With 16 owner wins at the Indianapolis 500, Roger Penske already holds a spot in race history.
“There’s not a more important owner that’s come through these gates here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than Roger Penske,” IMS President Doug Boles said.
But he’ll make history again this year, driving the Chevy Camaro pace car for the 100th running, a relationship that goes back decades.
“In ’65 I became a Chevrolet dealer, my first business, and then that’s really been the backbone,” Penske said.
“I’m personally very, very excited about the car, I’m more excited about the driver,” General Motors President Mark Reuss said.
Penske wasted no time agreeing to drive the pace car for the 100th Indianapolis 500, hoping to give his team a strategic advantage along the way.
“It was an amazing ask, and then I started thinking of how I can use this as an advantage, that was my next thought. Do I tap the brakes or what do I do?,” Penske said with a laugh.
Penske’s success as a team owner started with an ultimatum from Chevy, who said he couldn’t be a dealer and a driver, so in 1965 his father drained his savings to help roger make the leap.
“I remember we drove to Pittsburgh, he took $50,000 out of his savings account. He had retired and said, ‘Roger, if you lose this, I’ll go back to work.’ so I had Chevrolet saying don’t be a race driver, my dad saying, ‘Hey, I’m taking almost everything i have out of my savings account, so that’s how we got started,” Penske recalled.
With the Team Penske drivers on hand as general motors honored Penske ahead of the 500, Helio Castroneves had some concerns about Penske’s pace car duties.
“Everybody knows he’s my strategy guy, so I wanna know how you’re gonna do it to call my race after that,” Castroneves asked, directing the question to Penske during a team news conference before the grand prix qualifying.
“Well, I called up Chitwood and asked him how i could come down in pit lane and spin it right in front of your pit, and then they’ll open the door and I’ll step out, so that’s my plan,” Penske said with a smile.
As Penske leads the field into the race, he’s hoping one of his drivers will be doing the same at the end.