Penske, Roger S. 1937–

views updated May 08 2018

Roger S. Penske

Chairman of the board and chief executive officer, Penske Corporation and its subsidiary, United Auto Group

Nationality: American.

Born: February 20, 1937, in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Education: Lehigh University, BA, 1959.

Family: Son of Jay (vice president of metal fabrication company) and Martha (housewife and community volunteer); married Kathryn; children: five.

Career: Alcoa Aluminum, 19591963, sales engineer; George McKean Chevrolet, 19631965, general manager and, later, owner; 19651969, owner of several automobile dealerships, a truck-leasing operation, and two racing-tire distributors; Penske Corporation, 1969, president and CEO; United Auto Group, 1999, chairman and CEO.

Awards: Named SCCA Driver of the Year, Sports Illustrated, 1961; named Driver of the Year, New York Times, 1962.

Address: Penske Corporation, 8801 North Haggarty Road, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48107; United Auto Group, 2555 Telegraph Road, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48302-0954;;

In 2004 the transportation executive and auto-racing legend Roger S. Penske was the chairman of the board and chief executive officer (CEO) of Penske Corporation, which he founded in 1969. Penske discovered his niche in life early, when, as a teenager, he began refurbishing and racing cars and selling them for profit. Basing his achievement on his stringent guidelines for setting goals, Penske made race-car driving an obsession that eventually earned him a driving record held by only a few talented drivers. After retiring from driving, Penske became one of the most successful and best-known car and track owners in the history of motor sports.


Even from an early age, Penske had a knack for fixing auto mobiles. As a teenager in the 1950s, he would buy "junker" cars, make repairs on them, and sell them at a profit from his parents' home in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Over the next 10 years, Penske raced and sold 32 cars, among them a Chevrolet, Corvette, Jaguar Cooper, Maserati, MG TD, MG TC, Olds mobile, Porsche, and the Zerex Special. The experiences learned from these early ventures became the hallmark for Penske's later successes in the automobile world, both as a race-car driver and as a transportation businessman. Finding early in life what he liked to do, Penske was able to seize on opportunities that led him to legendary status as a race-car driver and, later, helped him accumulate a transportation empire, record setting racing teams, and a successful truck-leasing company.


Almost from the start, racing cars was an obsession for Penske, who first drove at the Akron (Ohio) Speedway. In 1958 he entered his first official race in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National at Marlboro Motor Raceway in Maryland. After consistently running behind the leader, his car eventually overheated, and Penske had to withdraw from the race. His first win came in 1959 when, driving an F-Modified Porsche RS, he beat the competition at the SCCA Regional at Lime Rock, Connecticut. Unwilling to stay with a proven but older car, Penske bought an RSK and used it later for an SCCA class title.

In the same year as his first racing win, Penske also graduated from Lehigh University with a business degree (industrial management) and went to work as a sales engineer for Alcoa Aluminum. Continuing his racing career, Penske won the F Modified in 1960. In 1961 he bought a Cooper and a Maserati, rebuilt a Cooper-Climax with an aluminum body, persuaded Zerex to sponsor him, and started to race professionally. Penske's first professional win was at Vineland, New Jersey, in a Maserati nicknamed the "Telar Special." He also set a race speed record with his win at Road America. Penske then won three nationals in a row in 1961, the year he became the SCCA National D Modified champion and was named Sports Illustrated 's SCCA Driver of the Year.

In 1962 Penske was named the New York Times Driver of the Year when he became the United States Auto Club champion, driving in Monaco with the Cooper-Climax and in Sebring, Florida, with a Cunningham. In 1963 Penske won the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) Grand National Series race. In 1964 he won five races; two of them were the Nassau Tourist Trophy, when he drove a Chaparral Corvette Grand Sport, and the Nassau Trophy, when he beat Bruce McLaren, A. J. Foyt, and Dan Gurney. The race that established Penske as one of the world's best was the 1964 Governor's Trophy race in the Bahamas, where he confronted Foyt and Wait Hansgen, beating Foyt on the last lap.


Much to the surprise of the racing community, Penske announced in 1965 his retirement as a driver in order to devote all his time to the business component of racing. Penske purchased a Chevrolet dealership in Pennsylvania, where he had been general manager since 1963. As his first dealership grew, Penske branched into other automobile dealerships. In 1969 Penske bought a small truck leasing operation along with two racing-tire distributors. The dealerships, truck leasing operation, and racing-tire distributors formed the foundation for his future business empire. For example, the truck leasing operation Penske bought in the late 1960s was converted to Penske Truck Leasing Company. In 1970 Penske moved to the Detroit area after buying a Chevrolet dealership in the Detroit suburb of Southfield.

