AT LEAST THEY MADE IT WHILE HE CAN ENJOY IT
Fifteen Indianapolis 500 wins, hundreds of professional race wins overall, dozens of national championships, all in a wide range of motorsports, from Formula 1 to Trans-Am, Can-Am and more. Even the best drivers can but dare to dream of such a record; as an owner, though, Roger Penske made all that happen and more, and it’s in part for those accomplishments that the Automotive Hall of Fame will induct him into its ranks this summer.
Which is not to say that Penske has only seen racing success as a team owner. In his teens, the Ohio native began refurbishing older cars and selling them for a profit, and he quickly graduated to buying and selling last year’s race cars and in turn figuring out how to keep them competitive. By the time he entered Lehigh University, he’d owned Jaguars and Mercedes-Benzes, and soon he traded one of the latter—a gullwing, no less—for a competition Corvette so he could go racing himself, as he related to Jim Donnelly inHemmings Muscle Machines #111.
Though he mostly raced sports cars—he took an SCCA national championship, and Sports Illustrated recognized him as its racer of the year for 1960—Penske also suited up for at least one NASCAR race and both the 1961 and 1962 United States grands prix.
One of his shining moments behind the wheel took place at the 1964 Bahamas Speed Week, where, according to his International Motorsports Hall of Fame bio, he “won the Nassau Tourist Trophy in a Corvette Grand Sport, then drove a Jim Hall Chaparral in relief of Hap Sharp and won the Nassau Trophy over Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt,” following up those feats with a last-lap win over Foyt and Walt Hansgen to take the Governor’s Trophy.
Perhaps more significant than his racing success was his ability to secure sponsorship from Du Pont for his Buick-powered Cooper Formula car in 1962, something unheard of in sports car racing at the time, and a move he would repeat again and again in the years afterward, bringing on major sponsors such as First National City Bank, Sunoco, Marlboro and Verizon.
Penske quit racing as a driver in 1965, turning down an offer to drive in the Indianapolis 500 to focus on the Chevrolet dealership in Philadelphia he was then running, his start in building the business empire that carries his name today, one that includes hundreds of dealerships and that has owned stakes in Detroit Diesel, VM Motori and Ilmor Engineering and that nearly managed to buy Saturn outright from General Motors. He never left racing, however, transitioning to a team owner who has entered cars in just about every top-level professional racing series and who has worked with some of the world’s best drivers, including Mark Donohue, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti and the Unser family.
Already inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame, and the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame, Penske will be honored by the Automotive Hall of Fame both for his role as chairman and founder of Penske Corporation as well as for building Team Penske Racing “into one of the most successful automotive sports teams in history.”
“We are pleased to honor four individuals whose entrepreneurial spirit helped create today’s global automotive industry,” William R. Chapin, president of the Automotive Hall of Fame, said in a statement announcing the selections. “Each made their unique vision a reality through tenacity and creativity. It is the story of the automotive ndustry from the beginning and the Automotive Hall of Fame is proud to share that story.”
Joining him on this year’s roster of Automotive Hall of Fame inductees will be Elwood Haynes, automotive pioneer and Haynes-Apperson co-founder; Luca di Montezemolo, the former chairman of Ferrari; and Ratan Tata, founder of Tata Motors. The Automotive Hall of Fame will also present Rodney O’Neal, former CEO and president of Delphi, with its Industry Leader of the Year award.
A.J. Baime, author of Arsenal of Democracy and Go Like Hell, will speak at the induction ceremony.
This year’s Automotive Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place July 23 at the Detroit Mariott at the Renaissance Center in Detroit. For more information, visit AutomotiveHallofFame.org.NOTE: Penske deserves all the honors they can give him. I remember racing as a young man and today he is the man with the Midas Touch. Good for him.
photo credit: © Jim Donnelaly / Hemmings
text credit: © 2015 Daniel Strohl / Hemmings