IndyCar Team Now Owns Entire Series And Also Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Pictured is Rick Mears in his Penske-run car at the 1979 Indy 500, which he would go on to win after being initially barred from the race over the then still-ongoing split between USAC and six breakaway CART teams, Penske being one of them.
Photo: IndyCar

Motorsports in the U.S. are unlike most other sports, in that they’re not owned by a league made up of consortium of team owners, they tend to be owned by one family or one company. Because of that, whole leagues can be bought and sold pretty easily. And that has now just happened, as IndyCar (along with the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway) have been bought by Penske.

Yes, that Penske, which is already a team owner in the series. The Penske Entertainment arm of the Penske corporation, to be specific. Penske also has teams at various levels of NASCAR, the IMSA Sports Car Championship, and a partnership in Australian Supercars. Not to mention it’s got a long history in pretty much every form of auto racing.

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This is a huge development, however, and the implications are not yet clear.

Here’s the key info, tweeted out this morning by the Associated Press’s Jenna Fryer, and followed up in every major publication, New York Times included, that Penske bought IndyCar and also the Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

Confusingly, a lot of the language around this sale is not that Penske bought IndyCar and IMS, but that IndyCar and IMS were sold to Penske. Curious! In any case, this is an interesting one because Penske was a long holdout on the losing side of The Split from the 1990s, sticking with CART (itself a split from USAC in the 1970s) from 1996 until finally joining the Indy Racing League in 2002, as per its corporate timeline.

I’ll also clarify again that this is Penske Entertainment Corporation, as described by the Times as “a subsidiary of Penske Corp., which is owned by the billionaire Roger Penske, an IndyCar team owner who has the most Indy 500 wins with 18.” The dynamic between Penske the team and Penske the owner of the series in which Penske the team competes is not abundantly clear at the moment.

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More on the USAC-CART split of 1979, a year in which Penske also won the Indy500, can be found on Penkse’s own site as well.

We’ll see how this develops, but for now I’m going to re-read the oral history of The Split and go from there. I think there’s no way this can’t be a dramatic change. Formula One, for instance, started to become much more accessible and internet-friendly the moment it left the hands of the muppet tycoon Bernie Ecclestone, for example.

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Raphael Orlove

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.