“The Captain” Roger Penske To Be Honored At Silver Anniversary Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance
Next year, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance celebrates its 25th anniversary, and it will mark it in style by honoring none other than legendary team boss and businessman Roger Penske, at the event which takes place on March 5-8. Team Penske’s racing achievements can scarcely be overstated, with its cars synonymous with routine success across American series. Cars it has owned and prepared have totalled more than 500 major race wins—including 17 Indianapolis 500 victories—590 pole positions and 34 championships.
And while Penske is primarily associated with open-wheeled single-seaters, the team has had plenty of success beyond, including in stock cars and sports cars. Team Penske has bagged two Daytona 500 wins, overall victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, as well as seven sports car drivers’ championships won across ALMS, Can-Am and USRRC. The team has even taken a Formula 1 victory, in the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson at the wheel, as part of a credible F1 effort.
The team continues at the top today. In addition to IndyCar, Penske competes currently in NASCAR, the IMSA sports car championship and in Australian Supercars where it has dominated the early part of the 2019 championship as the DJR Team Penske squad. “The Captain”, who turned 82 earlier this year, is still going strong too, retaining a hands-on approach to running his business and racing team.
Another part of Penske’s CV less well known is that, prior to creating Team Penske, he was a driver of considerable renown too. He won 51 of the 130 races he started from 1957 to 1964, a record that stands with even the greatest drivers. His first victories were in a ’57 Corvette, and he won his first national championship, SCCA D Modified, in 1961 racing a Maserati T61 and a Cooper Monaco. On the back of this achievement, Sports Illustrated named him Driver of the Year, but Penske was just getting started.
In 1962 he changed American road racing with his Zerex Special sports racer. The driver sat in the center, not in the usual position for a two-seat sports car. There was a small second seat under an access panel meaning, despite rivals’ protestations, it conformed with the regulations. Penske swept that year’s USAC Road Racing championship. After sweeping the 1964 Nassau Speed Weeks too, winning all four races for Chaparral and Corvette, Penske retired from driving to concentrate on business. Even an invitation to test one of Clint Brawner’s Indycars couldn’t deter him. So an up and coming sprint car ace going by the name of Mario Andretti got the test instead.
In 1965, Penske worked as the manager of Jim Hall’s Chaparral team and it dominated that year’s USRRC, winning nine of 10 races with Hall and Hap Sharp in the cockpit. In the spring of 1966, he created Roger Penske Racing, in a tiny, one-car garage in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. His only full-time employees were Mark Donohue—combining the role of driver, team manager and engineer—and chief mechanic Karl Kainhofer. You can safely say the operation has come a long way since.
Images courtesy of Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance