An outstanding Sports Car racer in his own right, Roger Penske (DOB: February 20, 1937) built the most successful team in motorsports history as the cars that he has fielded for a variety of world-class drivers have won 597 races, 657 pole positions and 41 national 97championships through the 2021 racing season. And much of the credit for what he has done can be based on the advice that his father Jay gave him as a youngster: “Effort Equals Results.”
Encouraged as a teenager to become an entrepreneur, Penske bought old cars, fixed them up and then sold them at a profit more than 30 times during a 10-year period. But another moment proved to be a sign of things to come when he and his father made the trip from their Cleveland, Ohio, home to the 1951 Indianapolis 500 where 14-year-old Roger got his first exposure to top-level motorsports; an endeavor that would one day be a major part of his life.
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 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 (NJ) Speedway Road Course in his red No. 6 Telar Special “Birdcage” Maserati on April 9, 1961. He then won three consecutive SCCA national events on his way to becoming D-Modified National Champion and Sports Illustrated named him “SCCA Driver of the Year.”
Penske also won: 1961’s Kimberly Cup as the SCCA’s Most Improved Driver; SCCA D-Modified national titles in 1962-1963; and, three (1960 and 1962-1963) SCCA President’s Cups 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 (CA) International Raceway and two other major races in California and Puerto Rico with his cutting-edge, aluminum-bodied, open-cockpit red 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 the 1963 NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model Riverside 250 in 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 Chevy-powered Chaparrals (Governor’s Trophy and Nassau Trophy races) and his own Grand Sport Corvette Roadster (Tourist Trophy).
There was, though, one other chance for Penske to race as in 1965 Clint Brawner wanted him to take his Indy 500 Rookie Test in one of the Dean Van Lines Specials. But he opted to focus on his business commitments and EMPA Hall of Famer Mario Andretti got the ride and it launched his legendary career.
With race-car driving now behind him Penske concentrated on running his first Chevrolet dealership in Philadelphia, and with hard work and a well-thought-out business plan his Penske Automotive Group developed into the second largest dealership group in the world.
In 1966, however, he formed Penske Racing in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, and hired EMPA Hall of Famer Mark Donohue to be his driver and in 1972 the crew-cut racer used the blue and yellow No. 66 Sunoco McLaren-Offy to win the first of car-owner Penske’s all-time record of 18 Indianapolis 500s (1972, 1979, 1981, 1984-1985, 1987-1988, 1991, 1993-1994, 2001-2003, 2006, 2009, 2015 and 2018-2019) – an amazing string of victories that includes: four (1979, 1984, 1988 and 1991) by Rick Mears; three (2001-2002 and 2009) by Helio Castroneves; and, Simon Pagenaud’s 2019 triumph in the yellow and red No. 22 Menards/Chevrolet as Team Penske celebrated 50 years (1969-2019) of competing in “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing.”
Team Penske – which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2016 – has impressive overall success in “Indy Car Racing” with: 18 Indianapolis 500 poles (through 2019); more than 220 victories; and, 16 national championships (1977-1979, 1981-1983, 1985, 1988, 1994, 2000-2001, 2006, 2014, 2016-2017 and 2019) with Josef Newgarden claiming the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series Championship in the black, white and red No. 2 Hitachi/Team Penske Chevrolet.
In Road Racing, Penske’s Donohue-driven Chevrolet Camaros and AMC Javelins were five-time (1968-1969, 1971-1972 and 1976) Trans-Am Series Champions. Penske Racing also did the primary testing for Porche’s cutting-edge 917 Sports Car and in these cars George Folmer (1972) and Donohue (1973) – who won all but one race – were Can-Am Series Champions.
In the American Le Mans Series, Penske fielded Porsche RS Spyders in the Prototype LMP2 Class and won the Team Championship in 2006-2007.
Team Penske then returned to Road/Endurance Racing with two Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype International entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (2017-2020). And with these race cars Team Penske won: the 2019 Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya; and, the Manufacturer, Team and Drivers honors with 2020 Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor and Alexander Rossi.
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 various 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 when he won the 2010 Xfinity Series Championship driving the black, white and red No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge. Then he won the 2012 Sprint Cup Series title in the blue and yellow No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.
The team also won the 2013-2015 and 2017 Xfinity Car Owner’s titles with its No. 22 Ford Mustang. Joey Logano added to Team Penske’s NASCAR laurels when drove the No. 22 Ford Fusion to the 2018 Cup Series title. In 2020 Austin Cindric won the Xfinity Championship in Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford Mustang and Team Penske won its series-tying fifth Xfinity Car Owner’s Championship. And although Cindric and the No. 22 Ford Mustang finished second in Xfinity points in 2021, he performed well enough to win Team Penske’s record-setting sixth (2013-2015, 2017 and 2020-2021) Car Owner’s Championship in the series.
To reflect Penske’s long-term approach to motorsports a name change was made in 2014 and all racing operations are now conducted under the Team Penske banner.
However, one of the most-noteworthy things in Team Penske history occurred on Sept. 16, 2018, when Keselowski won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the orange and blue No. 2 Autotrader/Team Penske Ford Fusion as that was the 500th victory for car-owner Penske in all forms of racing.
Penske also owned the 2-mile Michigan (1972-1999) and California (1997-1999) Speedways and the old 1-mile Nazareth (PA) Speedway (1986-1988) as well as having interests in the 1-mile North Carolina Motor Speedway and 1.5-mile Homestead/Miami Speedway. And by 2007 his INDYCAR, NASCAR and Sports Car teams 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 was the Matsushita air conditioning plant and is outfitted with over 1 million tons (250,000 pieces) of imported Italian marble – is also home to a state-of-the-art wind tunnel and the property includes a 1-mile nature trail. But motorsports is not all that is in the Penske portfolio.
In 1969 Penske founded Penske Corporation – an international business enterprise that is headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan – and as its chairman he oversees a retail automotive, truck leasing, transportation logistics and professional motorsports concern that has “built its brand” to employ nearly 65,000 people and manage businesses with consolidated revenues of more than $32 billion operating in over 3,660 worldwide locations.
The highly-regarded international businessman was also the chairman and driving force behind the National Football League’s 2006 Super Bowl XL when it was played in Detroit. Plus, as a philanthropist and community leader he and his Penske Corporation are very active with regard to The Motor City’s revitalization.
And because of all of his efforts in the motorsports and business communities and for his civic involvement, Penske was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor – by President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C., on October 24, 2019.
Nevertheless, while all of these things are quite impressive, Penske added to his exceptional résumé on Nov. 4, 2019, when it was unexpectedly announced that the board of directors of the Hulman Company entered into an agreement to be acquired by Penske Corporation. And under the agreement, Penske Entertainment – a subsidiary of Penske Corporation – acquired all the principal assets of the Terre Haute, Indiana-based Hulman & Company, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions on Jan. 6, 2020.