Motorsports Continues To Change For The Better


Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports

Guest Columnist

Roger Penske owns teams that compete in NASCAR, the Indy Racing League and the American Le Mans Series.

A Driver: Penske was a world-class road racer before becoming a team owner.

It seems like a long time ago that I began my involvement in auto racing in 1958, and the one constant through all those years has been change. There have been great changes in almost every aspect of motorsports, and we’ll continue to see change and evolution in the years to come.

 When I look at Indy cars, I believe over the next five years we will see one open-wheel series. It appears that the Champ Car group is primarily looking outside the U.S. for its support, while the IndyCar Series remains anchored by the Indianapolis 500. It will be critical to continue to build a relationship with core tracks, and I think the IndyCar Series is doing that.

We’ll have one series, with a mix of perhaps 60/40 with ovals and road courses. I think it’s important that ovals remain the majority. Because we are using the same cars on both ovals and road courses — and because we’re using common chassis, engines, and so forth — our costs have been brought to sustainable levels. I also see Indy-car racing partnering with sports cars on race weekends to build and cross-pollinate both fan bases.

 Speaking of sports cars, we’ll continue to see a strong connection with automotive brands and their customers. Today, we’re seeing a strong push, by both manufacturers and dealers, for experiential connections with customers. It isn’t simply an automobile, it’s an experience. And the connection grows ever stronger when customers can attend a sports-car event and watch their brand — be it Porsche or Audi or whatever — on the track. That will remain strong in the years to come, and it’s an important component for sports-car racing.

 We’ll continue to see more standardized components in NASCAR racing, following the advent of the Car of Tomorrow. A lot of people might not like the COT, but from a cost perspective NASCAR hit it right in the bulls-eye. We can probably reduce the number of cars required for two drivers to run the series from 45 to 20, greatly reducing expenses.

The management of technology and its related costs will be one of the front-burner issues for our sport.

 One significant change that is coming, I think, is that NASCAR will limit the participation of Cup drivers in the Busch events. This series is meant to be a development series, and it’s growing more difficult to bring young drivers up if they’re racing against the Cup guys.

 The Chase for the Championship is terrific, and I don’t feel NASCAR needs to change it from the current form. I think you’ll see NASCAR racing in New York, because it needs to be in that market. And we’ll likely see discussions very soon on how to limit the number of races. It’s very hard on the people working in NASCAR because they’re away from home so much. Perhaps we’ll visit some markets only every other year, for example.

 We will continue to see an emphasis on safety in our sport. That’s been perhaps the most significant evolution I’ve seen during my career. We have now realized that the human body can withstand 50 or 60 G’s of impact if supported properly. Tony George, as well as NASCAR, should get great applause for the development of soft-wall technology.

I’m a big supporter of auto racing. I’ve built my entire business around it. Many of us have. I’ve always been very positive about auto racing. The sport is very clean, and that’s one of the most important factors behind the growth of the sport. We simply haven’t had much scandal, and that’s because the people involved in racing are very much on the up-and-up. They are honest. The best police, the best inspectors, are the competitors, and I’m proud of that.

To see what Bill France was able to do, what Tony George has been able to do, to see teams such as Hendrick and Gibbs come into the sport and succeed is a source of great pride in our sport.

That’s the great thing: racing has always been about effort, energy and people. The rest of the things — the cars and pieces and parts — you’ll have if you have quality people.

Auto racing has been a very important part of my life, and it has brought me great joy and satisfaction. That’s probably true for most of us in this sport; racing is an integral part of our lives, something that excites and sustains us. That isn’t going to change anytime soon. The future looks very promising, and that’s encouraging to all of us who love auto racing.

(Original Print Date: July 25, 2007)