By JILL ERWIN
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Beyond everything else, Roger Penske is a businessman.
To a man, his drivers and Penske Racing President Tim Cindric speak of Penske's forward thinking, his business acumen and his ability to be one step ahead.
Penske was the first to roll into Indianapolis with all his crewmen attired in uniform and with close-cropped hair. Cindric points out that Penske was the first to introduce hospitality areas in racetrack infields. Now, a megacomplex in Mooresville, N.C.
How large is it? Penske says he hopes to solidify plans by the end of summer for a test track he will build there. His teams won't even have to leave the property to turn laps on a top-level test track, possibly a three-quarter-miler like Richmond International Raceway.
"He has a notorious reputation for being on the cutting edge of developing new ways and new trends in race shops," Nextel Cup driver Kurt Busch said.
The sprawling Penske complex is not just any race shop.
Two buildings, three teams, 424,697 square feet, on 105 acres. A nearly-5,000-square-foot gift shop. A 330-foot fan walk. One million pounds (250,000 pieces) of Italian tile on the floor. And nearly 1,000 linear feet of photos displaying the history of the teams contained therein.
If you visit the complex, IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves says beware.
"The bad thing is you are going to exercise a lot, when you go to one building to another," Castroneves said. "When you leave [one] place, leave it with everything. Make sure you don't go back."
The complex has cost Penske $22 million ($7 million to buy, $15 million in infrastructure), but it signifies so much more.
The purchase allowed Penske to consolidate his IndyCar Series shop, his NASCAR shop and his American Le Mans Series shop into one site. Previously, the IndyCars were based in Reading, Pa.
The new site made things easier for Penske and Cindric. It allowed for the formation of one central office staff along with putting all engineering and machine shop work under one roof. It eliminated the need for travel between shops.
Penske said it gives his employees a chance to diversify. It is no coincidence that the property is situated on Penske Way, since that's the guiding principle for how Penske runs his businesses.
"We try to hire the best people who are committed to doing our way of business. It's all about our people, our relationships and continuity. We get people who want to be loyal, we do it the right way, and we're in business to develop a team. This is a people business."
His drivers will testify to Penske's people skills. They speak of how he makes them want to be better. How his passion inspires each of them. How his drive to be the best makes each of them rise to a higher level.
And it's quite the stable he's collected. Now under one roof are the racing operations of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves, defending and three-time IndyCar champion Sam Hornish, 2004 Nextel Cup champ Busch, and one of Nextel Cup's best qualifiers in Ryan Newman.
While overall there is an impact with the new shop -- "If people are happy where they are living, people are happy where they are working, and vice versa," Castroneves said -- none of the drivers says there has been an immediate change in his team's production because of it.
Cindric says it's not an overnight process. And to Penske, all of the benefits might not be seen in the standings right away.
"From a sponsor standpoint, it has really been a home run," Penske said. "That's the revenue for us. They see it as a place they can bring their people, use it as a different experience, and we have the infrastructure to provide all the things they need."
It also keeps Penske one step ahead of his competitors.
Chip Ganassi fields IndyCar and NASCAR teams as well, but said Penske's operation is older, more mature. Ganassi said it's the right move for Penske . . . but likely not yet the right move for him.
"I am looking closely, always looking closely, at our competitors and how they're doing things," Ganassi said. "If there's an opportunity there, we'll take advantage of that when we can make sense of it."
For Cindric, who added supervision of the NASCAR teams to his duties when the shop merger was announced, it's about Penske's vision.
"The thing I learned early on, you don't tell him that something's not possible, you give him a solution for how it can be achieved," Cindric said. "I remember the first time early on that I told him 'We can't do that.' He said, 'Can't we get this helicopter and meet it with this airplane and do this and do that?' And I said 'If you want to go to that extreme, of course we can.' That gave me a whole different perspective on how his mind works and how passionate he is about success."
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
By JILL ERWIN