LEMASTERS: Medal Of Freedom Winner Roger Penske

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Roger Penske received the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year. (IndyCar photo)
Ron Lemasters Jr.
Ron Lemasters Jr.

CONCORD, N.C. — Roger Penske, in his long and glorious motorsports career, has several houses worth of trophies and other awards.

Winning 18 Indianapolis 500s, a couple of Daytona 500s and pretty much every meaningful race around the world kind of makes that a foregone conclusion.

In late October, Penske received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump.

That symbol of success, I would imagine, will make its way to the head of the trophy case and stay there, since it is the highest award a civilian can earn in this country.

Penske is not only a racing icon, he’s a businessman of much repute.

Penske Corp. has auto sales, truck leasing and transportation logistics businesses around the world that employ more than 63,000 and are worth in excess of $31 billion.

This is a man, in all the years I’ve known him and known of him, who is always in charge, always has a plan and always surrounds himself with hard-working, talented people.

Yet, having the Presidential Medal of Freedom clasped behind your neck was an honor he had never received.

It showed. According to the Detroit Free Press, Penske said that medal “means more than any business success or motorsports trophy” he’d ever earned.

In doing so, the Pennsylvania native became only the second motorsports icon to wear it. “The King,” Richard Petty, received the honor from President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

As a motorsports writer and (as I get older) historian, that seems a bit light for our sport. Petty and Penske are deserving, but so are many others. A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti stand at the top of that list as icons of the sport and there is significant precedent for athletes to receive it.

Among the recipients are a preponderance of baseball players, 13 in all, and several other athletic icons, including Jesse Owens, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali and Jack Nicklaus.

There are nine basketball players, four from the golfing world and a couple from the football world.

Of course, people like Neil Armstrong, Stephen Hawking and Mother Teresa are also in the club. It is, indeed, rarefied air.

If you want to drill down on the auto racing folk who would be in the running, the late Tony Hulman is one man who should have gotten it years ago. Almost single-handedly, Hulman kick-started racing after World War II, at least the Indy car part of it.

Bill France had a similar impact on stock car racing a few years later.

Penske the racer and Penske the businessman are one and the same. The same effort that went into building Penske Corp. went into building Team Penske, and they seem to be run the same way —professionally.

Winning on the track and winning in the board room, I would guess, are treated the same way, too.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is bestowed sparingly, and those who are awarded it are titans of their respective fields. Penske is no different.

Anyone with the moniker “The Captain” is very nearly a shoo-in.

Trump was lavish in his praise of Penske, too, saying, “All this guy does is win.” Trump likes winners, and Penske obviously fits that description.

Congratulations to “The Captain” on his award, and it is richly deserved.

With all the attention ball players, hoopsters and golfers get in this regard, it is high time that motorsports gets its turn on the stage as well.