Sale of IMS stuns Speedway's Main Street

Roger Penske talks with 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power and crew after the race. (WTHR photo)
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SPEEDWAY, Ind. (WTHR) - Two of the most recognizable names in auto racing made history Monday in Indianapolis.

Tony George announced the Hulman family is selling the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Roger Penske.

The sale of the IMS took almost everyone by surprise. In the small town of Speedway, news of the sale shot down Main Street faster than a race car.

Indy fan Glenn Wheeler was shocked.

"It is a sad day when I see history like this change, but I also think it is a bright day for the IndyCar future," he said.

For generations, the future of the 500 and IndyCar racing was in the hands of the Hulman family. In 1945, Tony Hulman bought a dilapidated race track with trees growing on the main stretch. Hulman turned it into the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and his heirs maintained the legacy.

"I think we all realized as a family, our organization, we probably had taken it as far as we can," an emotional Tony George explained.

Roger Penske is now at the wheel of the speedway, the racing league and its TV production company. He attended his first 500 as a 14-year-old boy.

"I guess at that point the bug of racing got in my blood," Penske said.

He started as a driver, then became a team owner. Penske has 18 trips to Victory Lane. He is a major force in racing and business mogul and calls the track an investment.

"We look around at these thousand acres and say, 'Can this be entertainment?' Really, not only the racing capital of the world, but also the entertainment capital of the world," Penske explained.

He sees the possibility of a 24-hour race, other night races, more entertainment for fans and other attractions.

That is a lot of change for a race track steeped in traditions.

Back on Speedway's Main Street at Charlie Brown's restaurant, where a life-sized cut-out of A.J. Foyt welcomes visitors to a dining room filled with racing memorabilia, waitresses Shannon Carmack and Debbie Keith are optimistic.

"If they want to do more out there that's great for us," Carmack said. "We have been changing for the last few years." Keith agreed.

Penske says he wants to build on the momentum of higher TV ratings and bigger race crowds.

Although changes might good, even necessary, former race driver and team owner Sarah Fisher will miss the Hulman family's touch.

"I know personally what Tony and his mom and his sisters have done for this sport, for the Indianapolis 500," she explained.

The business deal is expected to close early next year.

What the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is worth remains a secret. Because their companies are privately held, neither Hulman or Penske are revealing the sale price.