INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles has confirmed to NBC Sports.com that Roger Penske’s purchase of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500, INDYCAR and IMS Productions should be completed on Jan. 6, 2020.
Penske, though, already is having a major impact on the speedway since the announcement of the impending sale last month.
Penske has spent a great deal of the past several weeks in Indianapolis reviewing the acquisition and taking a full inventory and survey of the property. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is already a beautiful “Cathedral of Speed,” but Penske plans to make it shine like a diamond.
“People call it ‘Penske Perfect,’” Miles said. “This is a massive place, and it’s a venerable place. It’s hard to keep it up to that standard, and we haven’t. But it’s also habits. The way you look at your desk or a storage room or a closet.
“The day of the announcement, Roger walked around and looked in great detail at everything. I began to see the place differently within an hour. I saw it through Roger’s eyes.
“In a way, it was embarrassing. Under the excuse of budgets and tight money, we had not really been as attentive as we should be taking pride in the place.”
After Penske’s first visit, Miles assigned a “block captain” to each department and spoke to employees saying, “Tomorrow, the Dumpsters are arriving.”
Large dumpsters began to arrive at IMS, and the cleanup began.
“If we are going to clean it up, we have to clean it out,” Miles said. “At a place like this, nobody ever threw anything out. Under the new leadership, we said, ‘If in doubt; throw it out.’ We have made some room to clean up the place and that is just good housekeeping.”
Penske and his regime are looking to see what impact can be done by next May so fans can see the additional care and visible improvement to the facility, from cleaning the place to a fresh coat of paint on much of the facility.
Expanding the speedway’s business
Bigger projects likely will start after the July 4 NASCAR weekend, according to Miles.
From the INDYCAR side, Miles believes the series is doing pretty well. He wants to improve its footprint in eSports and in gaming now that gambling is legal in Indiana and many other states.
“If we can figure out how to do more to help our promoters be more successful and put more people in the seats at the races throughout the series, those are the things to think about,” Miles said.
Expect to see some of the corporate partners and business-to-business relationships of the Penske Corporation become key partners of INDYCAR and IMS.
“It’s a remarkable opportunity with the ‘B-to-B’ opportunities the Penske Corporation brings to sponsorship is very, very special,” Miles said. “It’s not just that, but Roger himself and his senior team members have great access to companies.
“There is a major Fortune 500 company we thought we should have a conversation with because we could see them being a sponsor. We had not gotten through to a high level at that company. We mentioned that to Roger. The next day, there was a conference call with the COO, the CMO and the Director of Operations.
“Roger’s ability to access and prompt conversations and to do it without a lot of wasted motion is a great value.”
A race to the finish
Miles spent Christmas Day with his family in Jacksonville, Florida. He returned to his office at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway bright and early on Thursday, Dec. 26 working on the final details of the acquisition.
“If I were to put a pin on the wall on the calendar, it would be Jan. 6,” Miles told NBC Sports.com in an exclusive interview. “There are standing starts, and there are flying starts in racing.
“Roger wants to be at absolute full speed on the day we close, and that makes this a priority.
“There is no time to waste between Christmas and New Year’s. In the first week of the new year, we will be closing, and then we will be ready for that ‘flying start.’ ”
Once it is completed, ownership of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR will transfer from Hulman & Company to the Penske Corporation.
If Miles and the Penske Corporation hit their goal of Jan. 6, that will conclude the 74-year run that Hulman George Family had as owners of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“The Hulman George Family didn’t need to sell this place,” Miles said. “But it made sense at this day and time.
“It is in a much better place than it was 10 years ago.”
Tony Hulman purchased Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 from Eddie Rickenbacker on Nov. 4, 1945. Since then, the Hulman George Family built the speed classic into the largest single-day sporting event on Earth.
The sale to Roger Penske and the Penske Corporation was announced on Nov. 4, 2019.
“That was a historic day for sure and a fabulous transition is now under way that is going to be really good for the Speedway, for INDYCAR and for our fans,” said Miles, who will be retained as CEO along with current INDYCAR staff (including president Jay Frye). “Our board of directors and a committee of our board were engaged in thinking about an array of strategic options for the last two and a half years.
“There were always rumors that something was going to happen. Once we got connected with Roger Penske, he said he was very interested.”
Miles and Penske kept a very limited group of people involved, and that is why the biggest auto racing story in the last 50 years was kept a secret.
Hulman & Company is transferring the “stewardship” of the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the perfect person. Penske is the most successful team owner in Indy 500 history with 18 victories, 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships and a record 545 victories in all forms of racing.
More importantly, he has a deep love and respect for the traditions, heritage and importance of IMS, the Indy 500 and INDYCAR.
“Who has been more a part of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway other than the Hulman George Family than Roger Penske,” Miles said. “He is very studious and knows all the background.
“He is the right guy to carry the torch forward and take it to higher heights.”