During this time, he teamed up with the engineer and driver Mark Donohue, and the pair launched Penske Racing, with Team Penske as their new racing team. Within two years Team Penske won the United States Road Racing Championship with Mark Donohue driving a Lola T70 MKIII chassis with Chevrolet power. In 1972 Penske's team appeared in its first NASCAR Winston Cup Series race, and one year later, it won the first Winston Cup race of their second season.

In 1975 Mark Donohue was killed while practicing for the Austrian Grand Prix Formula One race. Nonetheless, Penske continued to enter cars during the next two years, with the drivers John Watch in 1976 and Tom Sneva in 1977. From 1978 to 1991 Team Penske continued to win races with such drivers as Rick Mears, Rusty Wallace, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, and Danny Sullivan. In fact, between 1977 and 1983 Team Penske won the national points championship in six of the seven seasons. In 1991 Penske teamed up with his driver from 1980, Rusty Wallace. Driving for Penske, Wallace won 37 times, with over half of those wins occurring between 1993 and 1994.

Penske directed one of the best-known and successful organizations in the sports world while breaking most racing records. Penske Racing, which as of the early 2000s held 225 major race titles, maintained records for most race poles (135), wins (110), 500-mile wins (22), Indy Car National Championships (11), Indianapolis 500 poles (11), and Indianapolis 500 wins (11). Penske Racing also has more than 30 victories in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. By this time Penske owned the California Speedway, Michigan Speedway, Nazareth (Pennsylvania) Speedway, and North Carolina Motor Speedway.


As a businessman, Penske owned the private company Penske Corporation, which was the parent of four business groups: Penske Performance, Penske Automotive, Penske Capital Partners, and Penske Transportation Services. As a group, the Penske Corporation was a closely held diversified transportation-services company that directed, through its subsidiaries, a number of businesses, including Penske Truck Leasing, Penske Automotive Group, United Auto Group, Penske Logistics, Penske Capital Partners, Truck-Lite, Davco, Penske Performance, FER, and Penske Racing. Penske actively supervised the Penske Corporation and its subsidiaries, which managed and operated businesses with annual revenues of more than $11 billion and employed 35,000 people at over three thousand worldwide locations.

Penske took on the chairmanship of the board of Penske Truck Leasing in 1982. He developed the global transportation-services provider, which specialized in commercial truckrental operations, so that as of 2004 it had more than 206,000 vehicles serving customers at about one thousand locations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America, and Europe. The company, with annual revenues of about $3.4 billion, provided product lines in such areas as full-service leasing, contract maintenance, commercial and consumer rental, integrated logistics services, and supply-chain management.

Penske also directed Penske Automotive, which grew into a company that in the early 2000s operated several car dealerships in Southern California and sold over 44,000 cars, among them, the brand names Toyota, Lexus, Honda, MercedesBenz, Jaguar, and Aston Martin. His Longo Toyota dealership in El Monte, California, became the top-selling Toyota dealership in the United States. He also became the chairman of the board and CEO of the United Auto Group Inc. (UAG) in 1999 and turned the company into the second-largest publicly traded automobile retailer (auto dealer) in the United States (as measured by total revenues). As a member of the Fortune 500, the UAG, under Penske's direction, owned and operated, according to its website, 134 franchises in the United States and 83 franchises internationally, primarily in the United Kingdom but also in Puerto Rico and Brazil. UAG dealerships sold new and used vehicles, operated service and parts departments and collision-repair centers, and sold various aftermarket products and services, including extended service, finance, warranty, and other insurance contracts.

Penske made Penske Logistics into the company that provided logistics and custom-designed supply-chain solutions in order to cut costs, reduce cycle time, improve service, and help integrate technology into the operations of Penske's customers. In addition, Penske Capital Partners was a partnership venture organized by Penske, along with J. P. Morgan Partners, GE Capital, and Aon Corporation, to focus on making strategic acquisitions in the transportation industry.

