IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske and NASCAR President Steve Phelps
PIT PASS INDY PRESENTED BY PENSKE TRUCK RENTAL– SEASON 3, EPISODE 41 – IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske and NASCAR President Steve Phelps
October 10, 2023
Show host Bruce Martin has the two most important people in racing as guests on this week’s Pit Pass Indy Presented by Penske Truck Rental
Martin has an exclusive, in-depth interview with Penske Corporation Chairman Roger Penske, the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar as he was inducted into the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Mooresville, North Carolina. Martin also has an exclusive, in-depth interview with NASCAR President Steve Phelps to talk about the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series race at Iowa Speedway next June and how that may impact the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend at Iowa that will take place July 12-14, 2024.
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 19 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.
Speakers: Bruce Martin, Roger Penske, & Steve Phelps
This is Roger Penske, and you're listening to Pit Pass Indy sponsored by Penske Truck Rental.
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.
Welcome to this week's edition of Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental.
Today's show features two of the most important men in racing. It's Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar owner, Roger Penske, who is inducted into the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame, along with Edsel Ford II in Mooresville, North Carolina on October the 3rd.
Pit Pass Indy has an exclusive interview with Penske, the most successful team owner in history on today's show.
We're going to switch gears with our second guest later in the show. It's NASCAR president, Steve Phelps.
Although Pit Pass Indy focuses on IndyCar, there is a good reason to talk to Phelps because last week, NASCAR released its 2024 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. For the first time in its history, there is a NASCAR Cup Series date at Iowa Speedway, a track that NASCAR owns.
Iowa Corn will be the sponsor of the NASCAR Cup Series race at Iowa Speedway, scheduled for June 14th through the 16th, 2024.
That's three weeks before one of IndyCar's biggest race weekends on the schedule, the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend at Iowa Speedway, scheduled for July 12th to 14th with two full IndyCar races set for July 13th and 14th.
Pit Pass Indy is following this story closely and was able to interview Phelps about the big announcement.
Before that, however, let's hear from Indy car owner, Roger Penske, who was inducted into the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Yet another honor for the man who has set the platinum standard for success in both auto racing and business.
Here's my exclusive interview with Roger Penske for Pit Pass Indy.
Once again, it's a real honor to be joined by Roger Penske, who's being inducted into the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame Walk of Fame tonight.
Roger, you've been members of so many halls of fame I'm sure you've lost count. But what does this honor mean to you, considering that you moved Team Penske from Redding, Pennsylvania to Mooresville in 2007, and you're a key part of this community?
Well, I think, Bruce, you'll really have to go back to 1980 when Don Miller and I decided to put Rusty Wallace in a stock car, and we ran into Atlanta for the first time, and I started to understand what NASCAR was all about.
And then 10 years later, we built our small shop in Mooresville, which was the start of our NASCAR program. And then as we started to go on, we realized that having two bases, Penske North, Penske South didn't make sense. We needed to combine that.
And so, we moved to obviously early 2000 into North Carolina with our whole operation to where we are today.
And I can tell you that certainly a state that has helped build NASCAR and auto racing around the world and notoriety. And for us, the championships, the wins, the people that have come through our organization and the sponsors, it's a home for us as far as I'm concerned.
You're a key part of the state of Indiana as the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Of course, that's the home of IndyCar Racing. NASCAR's home is in North Carolina.
When you compare the two states and what they mean to racing, they really are the two hubs of auto racing, if not in the United States, if throughout the world in many ways.
Well, it's hard. Obviously, I have a place in my heart for Indianapolis because of our success there over the years and making the investment back a few years ago on the track and the Speedway and certainly the series.
But when you look at it, NASCAR obviously starting in Daytona, they've got a great presence now in North Carolina. So, I'd have to say the balance between the two sports first class states, first class commitments by the government and also the fans.
We have so many fans coming from the Midwest that come to Indy, and so many fans from the Southeast that go to the racetracks. And certainly, Charlotte being a home track for many of the teams. And we're here and certainly we like both places.
I'd hate to vote on either one. I get myself in trouble.
When you moved IndyCar shop from Redding to Mooresville and combined the efforts, you were a trailblazer in keeping everything under one roof, one direction. How important has that been for the success of your race team? Because since you've done that, team Penske's enjoyed some of its best days.
Well, I think the cross pollinization of having everybody under one roof it certainly saved some duplication in costs, but more important, it's team effort.
And I think about the over 450 people we have working today at Team Penske in Mooresville at our shop. And over half those people have been with us over 10 years. So, the people that we can hire and come to work for us in this state, in this region are loyal and certainly their racers.
