After purchasing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Roger Penske’s first order of business involved touring the 110-year-old facility with his leadership team to compile a top-10 list of improvements. A similar process is about the begin with his other key acquisition, the NTT IndyCar Series, where fan input could shape the open-wheel series’ future.
“What we will do is try to put together a list of things in IndyCar… even ask the fans what they think they’d like to see, because this is just not us looking out,” Penske said. “We’ve got to see who’s looking in, and that would be the fans. I think the product on the racetrack has never been better.
“We need to attract more teams. And certainly, from a commercial standpoint, having NTT coming right off of Verizon is really, really, really important. Our TV partner with NBC – we want to do more with them. So, I think these are basic areas that we need to cover here.”
IndyCar CEO Mark Miles, who will remain in the position under new ownership, is keen to see the series filtered through Penske’s vision and business acumen.
“He gives us the ability to look at what we’ve got with fresh eyes, but not naive or uninitiated eyes,” Miles said. “It’s going to be a treat for us to go down this road together and sort out what are the best priorities, the smartest priorities, that we can tap into to grow these businesses. It’s not some kind of kid in the candy store thing; it’s something that he is so well-suited to develop.”
Penske played a pivotal role during the late 1970s in the establishment of CART, the Championship Auto Racing Teams IndyCar series, which was formed by team owners in reaction to their dissatisfaction with USAC, the sanctioning body chosen by the Hulman George family to run the Indy 500 and the season-long IndyCar championship.
Although some would point to the CART/Indy Racing League split in the early 1990s as the root cause of open-wheel racing’s decline in North America, Penske cites CART’s formation as the problem’s true genesis. Preventing fractures within IndyCar’s current ownership group is clearly a priority for The Captain.
“Well, number one, when I look back, the biggest mistake I made is when we decided to start Championship Auto Racing Teams,” he said. “We were in conflict. I think today, hopefully, smarter minds would have kept it together. But, you can’t bring history back and change it.”
Having skipped the Indy 500 from 1996-2000 as IRL teams dominated the entry list, he says a lesson was learned during Team Penske’s absence from the grand event as the CART/IRL split raged.
“What I like is when we came back, the impact it had for our company,” Penske added. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is really the foundation of our brand, and [to] see how it’s grown just over the few years we’ve been back… you know, I think that everybody sees that.
“And that would be one of the things I would do if I was a steward – basically be sure that we didn’t fall into that kind of a trap. I’ve got scars all over me because I moved out on that. But I don’t know if you remember, I probably was the first one to come back and say, ‘Hey, I made a big mistake,’ and I would say that today.”
Now that he’s in an official position as the steward of IndyCar’s future, Penske is ready to get down to business with finding and making improvements in collaboration with the series’ leadership and staff.
“It’s a small, but I think very competent, group,” he said. “And in today’s day of media and what we have to offer, I think we’re in a driver’s seat. We’ve got a unique product. It’s the fastest product in the world. What I have to do as an individual along with our team [is] what’s best for IndyCar and what’s best for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Put them in any order you want. And using that as a bar, I think that we’ll always do the right thing.”