At the Indy 500, Hulman-George family quietly fades from public view


It has been seven weeks since the transfer of ownership of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was completed on Jan. 6.

During that brief time, new owner Roger Penske has made an immediate impact. He has transformed the direction of the NTT IndyCar Series and announced grand plans to turn the venerable motorsports shrine into a modern-day entertainment palace.

Under Penske’s direction, the newly formed Penske Entertainment is moving full speed ahead into the future with oversight and ownership of IndyCar, the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Meanwhile, many Hulman-George family members quietly have moved on and faded from public view — but secure in the knowledge that the public trust they guided for nearly three quarters of a century still remains in very good hands.

“I don’t think anyone had a better feeling or better idea of who could be a better successor to the Hulman-George family than Roger Penske,” Ed Carpenter, a Hulman-George family member and shareholder in Hulman & Company, told recently. “He gets it. He is going to do a great job. His business enterprise is so huge. It makes us all excited to see what he is going to do what is there already.

“It’s different for everybody in the family. It has been an emotional process and transition. I think one thing everyone can agree on is it’s going to be exciting to see the next 100 years.”

For more than 74 years, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500 were run under their stewardship. It began with Tony Hulman of Terre Haute, Indiana, buying the decaying facility from previous owner Eddie Rickenbacker on Nov. 14, 1945 for $750,000.

In announcing the sale of IMS and IndyCar last November, former track chairman Tony George said the family had taken IndyCar and the speedway as far as it could. It was time for a new leader in Penske, who is the most successful team owner in auto racing history with a record 18 Indianapolis 500 victories and 16 IndyCar series championships.

Carpenter continues in the NTT IndyCar Series as an owner-driver. His mother, Laura, has been married to Tony George since he was a youngster. Carpenter knew about the sale before any other drivers in the series and also was aware of other bidders.

“My reaction was much different when Roger became part of the conversation instead of some of the other conversations that were had,” Carpenter said. “It made me feel a whole lot better.”

Carpenter believes his family will be just fine away from the public spotlight.

“The bad times are a decade old,” Carpenter said. “They weathered the storm a long time ago. They have been focusing on other things and other businesses and traveling and family.”

Penske continues to keep Tony George in the loop when it comes to changes he is making to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Some may view it as a professional courtesy, but Penske understands and respects what the Hulman-George family has meant for the sport. Penske even has talked about naming George to the new company’s board of directors.

George is the sole North American distributor of SONAX, a line of automotive refinishing products and polishes. He also is involved with Ed Carpenter Racing. George’s sisters, nephews and nieces all have moved on since the sale was completed.

“As far as Tony goes, I haven’t noticed a huge change because he is who he is,” Carpenter said. “I think he is at peace with everything. As his son, I haven’t noticed a huge difference. He is more relaxed now.”

George can breathe easier because it’s a happy ending for the crown jewel of a family business that began a century ago.

The Hulman fortune came from a variety of businesses, including Clabber Girl Baking Powder. Financially, Hulman turned that $750,000 purchase price into an immediate profit when he sold the concession rights to Sports Service for $1 million over 10 years.

The Indianapolis 500 had been halted from 1942-45 because of World War II. Hulman revived the Memorial Day weekend classic in 1946 and during his helm, built it into the largest single-day sporting event in the world with crowds in excess of 300,000 spectators.

The Indianapolis 500 also put the city on the map. Today, Indianapolis is a professional sports city with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and the WNBA’s Indiana Fever. It’s likely none of that would have been possible if the sporting spotlight did not shine on the capital city of Indiana every Memorial Day weekend, bringing the world to the “Crossroads of America.”

Hulman died Oct. 27, 1977 at the age of 76. His widow, Mary Fendrich Hulman was in charge of the family business with the Speedway capably run by the likes of John Cooper and Joe Cloutier. As Mrs. Hulman aged, the couple’s only child, Mari, took over as the family matriarch.

Previously married to the late Elmer George, a race driver, Mari Hulman George had three daughters and a son, Tony. He eventually would become president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1989 after Cloutier died.

It was under Tony George’s leadership that Indianapolis Motor Speedway entered an aggressive period of change. He brought NASCAR to the “hallowed grounds” for a tire test in 1992, breaking with tradition of Indy cars only at IMS. That led to the inaugural Brickyard 400 on Aug. 6, 1994.

It was probably the most anticipated race in auto racing history at that time because of what it meant. The Indianapolis 500 had been run since 1911 and from that date forward, with the exception of World War I and World War II, it was the home of Indy car racing. The first Brickyard 400 helped serve as a launching pad to NASCAR’s incredible growth from the mid-1990s through the next 15 years before it began to fade.

George also took the huge gamble and risk of breaking away from the team owner-driven Championship Auto Racing Teams circuit and creating the Indy Racing League. He announced the new series in 1994, and it began competition in 1996.

CART teams viewed it as a hostile takeover and boycotted the Indianapolis 500 beginning in 1996. The top teams stayed unified in that boycott until team owner Chip Ganassi entered two cars in the 2000 Indianapolis 500 with then-defending CART champion Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser as the drivers.

The race was no contest. Montoya whipped the field, leading 167 of the 200 laps and became the first rookie since Graham Hill in 1966 to win the Indy 500. Team Penske joined Ganassi in 2001 and another rookie, Helio Castroneves, won for Penske.

That created a shift that ultimately spelled doom for CART and its successor, Champ Car. With the big teams returning to the Indy 500 and joining the Indy Racing League, it was only a matter of time before one series would survive and the other would become extinct.

George negotiated a unification plan with Champ Car Series boss Kevin Kalkhoven in early 2008, bringing Champ Car’s teams to the IRL. George would provide them with free cars and equipment to help in the transition.

Beginning in 2008, IndyCar racing was whole, again.

One year later, George’s sisters who were also owners of IMS and IndyCar believed the family fortune had been spent. They ousted Tony from his position in a board meeting two days after Castroneves won his third Indy 500 in 2009. George left the company completely but would return a few years later.

IndyCar continued with some fantastic racing during the ensuing years, but it relatively went unnoticed by the rest of the sporting world. Randy Bernard tried to bring some attention to the series as its new promoter, but many of his ideas missed the mark completely, and his management style led to his ouster in October 2012.

Mark Miles was tapped with the duty to bring IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back to relevance. He promoted Doug Boles to president of IMS and hired Jay Frye as chief marketing officer and promoting him to IndyCar president in 2015.

They began the long climb back to prominence. Tony George returned as IMS chairman of the board as Mari Hulman George entered the final years of her life.

She died on Nov. 3, 2018.

On Nov. 4, 2019, the Hulman-George family announced the sale of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IMS Productions to Roger Penske.

It was just one year and one day since Mari Hulman George had died.

Carpenter is no longer a shareholder, but as a competitor, he remains a stakeholder in IndyCar’s growth.

“For me, racing there with the change of ownership, it doesn’t feel any different,” Carpenter said. “I get asked, ‘What would it mean to win the Indy 500 with your family owning the place?’ It doesn’t mean any more to me than anyone else.

“We all want to be IndyCar drivers because of the Indianapolis 500. My connection to the track has always been as a competitor. When we all go there, we all feel like we are part of it, and we all own part of it.

“That remains unchanged.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”