Way back in the early 1980s there was a rumor that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was for sale. Tony Hulman, the man who rescued what became the most famous race track in the world, had died in 1977 and his only offspring, daughter Mari, wasn’t interested in running the day-to-day business so it seemed feasible.
My pal David Cassidy, who did a little bit of everything for Mr. Hulman during his employment, had told me once that Mari Hulman-George was the majority shareholder and only person that could sell the track. Now, Mari was a kind, thoughtful lady, but she detested the limelight and never gave interviews, so I had to resort to ambush one day as she left the Speedway Motel after lunch. After I posed my question, she replied: “The Speedway isn’t for sale now, and it will never be. It’s for my children and grandchildren.”
And I must admit that after decades of that rumor surfacing but never materializing, most of us never thought IMS would never be sold. With Mari’s four children on the board of directors, plus all the grandkids waiting in the on-deck circle and their children coming along, it appeared as though as the Hulman-George family would continue to run IMS forever.
But that all changed last week when Roger Penske purchased his beloved Speedway, plus the IndyCar Series and IMS Productions.
Besides the widespread relief that IndyCar’s most successful competitor and one of the country’s most savvy businessmen is now at the controls instead of someone with no passion for 16th & Georgetown, there were almost as many questions as positive posts on the internet:
Was it a family decision to sell, or the board of directors?
How much did it sell for?
Were there other prospective buyers in addition to The Captain?
What did R.P. get for his purchase?
Did the family sell because they needed the money?
Is it just a coincidence the sale came one year after Mari’s death?
What happens to the current staff?
Is Hulman & Company gone forever?
Can we bring the Apron back?
Mark Miles, the president and CEO of Hulman & Company, has been giving interviews 24/7 for a week, and as much as Mark loves to talk, even he’s got to be a little weary. But he was kind enough to spend 30 minutes with RACER.com in the parking lot of Channel 20 last Thursday after taping a segment for Inside Indiana.
RACER: Was it a family decision to sell, or the board of directors?
MILES: “Both. The board of directors voted to recommend the transaction to the shareholders, who are all family members. And the shareholders voted unanimously.”
RACER: We’ve heard everything from $250 million to $2 billion as the price tag.
MILES: “I’ve heard everything from quite low to ridiculously high, but I’m not going to give you a hint or say anything about the price. How’s this? Federal law says anything over $90 million has to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, so there’s a number for you. At the end of the day it was worth what somebody was willing to pay for it.”
RACER: Three days before it became official, I heard that Liberty Media was one of the main players. Is that true, and was anyone else interested?
MILES: “We had an investment banker involved, Allen & Co, of New York City one of the best in sports and media, and we started out looking at who is interested in what. Late in process we were still talking to one or more groups that could have been a limited investor or a partner for purpose of big time real estate development. And I will tell you before we talked to R.P., there two firms very capable of transacting and they were very much in progress. But Tony (George) wanted to reach out to Roger because we always cared about stewardship. R.P. said instantly he was very interested and that really determined the outcome. Roger and I negotiated the price. The value the family could take was always going to be an important issue for sure, and the fact we had and unanimous vote of shareholders in my mind is entirely because we had Roger Penske.”
RACER: What’s included in the purchase?
MILES: “IMS, IndyCar, IMS Productions, the museum and the Coke lot, but not the building. And it’s the museum building, but not the collection or operation of the museum.”
RACER: A lot of people think after selling Clabber Girl last May and now IMS, the Hulman-George family was in desperate need of money. Is that the case?
RACER: The sale came almost a year to the day that Mari passed away so was that by design or simply symbolic?
MILES: “Really the timing was only a coincidence.”
RACER: Will there be sweeping changes internally on both sides of 16th Street, or is more of Penske’s style to observe for six months to a year before making any personnel moves?
MILES: “What Roger has said time and time again is that they’ve got a great team, and we just inherited a great senior team, and their No.1 job is to figure out how to help you. I can’t tell you the number of sponsors they have in all their series, but it’s more than the total sponsorship of IMS and IndyCar combined so they know how to sell, and that’s exciting from my viewpoint.”
RACER: What about you?
MILES: “Roger tells me I’m CEO of the new company – Penske Entertainment.”
RACER: Does this reinvigorate you?
MILES: “Hell yes, it’s like push-to-pass because Roger brings so much energy, work ethic and enthusiasm. It’s sensational.”
RACER: What about Jay Frye and the racing side? Has Roger talked to you about them and is he happy with their work?
MILES: “Roger has been publicly, privately and consistently very positive in his assessment of IndyCar under Jay’s leadership. He’s said the expectation is that Jay will continue in his current role. “
RACER: Is Hulman & Company done?
MILES: “Hulman & Co. owns buildings in Terre Haute and things that aren’t racing, so we’ll spin them out into a new company. What’s left is Hulman & Co.”
RACER: Danny Sullivan called and requested one thing from you and his former boss: “Bring back the Apron to make the racing better, especially NASCAR.”
MILES: “I’ll take that up with Roger but not right away.”
RACER: Tony George was understandably emotional at the press conference and in his staff meeting but I think he deserves credit for seeking out The Captain.
MILES: “I thought he said it perfectly – that his family had taken it was far as they could – and it was Tony that said we must ask Roger before we agree to sell to anyone else. That turned out to be the best suggestion possible.”