What conflict? Penske Corp. determined to maintain integrity of IndyCar Series, Indy 50011/27/2019
Roger Penske, left, and Penske Corp. president Bud Denker tour the Indianapolis Motor Speedway following the announcement of the sale on Nov. 4.
Roger Penske and his organization are just weeks away from officially taking ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the IndyCar Series and IMS Productions.
And while Penske would appear to be a perfect choice to replace the Hulman family as the steward of the racing empire, it’s inevitable that The Captain will be dogged by conflict of interest questions. After all, Joe Fan might be rolling his eyes if a Penske driver is drinking the milk in victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May for the 19th time.
After all, the race team’s boss just happens to own the sandbox. He has the shiniest toys, and he makes the rules.
But that’s not entirely the case, says Penske Corp. president Bud Denker.
“One of the key things we focused on when we were originally offered this opportunity was how is that going to be perceived by the fans, by the race teams, by the drivers,” Denker said in an upcoming episode of the “Autoweek Podcast” scheduled to go live on Nov. 29. “So, we’ve announced a few things. First, Roger is coming off managing one of the teams—he was managing Will Power this past year. He’ll no longer be doing that, and he’ll be in an agnostic role there in terms of overlooking the series.”
Denker added in Detroit this week that the top leadership of IndyCar and IMS will remain intact.
“We have some very good people,” Denker said. “We have Jay Frye running the racing series. That will continue. We have Kyle Novak, who is running the competition. That will continue. We have Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis, who are the stewards—they’re the rules makers and will make the calls on what happens on the racetrack.
“For us, we’ve got to walk a very fine line between what happens on the racetrack and what happens off the racetrack. Roger and our role is really to ensure we find sponsorship, we find revenue to bring into the series. We hopefully have another OEM, an engine manufacturer, we can bring into the series in the future, as well. Those are the things we’re working on behind the scenes. But we’re not going to be involved in the day-to-day management in terms of the competition and what happens because we can’t.”
It’s all about integrity and how Penske was the right man at the right time for this job.
“We have to have a fair playing field,” Denker said. “Every sport has to have integrity, including the IndyCar Series. That’s very, very important to us. The good news is if you talk to Mario (Andretti), you talk to A.J. (Foyt), you talk to Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti, Dale Coyne—I think, to a man, they’re all pleased with this acquisition. They’re all pleased that it’s Roger who will be overseeing the series.
“A man of high integrity, of high credibility, owning the series versus something else, or a media company or a private equity company that could be involved. We know the sport. We know that it has to be run on a fair and equitable basis, and we intend to do that. We’ll look for a report card at the end of the year, at the mid-part of the year. How are we doing? That’s going to be provided by the team owners, the fans and the drivers.”
Denker wants the fans to know that Penske won’t be hovering over the inspectors on race day.
“We’ve got to ensure that we allow the people who are running it now, we’ve got to allow them to continue to run it,” Denker said. “We can’t be involved in the technical inspection area. We can’t be involved as the cars go through the grid to be inspected for qualifying. That’s something we can’t be involved with at all.
“So, the transparency that we’re going to have is going to be very clear. The transparency of what we’re going to be doing at the racetracks every day when Roger and I and others are there will be very clear. The transparency we’ll have in rules making will be very clear, and that’s going to be driven by Jay Frye and their team, not by us.
If there’s a company line or a talking point that Penske has handed out to his race team in regards to the possible conflict of interest question, two-time IndyCar Series champion and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden hasn’t heard it.
“We haven’t even talked about it,” Newgarden told Autoweek. “He hasn’t told us anything. What’s great about Roger is if there’s anyone out there that has the integrity to be able to do this, it’s Roger. I think Roger understands that there’s a strong line there.
“There’s going to be a line there where on one end, he’s part of the ownership group and he’s trying to make sure the whole ship is running well. And on the other side, he has the team, as well, and he wants the team to do well. But he has to be able to separate those. If there’s anyone that does that, it’s Roger.”
And if anything does look a little fishy when it comes to the conflict of interest question, Newgarden said the drivers will be the first ones to throw the penalty flag.
“Racers, if anything is going south or they see any foul play, they’re going to spot it the quickest,” he said. “Roger knows that, and I think he’s going to do a great job of separating the two.”
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