969 and with the exception of the CART boycott years of 1996 to 2000, has been back virtually every year since.

But he considers himself “the new guy” in terms of operating and maintaining the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 and INDYCAR.

Change starts on Tuesday, according to Penske, but it will be very well-measured before any action is taken.

He is going to sit down with the current staff and get their top 10 things that can be changed, improved or protected.

“I always like to work from a top 10 and see the things that we can do to make it fan-friendly, certainly from a competitive perspective,” Penske said. “I’m planning to really step down from being a strategist on the pit box (on his IndyCar Series team). You won’t see me there on race day. I think I’ve got a bigger job to do now, is to try to see how we can build the series to the next level. It will be nice to bring another car manufacturer in. I know (INDYCAR President) Jay Frye is working on that; can we have someone else come in to join the series.

“I think we look at the speedway itself, the investment with the $100 million that was put in a few years ago before the 100th, I think you’ve seen a tremendous change, and we want to add capability as there are more fan zones. 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. This business is not broken. This is a great business, and the leadership team that’s been here has done an outstanding job, and what we want to do is be a support tool.”

Team Penske will continue to compete in the NTT IndyCar Series and Penske hopes it’s not viewed as a conflict of interest. But in auto racing, team owners and speedway owners have often been the same. After all, Penske ran Michigan International Speedway from 1973 to 1999 and California Speedway from 1997 to 1999. At one time, Tony George was the president of the Indy Racing League and team owner of Vision Racing.

“I don’t want to leave this conversation without knowing that I understand the integrity, and there’s got to be a bright line, and to me I know what my job is,” Penske said. “Hopefully I’ve got enough credibility with everyone that we can be sure that there is not a conflict, and I’ll do my very best to be sure that isn’t.

“If you think it is, I know that you folks will tell me pretty quick. So, I’ve got a lot of guys watching me.”

Penske also reiterated he has no intention of changing the management teams that are currently in place but will name a new board of directors that includes a diverse group of people to support the business.

“You can be sure that with an investment like this that I’ll be here other than the month of May,” Penske quipped to a question posed from NBC

At 82, Penske was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, attended college at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, started his business empire in Philadelphia before becoming a captain of industry in Detroit who will preserve one of the greatest treasures in the state of Indiana.

“The biggest single-day sporting event on planet Earth is about to get even bigger and better,” Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb said. “I couldn’t be more excited about the future of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with ‘The Captain’ Roger Penske at the helm.

“Mr. Penske’s vision, team and high expectations will ensure Indiana’s most iconic asset continues to grow. Along with INDYCAR, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway forms the core of an entire racing industry that employs thousands of people and pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy. As a racing fan, my excitement is only equaled by my appreciation for the longtime Hulman-George commitment to the past and future of the sport of racing and to our great state.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

NHRA: Antron Brown takes major step toward team ownership

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There will come a day that when three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown wants to talk to his boss, he’ll need to look no further than in the mirror.

The New Jersey native announced Tuesday that he has begun to lay the groundwork to own his Top Fuel team, eventually branching out from Don Schumacher Racing.

“It’s definitely exciting, but at the same time, it’s also nerve-wracking because the buck stops here right now,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Now the coolest part is you get to help and drive and motivate and push the team forward, to make decisions and leave a legacy behind for my family.”

Brown will continue racing for DSR this season while beginning the transition to eventual sole ownership of the new AB Motorsports in the future. Even when he officially leaves the DSR camp as a hired driver, Brown and his new team will retain a technical partnership with the Schumacher organization.

Moving toward team ownership is just a natural evolution for Brown, who previously ran his own Pro Stock Motorcycle team from 1998 until joining DSR in 2002. It’s also a move that potentially may lead other current drivers to start thinking about their own futures.

It’s no secret that many of the biggest names in drag racing – both drivers and owners – are getting up in years. John Force will soon turn 72, while Schumacher is 75. They’re among several others in the sport who are making contingency plans for their teams to continue to operate once they’re gone – and Brown wants to do his part to help the sport grow and flourish.

“When you’re able to have ownership, you’re looking at the talent coming up,” Brown said. “You’re able to reach down and see and give other people opportunities that you had. When I came to race for Don Schumacher at DSR, he’s given all these people at his place this opportunity to drive.

