Roger Penske at the 105th Indianapolis 500. (IndyCar Photo)
Roger Penske at the 105th Indianapolis 500. (IndyCar Photo)

SHEHEEN: The Captain & His Stories

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Having Roger Penske and Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles as guests for the grand-opening breakfast during last month’s PRI Trade Show was an outstanding way to welcome the racing industry back to Indianapolis.

Penske was energetic, engaged and full of wisdom with nearly 3,000 attendees assembled in the Sagamore Ballroom inside the Indiana Convention Center.

Penske’s story of how he snuck in and out of Indianapolis while working through the details to purchase the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series was highly entertaining. It also showed how determined he was to make a deal under the radar.

Illustrating Penske’s ability to keep a secret, Boles elaborated on the story. Boles said he was out of town on vacation when negotiations were taking place and he was completely out of the loop. Eventually, he received a call to be in his office at 6:30 the next morning.

“I figured I better be early, so I arrived at the office at 6:30 a.m. When the elevator door opened, Roger was standing there,” Boles said. “He looked at me and said, ‘I bet you’re surprised to see me.’ That’s when I put it all together.”

Penske celebrated the purchase by getting right to work and walking the grounds for nearly eight hours, while discussing with his new management team how he wanted to upgrade the facility. 

Numerous stories about his attention to detail had the audience laughing out loud.

One example was how much time Penske spent with the staff visiting restrooms around the 2.5-mile race track. No detail was too small with improving the fan experience, Penske’s top priority.

However, before Penske could share the initial renovations with race fans, COVID-19 hit and no fans were allowed to attend the Indy 500. But this didn’t stop The Captain.

“When COVID hit, I knew it was devastating to Roger’s business,” Boles said. “I asked him if he was OK. He said Doug, ‘Yesterday we were two laps ahead. Today we are one lap ahead, but we are still winning.’”

One thing Penske mentioned multiple times was his desire to have a major international sports car race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Brickyard already hosts several sports car races. However, the track does not have an event for the top-tier prototype machines from the world’s biggest manufacturers. 

With IMSA and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest agreeing to the new LMDh rules package and Team Penske working with Porsche to compete in IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, it feels like the appropriate time to add a significant endurance race at the world’s greatest race track.

– It was great to spend time with Dave Marcis and his wife, Helen, at Don Miller’s annual Stocks for Tots function in Mooresville, N.C. 

It’s a fun event that brings out many members of the racing community who live in the Charlotte area. It was a huge success, raising money and gathering toys for Christmas for kids in the Mooresville area. 

The racers were seated at tables, greeting the hundreds of race fans who filed through the room to get autographs on a wide variety of racing memorabilia. Racing personalities in attendance included Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Bobby Allison, Winston Kelley, Doug Herbert and yours truly.

When we asked, Marcis said the toughest NASCAR races of his era were the superspeedway events at Daytona Int’l Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. He said these races required massive amounts of concentration, making them very challenging for the longtime independent racer.

As one would expect, Marcis was wearing his classic Goodyear Racing hat and wingtip shoes. When asked about his trademark Goodyear hats, Marcis said longtime Goodyear executive Phil Holmer gave him eight cases of the familiar blue-and-white hats when he retired from driving. Marcis said he still has two cases left.

Quizzed about the Wingtip shoes he wore while racing, the 80-year-old said he could get a full season out of a left shoe, but only half a season out of the right before he would have to have it re-soled.

– Formula 5000 had some of the coolest cars and the biggest stars in open-wheel racing. Unfortunately, it only lasted nine seasons in North America. 

Mario Andretti, David Hobbs, George Follmer, Bobby Unser and Mark Donohue were among the competitors in the category. Brian Redman won 15 times in the series and earned three consecutive championships.

These days, F-5000 is rarely discussed, except at major vintage races in the country, where one may catch a few of the stunning machines in action. Award-winning author John Zimmerman has brought the glory of Formula 5000 back to life through a meticulously researched coffee-table book titled, “Lost in Time.”

It is the most detailed book on the series we have seen. 

Like any great book of this kind, however, the pictures make the difference. The book is available through Racemaker Press at racemaker.com. Well done John.

– Congrats to Sprint Car and Midget contributor Pat Sullivan, who was the recipient of the prestigious Dick Jordan Award from USAC. Pat has been passionately writing about and announcing USAC races for years. Way to go Pat!

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