Metropolitan Detroit has elected representatives by the bushel. There are many mayors, including most assuredly, former Detroit Piston Dave Bing, Mayor of Detroit. We have members of the U.S Congress, and members of the Michigan Senate and the Michigan House. Lots of representatives!
So what position might we give to someone with an eminently successful business career, who seems to know all the right people, who is characterized by amazing wisdom, and who can inspire volunteers to contribute strongly for the common good. And for readers of this blog: what position for someone who can actually bring Corvette racing to downtown Detroit? I’m not sure, but how about king? Yes, what about it: Roger Penske for King?
The Sunday edition of the Detroit Free Press had several articles on Mr. Penske, but the long article written by Mike Brudenell was significant. Brudenell speaks of Penske's strength as a leader, even at his 75 years of age.
To suggest the diversity of his strengths and massive involvement, on Sunday, Penske was attempting to win his 16th Indianapolis 500 as a team owner, when his drivers, pole sitter Ryan Briscoe, Will Power, and Helio Castroneves fought for victory. Meanwhile, at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, Penske had a genuine shot at having Brad Keselowski or A.J. Allmendinger win the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's longest race of the year.
Then there's Belle Isle this coming weekend, right here in Detroit, with the Chevrolet Belle Isle Grand Prix returning after a four-year absence.
Penske is quick to deflect suggestions that he is the prime figure in bringing the open-wheel race back to the Motor City, but few would argue that without him making calls to fellow movers and shakers throughout the city and state for their financial support, the IZOD IndyCar Series event would have gone the way of the dinosaur.
"I'm personally very interested in seeing Belle Isle be a success, but all the credit from a standpoint of execution goes to Bud Denker, who is obviously an associate of mine at Penske Corporation ... and who really, with his team of volunteers, some 500 to 600 of them, has helped bring the race back," Penske said of Denker, event chairman of the Grand Prix.
"I'm somewhat of a non-executive chairman in this particular role. I haven't done the heavy lifting. It's been Bud and his team." Gracious -- but not totally true. Behind the scenes, Penske has worked tirelessly to convince the City of Detroit, automotive and non-automotive-related companies, and those in Lansing that the time was right to get back to racing in the town long considered the car capital of the world.
His work paid off, so the Raceway at Belle Isle Park -- which Penske helped clean up -- is hosting a race again for the first time since 2008. "I think we've got a couple things different for the fans today," Penske said of this coming Sunday's IndyCar race, that will be televised live by ABC (Channel 7 in Detroit). "We have new cars, three engine manufacturers. There's a lot of interest in who has the better engines.
"But the success (of the event) is going to be the size of the field. We are going to have 26-27 cars start here; and I think that is critical, having a full field. I see a lot of new sponsors. The fact we're going to have TV life will be the key. All those things are going to play into having a successful weekend."
Born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, he raced in his early years, being named the Sports Car Club of America Driver of the Year in 1961. But his father, an executive for a metal fabrication company, encouraged his son to hang up his helmet and concentrate on business. Penske did, retiring from the cockpit in 1965 to open a Chevy dealership in Philadelphia. The rest is history. Penske has built a corporate empire that includes a diversified transport service company with retail automotive, truck leasing, transportation logistics and component manufacturing segments.
On the motorsports side, what Penske has achieved is priceless. Penske Racing is the most successful IndyCar racing team in history with 163 race wins, 12 national championships and 208 pole positions. On the NASCAR side, his drivers have won 102 races overall in stockcar competition through the years and 129 poles. In Sprint Cup alone, Penske has accumulated 73 victories and 97 poles.
Penske drivers are legendary. Those who have driven for him include Mark Donohue, Tom Sneva, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Bobby and Al Unser, Danny Sullivan, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr., Paul Tracy, Gil de Ferran, Bobby Allison, Rusty Wallace, and Kurt Busch.
Penske's agenda is not self-serving. He wants the best for the city and the state. Read more at Detroit Free Press on-line.
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- Ron: Thanks for coming to the event, especially from Missouri! Glad you enjoyed the big day!