The Captain Returns to Goodwood

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There are some that consider Roger Penske a polarizing figure, due to the money he brought to the sport in his early days in IndyCar. Many claim he dramatically increased the cost of doing business. I am not one of those. If you’ve followed this site for very long, you know I’ve been a lifelong fan of The Captain and Team Penske. I was at the 1969 Indianapolis 500, when Team Penske made their debut with Mark Donohue driving a Lola. As a ten-year old – I didn’t pay that much attention to the teams or the team owners at that time. I was more focused on the drivers and what their cars looked like.

Both of my older brothers are mechanical engineers. My oldest brother was already in college in 1969, and my middle brother had already decided on his career path by then. The fact that Mark Donohue was a graduate of Brown University with an engineering degree made him a favorite among my brothers. I wasn’t as impressed with that as I was with the way his car looked and his very pleasant demeanor. Even as a ten year-old, I wasn’t a fan of loud-mouthed drivers or athletes. I bent those rules a little bit with AJ Foyt. In my eyes, he was allowed to do whatever he wanted.

In May of 1972, I had just completed eighth grade. By then, I was very well aware of who Roger Penske was. I was unaware of his own successful driving career in the early sixties. I just knew him to be a classy owner that brought good-looking cars to the track. I was happy that he and Donohue won the Indianapolis 500. When we left The Speedway that day, I was totally unaware that it would be twenty years before I would return. When my father decided not renew our tickets for 1973, it was decision that baffled me then and to this day. When he and I returned together for the 1993 race, I asked him why he made that dreadful decision. He couldn’t remember, but I digress.

As I grew older, I still followed the race each and every year. I sat and listened to Sid Collins and then Paul Page describe the live events to me. Of course, I would watch the edited ABC replay that Sunday night. Each year, it was becoming more evident that Roger Penske and Team Penske had evolved into the team to beat each year.

After the initial Donohue win in 1972, it was another seven years before win No. 2 came in 1979 at the hands of a young Rick Mears. Between 1979 and 1994, Team Penske racked up a total of nine Indianapolis 500 wins and seven CART championships. After The Split in 1996, Team Penske returned to the Indianapolis 500 in 2001, taking the top two positions as an interloping CART team. They switched to the IRL in 2002 and won the Indianapolis 500 again, then again in 2003. Altogether, from 2001 through 2019 – Team Penske won the Indianapolis 500 another eight times, bringing Roger Penske a record total of eighteen Indianapolis 500 wins. Second on that list is Lou Moore with five wins. Some put Chip Ganassi on that list by counting the 1989 race. I give that one to Pat Patrick, since his name was on the team. For what it’s worth, that win was also in a Penske chassis.

If anyone needs reminding, Penske added the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series to his vast business empire, just before the pandemic hit. While some may not care for some of his changes, I cringe when I think what may have happened to the track and the series under the previous ownership for the past two seasons, as both have most certainly bled red ink.

This past weekend, Roger Penske returned to the track as a driver.

The 2021 Goodwood Festival of Speed, in West Sussex, England; took place over the weekend. Penske first drove at Goodwood in a Ferrari 250 GTO in the RAC Tourist Trophy. On Friday and Sunday, the 84 year-old Penske donned a racing helmet and strapped into one of his team’s sports cars, the Porsche RS Spyder that won the 2008 12 Hours of Sebring. This was part of the many celebrations of vintage cars and racers. This celebration was known as “The Maestros, Motorsports Great All-Arounders”. (Photo: Team Penske)

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Also honored was Mario Andretti, who drove several of his old cars – including the beautiful John Player Special he drove to the 1978 Formula One World Championship. He also drove a Ferrari once driven by his childhood idol, the great Alberto Ascari.

I watched some of the live stream from Goodwood on Sunday morning and saw both Andretti and Penske making runs. I scanned You Tube over the weekend for a clip of Penske driving his car up the hill at Goodwood. Unfortunately, all I could come up with was this amateur clip that someone took with their phone from their television screen of Friday’s run. While you can certainly still get a good view of The Captain behind the wheel as he navigates the course; there is the added distraction of someone’s heavy breathing behind the phone. I don’t even want to think what that might be about.

While searching for the elusive and more professional You Tube clip, I also came across this excellent video on the history of Roger Penske and Team Penske. It was produced for this weekend’s Goodwood Festival of Speed and it is excellent and takes only fifteen minutes to watch.

I found it curious that nothing was mentioned about his purchase of IMS. Either they found that to be irrelevant or perhaps this is older than I think, since Will Power is interviewed as the 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner, but there is no mention of 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud.

Whether you are a huge fan of Roger Penske and/or Team Penske; or you blame Penske for many of the problems in today’s racing – this is a very entertaining and highly informative video. No matter what your opinion of the man is, you will come away at least respecting his accomplishments.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “The Captain Returns to Goodwood”

  1. OliverW Says:

    As you so rightly write, who knows what would have happened to the IMS if RP had not purchased the track and series. One of my all time favourite motor racing books is by Mark Donahue The Unfair Advantage. If I was an American I would be seriously proud of RP. It was an honour him coming to goodwood.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    I saw that very pretty DHL Porsche race at the generally unloved 2nd Houston track. What a thrill, though. It is neat how many of our old racing heroes can still go out and wheel a race car for an exhibition.

  3. Phil freaking Kaiser Says:

    To all those who lament the passing of the ovals in IndyCar, here is your reason: Roger freaking Penske, for it was he back in those halcyon days who brought over “furriners” (and I’m not talking about the one-offs like Clark, Hill and Stewart who pretty much only did Indy when they came over.. note I said “PRETTY MUCH”), and demanded more road courses for them to excel on (along with Carl Hass and UE (Pat) Patrick)! Penske is the fool who fired Gary Bettenhausen because he LOVED THE DIRT and refused to stop running on it! Nothing says “I love ovals” like THAT!

    Penske has never been an oval fan (I truly believe he doesn’t view IMS as an oval, but I digress) and he’s never going to be. But now that he’s in charge of everything IndyCar he has to pay lip service to the older fans (what’s left of us), because who else gives a crap nowadays? We can’t get more than 1.3 million viewers to any IndyCar race other than the “500, ” so where are the new road course fans, or new fans in general? Watching F1, that’s where. I don’t like him, nor trust him. Never have, never will.

    Now, in fairness I am the most rabid AJ Foyt fan in the world, so yeah, that colors my view a bit. But given the time and platform I can make the case Penske and his ilk are what changed IndyCar for the worst. And now he owns it all. Sheesh.

    And George, I finally went to The Track for Quals and the Race this past May and was totally underwhelmed by the supposed “updates” he has done there. That big screen TV behind the Pagoda is nothing special once you’ve see a REAL huge TV at Texas Motor Speedway. And yeah, so he painted over the graffiti in the bathrooms… big whoop! I just don’t get the fawning and hero worship of this guy, but, to each his own.

    And this is just my humble opinion. Your results may vary….

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