As Father’s Day is upon us, it is fitting to discuss the incredible family that The Captain, Roger Penske, has created. Penske has said, repeatedly, that his Penske Racing organization operates as a family at all times. Roger Penske values every member of his organization from drivers to the guys that mop the shop floor when all of the team’s competitors are out fighting for wins and championships each weekend. Through the years, Penske has proven to be a staunch supporter of all those in his house in Mooresville, North Carolina even through the toughest of times and scenarios.
As Team Penske IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves was navigating the always tight battle for the IndyCar Series championship in 2008, a new challenge was looming on the horizon for Castroneves and his Team Penske squad as the Brazilian’s life would turn from ethanol and asphalt to ‘objection’ and ‘overruled’ when he would face and defend charges of tax evasion. Cases of an individual against the United States Government have only a slim chance of working in the favor of the defendant so Team Penske would have been well within their bounds to immediately terminate Castroneves’ contract and move forward with a different driver. Instead, the team hired Will Power to replace Castroneves until he returned with the specific language in Power’s new contract that the deal was not a full-season guarantee. As Castroneves defended his good name, Team Penske prepared for the 2009 IndyCar campaign with Will Power while, all the while, keeping Castroneves’ gear on standby to be called into service at anytime. The end of the story is well known as Castroneves’ acquittal came during the first practice session at Long Beach, a place to which Castroneves would return as though nothing had happened to compete just two days after his vindication by the jury in that hell of a Miami courtroom. Do not forget, also, that Roger Penske brokered a sponsorship deal with Verizon, a sponsor Will Power still represents, to keep Power on the grid in Long Beach as well as the Indianapolis 500 a month later.
After a 2006 of part-time drives in the IndyCar Series, promising 2005 rookie driver Ryan Briscoe signed on with Penske Racing to drive one of Roger’s ALMS Porsche entries in 2007. Afforded in this contract was an opportunity to compete in the Indianapolis 500 with Luczo Dragon Racing, which is owned and operated by Roger’s son, Jay Penske. The 500 would turn out to be an audition to run for Team Penske in 2008 as replacement for three time champion Sam Hornish Jr who moved to NASCAR. If you’re talking about filling shoes, none get any bigger than Hornish. The season did not start as planned with Briscoe not showing the pace or results typical of a Team Penske driver. To the public, his performance was so subpar that rumors loomed that Penske would look for other options other than Briscoe if the situation had not improved. Penske stuck with Briscoe and a win at the Milwaukee Mile catapulted Briscoe to a further four years in the Penske stable and a near-miss at the championship in 2009.
Prior to being swooped up by Roger Penske, Brad Keselowski was regarded as one of the most talented, but dirty drivers in all of NASCAR that would to anything to win regardless of who he had to drive over (or through) to get there. Many, including this writer, were skeptical of the hire but Roger Penske knows what he is doing at all times…right? Absolutely right, in fact. Under Roger’s guidance, Keselowski has learned patience, sportsmanship, and what is required to win. Keselowski is, by a mile, the most outspoken, frank, and matter-of-fact driver that Penske has hired since Paul Tracy drove for the team in the 1990s. Ask Brad a question, and he will not only give you a straight answer, he will hit you square between the eyes. Keslowski is still the most outspoken and controversial drivers in NASCAR which has earned him as many haters as fans, but Penske has molded Keselowski into a championship winning driver that is well respected in the NASCAR Paddock…most of the time.
Lacking results, tact, or finding oneself in trouble with the law is one thing, but during the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, AJ Allmendinger committed, possibly, the most egregious mistake. Feeling the pressure of his first season racing for The Captain, Allmendinger needed a pick-me-up during the summer portion of the schedule and accepted and ingested an Adderall pill to give him more energy. The following weekend, as per the NASCAR rule book, Allmendinger was required to submit a urine sample to test for drugs. The one Adderall resulted in a positive test for Amphetamines, effectively ending Allmendinger’s season and probably his opportunity to run for Roger Penske. Not so fast, though. Although the full time drive in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was over, Allmendinger was offered the opportunity to be retained in the Penske organization and return to his roots in open wheel racing. Testing turned to opportunity as Penske convinced IZOD to sponsor a third Team Penske car at Indianapolis for the embattled former NASCAR star. The seventh place finish at Indianapolis led to more opportunities at Detroit with other races down the line in 2013 a strong possibility. Don’t be surprised to see Team Penske return to a three car juggernaut in 2014 with Allmendinger joining Castroneves and Power full time.
Roger is not your average team owner in that once you are in his family you are protected by the Penske Racing seal for the duration of your career. The opportunities Roger has given to his drivers from Briscoe to Allmendinger or Keselowski to Logano are tenfold that of other teams in auto racing. Roger Penske calls his operation that is Penske Racing, one of the most successful teams in the history of sports, a family and today, Father’s Day, we all should hope that we have a father like Roger Penske.