PIT PASS INDY– SEASON 3, EPISODE 6 – Exclusive Interview with Roger Penske
February 7, 2022
Pit Pass Indy Host Bruce Martin has an exclusive interview with IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Indianapolis 500 owner Roger Penske.
The in-depth interviews covers a variety of topics as the NTT IndyCar Series heads into the 2023 season, the fourth since the winningest team owner in Indianapolis 500 history with 18 wins took control of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November 2019.
Cars owned and prepared by Team Penske have produced more than 600 major race wins, over 670 pole positions and 43 championships across open-wheel, stock car and sports car racing competition.
Over the course of its 57-year history, the team has also earned 18 Indianapolis 500 victories, three Daytona 500 Championships, a Formula 1 win, victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, along with a win in Australia’s legendary Bathurst 1000 race.
For more INDYCAR coverage, follow Bruce Martin at Twitter at @BruceMartin_500
"Penske" means performance ... and winning
For good reason. Since 1966, Team Penske has won 43 national championships, 17 IndyCar alone. Its 18 Indy 500 victories are a record. And last year, Penske was the first team in history to win both the IndyCar and NASCAR Cup Series championships in the same season. Those are results that are tough to top.
IndyCar fans, it's time to start your engines. Welcome to Pit Pass Indy, a production of Evergreen Podcasts. I'm your host, Bruce Martin, a journalist who regularly covers the NTT IndyCar Series.
Our goal at Pit Pass Indy is to give racing fans an insider's view of the exciting world of the NTT IndyCar Series in a fast-paced podcast, featuring interviews with the biggest names in the sport.
I bring nearly 40 years of experience covering IndyCar and NASCAR, working for such media brands as nbcsports.com, si.com, ESPN Sports Ticker, Sports Illustrated, Autoweek and Speed Sport.
So, let's drop the green flag on this episode of Pit Pass Indy.
All of us at Pit Pass Indy are deeply honored and proud to receive The Best Podcast of 2022 by the National Motorsports Press Association during its annual convention in Concord, North Carolina on January 22nd.
The episode entitled Mario Andretti and the “American Dream” won first place in the podcast category from an independent panel of judges. The episode was released on June 21, 2022, and is available for download on all major podcast platforms. The team here at Evergreen Podcasts is deeply honored, proud, and humbled to receive this award.
When it comes to honors and awards, our next guest has set the standard both in racing and in business. It's Roger Penske, owner of IndyCar, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500.
It's been said that with a record 18 Indianapolis 500 victories as a car owner, that Roger Penske has owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So, he bought it on November 4th, 2019 from the Hulman-George family, ending a 74-year run that began when Tony Hulman bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from Eddie Rickenbacker in November, 1945.
Hulman built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 into the world's largest single day sporting event. Penske was a young boy when he attended his first Indianapolis 500 with his father, Carl, in 1951. It was a life-changing experience for the young Penske.
A top racer himself, Penske entered the business world in the mid-1960s and has created an empire with the Penske Corporation. On the racetrack, Penske's become the most successful racing team owner in history.
Cars owned and prepared by Team Penske have produced more than 600 major race wins, over 670 pole positions, and 43 championships across IndyCar, stock car and sports car racing competition.
Over the course of its 57-year history, the team has also earned 18 Indianapolis 500 victories, three Daytona 500 championships, a Formula 1 win, victories on the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, along with a win in Australia's legendary Bathurst 1000 race.
In 2023, Team Penske will compete in the NTT IndyCar Series and the NASCAR Cup Series under the Team Penske banner. With a new global partnership, Porsche Penske Motorsport will also compete in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the World Endurance Championship this season.
Since he purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November of 2019, Penske has created a solid foundation for the Indianapolis 500 to continue and for IndyCar to grow.
Pitt Pass Indy was honored to have an exclusive interview with Roger Penske on February 3, in his office motor home at The Thermal Club near Palm Springs, California.
