Johnson City Press Sunday, December 21, 2014

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Sports NASCAR/Racing

Talent only part of the equation

March 10th, 2014 7:22 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Talent only part of the equation

No owner in motorsports can match the overall success of Roger Penske.

The numbers include 382 major race wins, 436 pole posistions and 25 national championships. So it’s no surprise Penske, whose cars have won 10 Sprint Cup races at Bristol Motor Speedway, is considered one of the best ever at picking out talent.

However, talent isn’t the trait which Penske puts at the top of the list of becoming a champion.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

“It’s commitment. You don’t get good without putting the effort in,” said the 77-year-old car owner. “In this sport, you’ve got to understand the car, but you’ve got to understand the team and the chemistry. A driver today, you have to understand the engineering of the car, but you have to be a commercial guy too for the sponsors. It’s not like stick and ball, where you just put your helmet on. You’ve got to be a multi-faceted person.”

Penske is the definition of a multi-faced person. Besides his legendary success on the race track which includes 15 Indianapolis 500 wins and 37 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins with Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace, Penske is as well known for his success in the business world. He has a net worth estimated at $1.1 billion as the man behind such companies as Penske Truck Leasing and Penske Automotive Group.

When it comes to racing, Penske said while the right crew is important, he added a driver first needs support at home.

“You have to have that family support,” he said. “You look at Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney or even Lewis Hamilton in Formula One, when they start racing go-karts. I’m sure a great skater, their father or mother took them out to an ice skating rink early on. It takes a commitment from the family. It takes that family getting that individual to that point.”

When it comes to giving advice for the numerous young drivers who want to render their services behind the steering wheel of Penske race cars, he tells them to learn the basics and develop a good mechanical knowledge.

‘The young guys need to learn about the car first and what makes it work,” he said. “A lot of guys can go fast, but can you understand why you’re going fast and how do you get going better. It’s like a golfer. He has to understand how to adapt to fast greens or the different conditions you have. It’s the same way on the race track. Our business now is a lot more technical and that makes the difference.”

In NASCAR circles, Penske is known as the 2012 Sprint Cup championship winning car owner, and the current owner of Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford and Logano’s No. 22 Ford.

Over a half-century ago,  however, he was looked as one of the rising stars of the sport, named Driver of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1961 for his sports car success. Two years later, he was the winner of a NASCAR West Series race before retiring to focus on business.

His last time actually getting behind the wheel and really running a car hard was two years ago in Utah when he donned the helmet and driving suit to take a Dodge Viper out for a spin on the Miller Motorsports Park road course.

Usually, Penske can be seen from the spotter’s stand supporting his teams. While there is no doubt winning a race like the Indianapolis 500 or the Daytona 500 has extra prestige, Penske has made a point to enjoy all of his success.

His first NASCAR win came at Riverside, Calif. in 1972 in a car raced by Mark Donohue nicknamed the “Flying Brick” for its lack of aerodynamics. It remains the last race won by a non-NASCAR regular on a road course.

“Each one of the wins are special,” he said. “Winning that NASCAR race in a Matador was a big deal for us, back in those days at Riverside. We had a lot of great wins at Riverside, Laguna Seca in the old Can Am (Series) days with people like Sterling Moss, Dan Gurney and Geoff Brabham. It gave me a lot of thrill to say I accomplished something.”

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