A Silver Lining in a Dark Cloud

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Although it may look like I’ve already broken my vow to not write anymore about the novel coronavirus, remember I did leave myself some wiggle room by allowing myself to write on the effects it has had on the NTT IndyCar Series or motorsports in general.

There has been a lot of craziness and uncertainty over the past week, what with sporting events and major tournaments being cancelled right and left. I was originally hoping that even though the NTT IndyCar Series had cancelled or postponed the first four races of the season, the COVID-19 situation would have settled down by the end of April and things would be up and running by the time the Month of May arrived. That is looking less and less likely.

When the Kentucky Derby announced yesterday that they were moving their event off of the May calendar for the first time in seventy-five years, and rescheduling for Saturday September 5; I’d say the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is unlikely to run on its originally scheduled date of May 24. Even after the CDC posted its guidelines of no gatherings of fifty people or more for the next eight weeks, I still had hopes.

I envisioned the nation coming to grips with the virus in April and things getting back to normal in May. I thought the AMR Grand Prix may be rescheduled, but I could see the Indianapolis 500 being the first major sporting event to return. How would that have been for ratings?

But once again, things are changing rapidly. Just in the past forty-eight hours, my hopes for May have dwindled. Now I’m starting to worry about the flights we’ve already booked for Road America in late June. These are certainly strange times, but I have discovered a silver lining in all of this madness.

Monday morning, I was eating breakfast and scrolling through Facebook on my iPad. I saw a post from a former IndyCar blogger that said (paraphrasing) “Roger Penske picked a heck of a time to purchase the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. I guess we’ll see how deep his pockets are”.

When I saw that, it dawned on me how fortuitous Roger Penske’s timing really was. As wonderful stewards as the Hulman-George family was for the previous seventy-four years – I’m not sure they had the net worth to sustain the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar through an extended hiatus. Roger Penske does.

In the seventy-four year ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by the Hulman-George family, there was never a period of interruption in the running of the Indianapolis 500. The Speedway was purchased in the fall of 1945 on the heels of four years of inactivity caused by World War II. Beginning in May of 1946, the Hulman-George hosted the Indianapolis 500 through the 2019 running. It’s very ironic that there is now a good chance that the Hulman-George era will be bookended by interrupted races when there were none under their ownership.

Before Hulman and Company was purchased by Penske Entertainment Group, I have no idea what the family’s net worth was. But I know they sold off Clabber Girl last year, before selling off IMS, IMS Productions and IndyCar; I’m not sure how flush with cash the family members were.

What I do know is that Roger Penske is worth about $1.3 Billion. I could be wrong, but I think that far surpasses the net worth of Hulman and Company.

I’m doing a lot of speculating here, which is always a dangerous thing – but with out offseason extended, that’s what we do in the offseason. My speculation is that the series would have a hard time keeping its head above water if this thing knocks out half the season or more. The president said on Monday that it could be July or August before the virus is under control, but as they said on Trackside last night – perhaps he is trying to under-promise and over-deliver (no political comments please) and we might get to racing before then. But if we are looking at August before the series can turn a wheel – that makes me more grateful than ever that the series is now owned by Roger Penske.

I understand that there are still those that have no love for The Captain. If you are against Team Penske, that’s fine. That’s every fan’s prerogative. But if you don’t care for Roger Penske, the man – you might want to re-examine that. If we can’t get this virus under control in the next few months, it’s conceivable that the entire 2020 IndyCar season may be lost – including the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Losing the revenue of an entire season, along with the Month of May, would certainly be felt by Roger Penske and Penske Entertainment Group. But it may have had the potential to make the series fold its tent. Would IMS survive? That’s hard to say.

In times like these, I’m always trying to seek out some silver lining to any dark cloud. That’s the way I treated 9/11 and any other challenge I’ve faced.

Just think of the timing of this. Supposedly Roger Penske had never given a serious thought to this purchase until Tony George approached him on the grid, just before the season-finale at Laguna Seca. We first learned about the transaction just a little over four months ago (Nov 4). Just four months separate the announcement of the purchase and the official cancellation of the first four races. Had that not happened, I’m not so sure the Hulman-George family could have sustained things if this shut-down is prolonged.

So while basketball and baseball fans have no real silver linings to losing their sports. IndyCar fans can count their lucky stars that Roger Penske is now the owner. Hopefully, things will brighten in a matter of weeks and we can go racing in May. I’m still holding out hope. Stay tuned.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “A Silver Lining in a Dark Cloud”

  1. James T Suel Says:

    George I believe Penske buying the speedway and the series is the best possible outcome for the NTT series and the speedway. I still have hope the 500 is saved.

  2. I can see this being run in September, going to be interesting as many sports may be fighting for TV time in the late summer. If run in September though, just think, then we have 2 Indy 500’s in about 6 months to look forward to! Silver lining thinking…

  3. If INDYCAR salvages only one race this year, it needs to be the 500.

  4. GP , astute analysis, fortuitous timing for the Hulman George family and fans of IMS and IndyCar. With RP’s business acumen IndyCar and IMS will weather this storm. The 500 in late fall will be spectacular

  5. I agree with you all. If we can only have one race, let it be the 500. And yes, have Roger Penske as our fearless leader in IC is a blessing.

    I am sad though that my home race (LBGP) was just cancelled. I had hoped it could have been re-scheduled for September.

  6. I survived baseball strike of 94 NHL lockout 94 and NHL blowing up the entire season in 04-05

  7. Maybe we will discover that Labor Day weekend makes more sense. Have it the last race and more points toward the championship! The one huge drawback is the traditional honoring of our fallen War heroes. Ok……maybe changing it permanently isn’t such a good idea. 🤔🏎🏁

  8. Thanks for blogging.

  9. […] couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how fortunate race fans were that Roger Penske had bought IMS, IMS Productions and IndyCar […]

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