Why Tony Hulman

March 19, 2014 by

The question is….why write a book on Tony Hulman, the man who saved the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?  Why spend hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours doing research to say nothing of the hours spent writing and polishing a manuscript?

The answer is pretty simple and straight forward.

Surprisingly, a book has not previously been written on Hulman.  There are many books about race car drivers and racing groups such as NASCAR, USAC and CART.

There are many books on the Indianapolis 500.  There are three or four books about Carl Fisher, the driving force behind the founding of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and one which I wrote about his business partner, James Allison.  There are several books about Eddie Rickenbacker who purchased the Speedway from the original founders and sold it to Hulman.

But there is nothing on Hulman.  Over time, Hulman will become a distant memory.  The book documents the life of this remarkable Hoosier.

Hulman grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana, and like many people, he had a love affair with his home town.    His German heritage stressed education and giving back to the community.  His grandfather and father had been town leaders contributing much to the fabric of life in Terre Haute and Hulman followed in their footsteps.

Hulman was fortunate that his family stressed the value of an education.  He graduated from Yale University with honors.  With the connections he made at Yale, undoubtedly he could have found employment in many larger cities.  But he chose to return to his hometown and to join the family firm, Hulman & Company.

Believing that Hulman needed to earn the respect of the Hulman & Company employees, his father made him start at the bottom of the firm.  By the early 1930s, Hulman was the leader of what was then among the largest wholesale grocers in the Midwest.  He knew the growth of chain stores, which began in the early 1900s, would ultimately have a negative impact on wholesale grocers.  So he promoted one of Hulman & Company’s proprietary products, Clabber Girl Baking Powder, nationally through a marketing campaign.  The product became the mainstay of the firm.  Today, Hulman & Company is no longer a wholesale grocer….but they still manufacture and distribute Clabber Girl.

Hulman was also a gifted athlete in track and field events and also played football on the Yale University teams.  He loved to fish and was on the United States Tuna team.  He enjoyed going to the Indianapolis 500….but he didn’t have a racing background.

That all changed when he was approached by Wilbur Shaw, the three time winner of the Indianapolis 500.  Shaw’s persistence led Hulman to buy the Speedway before it was torn down to become a real estate development.  It was Hulman who led the resurgence of the Speedway to become “the greatest spectacle in racing.”

Automobile racing is big business in Indianapolis and Indiana.  The city and the state are indebted to Tony Hulman’s vision to buy and renovate the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  His legacy is also very apparent in his hometown.  He and his wife, Mary, donated millions of dollars to Rose Polytechnic Institute which is now known as Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.  They also donated monies for a convocation center on the campus of Indiana State University.

It was a life well lived….and well worth remembering!

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