Truck-Lite, of which Penske was a majority owner, manufactured lighting products, harness systems, and accessories for transportation industry such as safety lights for boats, buses, cars, commercial trucks, construction equipment, and recreational vehicles. Moreover, Penske operated several automotive-related racing businesses through Penske Performance. Its teams held numerous all-time racing records, and Penske Performance, as a company, was the second-largest share holder of International Speedway Corporation, the leading U.S. motor-sports company. Within Penske Performance was Penske Racing, as of the early 2000s the most successful Indy car-racing team in history. Penske was a founder of Penske Racing Inc., along with Penske Racing South Inc.


Penske faced one of his biggest challenges with a timecritical repair job to the city of Detroit, Michigan, in preparation for its hosting of Super Bowl XL at Ford Field on February 5, 2006. Detroit had a deteriorated downtown area with abandoned buildings and was subject to poor building-code enforcement and ineffectual municipal bureaucracy. Bill Ford Jr., chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Company, handpicked Penske to coordinate the massive facelift.

As chairman of the Detroit Super Bowl XL host committee, Penske, who personally pledged to raise $12 million for the event, was coordinating efforts to prepare Detroit for the worldwide event that as of the early 2000s consistently drew 100,000 fans, thousands of sports journalists, 800 million television viewers, and millions of dollars in advertising. With his usual well-organized style, Penske assembled a 41-member committee, identifying downtown problem areas, raising donations, meeting with National Football League officials, and working to gather local support for the event. The Detroit News quoted Bill Ford Jr. as saying of his new chairman, "Penske is the most impressive businessman in the city. Everything he touches works because of his personal drive and because his attention to detail is so exquisite. I just love being around that guy."

A hands-on administrator, Penske recommended a long list of improvements, totaling $100 million, to Kate Beebe, president of the Greater Downtown Partnership. Requiring that only concrete renovations be made to the city in order to initiate long-lasting progress, Penske gathered momentum for the project. The planned upgrade to the city included an offer of loans or matching grants to property owners to renovate their buildings, major replacement of three main roads, installation of new sidewalks, and addition of plush landscaping.

As an example of a renovation already credited to Penske's work, the $146.8 million renovation of the Book-Cadillac Hotel helped put Detroit back in the game in time for the Super Bowl in 2006. The Detroit News quoted Penske's wife, Kathryn, as saying, "Roger and I didn't grow up here, but this is our home now, and we both want to help Detroit succeed. I can tell you he doesn't like to lose, so he's looking to win people over during the Super Bowl and show them Detroit is a great city." With friends and business associates describing him as tenacious, a workaholic, a perfectionist, seemingly tireless, and focused on detail, Penske was not the type of leader simply to lend his name to the event; he actively worked to make Detroit's Super Bowl a success for the state and the city.

See also entry on Penske Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories.

sources for further information

King, R. J., "Racing Legend Roger Penske Steers Super Bowl Drive," Detroit News, October 19, 2003.

William Arthur Atkins

Penske, Roger

views updated May 29 2018

Roger Penske


American race team owner

Following a short-lived but distinguished career as a race-car driver in the early 1960s, resulting in Sports Car Driver of the Year awards from, respectively, the periodicals Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, Roger Penske established Penske Racing. In IndyCar competition, Penske Racing has won more Indianapolis 500 races than any other team. In addition, Penske Racing has posted championships in such automotive racing circuits as Canadian-American Challenge Cup, and Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans-Am, as well as posting wins on the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) and Grand Prix Formula One tours. In addition, Penske organized the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) circuit in 1978, and owns the Michigan and Nazareth (Pennsylvania) International Speedways, North Carolina Speedway, and California Speedway, as well as coordinates the Cleveland Grand Prix IndyCar race. As a businessman, Penske is no less successful: Penske Corporation employs more than 30,000 people and generates estimated annual revenues of $11 billion through such businesses as Penske Truck Leasing, Penske Automotive, Penske Capital Partners, and the automotive retailer UnitedAuto Group. Penske is estimated to be one of the top-500 wealthiest individuals in the United States.

Early Years

Roger Penske was born February 20, 1937, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, near Cleveland. His father was a corporate executive. In his early years, Penske bought and owned thirty-two cars over a span of ten yearscars that he raced and sold at a profit. These cars included an MG TD, MG TC, a Maserati, a Corvette, a Porsche, and a Jaguar Cooper. While he was in college at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, he entered his first race at the Akron Speedway. He entered SCCA competition in 1958 at Sebring, driving an RS Porsche. The following year, he bought a Porsche RSK from racer Bob Holbert, and battled Holbert to win an SCCA class title the same year. In 1960, he won the SCCA F Modified class title. One year later, he obtained sponsorship from Zerex, bought and modified a Maserati renamed the Telar Special, and set a speed record at Road America. Penske's deal with Zerex is often considered groundbreaking for its introduction of corporate sponsorship into the world of motorsports.