Joining us now, on Pit Pass Indy, it's a real honor to be joined by the owner of IndyCar, the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the owner of the Indianapolis 500, and the chairman of the Penske Corporation, Roger Penske.
Roger, it's time for another IndyCar Series season 2023. You've got a lot of big goals and ambitions to achieve this year with IndyCar. If you could just tell our listeners what some of the major objectives are.
Well, I think, Bruce, one of the things that we're so excited we're out here at Thermal, doing what you and I would call our spring practice. And to see the number of teams here, the new drivers delivery and just the competitiveness of the entire field is just amazing when you look at the practices we've had here today.
Yesterday, we went through our marketing plans for 2023, our TuneIn campaign. We're going to spend several million dollars to create more interest to 100 Days to Indy. These are all marketing and PR things that we're doing to make the series obviously, more exciting and more reliable for the customers and many of our fans that look for us to continue to grow.
But from an IndyCar perspective, the team is in place. The equipment, as we go forward, I think Jay Frye and his whole team are ready. Certainly, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we have leadership there with certainly, Doug Boles and Mark Miles and their whole team are excited. Number of things they're doing at the track to make it better for the fans and the guests that will be there in May.
But we're excited to get going and we hope to see you in St. Pete.
I'll definitely be at St. Pete.
When you purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar from the Hulman-George family in November of 2019, you had big goals, ambitions, then got scuttled a little bit the next year when the COVID pandemic hit.
But on May the 11th, the COVID emergency will be over, and even though it was business as usual at the Indianapolis 500 last year, now, it's really full speed ahead with a lot of things that we — it's almost like we can put the COVID chapter behind us. And how important is that just for the country as a whole?
Well, I would just say America's open now. I think COVID was time in our lifetime, I hope we all forget. Obviously, people had some tragedies within their families and businesses during that time, but things seem to be getting back to normal.
Obviously, from a racing perspective, there's a lot of pent-up demand. People that couldn't come to the races, I think are going to be there. We're seeing tickets at our tracks with IndyCar are up. Certainly, when we look at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, our ticket sales are above. Only year, it's not where we are from a comparison certainly, would be 2016 where we had the 100th running, but ticket sales are up over last year. We have people waiting in line to get suites.
So, again, these are all good observations and I think that based on current orders and the forecast from our partners — and there are new sponsors wanting to come in, things certainly, look very, very positive for us going into 2023.
Also, NBC, your television partner, once again, has a great schedule planned.
I think the opportunity to have our races, (I think it's 13 to be exact) will be on network, is certainly, key for them, for us to get the eyeballs as we call them, and people interest in IndyCar and with our marketing campaign to support that.
And we're going to have individual drivers that will be supporting each one of the races with individual spots, talking about the excitement, about the upcoming race weekend.
So, again, a very, very comprehensive marketing and PR program is being put together this year as we start the season going into St. Pete.
I spoke with team owner, Bobby Rahal, earlier today about the marketing program and the team owners will be fully invested in part of it. And he says in his mind, it's a very good investment because it's going to benefit everybody in the paddock.
Well, I think when you look at our program from a marketing standpoint, what Bobby's talking about, basic, it will be up over 60% in spend and somewhere around 17 million. When you think about the real number, we'll be going into our marketing and a big piece of that is early on.
A initiative that's very important to you is the drive for Equality & Change. And we're beginning the third season of that. You've got some really talented drivers in the pipeline coming up. Ernie Francis Jr., Myles Rowe.
You've been working very hard to change the dynamic and the diversity of IndyCar and how important is that to you?
Well, we've been committed certainly, with Rod Reid's NXG program. We have at the Speedway, these young kids with go-karts from the local community and he's been our leader in that program.
And certainly, diversity is important to us and change. And think about Myles Rowe now, running for the Pabst Racing team, almost won the championship last year. His goal is to get to Indianapolis, our goal is the same. And when you think about Ernie Francis Jr., again moving on into one of the key Indy NXT teams for next year.
So, we've given them the basis, the base to get started, understand the cars, understand the tracks, and I think that's something that we will continue to do.