And as far as what the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame means to the sport, Don Miller is a key part of it. He was a long-time business associate of yours.
What do you think of the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame in this particular honor and also to be going in with Edsel Ford?
Well, being able to join any Hall of Fame is certainly an honor. To be inducted into the North Carolina Hall of Fame is certainly special because our roots are here. All of our employees here in the state has been a big promoter of not only our team, but our people. And it's just terrific.
And with Edsel, of course, he's been a friend of mine when he came to the Speedway many, many years ago before nobody knew him. But I knew him because Walter Hayes brought him, I think under his arm and said, “This is Edsel Ford.”
Well, he and I became friends, or families or friends, and certainly to see his career at the Ford Motor Company and our relationship there is just something special. Said, “Hey, we're going in together.”
To ask you a few other questions on Monday, the FIA approved Andretti Global's effort to get a Formula One team, that doesn't mean they have a team on the grid yet that has to be approved by Liberty Media.
But what's your reaction that Michael's really put a lot of time and effort into this and the FIA has given approval?
Oh, I think, look, it was a goal of Michael and certainly Dan Towriss, they've stayed on this. And Michael's a great racer himself.
The team has been very successful and having another American team competing at the highest level will be terrific for all of us. And I take my hat off in congratulations.
And earlier NASCAR announcer going to have a cup race at Iowa Speedway. You lease Iowa Speedway along the Hy-Vee for the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend. NASCAR's race is going to be in June. NASCAR owns the track.
In any ways, were you surprised by their decision to bring a cup race to Iowa Speedway? And is there anything that it may do that might possibly cause you to rearrange things with your race in terms of construction?
No, not at all. We were in concert with NASCAR all along because of our dates and where we are, and we certainly have leased the track from the France family anyhow. And quite honestly, we've invested there and we feel it's a great place.
Short track racing has been very popular around the country these days. And I think Iowa's got a great fan base, and I just think it'll create more interest in racing.
And we have our dates set for our twin races coming up in ‘24. We'll have some great talent coming in there from the standpoint of entertainment.
And look, we lived together with NASCAR in many different racetracks. I remember it certainly at our track at Michigan, we used to have the twin 200s. We had an IndyCar race, we had a NASCAR race. So, hey, things happen.
With NASCAR's race in June and IndyCar's race July 12th and 13th, will that possibly in any way shorten the promotional window, or is that really not a concern considering Hy-Vee really knows how to promote?
Well, I think Hy-Vee is our partner in that race, and their promotion is great. And I think that we've already have our tickets announced. NASCAR will come in with some great momentum.
And look, it's just good for the sport and for us, we'll be able to put up the stands that we need, the suites which we've done in the past, and I think there might be an opportunity to even co-locate those for NASCAR so we get some cost savings.
The Milwaukee Mile’s back, it's going to be a Penske Entertainment promoted race. A lot of your people have shown what they're able to do when you turn them loose and let them promote a race. How exciting is that for you to have a return to Milwaukee?
Well, I've been going to Milwaukee many, many years, and you'd come out of Indy and a week later, you'd go to Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Mile. I've been at that racetrack many, many times.
And the governor gave us a go ahead here last week. We met with him. We met with the State Fair Board and their leadership. They spent quite a bit of money to bring the track from a safety perspective up to the latest standards.
So, I would say to have two races there Saturday, Sunday will be a great event for us on the series.
And at the Milwaukee announcement, you announced that Texas won't be on the schedule in 2024, but you expect them back maybe in 2025. What are some of the things that need to be done?
Obviously, you need to find a right time of the year to go to Texas. And if NASCAR moves their race into the spring as they've done, that really takes away an opportunity for IndyCar.
But what are some of the things that you would like to see to get IndyCar back to Texas Motor Speedway?
Well, I think the main momentum for not having a race is the Olympics next year, because it's jammed up the schedule.
And I think that we understand that and certainly they decided that based on that, that they were going to have to move that race through our date roughly. From a NASCAR perspective, we just didn't have time within our schedule to replace it.
But our goal is to go back to Texas, and I'm sure we can work that out in the future years.
And finally, HybridAssist is coming in 2024. There's a lot of testing going on. Some of your drivers have said there's a lot of work to do.
You understand what it's like to take a project, and then a lot of people say you can't do, you did that with the 209 pushrod engine in 1994 at the Indianapolis 500. But how do you see the HybridAssist project coming and what it'll mean for IndyCar?
Well, we've been working on this for many, many months. And I'd have to say the cooperation between Chevy and Honda has been terrific. We're in the testing stage now. We've run hundreds of miles with the system.
