Motorsports mogul Roger Penske, whose surprise acquisition of the Hulman family’s racing empire closed earlier this year, is planning a broad slate of improvements to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its signature race before the green flag drops on May 24.
The race’s prize purse will increase by $2 million to $15 million, the largest in history, with at least $2 million going to the winner, Penske announced at a press conference at the Speedway on Friday afternoon. Racers also can expect boosts in the prizes for other honors.
“We’re investing not only in the track, but we’re also trying to provide additional monies to the teams that are successful here,” Penske said.
The Speedway also is planning millions of dollars of improvements to the track’s physical plant, including more the 30 additional large-screen video boards, a 100-foot-wide video wall facing Pagoda Plaza in the infield area, and renovations to more than 125 restrooms.
Officials declined to reveal how much all of the planned improvements would cost, only saying that it amounted to a “multimillion-dollar investment.” All of the enhancements are expected to be completed by May 8.
“(This is) part of a long-term plan to ensure the legendary status of the Speedway continues to grow and evolve for generations to come,” Penske said.
In addition, Speedway officials are promising a better race-day experience for attendees. For example, pedestrian traffic on Georgetown Road will be widened by two lanes to make ingress and egress easier for more than half of the venue’s spectators. New pavement will be added to the Parcel B lot near the main gate to improve the parking experience and create a cleaner look.
Qualifying weekend, set for May 16-17, will feature a variety of changes in format. The last-row shootout will be expanded to 75 minutes, potentially allowing racers more than one attempt. And speeds will climb during qualifying sessions with a 45-horsepower increase in turbocharger level.
NBC also plans to beef up coverage of the qualifying weekend. The schedule will be made public soon, officials said.
Terre Haute-based Hulman & Co., which had owned IMS since 1945, announced Nov. 4 it planned to sell the Speedway and the IndyCar racing series—along with IMS Productions—to Penske Corp. subsidiary Penske Entertainment Co.
The very next day, the 82-year-old Penske walked the entire grounds and began making lists of improvements he wanted. The deal, believed to be in the neighborhood of $300 million, closed in early January.
Penske first attended the Indianapolis 500 in 1951 as a teenager and has missed only six runnings of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since. His 18 victories in the Indy 500 as a car owner are a record, and Simon Pagenaud swept the month of May for Team Penske last year.
Because Penske has the deepest pockets and biggest Rolodex in the American racing industry, fans have assumed he would use his contacts and leverage to pull more sponsors to the IndyCar series and Indy 500. On Friday, he announced that Pennzoil, Verizon, Snap-on Tools, DEX Imaging, Road & Track magazine and Global Medical Response were making significant investments in the series and Speedway.
Verizon will supply commercial 5G service for the track, which will be available for spectators.
Fans also will notice fresh paint and new signage on more than 50 concession stands inside the Speedway, picnic tables added throughout the grounds, and the placement of more than 230 racing-themed flags around the facility and on Crawfordsville Road.