Professional Racer

Penske graduated from college in 1962, and went to work for the aluminum company Alcoa. He also abandoned his status as a semi-professional racer to turn professional. He bought a Cooper-Climax Formula One race car, which he converted into a two-seater sports car. He outfitted the car's chassis with a lightweight aluminum body, and named it the Zerex Special. He took the Special to earnings of $34,350 in 1962, which also earned him the title "Driver of the Year" in the New York Times. Penske entered the 1963 NASCAR Grand National Series in 1963, winning five races driving a Corvette Chaparral GS. In 1964, Penske set the motorsports world on fire. Competing at the Bahamas Speed Week, he drove a Corvette Grand Sport to win the Nassau Tourist Trophy. He then drove a Jim Hall Chaparral to defeat contenders Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney, and A. J. Foyt for the Nassau Trophy. He retired from racing at this point, buying a Chevrolet dealership in Pennsylvania. He returned to racing briefly, entering the 1966 Sebring race in a Corvette Grand Sport.


1937Born February 20 in Shaker Heights, Ohio
1958Drives first official race in the SCCA National at Marlboro Motor Raceway, Maryland
1959Wins first race at SCCA Regional at Lime Rock, Connecticut
1963Wins NASCAR Grand National race
1964Wins Nassau Trophy, Nassau Tourist Trophy, and Governor's Trophy
1965Retires from race-car driving to run dealership in Philadelphia
1966Launches Penske Racing; debuts as team owner at Sebring
1969Penske Racing wins 24 Hours of Daytona
1972Penske Racing wins first Indianapolis 500
1973Team Penske wins first NASCAR race at Riverside, California
1974Penske Racing enters Grand Prix Formula One racing
1975Mark Donohue, Penske's driver, dies in crash during Formula One practice; Penske Racing wins both NASCAR races at Darlington
1976Penske Racing wins Austrian Grand Prix with driver John Watson
1976Penske abandons Formula One to focus on IndyCar racing
1979Penske driver Rick Mears wins pole position for every ovaltrack in IndyCar racing as well as wins Indianapolis 500
1981Penske driver Bobby Unser wins Indianapolis 500
1984Mears wins second Indianapolis 500 of career, fourth for Penske Racing
1985Penske driver Danny Sullivan wins team's fifth Indianapolis 500
1987Al Unser wins Indianapolis 500 with car chassis taken from a hotel-lobby display
1988Mears wins Penske Racing's seventh Indianapolis 500
1991Mears becomes one of three drivers to win four Indianapolis 500s
1993Penske driver Emerson Fittipaldi posts team's ninth Indianapolis 500 win
1994Al Unser, Jr., wins pole position and wins Indianapolis 500; Penske drivers post top-three finishes in five races, win twelve of sixteen races, and earn ten pole positions
2001de Ferran wins second CART FedEx Series Championship; Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and de Ferran post top-two finishes at Indianapolis 500; Penske announces this will belast year Penske Racing will compete in CART
2002Racing in the Indy Racing League (IRL), Castroneves wins Penske Racing's twelfth Indianapolis 500

Team Owner

In 1966, Penske bought a Lola T70 and hired Mark Donohue as his fulltime driver, inaugurating Penske Racing. Fielding Chevrolet Camaros and, later, AMC Javelins, in Trans-Am competition; Porsche 917-10 and 917-30 Turbopanzers in Canadian-American Challenge Cup competition; and the Lola in such races as the 24 Hours of Daytona, Penske Racing became a force to be reckoned with by securing championships in the USRRC series in 1967 and 1968, and SCCA Trans-Am championships in 1968, 1969, and 1971, 1972, and 1973.

In 1971, Penske Racing entered IndyCar racing. Donohue qualified for the pole at the Sears Point 150 in April that year, and scored the team's first victory at the Pocono 500 in July. The following year, Donohue won the Indianapolis 500, the first of twelve wins that Penske Racing would earn before 2003, with such drivers as Al Unser, Sr., Bobby Unser, Rick Mears , Danny Sullivan, Emerson Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy, Gil de Ferran, and Helio Castroneves. By 2001, the team had amassed a staggering eleven national championships in IndyCar racing.

