Club members and guests gathered to celebrate motorsport legend Roger Penske, at the 21st Annual Motoring Dinner. With 500 motorsport team victories under his belt, there were hundreds of reasons to celebrate the icon, but the chosen milestone was 50 years since Roger’s first team entry into an Indianapolis 500 race. It was 1969 when Roger first lined up on the ‘Brickyard’s’ starting grid; his team has celebrated 17 victories in that world-famous event since.
Host for the evening was well known author and journalist Simon Taylor who spoke to several famous guests with special ties to Roger’s career.
The four-time IndyCar series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti was in attendance, praising Roger for continually raising the bar of racing. Although he’d never driven for Roger, he knew the force of Team Penske better than most and shared the excitement that came with competing against the motorsport titan.
Former-Penske driver Emerson Fittipaldi appeared via video to recount his experience racing to his 1993 Indianapolis 500 victory. Having overtaken Nigel Mansell with 15 laps to go and focussed entirely on the race, he suddenly heard Roger shouting encouragement over the radio. Emerson remarked he was probably one of very few new drivers who had promptly told Roger to stop talking!
Ex-racing driver John Watson played a part in Roger’s brief stint in Formula 1 and joined guests for the evening. Driving for Team Penske in the 1976 season, John won a famous victory at the Österreichring which remains the most recent Formula 1 victory by an American team. On the night, John confirmed the lost bet he’d had with Penske resulting in him having to shave off his beard after winning the Grand Prix. Unsurprisingly Roger failed to recognise his driver the next morning.
Although not able to attend the event in person, Rick Mears, perhaps Roger’s most prolific driver on the track, sent an endearing video message to Roger thanking him for his continued support.
In celebration of the evening a Penske PC23 was displayed in the Club’s rotunda. The car had a very special connection to guest Mario Illien. Co-founder of Ilmor Engineering alongside Paul Morgan, the company helped developed a unique 1,000 bhp Mercedes-Benz engine specially built for the 1994 Indianapolis 500 race. As a result the car helped steer Al Unsen Jr, and Team Penske, to victory in the race. Patrick Morgan, son of the late Paul Morgan and current owner of the PC23, was also present.
After dinner Roger took to the stage for an interview with Simon. Looking back at his career so far, Roger’s most memorable race remains his very first start at the 1969 Indianapolis 500 but the memory of watching Jim Clark’s attempts at the series were another stand-out for Roger.
When asked if there were any motorsport accolades that had alluded him until now, Roger mentioned the Le Mans 24 Hour race had always been an enticing race, yet he had never entered it before. Nevertheless, he didn’t deny an entry could still be on the cards for his team in the future.
A humble man, Roger continually emphasised the importance of his team in making his various successes possible. The size of racing teams had grown immensely over the past five decades, and he maintained that teamwork was key to Team Penske’s success. He also remarked that the disciplined and focussed mindset of his motorsport team was a philosophy which ran throughout the rest of his business empire.
The motoring dinner was the fitting celebration of a man who continues to defy age. Roger shows no signs of slowing and, as Team Penske looks forward to lining up on the grid of the 2019 Indianapolis 500 race, ‘The Captain’ is still very much in the driving seat.
To view images from the event, please click here.
To view pictures of the PC23 in the rotunda click here.