ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Roger Penske pulled up on a scooter to the VIP Tower at Road America before Sunday morning’s IndyCar Series Rev Group Grand Prix presented by AMR ready for his next meeting.
Instead of wearing a traditional Team Penske black cap, the 83-year-old Penske had a black cap adorned with the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway “winged wheels” logo.
It was an important weekend for IndyCar and Penske.
“The good thing is we are racing again with fans and that’s important,” Penske told SPEED SPORT.
Penske has built a business and racing empire on the basis of finding solutions to challenges.
That philosophy has been tested as the COVID-19 pandemic has created unbelievable obstacles for professional sports.
Penske, the winningest team owner in Indianapolis 500 history with 18 wins in the world’s greatest race, is in his first season as the owner of IndyCar, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500.
With Penske at the helm, a bold new era was predicted for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500. Penske poured millions of dollars into improving and modernizing Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Georgetown Road was moved back to create more room under the main grandstands for spectators, instead of the narrow concourse areas that had been part of the facility for most of its history. Penske even payed to have Georgetown Road repaved.
Penske’s first year at the helm of IMS and IndyCar has been one of unbelievable challenges. The start of the season was delayed from March 15 at St. Petersburg, Florida to June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway without spectators.
Popular races such as the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach were canceled. The schedule was recreated, with the 104th Indianapolis 500 moved from May 24 to Aug. 23.
The GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, normally the kickoff event for the month of May, was moved to July 4 and became part of the Brickyard weekend at IMS. No spectators were allowed.
Doubleheaders were created to make up for the loss of races, including this past weekend’s REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR at Road America and this weekend’s Friday night/Saturday night doubleheader at Iowa Speedway.
Road America was the first time spectators were allowed at an IndyCar contest this season. Temperature checks, face masks and social distancing became part of the spectator experience.
The IndyCar paddock and pit lane remained sectioned off to team personnel and IndyCar officials only.
Fans will also be allowed at Iowa Speedway this weekend, with a limit of 5,000 spectators. They must remain in the grandstands while the paddock and pit lane will remain essential personnel only.
After serving as Hulman & Co. CEO since December 2012, Mark Miles was named Penske Entertainment CEO to continue the efforts he has been part of to help rejuvenate IMS and IndyCar.
Penske has provided inspiration in one of the darkest times in recent United States history.
“Every day, multiple-times every day,” Miles told SPEED SPORT. “Roger has been asked, ‘If you had it to do over again and you knew COVID was coming, would you buy it?’ He says, ‘Hell, yes. I might have tried to negotiate the price differently, but absolutely.’
“He has no regrets. He has unbridled enthusiasm. He is a leader that inspires everybody around him to be only forward looking. He is terrific.”
Famed racing legend Mario Andretti summed it up best. Penske has provided leadership and guidance at a time when the Indy car racing has needed it.
“There is only one Roger,” Andretti told SPEED SPORT. “We’ll be fine. He’s got to go all-in, no matter what.”