I have been following Roger Penske’s career for a long time now and after visiting his race car museum in Scottsdale, AZ, this summer it made sense to take the two and a half hour drive to Mooresville, NC and look at the Penske Racing shop.
Back in the sixties Roger was a top tier driver making his name along with the likes of Carol Shelby, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Bob Bondurant, and many others. In 1962 he was named New York Times Driver of the Year. In 1965 he was part of Jim Hall’s Chaparral Cars when he announced his retirement from driving and became the team manager.
At the time many folks were perplexed by his decision and wondered why a talented driver just entering his prime would do such a thing. In typical Penske fashion Roger was way ahead of everyone else and making the best if not the obvious decision. In 1966 he brought engineer and race car driver, Mark Donahue into Team Penske and Penske Racing. This team would win the US Road Racing Championship in 1967, ten out of thirteen Trans-Am races in 1968, the Indy 500 in 1972, the SCCA Can-Am championship in 1973, and others until Mark’s tragic death during the Austrian GP practice in 1975.
Other great drivers that have driven for Team Penske have been Al and Bobby Unser, Rick Mears, Bobby Allison, John Watson, Tom Sneva, Danny Sullivan, and many others. Today Penske Racing in Mooresville, NC, is supporting drivers such as Kurt Busch, Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish, Jr., and Ryan Newman.
I pulled up to the site and found a parking place in the visitors’ lot. It was a short walk to the entrance where, in typical Penske fashion, the grounds were well manicured and the guest entrance was clean and well organized.
Roger set a high standard for race car cleanliness and organization when Team Penske came on the racing scene. Typically you would see most of the top teams show up with cars carrying dirt and track grime from the previous race and keeping their space in the garages and pits looking like a small town service station. Penske’s approach was a reflection of the thought and organization that keeps him successful, not only in racing, but also in the many businesses that make up Penske Corporation.
It made sense to keep the cars clean and spotless. It makes it much easier to discover when you have a problem and then remedy it when your view is not obscured by dirt and grease. It also has a profound effect on the team and sponsors. The sponsors discover that the car now reflects positively on them and the team develops a pride in their own image.
So it was not surprising to find that this facility was clean, well laid out, and organized for maximum productivity and quality. Past the official greeter was a set of stairs on the left that led up to a balcony that ran the length of most of the building providing and excellent view of the garage and the technicians as they prepared the cars.
The floor was tiled and spotlessly clean. Each area was laid out as efficiently as possible with plenty of bench surface and cabinet space. Drawers were not left open and tools were not accumulating on the floor. Air hose reels were tucked under the benches and there were cubbies for the jack stands. Each team’s area was color coded to highlight the sponsor as well as the driver.
While this doesn’t have the furtive intensity of the pits on race day, it was clear that the technicians were organized and purposeful in their activities. Every task was executed with the understanding that it had a cumulative effect on the success of the next race that that car would participate in.
It was interesting to see the multiple cars that were being prepared. NASCAR has become a sophisticated series where cars are purpose built for each type of track.
It was also interesting to compare the current NASCAR cars with the CoT (Car of Tomorrow) that all teams will be using. NASCAR has certainly become more and more of a spec series.
Before I left the Penske Racing grounds I went around to see the Indy 500 winning car they had on display at the front entrance. It is hard to believe that the steering wheel alone cost as much as my Mitsubishi Evolution MR did when it was new.
I drove back thinking about how I could use the garage layout at Penske Racing in my own garage.