INDYCAR Voices: Jeff Olson

Now that the news is a week in the rearview and the shock has subsided, this needs to be said:

It’s time to give Tony George and the Hulman-George family its due.

It’s been 25 years since the Indy Racing League was created, almost 24 years since CART staged the first U.S. 500 against the Indianapolis 500. It’s been almost 12 years since unification, which George and his family’s company worked hard to make happen. So for all the blame and accusations, for all the ugliness of what happened in the past, it’s time to give him and them credit.

By selling Hulman & Company assets -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway, INDYCAR and IMS Productions -- to Penske Entertainment, the Hulman-George family found the best possible outcome. The family left it in a better place, and that deserves acknowledgement and recognition.

Roger Penske certainly thinks so. When the sale was announced, he said this:

“I've got a big commitment here to take over certainly as the steward of this great organization and what's been done here in the past for so many decades. It's my commitment to the Hulman family. The fact that you would select us is an opportunity to take on this investment, it's amazing, and I just want to thank Tony and everyone else that's been involved in this.”

Penske Corporation and Penske Entertainment have the resources, the experience and the connections in racing and the automotive industry to take the series and the speedway to the next level. Already there has been speculation about lighting IMS, a return of Formula One, a 24-hour endurance race, and using the property for more than just racing. All of which are positive, and all of which is happening because George and his sisters -- Josie, Nancy and Kathi -- made the right decision.

Let’s be honest. They could have done whatever they wanted with the speedway and the series. They could’ve sold it to an entity that didn’t care about racing. They could’ve sold it to a hedge fund whose sole purpose would be to pick apart a carcass for profit.

But, because George and his family care about the future of the track and the series, because they care about their family’s work and legacy, they sought out one of their primary rivals during the early days of the split and left it in capable hands. It’s come full circle, and that’s a positive thing.

In the days since the news landed, much has been made of the sport’s most successful owner taking control of its most significant venue and the series in which he competes. It’s been likened to the New York Yankees buying Major League Baseball, but it’s hardly a new development in motorsports.

And if it is, the Yankees buying MLB, then the Boston Red Sox are fully on board. Every single one of Penske’s rival owners loudly approved of the news.

“Roger has always strived to do great things for both IMS and Indy car racing, and I’m sure he’ll do the same in the new ownership position,” Michael Andretti said. “Both the Indy 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series have been on a rise, and I look forward to the continued climb.”

Bobby Rahal said this: “I am confident that (Penske’s) stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series will ensure a great future for the sport. His many successful business ventures underline the fact that he is the perfect custodian of one of the most historic venues in the world and is the perfect architect to build the foundation for the next 100-plus years of the sport.”

And Chip Ganassi tweeted this:

Great News out of Indianapolis this morning. Happy for my friend and fierce competitor @RogerPenske
Stewardship of the @IMS and @IndyCar continues in great hands!!!#ilikewinners

We can argue about the effects of the split, who caused it and what it hindered and damaged. Hell, we have been arguing about it for 25 years. But it’s over. In the years since the split was repaired in 2008, George and his family have been largely responsible for the growth and improvement of the sport. While other forms of racing are struggling to find an audience, IndyCar is on its feet and gaining strength with each passing year.

That’s largely due to the Hulman-George family putting together a group of executives -- including Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles, INDYCAR President Jay Frye and IMS President Doug Boles -- who have made sharp, astute decisions about the future of the series and the 500. Instead of expanding beyond its bounds, IndyCar is establishing venues and events that are growing steadily. The 500 remains the country’s premier motorsports event, and IMS is a first-rate sporting venue that’s constantly being improved and upgraded.

IndyCar is on solid ground, and now an established steward has assumed control. This is as good as anyone could’ve expected, and it’s good to give credit where credit is due for making it happen.