Penske’s Indy Passion Dates to 1951 …

Posted: May 21, 2016 in Uncategorized
Photo credit: Chris Jones/Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Photo credit: Chris Jones/Indianapolis Motor Speedway

By: Jeff Majeske

No car owner has been as successful in the Indianapolis 500 as Roger Penske. His team’s 16 victories with 11 drivers – including last year with Juan Pablo Montoya – are more than three times as many as the next best. (Lou Moore and Chip Ganassi each have five 500 victories.)

You might be surprised, though, that Penske, whose businesses generate an estimated $26 billion annually, was a fan long before he started entering cars in 1969.

He attended his first 500 in 1951 with his father, Julius.

“My dad worked for a company that sponsored a couple of laps, and (as a lap sponsor) he had a couple of tickets and asked if I wanted to go to the race,” Penske said during a press conference on Friday morning.

Like many other fans, he also listened to the radio broadcasts led by Sid Collins, the “voice” of the Indianapolis 500 from 1952-76.

Penske and his father had driven in from Cleveland, but arrived late and missed a lunch date. They went to the site anyway, where young Penske had his picture taken with a show car wearing a Cromwell helmet.

“I think that day I thought I wanted to drive,” said Penske, who became an accomplished road racer before turning his focus to business and running a racing team.

Penske was 14 at the time of his first visit. Lee Wallard won with an average speed of 126.244 mph.

“I think the speed here, the sensation of the track, and if you love cars like I did in those days, it was a place you wanted to be part of,” Penske said.

This year, Penske has a four-car team, and each driver is a potential winner. In addition to reigning champ Montoya are Helio Castroneves, a three-time 500 champ; Will Power, who finished second to Montoya by just 0.1046 of a second; and Simon Pagenaud, who has won the last three Verizon IndyCar Series events.

Team Penske in the Indianapolis 500

  • First start: 1969 (Mark Donohue)
  • Wins: 16
  • Winning drivers: Mark Donohue (1972), Rick Mears (1979, ’84, ’88, ’91), Bobby Unser (1981), Danny Sullivan (1985), Al Unser Sr. (1987), Emerson Fittipaldi (1993), Al Unser Jr. (1994), Helio Castroneves (2001, ’02, ’09), Gil De Ferran (2003), Sam Hornish Jr. (2006), Juan Pablo Montoya (2015)
  • Poles: 17
  • Pole-winning drivers: Tom Sneva (1977, ’78), Rick Mears (1979, ’82, ’86, ’88, ’89, ’91), Bobby Unser (1981), Emerson Fittipaldi (1990), Al Unser Jr. (1994), Helio Castroneves (2003, ’07, ’09, ’10), Sam Hornish Jr. (2006), Ryan Briscoe (2012) 


Editor’s Note: Speedway Sightings is grateful for the opportunity to publish Jeff Majeske’s work through special arrangement. To read more of Jeff’s efforts please visit his site by … Clicking Here

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