An outstanding Sports Car driver in his own right, Roger Penske (February 20, 1937) took that experience and built one of the most successful teams in the history of motorsports as the cars that he has fielded for a variety of world-class drivers through 2017 have won 474 major races, 541 pole positions and 31 National Championships. But Penske is also one of the most innovative and successful businessmen in the world with his primary focus on automobile dealerships and commercial trucks and trucking.
Encouraged by his corporate executive father to become an entrepreneur, the Cleveland, Ohio, teenager bought old cars, fixed them up and sold them at a profit. And during a 10-year period he did this operation more than 30 times.
In 1958, Penske made his first professional start at the old Marlboro Motor Raceway in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, in an old Bob Holbert Porsche RS. Then the talented young driver – who in 1959 earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Management from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – won the 1960 Sports Car Club of America F-Modified title in a Porsche RSK.
After attaining DuPont sponsorship, Penske won his first professional race on the old 1.5-mile Vineland (N.J.) Speedway Road Course in his red No. 6 Telar Special “Birdcage” Maserati on April 9, 1961. He then he won three consecutive SCCA national events on his way to becoming the D-Modified National Champion and was named by Sports Illustrated as its “SCCA Driver of the Year.”
Penske also won two additional SCCA D-Modified national titles in 1962 & 1963 and his other driving honors include winning 1961’s Kimberly Cup as the SCCA’s Most Improved Driver and being a three-time winner (1960 & 1962-1963) of the SCCA’s President’s Cup for his “driving ability, competitiveness and success in the National Championship Runoffs.”
In 1962 Penske made international headlines when he won the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway and two other major races in California and Puerto Rico with his cutting-edge red aluminum-bodied open-cockpit No. 6 Zerex Special Sports Car – a machine that he built from a wrecked Cooper-Climax T53 Formula-1 race car.
He also won the final USAC Road Racing Championship in 1962 and was victorious in the 1963 NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model Riverside 250 in a Ray Nichels’ black No. 02 Pontiac Catalina.
Penske then closed-out his driving career in 1964 with the unprecedented feat of winning all three races at Nassau’s Speed Weeks in the Bahamas using Jim Hall’s Charrapals (Governor’s Trophy & Nassau Trophy races) and his own Grand Sport Corvette Roadster (Tourist Trophy).
With race-car driving now behind him Penske concentrated on running his first Chevrolet dealership in Philadelphia, and through hard work and with a well-thought-out business plan his Penske Automotive Group developed into the second largest dealership group in the world.
However, racing was never far from Penske’s mind and in 1969 he hired EMPA Hall of Famer Mark Donohue to be Penske Racing’s driver. With Donohue in the cockpit of the blue and yellow No. 66 Sunoco McLaren-Offy, the then-Reading, Pennsylvania-based team won the first of its 16 Indianapolis 500s (1972, 1979, 1981, 1984-1985, 1987-1988, 1991, 1993-1994, 2001-2003, 2006, 2009 and 2017).
Team Penske – which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2016 – has also won 16 Indianapolis 500 poles and its impressive overall success in “Indy Car Racing” can be seen by its 197 victories, 254 pole positions and 15 national championships (1977-1979, 1981-1983, 1985, 1988, 1994, 2000-2001, 2006, 2014 and 2016-2017) with its most recent title being won in the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship by Josef Newgarden in his No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. And this notable record includes a “Team Penske Sweep” in 2016 with victor Simon Pagenaud being joined by second-placed Will Power and third-placed Helio Castroneves.
In Road Racing, Penske’s Chevrolet Camaros and AMC Javelins were five-time (1968-1969, 1971-1972 & 1976) Trans-Am Series Champions with Donohue at the wheel. In 1972-1973 Penske Racing did the primary testing for Porche’s cutting-edge 917 Sports Car and George Folmer won the 1972 Can-Am Series title, while Donohue won all but one race in 1973 to claim the team’s second Can-Am title. And finally in the American Le Mans Series the team fielded Porsche RS Spyders in the Prototype LMP2 Class and it won the Team Championships in 2006-2007.
Penske began his foray in NASCAR’s Cup Series as a team owner in 1972 with Donohue in a factory-backed red, white and blue American Motors Matador. He then ran a part-time schedule with a variety of drivers until the team went full-time in 1976 with EMPA Hall of Famer Bobby Allison. But after that, Penske left NASCAR in 1977, although he did field a car for Rusty Wallace in two 1980 races.
Penske Racing South returned to NASCAR’s Cup Series in 1991 with Wallace driving its famed black No. 2 Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac Grand Prix known as “Midnight.”
Then, in 2008, Ryan Newman won the Daytona 500 in the blue and white No. 12 Alltel Dodge and teammate Kurt Busch finished second in the blue No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, and this was the first time Penske Racing won a restrictor-plate race in NASCAR.
Brad Keselowski brought Penske Racing its first NASCAR title in 2010 when he won the Xfinity Series Championship while driving the black, white and red No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge. Keselowski then added to that when he won the 2012 Sprint Cup Series title in the blue and yellow No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. And the team also won the 2013-2015 and 2017 Xfinity Car Owner’s titles with its No. 22 Ford Mustang.
A well-respected man in the corporate world who once owned the 2-mile Michigan and California Speedways and the old one-mile Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway, Roger Penske never does anything in a second-rate manner. And to better consolidate things by 2007 his IndyCar, NASCAR and Sports Car operations were all located in a 424,000-square-foot building that sits on 105 acres of land in Mooresville, North Carolina.
This massive structure – which used to be the Matsushita air conditioning plant – is outfitted with over one million tons (250,000 pieces) of imported Italian marble and the property includes a one-mile nature trail.
The physical facility is also home to a state-of-the-art wind tunnel and it includes all of the necessary parts, pieces and equipment for Penske’s teams to compete at the highest level. Also, to reflect Penske’s long-term approach to motorsports, in 2014 a name change was made and now all racing operations are conducted under the Team Penske banner.
Penske also expanded his motorsports endeavors in 2015 to include Australia where the Team Penske/Dick Johnson Racing Ford Falcons compete in that country’s V8 Supercar Championship with Scott Pye and Fabian Coulthard. And to show just how highly-regarded Penske is as a businessman, in 2006 he was the chairman and driving force behind Super Bowl XL when the National Football League played its premier game in Detroit.