Roger Penske: Indy Racing Legend

Roger Penske was born February 20, 1937.  He is the owner of Penske Racing, which runs cars in several different racing series’, including the Izod IndyCar Series and NASCAR.  He also owns Penske Automotive Group, the second largest car dealership group in the world.  He’s married to his wife Kathy, and they have five children.  Penske is referred to as “The Captain” by his crew members and staff.


Penske began driving race cars in the late 1950’s, and progressed quickly through the ranks.  He was named Sports Car Club Driver of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1961 thanks to his ability to drive skillfully across all formats.  That same year he earned a ride in the U.S. Grand Prix, at the time the only Formula One event held on U.S. soil.  He also competed in the event in 1962, finishing in the Top-10 both years.  Penske never raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during his career, though he was offered a rookie test in the early ’60’s, but turned it down to focus on his business related ventures.  It wouldn’t be long before he was out racing entirely, as a driver that it.


Penske surprised everyone in 1965 by retiring from his promising driving career to get his car dealerships off the ground.  He also started Penske Racing in ’65, and made his IndyCar debut in 1968 with Mark Donohue as his driver.  As with everything in his career, the IndyCar team became an instant success.  Over the next four decades Penske accumulated 141 wins and 12 open-wheel championships.

In 1972 he started Penske Racing South and began competing in NASCAR full-time in 1976 with the legendary Bobby Allison as his primary driver.  His success wasn’t as immediate in NASCAR, but Penske has reached the pinnacle in that series as well, winning the Daytona 500 in 2008.


He dipped his toes into international water by fielding a Formula One team for the 1975 season, but the team struggled through much of the season, capped off by a fatal crash in Austria involving Donohue, his friend and preferred driver.  They made an attempt to compete the next season, and actually came away with a victory — fittingly enough at the Austrian Gran Prix — but Penske’s heart wasn’t into, and he sold off the remains of the team at the end of the season.

Along with Donohue, drivers who have driven for Penske in open-wheel racing include: Gary Bettenhausen, Gordon Johncock, Ton Sneva, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Bobby Unser, Al Unser Sr., Al Unser Jr., Johnny Rutherford, Danny Sullivan, Emerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy, Gil de Ferran, Sam Hornish, and Helio Castroneves.


1969 was Penske’s first year competing in the Indianapolis 500, and by 1972 he’d already captured his first Borg Warner trophy (Donohue was his driver).  He would go on to win again in 1979, and then five times in the 1980’s, three times in the 1990’s, and a remarkable five times again in the 2000’s.  In all he’s won 15 races in Speedway, Indiana with 10 different drivers.


In 1994 his Marlboro Team Penske cars driven by Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi dominated the entire Month of May, winning the first two positions on the grid, and then lapping the entire field in the race.  The two battled back and forth before Fittipaldi hit the wall in Turn 4 with just a few laps remaining, giving Unser Jr. the victory.  The following year however, something went wrong in the Penske garage, and none of the teams drivers qualified for the race.

CART broke apart the following year, and Penske stuck with the series, preventing him from running at Indy for the next five seasons.  In 2001, despite still competing in CART, Penske Racing returned to Indianapolis, and at the end of the year announced it would be moving over to the IZOD IndyCar Series, furthering demonstrating the pull the great Speedway has on Penske.


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