MOORESVILLE, N.C. — During the days of the “split” in Indy car racing, Roger Penske and John Menard played significant roles on opposite sides of the fence.
This season, the two former adversaries joined forces for a limited schedule in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Menard’s company sponsored Simon Pagenaud’s No. 22 Chevrolet in four Verizon IndyCar Series events. Menard enjoyed his return to Indy car racing so much his company will increase its involvement with Team Penske and Pagenaud next season.
The easily identifiable, bright-yellow paint scheme of Menards will be featured on Pagenaud’s car in 10 races during 2017, including the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 28
“John and I have raced against each other for many years. I think his first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was back in 1979,” Penske said. “We’ve had to brush shoulders in the garage area for a number of years. As the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 came up this year, we connected and talked about a potential sponsorship at Indy. I think the fact we added the road race there, the success that Simon had there, winning that race, which was a terrific kickoff to the 100th running of the Indy 500, then we had a great car there.
“We kept in touch with John. I think his goals are similar to ours,” Penske added. “We have a business. We use the business as a common thread to promote our brands. When we looked at the 2017 season, as we added races this year, we said, ‘Why don’t we try to put something together more meaningful for 2017?’”
Menard didn’t have to think long to make a decision. However, the owner of a large chain of home improvement stores based in the Midwest, does not have interest in returning to the sport as a team owner.
“I’ve found it certainly to be more pleasurable to be a part of Roger’s team than trying to beat Roger’s team,” Menard said. “It’s more enjoyable. It’s been an exciting year. We had just a great month of May. Started out with a win. Got all frustrated during the race a couple of times. But it turned out really great.
“We’re a Midwestern-based company. The real heart of what we’re doing is in the Midwest. It’s been a really, really good fit for our company.”
Menard won one championship during his days as an Indy Racing League team owner, claiming the 1997 title with Tony Stewart driving.
“It’s like a fairytale, isn’t it really?” Menard said. “When you think about it, you can’t make this stuff up. All of a sudden this gentleman from France just ignited the Indy car racing world. It just took off and he has become a legend almost in his own time.”
Menard always took pride in representing the United States with drivers from the United States, but he recognizes the business climate of the IndyCar Series has changed.