Penske's efforts in the international Grand Prix Formula One series were less successful. Following a crash during practice session for the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix, Donohue died. Penske persevered, however, and posted a win in the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson driving a PC4-Ford. This would be Penske Racing's only Formula One win, however, as he decided to quit the series at the end of the 1976 season. Penske Racing's win marked only the third time that a team from the United States won a Formula One event.

In the mid-1970s, Penske Racing also began fielding cars in the NASCAR circuit. Driver Bobby Allison drove an AMC Matador to two wins at Darlington Speedway in 1975. Penske Racing's streak of NASCAR successes extended into the twenty-first century with driver Rusty Wallace.

Series Co-Founder and Track Owner

One of the most successful team owners in the history of IndyCar racing, Penske co-founded Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) in 1978 with fellow team owner U. E. "Pat" Patrick. Both founders were unhappy with the management of the IndyCar series, prompting them to start CART. By 1981, CART was offering more prize money than its competitor and became the dominant IndyCar competitive series. In 2002, Penske abandoned CART and threw his support, his drivers, and his cars into the Indy Racing League (IRL).

In addition to being a winning team owner in several motorsports series, Penske also has been adept at the business end of the sport. As owner of Michigan International Speedway, Pennsylvania International Speedway, North Carolina Speedway and Carolina Speedway, Penske has generated millions of dollars in revenues. In 1999, he merged Penske Motorsports, Inc., with International Speedway Corporation in a deal that was estimated to control more than one hundred motorsports events, 800,000 seats, and 400 suites.

Awards and Accomplishments

1961Wins SCCA National D Modified championship and is named Sports Illustrated SCCA Driver of the Year
1962Named New York Times Driver of the Year, wins U.S. Auto Club's road-racing championship
1967Penske Racing wins United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC)
1968Penske Racing won USRRC championship
1968-73Penske Racing won SCCA Trans-Am
1981Penske driver Rick Mears wins national CART points championship
1982Mears wins national CART points championship
1983Penske driver Al Unser wins national CART points championship
1988Sullivan wins CART championship
2001Penske driver Gil de Ferran wins second CART FedEx Series Championship

Honored for Motorsports Achievements

In 2001, Porsche honored Penske and other former Porsche drivers and team owners at a Porsche Rennesport Reunion at Connecticut's Lime Rock Park. As part of the festivities, Penske drove the Porsche 917/30 that Mark Donohue drove during the 1973 Canadian-American Championship Cup tour. In 1995, Penske was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum of America. The Hall of Fame' Web site includes the following assessment of Penske's accomplishments: "Few men have cast as large a shadow over their respective fields as Penske. Even as a privateer, he always insisted that his cars look impeccable. And nobody ever earned the Unfair Advantage as often as he did, whether it be by turning a Formula I wreck into a world-beating sports car, building special refueling rigs for lightning-fast Trans-Am pit stops, introducing turbocharging to the Can-Am series, or developing an entirely new engine to win a single race, the 1994 Indy 500."



"Grand Prix Drivers: Roger Penske." Grand (January 18, 2003).

"Roger Penske." International Motorsports Hall of Fame. (January 18, 2003).

"Roger Penske." Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum of America. (January 18, 2003).

Sketch by Bruce Walker

Roger Penske

views updated May 21 2018

Roger Penske

Roger Penske (born 1937) became a rich man as the owner of Penske Corporation, a multi-billion dollar company involved in many things, including motor racing. Once a successful racecar driver himself, Penske seemed to have a sixth sense about race strategy. He became one of the most winning car owners of all time in the major forms of auto racing.

The pit crew always called Roger Penske "Captain" during a race. Penske managed his racing teams with military precision, just as his pit crew serviced the car whenever it stopped. Penske was always cool, calm and collected, rarely becoming upset or agitated regardless of what was happening on the track. Considered to be a perfectionist, Penske was still easy to work for. If, that is, you planned to work hard toward a goal. For he was driven to perfection in business, in sports, and in his personal life, and he expected those around him to give the same dedication regardless of how much time or effort the job demanded.

A Passion for Sports

Roger Penske was born in Red Bank, New Jersey on February 20, 1937. When he was young, the family moved to Ohio, and Penske attended Shaker Heights High School in suburban Cleveland. He was a member of the football team until a motorcycle accident shattered his ankle. Doctors tors debated whether to amputate his foot, but finally decided to give the shattered bones time to recover.