I think we're getting the different teams now having a chance to test it and put mileage on it. It's going to be durability and the ability to build enough units by the time we start the season.
But right now, we're on schedule. Obviously, we've got to meet certain hurdles, gates to get through.
But I think the system is bringing us more technology to think we can generate, regen, and use the power three or four times during a lap, which we hadn't thought about before. And you'll have a paddle to be able to do it on the Speedway.
So, there's lots of unique things, and I think it'll put a lot of interest into the series. And plus, we'll be the real first racing series to have this kind of a opportunity to utilize a hybrid type system.
So, I think thumbs are up. A lot of work to do, as you said. But we want to be there at the beginning of the season.
As always, it's a real honor to spend a few minutes with you. Roger Penske, congratulations on the North Carolina Hall of Fame honor, and thank you for joining us today on Pit Pass Indy.
Thanks. Real pleasure for me.
We'll be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
Hey everybody, this is Josef Newgarden, winner of the 107th Indianapolis 500, and you're listening to Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental.
Welcome back to Pit Pass Indy.
As we mentioned earlier in our show, there will be another major race weekend at Iowa Speedway in 2024 as the NASCAR Cup Series competes at the short oval in Newton, Iowa for the first time in its history.
How will that impact the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend at Iowa? Let's find out in this exclusive Pit Pass Indy interview with NASCAR president, Steve Phelps.
Things that I would say is that the facility is probably after what RP and Hy-Vee and those guys have done the last couple of years is probably in immaculate shape. And how much does that really help to make it a little bit of a turnkey event for you guys to take the cup to Iowa?
Well, I think, listen, the great folks at Iowa and the kind of the surrounding states that will come and who knows, you'll probably get them from all 50 states coming.
But when you go to a facility to run your first ever cup race, it's just something special. And that's what it's going to be for Iowa. And the love that we felt from the governor and her team. And this came together kind of quickly, which is good.
And we're all motivated to make sure that we put on something special for the fans, and I think that's what they're going to see. They're going to see a facility that is going to look great. I think the racing's going to be really strong, and our fans have talked to us about having more short tracks.
And I know people talk about Phoenix being a short track, but this is a two track. But it races kind of a mix between an intermediate track and a short track.
You have a lot of races in areas where there might be two or three tracks within a three and a half hour drive. This'll give that area three races in a three-and-a-half-hour drive.
And with Kansas Speedway, does that ever become a factor of, in order to help this event out, it might weed away some of the customers who go to that race?
Well, I think listen, we had some good discussions with the united government in Kansas about bringing this race in and we want to make sure that everyone is comfortable with what it is.
We own both racetracks and we think having schedule variation is an important thing. We could have brought to another facility, we thought Iowa's the right facility to go to.
You brought up a good point about you own both racetracks, but was there any sensitivities to what Penske Entertainment and Hy-Vee have been doing with their project?
I think, listen, we have partnered with Roger’s team, Bud, and that group to work out a deal where they needed a track to go race that, and they thought Iowa was the right thing. And then they do the double header there. And great relationship with the Hy-Vee folks and the government there in Iowa.
So, to me, I think it's accretive. I don't think it's going to pull away from their event. I think that there's lots of opportunity to have great racing at that facility.
And there's some separation there too. I mean, think back to Pocono and Michigan where you had six weeks between events and it's the same event at the same track.
So, this is, to me, I think we're excited about it and obviously we talked to Roger and his team about it and had some conversations with the Hy-Vee people as well. We want everyone to look at this as a positive, and we think it is.
Hy-Vee invest a lot in those temporary suites. Obviously, you'll have temporary suites and temporary grandstands in order to fit the crowd that you'll have.
But I mean, is there any talk about sharing that, or will it be a situation where you'll be putting your suites up and then they'll be coming in and putting theirs up?
So, TBD at this particular point, have we started discussions? We have. Not sure where they're going to net out, but we'll do what's right for the IndyCar folks, for Hy-Vee, and obviously for our own races there at Iowa Speedway.
So, during your tenure at NASCAR at one time during 2019, 2020, 2021, was the future of that facility in doubt?
Well, I think there was some question about … listen, there's been a desire since it's been opened by the folks at Newton and the state to bring in a cup race there. And we thought now, is the time to do it.
So, I won't speculate on why we weren't there earlier. We're coming and we're excited to be there and they're excited to have us.
I know the mayor of Chicago had said that he was going to decide within six to eight weeks after the Chicago race about next year but seems like we're past 80 days. What's the latest condition?
