A lifelong commitment to NASCAR and motorsports has earned Roger Penske a rightful place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a member of the 2019 class induction set for Friday night.
Starting from humble beginnings, ‘The Captain’ established his storied NASCAR journey at Riverside International Raceway in 1972 with Mark Donohue piloting the No. 16 AMC Matador. Donohue only completed 13 of the 149 laps due to a rear-end failure for a 39th-place result.
But it was the hard work and dedication Penske is so famously known for that allowed him to begin his rise to the top, returning to Riverside for the season-opening race in 1973 with Donohue, scoring his first victory as an owner.
Collecting 113 more victories over the course of 35 years and counting, Penske has given the likes of Bobby Allison, Rusty Wallace, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Jeremy Mayfield, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney an opportunity to reach Victory Lane in top-notch equipment built from the ground up.
Aside from Penske’s vast financial success that has granted him the ability to put winning machines on the race track for so long, it’s his prowess in selecting the right drivers for the job that has been valuable beyond measure.
When Penske hired Logano in September 2012, he took a risk. Although Logano had only won two races in four full-time seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, Penske saw something in the young man that stuck out to him. He promised Logano would be a champion someday.
That day came at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November as Logano made Penske’s vision a reality, earning his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and a second title for Penske as an owner.
It’s more than just the opportunity Logano appreciates. It’s the fact that perfection is the expectation, not just the hope.
“I think with Roger, his ability to lead by example is probably the biggest piece for me,” Logano told NASCAR.com. “He doesn’t have to go in and give pep talks or really say much at all. Just knowing that you work for Penske at this point, everyone knows what’s expected. There’s a perfection that is expected from all of us. … I want to be part of an organization like that and somebody that expects to be perfect and win.”
The desire for perfection isn’t because Penske sits back and expects his drivers to carry the work load, it’s because that’s what he expects out of himself, first and foremost. You’ll never find Penske resting on his laurels or even taking a break, because that’s when you get beat.
That type of aura is not only frightening for the competition, it can also be intimidating for his very own employees as Blaney recollected the first time he met Penske in his bus a few years back.
“We came in and I was very nervous because he’s got a reputation of being a very straight-cut, white-shirt guy,” Blaney recalled. “I was really nervous because I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be up to standards.’ But he was a really great person and still is.”
Blaney also remembers the time he really got a glimpse of the kind soul Penske possesses after giving away a potential victory during an Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I thought I was going to get fired,” Blaney said. “I thought I was done. I talked to him the next morning in his bus and it was really, really reassuring. Really good advice he gave me – learn from your mistakes and move on. That kind of solidified that this is one of the best people that I know.”
Keselowski, who brought home Penske’s first Cup Series championship in 2012 along with his first Brickyard 400 triumph in 2018, looks up to Penske’s continuous efforts to learn regardless of the endless knowledge he has about the business.
“He’s committed to always learning new technology, always pushing forward, never happy with what was good enough yesterday as being good enough for today,” Keselowski told NASCAR.com. “It’s that drive that I think makes him so special.”
Keselowski also shed light on Penske’s experience with owning and building race tracks, including his ownership of Michigan International Speedway from 1972 through 1999 and the creation of Auto Club Speedway in 1997 – serving as another notch on his Hall of Fame belt.
“He’s done so much for the sport, I can’t think of anyone more deserving that’s not already in, that’s for sure,” Keselowski added. “What he’s done on the track and off the track, quite frankly, as a car owner and track owner. He’s a guy that’s really pushed the sport forward in a number of ways with a high level of professionalism and innovation.”
Penske has proven it’s nearly impossible for him to get outworked, from staying up for the full 24 hours to watch his sports car team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona to countless hours of managing his various businesses and race operations.
“I think that’s great and the way he does that is by always looking out the windshield,” Logano said. “The guy doesn’t stop, he does not stop. That’s what makes him so great.”
For Blaney, the respect for his car owner’s work ethic is so substantial, he admittedly feels he can’t match it despite the 56-year age difference.
“For how hard he’s been going for so long, that’s pretty amazing to me,” Blaney said. “He has more drive than I do and he’s 81 years old. It’s pretty amazing what he does and how his mind still is. That part is very neat to get to know.”
Although Blaney voiced that the Hall of Fame enshrinement is long overdue in his honest opinion, he’s thankful the day has finally come and he’s proud to be one of the drivers in his fleet for the momentous occasion.
“This weekend is going to be really cool being part of the Penske group for a handful of years and get to know Roger over that time,” Blaney said. “For someone who’s done so much, not only in NASCAR but in motorsports in general, very deserving. It’s going to be a special couple days and couple nights at that place.”