And certainly, Jimmie McMillian at IMS is our Chief Diversity Officer and he is a really captain over this entire project.
Have you seen a change in the demographic at venues throughout the series? More diversity in terms of the ticket buying public?
Well, it's hard to look at the exactly diversity. I don't get into those numbers, but what I do see is just overall, I see more females working on the teams today as technicians, people on pit crews and things like that. We've got more women drivers coming into the series. We see that in Indy NXT coming this year with a woman that Andretti's bringing into the series.
So, these are all things that I think make a difference. But I think it's gradual, but it's consistent and I think we're going in the right direction.
Asking you to pick your favorite driver on the team would be like asking you to pick your favorite child. But I think there might have been a soft spot in your heart to see Will Power get his second IndyCar Series Championship last year because you know that what he's meant to the series with his record for most poles of any IndyCar driver in history and with over 40 victories in his career.
I think you were a little happy to see Will Power get that second career championship.
Well, Bruce, it's a team effort as you know that. I think when you think about the information across polarization of information between all the drivers is key.
But Will had a great season. He had some diversity, he was able to come back from that starting back in the field, kept his head on and really he executed when he had to. And when you think about beating the all-time pole record of Mario Andretti this year was just capping his great season and well deserved. And I think he's got to be someone you have to beat again, this year.
Another important initiative is the docuseries, 100 Days to Indy, it's going to be on The CW. It's being produced by VICE Media, an multi Emmy winning production company. How excited are you to see what a 100 Days to Indy on a major network can do for IndyCar?
Well, I think the realistic situation when you have unscripted and it's things that are happening today at the track and we talk about six episodes prior and one right after Indy, are going to be so important to drive people to our sport to understand inside. And that's just what's on the track.
I think we met with the executives of both VICE, certainly in CW, and they are fully committed along with the teams. And I'm going to be very interested to see the outcome.
And we are absolutely weighing in to do everything we can to make it great because we know what Drive to Survive did for Formula 1 and we're hoping that we'll get the same kind of bump with our constituency, our fans and the people inside the sport with this new a 100 Days to Indy.
VICE Media is also gearing it toward a younger crowd because as we all know, there's a lot of us who are diehard IndyCar fans that have been coming for 40, 50 years to the Indianapolis 500. But we need to encourage a new generation of fans to follow us, to keep everything moving forward. And that's what they're targeting with the audience. How valuable is that?
Well, I think the demos are important and I think that obviously, we're looking for new fans, new people that want to be interested in this sport because that'll also attract sponsors and other things around the economics of the sport. So, very, very important.
But I think the focus is right, it looks like a very strong partnership. We're giving them complete access to our people, our teams and the inside. So, again, very exciting and we got a pro team doing it and there's no question that they kicked it off here at The Thermal weekend and they're so excited.
Some of them had a chance to drive in the two seaters. So, again, we're getting them feel it right at the track. How do they feel driving around in one of these cars.
As a team owner, there's no more successful team in motorsports than Penske Racing, Team Penske. Not many things you haven't achieved before, but you did last year, when you won both an IndyCar Series Championship and a NASCAR Cup Series Championship in the same season. Will Power won the IndyCar title, Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup Series championship.
How important was that to Roger Penske?
Well, every championship is important as you know that. And I guess you don't get credit for the ones you've had in the past. And to see it happen, first with Will winning the championship in such a strong way. And then Joey there at Phoenix is really taking over the race right from the pole position and winning that was key.
Because think about 36 or 37 weekends you've got to be on your game and for him to be able to commit the way he had to there at the end, those last races with Paul Wolfe, his crew chief, and then to be able to make it happen on race day was super.
You don't think about two, to have both of them. But again, you might as well think for the best and that's winning both series. And this year we're going to try to win three, including the SportsCarChampionship.
You also, have a new program this year, Porsche Penske Motorsports debuted at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. I know one of the other things that you want to achieve is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
How big a goal is that for you?