After several months of rehabilitation, Penske taught himself to walk, then to run. He was finally well enough to return to football the next season. In his first game, he blocked two punts, falling on one for a touchdown, and Shaker Heights beat their rival, by a score of 23-14. Penske was the hero of the game.

Penske graduated from Lehigh University, with a degree in business administration. By then he had become very involved in automobile racing. He loved the sport with a passion. By checking into the university infirmary on Fridays to claim illness, he was excused so he could go to the track. Penske became a top Sports Car Club of America driver in his 1957 Corvette, but his father didn't like it.

"The worst thing that could happen to him would be to win a race," J.H. Penske told the Cleveland Plain Dealer sports editor, Hal Lebovitz, before Penske's amateur racing career really started. "Then," continued the father, "the worst thing happened."

Named "Driver of the Year"

Penske went on to win Sports Illustrated magazine's "Driver of the Year" award, and to be named by Frank Blunk, the late motor sports writer for the New York Times, as "North American Driver of the Year" in 1962. Penske's victory in three races during Nassau Speed Week capped a near-perfect season, in which he also won the Los Angeles Times' Grand Prix at Riverside Raceway in California, against an international field. He had suddenly achieved worldwide recognition as a racecar driver.

Penske was a racecar driver who always studied the rules carefully. Once at Riverside, he arrived with a slim car that had much less resistance to air than the others. The rules said the cars in that series had to have two seats, even if the second seat wasn't usable. So most of the cars were built with seats side by side. Not in Penske's car. The rules only said "two seats," they didn't say where the seats had to be. Penske put his smaller seat behind him in the driver's compartment, not beside him. His car was sleeker and faster, and he won the race. That was how Penske operated, and how his so-called "unfair advantage" reputation began. He always seemed to be one step ahead of his competitors.

Penske was racing the legends. Only a year after his Riverside win, he overcame a bad start in his first stock car race (he was bumped off the track by another car) to duel wheel-to-wheel with top driving stars, Joe Weatherly and Darel Dieringer. He defeated them and won his first and only NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing) Grand National Race in the Riverside event. Soon after, he retired from driving. Penske had plans that would not allow racing. Typical of him, he gave up an activity he loved to begin one he felt would be just as successful.

Managed Successful Racing Team

Penske teamed with a young engineer by the name of Mark Donohue, a relationship that would bring Penske some of his highest and lowest moments. Together, the two dominated American road racing with a series of 1960s championships in Trans-Am, the US Road Racing Circuit, and SCCA endurance racing. This was the beginning of a racing team that won a Trans-Am title for American Motors and led to SCCA professional racing, the thundering Can-Am series, Indianapolis-style open wheel racing, and world class Formula One. With Donohue in the cockpit and Penske managing the team, the two won in every series in which they raced. The pinnacle was reached when the Penske-Donohue team won the famous Indianapolis 500 mile Speedway Race in 1972.

Created the Penske Corporation

While building his reputation as a meticulous and tireless racing team manager, Penske was also creating a dynamic, fast growing company known as the Penske Corporation. He started his business career after college by joining the Alcoa Company as a sales engineer. In 1964, he left that position to become general manager of McKean Chevrolet in Philadelphia, and then bought out the owner when he retired in 1965. This was the beginning of Penske's business empire, which grew to include many auto dealerships and other, much larger companies. The Penske Corporation became a multi-billion dollar industry, employed more than 28,000 people, and had more than 1,800 facilities throughout the world.

Worst Day in Racing

Penske and Donohue took on Formula One racing in Europe. This is said by racing experts to be the type of racing that demands the most skill and dedication. They were doing well, and Donohue was becoming known as a world champion driver, when a 1975 practice accident before the Austrian Grand Prix ended the adventure. Donohue flipped off the track due to a deflating tire. His bouncing car killed one course marshal and injured another in the violent crash, but Donohue seemed to have escaped unharmed. Two days later he collapsed. The young driver died during brain surgery. Penske was devastated.

However, Penske's racing involvement continued. Working over the next few years in various racing series with top drivers, his cars won many races. His drivers included Gary Bettenhausen, Bobby Allison, Tom Sneva, John Watson, Rick Mears, Bobby and Al Unser, Sr., Danny Sullivan, Al Unser, Jr., Paul Tracy, and World Driving Champions Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi. Penske's cars won in NASCAR and in Formula One races. In the 25 Indianapolis 500 races that Penske entered, his cars won an amazing ten times. He set records for winning that will probably never be equaled. In Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) racing, an organization Penske created and managed with a cooperative board of directors, his cars won almost 100 races. His cars won nine National Championships, and more than 30 races on the NASCAR circuit. Penske was far and away the most winning car owner of all.