Yeah, we're having discussions with the mayor's office and they're very fruitful at this point. Nothing to announce with respect to where the long-term viability of racing in Chicago Street course.
But what I can say is that I thought the event despite the crazy amount of rain was a incredibly special event. It was unique in our 75-year history.
And I think is there a future of street racing in our sport? There is. And will it be at Chicago moving forward? It's a good possibility we'll be there for a couple more years.
Have you identified any other potential markets for street racing?
Oh, we've had a lot of discussions with some folks. But at this particular point, it's all just prep work to try to figure out what's next, what's viable, what's going to put on great racing.
When you have to build anything from scratch, it's a lot harder than just opening the gates. And I'm oversimplifying it, but everything needs to be built, everything. The course, the grandstands, the suites, everything.
Well, also, I don't think there's ever been a street race taken on that scale. Because those are very major traffic arteries.
They certainly were. And I think our people did a tremendous job with kind of closing them in phases. So, that main artery Balbo, that was first, and then you start working Lake Shore Drive, Michigan and all of that.
But I would say this, I don't know if I've ever felt more welcome than how the people of Chicago made us feel. And I'm not just talking about the mayor’s office, I'm talking about people who lived there. That we inconvenienced and they were thrilled to welcome us there.
And then we thought it was important to become an important part of that community, and we did. And not a week out, a month out, but all year long. And that was important for us.
Well, not to underestimate, but the challenges you had just to have the race, monstrous. And then once the green flag dropped, I mean, the race itself was jaw dropping in how good it was.
Did it amaze you just how good a race that ended up being? And a lot of it may have had to do with the fact that it started on rain tires.
Yeah. So, we knew that it had the potential to be really good racing. Did it exceed my expectation, if I'm totally honest? It did. We knew from the iRacing that there are places to pass, you could have good racing. And that's exactly what we saw.
And did the damp conditions initially contribute to that? I think it certainly made it parts of it exciting. And you have guys going into barriers and then getting out and finishing the race.
I thought it was again, other than the stress of trying to figure out when darkness was coming and what that looks like, and I mean, just the insane amount of rain that we had, I was very pleased overall with the race.
Well, then at the end, I mean, the way the sun was setting and the colors, I mean, the backdrop was spectacular there.
It was exactly that. And just the images on television, like obviously I was there, but I was in race control and seeing the fans were seeing on television was just spectacular.
Yeah. And then finally, we're approaching a cutoff race, and there can't be anything more unique to have a cutoff race than on a part oval, part road course.
So, Bristol's unique, Roval’s unique, Martinsville is unique, is that one of the special things about your playoffs is the cutoff races. They're tough to begin with but make them to where guys have to race their way in or can race their way out.
Well, listen, I think our playoffs are unique in sports and unique in that, yeah, you have everyone that is participating in the race and then you have 16, 12, 8, and then 4. I think that's just a really cool thing.
And yes, the cutoff races, we want them to be compelling. We want them to have uniqueness to them. And that's exactly what it is, to your point. Bristol, Charlotte Roval, and then Martinsville.
And these guys, whoever wins this championship every year deserves it because you have to run the gauntlet, and that's exactly what these guys do. And you always have a deserving winner. Joey Logano right over here last year. Went out and made it happen.
And finally, I mean, are we going to see a combined event again sometime soon?
I think so. I think so. I think it just makes sense for combining other motorsports series in addition to the ones that we own, obviously, with our three national series or ARCA. I think it's great. It's like you start to mix fan bases and it's good for everyone.
And I really believe that if motorsports is growing, it's good for all the different series around the world.
Did you come close to Texas or was that-
I don't get into specifics around kind of where that is. And obviously, we are going back to Texas and it is … but the IndyCar guys wanted to make a change, or Speedway more is where I can't speak to it. So, whichever direction it was, I'm not sure.
Well, and everybody else also says the Olympics have an awful lot to do with the flexibility, because next year there really isn't any. Flexibility's pretty tough.
It's very tough. And NBC's obviously a massive broadcast partner of ours and we have to try to figure out how we're going to accommodate where we're going to be on television. And we'll find out shortly.
We will be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
This is Will Power of Team Penske, and you are listening to Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental.
And that puts a checkered flag on this edition of Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental.
We want to thank our guests, IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner, Roger Penske, and NASCAR president, Steve Phelps for joining us on today's podcast.
Along with loyal listeners like you, our guests helped make Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental, your path to victory lane for all things IndyCar.
And because of our guests 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 evergreenpodcasts.com.
Until next time, be sure to keep it out of the wall.