“But what happens when the Don Schumachers, the John Forces, the Connie Kalittas go? You lose all the owners of our series, so who’s next in line to take over that lineage or carry that torch? It’s a necessary means for the future for the upcoming people.

Antron Brown’s plans to become a team owner were embraced by his current team owner, Don Schumacher. (Getty Images)

“I’ve been in this sport for over 20 years. This is the next evolution of my chapter, the next page of my book. What am I going to do when I decide to hang the helmet up one day? I want to be there to bring that new crop of drivers and talent up and help mold them to be the best version of themselves to carry the sport forward and to share with them what was shared with me over all my years in the sport, from Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Big Daddy Don Garlits, Mark Oswald and Don “Snake” Prudhomme, all the people I looked up to.”

While Brown will start as a single-car team once he transitions to ownership, he hopes to eventually build AB Motorsports into at least a two-car operation, with his Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car.

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The path to eventual ownership began nearly a year ago when Brown and Schumacher discussed the future.

“Me and Don had a heart-to-heart talk,” Brown said. “When I told him what I wanted to do, Don said, ‘Antron, I know this is what you want to do. I’ll support you in this.’

“That’s a cool experience when you have a gentleman that has done everything in this sport, from over 350 national event wins, 17 world championships – and I’ve done three with him – and is in every motorsports hall of fame there is.

“What is he going to do next? He’s making the sport better by pushing people like myself to do what I’m doing now. No matter how long it takes, I know I have him on my backside, pushing me to get to that point.”

Like father, like son: Antron Brown and son Anson, who is following in his father’s drag racing footsteps. Photo: Antron Brown’s official Facebook page.

His family’s future also figured into Brown’s decision. His oldest son, Anson, soon turns 16 years old and is heavily involved in NHRA’s Jr. Dragster program, as are Brown’s other children. It’s likely his son some day will follow in his father’s footsteps.

But don’t think that the elder Brown, who turns 44 in March, is ready to hang up his firesuit just yet.

“I’ll stop driving when I feel I’m not capable to drive no more and I’m not having fun no more,” he said. “That’s nowhere in the near future. I know I’m going to drive for at least another 15 years.”

Heading into this season, Brown will retain current sponsorship from Mac Tools and Toyota, as well as associate sponsorship from Hangsterfer’s on his 11,000-horsepower dragster. Global Electronic Technology also has signed on as a new associate sponsor in a multiyear deal.

“It’s no secret this has been a goal of Antron’s for a while now, and I’m happy to be able to provide the tools and resources needed for him to be able to successfully branch out on his own,” Schumacher said in a team media release. “It’s important for me to see my team members grow.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Brown burst upon the NHRA scene atop a Pro Stock Motorcycle in 1998, earning 16 wins over the next 10 seasons. He joined DSR in 2002 and made the switch to Top Fuel in 2008.

Since then, Brown – who now resides in suburban Indianapolis – has gone on to become one of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history with 50 national event victories, as well as three championships between 2012 and 2015.

That performance recently earned him AutoWeek magazine’s Top Fuel Driver of the Decade.

Brown also announced Tuesday he is reuniting with former crew chief Brian Corradi, who returns to the team after spending the last two seasons as co-crew chief for 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force. Corradi will share crew chief duties for Brown with NHRA veteran Mark Oswald.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When he won his first title in 2012, Brown became the first African-American world champion in Top Fuel history. He hopes his move to ownership will continue to grow NHRA’s already significant focus on opportunities for minorities and females in the sport.

“I think it’s important across all spectrums, period,” Brown said. “I think a lot of fans see me, and they can relate to me because I am them. I came from a good, hard-working family in Chesterfield, New Jersey, which is right next door to Trenton.

“Everybody in my family from my great uncles to my grandpop made their own way, had their own businesses, from swimming pool to paving to septic tank businesses.

“One thing my grandpop said to me is the world is wide open. He said, ‘Son, you can have anything you want in this world, as long as you put the effort and put the work towards it.’ If people can resonate with my story from where I came from and where I’m heading, I hope it gives them this energy, this ray of hope that ‘if Antron Brown can do this, so can I.’

“That’s the only way for motorsports to grow. It’s for the young ones to get interested in it and I want them to know the opportunity is there. All they have to do is take it.”

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Brown will be among more than 30 Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers who will take part in this weekend’s annual preseason “spring training” test at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in preparation for the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals Feb. 6-9 in Pomona, California.

Follow @JerryBonkowski