Penske always insisted upon designing and building his own cars for each series, especially the open-wheel "Indy-type" racing cars. He often said he got far more pleasure out of winning with a car that he had designed than winning with cars everybody else was driving. This sometimes held his teams back, as they sorted out the problems in new designs and innovative construction. But eventually the Penske cars would begin winning. When others began imitating Penske, he would design new ones, with even more innovative features. Once he re-designed a Mercedes engine with very short push rods for the Indianapolis race, and his car dominated the event. The next year he came back with yet another design and, to the surprise of racing fans everywhere, Penske's cars didn't even qualify for the race considered to be one of the most important in the world.

Acquired Race Tracks

As he continued to build his business empire, Penske acquired racetracks. He became the owner of Michigan Speedway, Nazareth (Pennsylvania) Speedway, North Carolina Motor Speedway and, in 1997, he built the state-of the-art California Speedway, a few miles from Los Angeles. The holdings of the Penske Corporation came to include Detroit Diesel Corporation, Diesel Technology Company, Penske Truck Leasing Company, Penske Automotive Group, Penske Auto Centers (the automotive service centers in K-Mart stores throughout the United States) and Penske Motorsports, handling the motor racing activities. Penske also became the co-owner of cars belonging to other racing teams that he thought were innovative, or could win.

Penske always exuded a "star quality," standing calm and self-assured in his racing pits, but he tended to avoid crowds and publicity. He was recruited to succeed Lee Iacocca at Chrysler Corporation, a job he did not take. He sat on the board of directors of General Electric and Philip Morris. Unlike most other chief executive officers of billion dollar corporations, Penske continued to don a fire suit so that he could personally manage the racing teams he loved.

Penske settled in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, with his wife. His two oldest sons from a previous marriage became executives in his corporation. Penske also had two daughters with his second wife, Kathryn. He continued to travel extensively in order to manage his many enterprises, but enjoyed returning home to relax. Penske has been consistently listed as one of the top "power players" in the world of motor sports, and is recognized throughout the world for his businesses and business connections.

Further Reading

Olney, Ross R., Drama on the Speedway, Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1978

Olney, Ross R., Modern Auto Racing Superstars, Dodd Mead, 1978

Olney, Ross R., Super Champions of Auto Racing, Clarion Books, 1984 □

Penske, Roger

views updated Jun 11 2018

Penske, Roger

Penske Corporation


Roger Penske created a unique niche for himself, in the highly competitive automotive industry through his almost fanatical attention to the details of his products and services. He also found success by paying close attention to the vastly overlapping and interlocking aspects of his privately held transportation empire which included: Detroit Diesel, Penske Truck Leasing, Penske Racing, Team Penske, and a retail automotive group among others. The former NASCAR grand national championship driver and cofounder of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) also owned the Outboard Marine Corporation.

Personal Life

Penske was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on February 20, 1939. His acute attention to detail was apparent at a very early age. While a preteen news carrier for the Cleveland News, Penske prided himself on being able to throw the papers on to his customers' porches without getting them wet. His delivery style earned him not only numerous satisfied customers but also garnered the praise of the paper's publisher, who gave him a cash reward for his efforts. The money from the award and the route enabled Penske to buy his first car, which he repaired and sold. After this, he bought another car to repair.

Racing has been in Penske's blood for a long time. He raced both dragsters and motorcycles while in high school, and when he went to college. He attended Lehigh University, in Pennsylvania, where he continued to indulge in his passion for racing along with playing football and participating in student government.

In 1958, upon graduating from Lehigh with a degree in business administration, Penske went to work for the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), as a sales engineer. Around this time, he began to embark on a career as a professional race car driver.

Career Details

Penske continued to work at Alcoa until 1964, when he left to become the general manager of a Philadelphia Chevrolet dealership. He eventually bought the dealership in 1965. Throughout the early 1960s, Penske enjoyed the acclaim of being named one of America's premiere race car drivers.

In 1960 and 1961, Penske was named the Sports Car Club of America's national champion. In 1961, Sports Illustrated named him the Driver of the Year. The following year both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times named Penske Driver of the Year. In 1964 Penske won three Nassau Trophy races and the following year he took home his first NASCAR grand national title. In 1965, Penske decided to retire from racing as a driver in order to concentrate on his growing business empire.