Well, 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the great races in the world, iconic. We've not had a chance to win that race. And certainly, with a partnership with Porsche and the opportunity we have, I think we're going to be in great shape this year to compete at the highest level.
Now, again, we had a little early stumbles here with some issues technically at Daytona, but we got time to recover, time to make ourselves better. But I can tell you all eyes are on the 24-hour race at Le Mans.
At the beginning of the season, they announced that they were doing away with double points at the Indianapolis 500, they’re going back to single points. A lot of drivers applaud that because they believe that having a bad race at the Indianapolis 500 really puts you in a deficit compared to a couple of the drivers at the top that benefited by the double points.
What was the reason to make that change?
That was the reason basically, that Jay Frye in IndyCar made the decision by talking to car owners and also drivers. That was the really the focus and outcome of probably many discussions. And I think that I certainly, go along with that decision based on the feedback from the teams and the drivers.
We'll be right back to Pit Past Indy after this short break.
Welcome back to Pit Pass Indy. Here is the rest of my exclusive interview with IndyCar owner and racing legend, Roger Penske for Pit Pass Indy.
So, from a business standpoint, the Penske Corporation, there's always new worlds to conquer. Do you take pride in the fact that you're able to inspire people to achieve things that they probably didn't know they could do when it comes to business goals and objectives?
Well, I think what we view as racing as you know, is a common thread throughout all of our businesses because it shows performance, it shows transparency, certainly, integrity and most importantly hard work. And we use that really as our motto. You get all our mission plan within our businesses.
But to me, it's all about people. We can do a lot of the things, maybe buy things and have them, but without the people to execute. And I think that's one of the things that we continue to strive within our organization is longevity. People that want to stay with the company and perform.
And typically, we build our organization from within, from the bottom up, not from the top down.
And because of that, to see people achieve accomplishments that maybe they were completely unaware that they were able to do, is that as satisfying to you as maybe seeing the bottom-line increase?
Well, the bottom-line's one thing, but we push our people. No one's ever ready and I think it's a chance to give them the opportunity. And we don't have a business where nobody fails either. I think we're in a position where you need to produce and if you don't, we'll step back and find out why. And maybe there's another direction for you.
From a business standpoint, are there some other areas that you would like to point out that you would like to move forward into in the future?
Well, our business basically, is in transportation services. With our leasing company, rental and logistics, that continues to grow. We have over 420,000 units in our fleet today, we’ll continue to grow. Our goal is 500,000 by 2025. We've got 40,000 people in that company as we sit here today. And to see that grow from roughly 300 units back some 50 years ago has been amazing.
But again, driven by great people, seniority and people that want to win.
Then you look at our automobile business. The auto industry has had some good luck the last couple years because the short supply has certainly, helped us from the standpoint of margins. And now, we're starting to see a flow of product, which I think will be very good that people who wanted to buy that couldn't, used car prices are starting to get realistic.
So, there's going to be a sea change as we look at 2023. And to me, we're looking forward to being able to capitalize on that.
The Thermal Club has a lot of high-powered business individuals that own properties here.
How valuable is that from a business standpoint that IndyCar was at The Thermal Club that could benefit future possibilities for not only IndyCar but for the Penske Corporation?
Well, I think Thermal Club was great opportunity for us to come here and showcase. Tim Rogers has done an outstanding job here. We've met many of the members.
And I think this interface, this is the first time we can only make it better the next time. And I'm sure people that are interested in cars like to go fast and be able to bring them into the same arena as our drivers and team owners only will benefit both sides.
Would you like to see a race at The Thermal Club?
Well, I think that obviously, we have certain commitments to other cities and things already, we had to determine the number of races. But I think what we need to move, how can we have Thermal and The Thermal Club be part of our ongoing opportunity within IndyCar?
And the car count is up to 27 for a regular IndyCar Series race. That's back to the 1990s level of car counts when it was 28 cars in CART. You got to really feel happy about 27 cars sponsored, great teams, young drivers coming up.
