Nate Feltman: Penske’s passion is good for city, state

Keywords Commentary / Opinion

As all Hoosiers know, the month of May is special for us. No, not because we can experience below-freezing temperatures and highs in the 90s all in the same month, but because the iconic Indy 500 will run Memorial Day weekend. And the events and festivities throughout the month leading up to the race make Indy a special place to live.

This year, I feel a renewed sense of enthusiasm about IndyCar and the race. For one, life is finally getting back to normal after a tough couple of years, and heading to the track during the month of May for Hoosiers brings an absolute sense of normalcy. But it’s more than that—Roger Penske’s purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has brought change and energy to IndyCar not seen in years. Perhaps the energy stems from all of us watching the 85-year-old business icon maneuver as if he were under 40 years old.

Speaking of under 40, I had the chance this week to see up close some of the excitement I have been hearing about as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted a gathering of IBJ’s Forty under 40 alumni. The sold-out event featured a panel moderated by Jimmie McMillian, chief diversity officer and senior corporate counsel at IMS. Panelists included Penske Entertainment Corp. CEO Mark Miles, Senior Director of Partnerships Adam Gonzales and Senior Director of Premium Services Ellen Saul.

The panelists made it clear that Penske is no ordinary businessman. His attention to detail, work ethic and commitment to action came shining through. Despite no fans (and therefore no ticket sales) in 2020, Penske invested nearly $30 million at the track to enhance the customer experience. Forty under 40 alumni came away clearly impressed with the visible improvements.

Miles explained that IndyCar’s deal with NBC last year is already paying dividends for both sides. Viewership of IndyCar races is up over 30% from last year. With 14 of IndyCar’s 17 races on NBC this year, the opportunity to attract a new and diverse fan base is there. McMillian’s efforts to make racing more inclusive and accessible to Indy’s African American community is exciting and impressive.

IndyCar’s work to make the sport accessible to all is important. Gonzales explained that, whether you have $40 to spend or you are a major sponsor, there is a spot for you in IndyCar. More cameras on more cars, new LED boards and the ability to track the race live on your phone at the track with new, multi-view technology will help make the fan experience a great one, no matter where you are sitting on race day.

While Formula One racing becomes less and less accessible to the average fan, IndyCar is working to increase accessibility of its entertainment product. We were treated to an example of IndyCar’s work in this regard when driver Graham Rahal stopped by to discuss the business of racing. Graham recounted his earlier days of pounding the pavement in search of sponsors to support his IndyCar dream. He noted that, even today, some IndyCar drivers barely scratch out a living as they pursue their dream of winning the Indy 500, the greatest spectacle in racing.

Penske’s passion for IMS and for the team he inherited and has added to since his acquisition points to a strong future for IndyCar and therefore our city and state. Miles, McMillian, Gonzales, Saul and their colleagues are building an even more special product that is accessible to a broader audience.

Make sure you get out to the track this year and experience the tradition and excitement that is an integral part of our Hoosier heritage.•

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Feltman is publisher of IBJ and CEO of IBJ Media. Send comments to nfeltman@ibj.com.

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