Not willing to get out of racing entirely, Penske formed Penske Racing and Team Penske in 1966. The creation of Penske Racing was made possible by his purchase of the Chevrolet dealership the previous year. Penske continued to build his racing team with driver Mark Donahue. In 1969, Donahue finished seventh at the Indianapolis 500. Also that same year, Penske founded the Penske Corporation which would serve as an umbrella organization to all of his future business ventures, including a truck leasing organization and a racing tire distribution network.

Team Penske won its first Indianapolis 500 race in 1972. The following year, Penske purchased the Michigan International Speedway for nearly three million dollars. Later, he purchased the Pennsylvania National Raceway. For much of the next three decades, Team Penske became synonymous with winning the Indianapolis 500. The team took home the trophy in 1979, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1991, and 1993. Besides Donahue, Team Penske drivers included: Rick Mears, Tom Sneva, Bobby Unser, Al Unser Sr., and Emerson Fittapaldi.

Penske united with U.E. Patrick in 1978, to form CART as an alternative to the Indy car organization. CART soon developed its own Indy car races at various tracks across America and has dominated Indy car racing since 1981.

Social and Economic Impact

Penske's devotion and commitment to the automobile industry ran deeper than his CART affiliations and racing team. In 1987, he entered into a joint venture with General Motors (GM) for the operation of the Detroit Diesel Corporation. The venture, worth about a billion dollars, put GM's 49-year-old heavy truck engine plant up for sale. GM needed the cash and Penske, as a longtime distributor of Detroit Diesel, wanted to diversify his place in the automotive market.

Detroit Diesel's market share had plummeted from 25 percent in 1979 to three percent a decade later. Penske sought to rejuvenate the company by having his truck leasing company promote the benefits of Detroit Diesel's engines. Penske's marketing approach, combined with the introduction of new engine models, helped Detroit Diesel's market share climb to 26 percent by 1991. Despite strong competition from others in the industry, Penske has managed to keep Detroit Diesel's market share at approximately 25 percent.

When asked about why he took on the burden of Detroit Diesel, Penske told Ward's Auto World, "It was a business opportunity. I typically have taken businesses, which were not highly fine tuned and been able to add our expertise in team management style to bring them to a solid and profitable market position....I realized here was a business I had been involved with for 15 years as a distributor. I knew the product, I knew the problem, I knew the people. So with that in hand, I took a look at what the structure of the deal could be. Typically, I have always wanted to have good partners."

Re-engineering Detroit Diesel kept Penske busy for much of the early 1990s, but it was only one facet of his expanding transportation empire. The different facets of the corporation worked together to build and support the trucking and racing industries. Some of the subdivisions of the Penske Corporation included: the transportation group, which included Detroit Diesel; the diesel technology corporation, which built commercial diesel injectors; the Penske Truck Leasing Corporation; a Southern California based retail sales venture; and the automotive performance group, which included Penske Racing.

In 1997, Penske purchased the Outboard Marine Corporation, the producer of Chris Craft boats along with Johnson and Evinrude outboard motors. Penske's plan was to expand Detroit Diesel's market share into the marine business.

Chronology: Roger Penske

1939: Born.

1961: Named Sports Illustrated Sports Car Driver of the Year.

1965: Retired from racing.

1966: Formed Penske Racing and Team Penske.

1969: Created the Penske Corporation.

1972: Team Penske won its first Indianapolis 500 race.

1978: Formed Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) with U.E. Patrick.

1982: Formed Hertz Penske Truck Leasing.

1987: Bought Detroit Diesel.

1997: Bought Outboard Marine Corporation.

Explaining his drive to Ward's Auto World Penske said, "I want to understand what's going on in the organization. I'll be walking through the plants, or looking at the suspension set up or looking at dyno sheets for my whole life. The day I stay out of the factories, I should get out of the business."

Sources of Information

Contact at: Penske Corporation
176 Riverside Ave.
Red Bank, NJ 07701


"Detroit Diesel Gets Portable and Seamless." Diesel Progress Engines and Drives, April, 1995.

"Driven." Indiana Business Magazine, May, 1994.

"High Gear." Forbes, 12 September 1994.

"Penske Talks About DDC." Ward's Auto World, November, 1994.

"Roger Penske." Newsmakers 88, Detroit:Gale, 1988.

"Roger Penske Goes Boating." Fortune, 4 August 1997.

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Roger Penske

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