Well, I think what's happening now, people in racing understand that the cost of our sport is realistic. We're not driving these costs into the sky. The opportunity for teams to come in coming up through maybe Indy NXT and then coming into IndyCar is important.
And also, we're seeing sponsorship, really people want to be behind these teams. And all the teams that you see today are professional, great drivers. And there's a lot of drivers coming over here saying, “Hey, this is a stepping stone to the future,” which makes me feel very good that we have this platform that's well recognized.
But remember, the most important thing is one word, Indianapolis.
And how valuable is it for motorsports in general that the owner of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 is also a NASCAR Cup Series team owner, NASCAR Xfinity Series team owner, that you've got that ability to meet with NASCAR and the people there?
And also, you're in IMSA, so you're able to help bring all of the different sanctioning bodies of motorsports in North America together to help a common cause.
Well, I really think it's just really a dictionary really. We have the opportunity to understand the different functions, the facilities, the rules, the conditions that the other manufacturers and also series are operating in.
And we bring those back to our table and look at those from the standpoint of IndyCar. So, to me, it's just more information makes us make better decisions.
You talk about teamwork, you've got a great team of senior management with Bud Denker of course, and Jonathan Gibson. And over at IndyCar you have Mark Miles; and at the in Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Doug Boles; and at IndyCar, Jay Frye. I know that you expect a lot out of them and they deliver.
Well, I think we've got a great first-class team as you know. Certainly, Bud Denker and Jonathan Gibson are key executives at Penske Corporation and we all lean in together here to make our companies that we’re associated with better, and that's what they've done.
But we take our hats off to certainly, Mark Miles, Doug Boles, Jay Frye, and the entire team at IndyCar and Penske Entertainment. I could name all their names, but we really have a terrific organization today.
We've made the speed go faster, we are making more commitments. We've spent almost 30 million more in capital expenditures at the Speedway. So, hopefully, we'll see some differences there in 2023.
And next week you'll be taking off your Indianapolis Motor Speedway cap and putting on your Team Penske cap for the Daytona 500. And you've got some really great opportunities.
The defending Daytona 500 winner with Austin Cindric. You've got Joey Logano, you've got Ryan Blaney, you've got a lot of talent on that team that can win the Daytona 500. How exciting is that for you?
Well, I think continuity is a big word there. These drivers rode for us last year, we won championships, we won races. And to me, the people behind them are also consistent from a year ago.
So, certainly, that continuity will give us opportunity to perform on the same base we did last year and hope they will be better.
And wrapping up here with Roger Penske, the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and also the winningest team owner in Indianapolis 500 history with 18. I know that he wants to get the 20 Indy 500 victories.
How big a driving motivator is that? You've got the talent and you could do that in the next two years.
Well, I need to get to 19 first. So, that's what we're going to focus on in 2023.
And also, it seems like you're faster than ever. You feel good entering 2023 ready to go accomplish some great things?
We feel very good about it and I think the organization, our people are fully committed and we can't wait to get racing.
Roger Penske, it's always an honor and a privilege to have a chance to visit with you. Good luck in the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season, the 2023 IMSA season, the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. And thank you for joining us today on Pit Pass Indy.
Thank you, Bruce.
And that puts a checkered flag on this edition of Pit Pass Indy.
We want to thank our guest, the legendary racer, businessman, team owner and IndyCar owner, Roger Penske for joining us on today's podcast. Along with loyal listeners like you, our guests help make Pit Pass Indy your path to victory lane for all things IndyCar.
And because of our guest and listeners, Pit Pass Indy is proud to be the winner of The Best Podcast by the National Motorsports Press Association.
For more IndyCar coverage, follow me at Twitter @BruceMartin (one-word, uppercase B, uppercase M) _500.
This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our production team. Executive producers are Brigid Coyne and Gerardo Orlando. Recordings and edits were done by me, Bruce Martin. And final mixing was done by Dave Douglas. Learn more at evergreenpodcast.com.
Until next time, be sure to keep it out of the wall.