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Penske Still Running Strong As 100th 500 Begins

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 29 2016
Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves has big plans for May and Indy. (Photo courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series)

At 79 years old, Penske has no plans to slow down – on track or off. (Photo courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Age has never been anything more than a number for Roger Penske.

“I have no plans to stop doing what I’m doing,’’ the 79-year-old Penske said. “I suppose, when I do stop, it will be a very abrupt ending.’’

bugindy500The white-haired entrepreneur remains as energetic and vital as ever as his four-car team prepares for Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Coincidentally, it is also Penske 50th year as a team owner.

At nearly 80, Penske still keeps a schedule that would likely disable most younger men. It’s not uncommon for him to be in Germany on Wednesday, Brazil on Thursday and back in his Detroit office on Friday as he oversees his multi-billion dollar international business empire.

He sleeps when he can, although he definitely believes sleep is overrated and a waste of valuable time.

Gil de Ferran, who gave Penske one of his record 16 Indy victories, likes to tell a story about an incident that occurred shortly after Penske hired him.

“Roger was taking me and Greg Moore to see the team’s shop in Poole, England,’’ de Ferran said. “He was talking to us as we rode in the back of this big car. All of a sudden, he just stopped talking. He had fallen asleep mid sentence and Greg and I just looked at each other. We didn’t know what to

Team owner Roger Penske is in his 50th year as a team owner.

Team owner Roger Penske is in his 50th year as a team owner.

do. In a few minutes, Roger woke up and continued talking as if he had never stopped. He just needed a little refresher.’’

That’s Penske. He doesn’t take long to recharge. And few people can keep up with him for very long.

His longtime right-hand man Dan Luginbuhl, now retired, always kept a packed suitcase in the trunk of his car so he could dash to the airport to meet Penske when those inevitable late-night calls came.

That energy translates to a lot of success, and nobody has had anywhere near as much success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as Penske.

Asked what it is about Penske that brings victories at the Brickyard, three-time Indy winner Helio Castoneves had a simple answer: Leadership.

“He is a leader that makes all the people who work around him believe,’’ the Brazilian driver said. “When you see your leader happy, that’s the best reward you can have.’’

Penske, once one of the most promising young racers in the sport before giving up driving to concentrate on business, will get back behind the wheel on Sunday, driving the pace car at Indy for the first time.

“It should be pretty exciting and different,’’ Penske said. “Then I have to hurry up and get back to the pits.’’

As usual, The Captain will watch from the pits, managing the race for Castroneves.

“His voice keeps me calm,’’ Castroneves said. “And he is a very good strategist. He sees the whole race.’’

Penske’s most successful driver at Indy has been Rick Mears, who won here four times before retiring to become a driving coach for Team Penske, a position he still holds.

“Roger has always lived by the saying that effort equals results,’’ Mears said “That has always been

Racing legends A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears.

Racing legends A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears.

a very important part of our team. He really believes that and it make a difference.’’

Not surprisingly, Penske believes that his most important lesson at Indy came in one of his worst moments here.

“We were dominant in 1994, winning the pole and leading every lap but two on the way to the win (with Al Unser Jr.),’’ Penske explained. “A year later, we messed up and didn’t make the race. That was a tough lesson. You have to perform every time you show up here.’’

Penske first came to Indy with his dad as a 14-year-old. It was love at first sight.

It took a while, but he came to the track with his young and untested team in 1969. It only took three more years for Penske to rack up his first win, thanks to the team’s longtime driver and Penske’s

Helio Castroneves talks with owner Roger Penske and former teammate Gil de Ferran in 2009.

Helio Castroneves talks with owner Roger Penske and former teammate Gil de Ferran in 2009.

close friend Mark Donohue.

Since then, he has visited Victory Circle with Mears, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Danny Sullivan Emerson Fittipaldi, Unser Jr., de Ferran, Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr., and defending champion Juan Pablo Montoya.

Now he is about to celebrate that 50th year in racing.

After Castroneves gave him his record 17th victory in the annual Indy pit stop contest on Friday, Penske was asked if he is excited about that 50th anniversary.

“I don’t want to talk about that,’’ Penske said. “I’m just looking forward to the next race.’’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 29 2016
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