Roger Penske’s “never say no” attitude helped guide the NTT INDYCAR SERIES through the unbelievable challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic that brought the world nearly to a halt in 2020.
With vaccines on the way, INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Penske and his troops are ready to lead INDYCAR into 2021.
When it comes to success, Penske’s accomplishments are unrivaled on and off the track. He is one of the most successful business leaders in the world and has melded his business relationships along with his true passion for auto racing.
Although Penske’s racing career began in the late 1950s as a driver, he has experience at all levels of the sport. He’s driven, built, designed and owns cars with what is now known as Team Penske. In the 1970s, Penske moved into track ownership at Michigan International Speedway. He added Nazareth Speedway to his group and built Auto Club Speedway, which opened in 1997 in Fontana, California. He also was involved with NASCAR’s Bill France Jr. in ownership of Homestead-Miami Speedway before selling his tracks to International Speedway Corporation (ISC) in 1999.
Before completing his purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR on Jan. 6, 2020, Penske revived the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.
Simply put, Penske, who first attended the Indianapolis 500 with his father as a 14-year-old in 1951, is the right man to guide the sport in this challenging time.
“All of my experiences in racing, and really the collective experience of our company, put us in a great position to help move the sport and Speedway forward,” Penske said. “I believe you grow from your experiences, and I certainly have learned some valuable and important lessons over 60 years of racing.
“From my time as a racer and operating a race team across different series to our company constructing cars, helping to build and manage speedways and even running a racing series with IROC, we have seen the sport through many different lenses. We have had the opportunity to work with competitors, with sponsors, with officials, with manufacturers and with broadcast partners along the way, and I think those relationships and the experiences with all of those different groups put our team in a unique position and helped prepare us for the opportunities we have now with IMS and INDYCAR.”
Penske Corporation President Bud Denker plays a vital role in Penske’s business and racing operations. Denker first met Penske when Denker was working for Kodak, one of Team Penske’s NASCAR sponsors. The two men were business associates but went on to become friends.
Penske asked Denker to come aboard the operation and helps guide a worldwide business empire.
“We’re a 24/7 company,” Denker said. “A lot of companies are, but I’m lucky that I’ve got this leader, this mentor and most importantly I have this friend in Roger.
“Who else to pull all those different pieces of this amazing puzzle from business to motorsports to on-track to off-track to customer experience together than Roger? He has brought new life to the Speedway, and we are so grateful to have done what we were able to do. Especially in the world (in 2020), who knows what would have happened to the series and the Speedway without Roger being there to raise his hand and step up?”
Penske finds unique people in his organization that can handle many different tasks at the same time. Penske Corporation owns a large automotive business, a large transportation business and a racing business globally with 60,000 employees in different continents and countries.
To meet the needs of all these vast business holdings scattered around the globe, it requires a special kind of leader that understands the value of compartmentalizing time.
“In the morning, we might be working on budgets with the United Kingdom and in the afternoon working on some stuff at the Speedway,” Denker said. “In the evening, we catch up and get refreshed. During a week in December, we’ll start the next day at 6 a.m. to work on budget reviews in Northern Ireland and Scotland and then at 1 p.m. head down to the Speedway. We’re back to the office on Friday to work on European business and then back down to the Speedway on Saturday to work on the Indianapolis 500 for next year.
“We find the time that we need, we are organized, and we are led by an amazingly unique individual who can put 25 different things on a pinhead and none of them fall off.”
Penske and his senior management keep the communication lines open between Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles, IMS President Doug Boles, INDYCAR President Jay Frye and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Senior Vice President, Facility Development, John Lewis.
Penske, Denker and other key members of senior management spend at least one to two days a week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Roger is a great organizer,” Denker said. “The Rolodex is quite thick – the people he can reach out to and ask for help and assistance for the Speedway and the series. Whether it be partners or sponsors, they have stepped up and helped us. Our partners at Team Penske have helped us create new life in the Speedway, and we are grateful for that.
“When it comes to Roger, it’s about leadership. Developing a team, developing a mission and developing a vision and then going about doing it.
“We spend 10 percent of our time in the clouds and 90 percent of the time on the ground. That is where it gets done for him and for us. It’s all about the details. Attention to detail is so important for him.
“That is what makes him so great.”