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Penske, Roger - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Roger Penske

racing detroit team corporation

Penske Corporation


Roger Penske created a unique niche for himself, in the highly competitive automotive industry through his almost fanatical attention to the details of his products and services. He also found success by paying close attention to the vastly overlapping and interlocking aspects of his privately held transportation empire which included: Detroit Diesel, Penske Truck Leasing, Penske Racing, Team Penske, and a retail automotive group among others. The former NASCAR grand national championship driver and cofounder of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) also owned the Outboard Marine Corporation.

Personal Life

Penske was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on February 20, 1939. His acute attention to detail was apparent at a very early age. While a preteen news carrier for the Cleveland News, Penske prided himself on being able to throw the papers on to his customers’ porches without getting them wet. His delivery style earned him not only numerous satisfied customers but also garnered the praise of the paper’s publisher, who gave him a cash reward for his efforts. The money from the award and the route enabled Penske to buy his first car, which he repaired and sold. After this, he bought another car to repair.

Racing has been in Penske’s blood for a long time. He raced both dragsters and motorcycles while in high school, and when he went to college. He attended Lehigh University, in Pennsylvania, where he continued to indulge in his passion for racing along with playing football and participating in student government.

In 1958, upon graduating from Lehigh with a degree in business administration, Penske went to work for the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), as a sales engineer. Around this time, he began to embark on a career as a professional race car driver.

Career Details

Penske continued to work at Alcoa until 1964, when he left to become the general manager of a Philadelphia Chevrolet dealership. He eventually bought the dealership in 1965. Throughout the early 1960s, Penske enjoyed the acclaim of being named one of America’s premiere race car drivers.

In 1960 and 1961, Penske was named the Sports Car Club of America’s national champion. In 1961, Sports Illustrated named him the Driver of the Year. The following year both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times named Penske Driver of the Year. In 1964 Penske won three Nassau Trophy races and the following year he took home his first NASCAR grand national title. In 1965, Penske decided to retire from racing as a driver in order to concentrate on his growing business empire.

Not willing to get out of racing entirely, Penske formed Penske Racing and Team Penske in 1966. The creation of Penske Racing was made possible by his purchase of the Chevrolet dealership the previous year. Penske continued to build his racing team with driver Mark Donahue. In 1969, Donahue finished seventh at the Indianapolis 500. Also that same year, Penske founded the Penske Corporation which would serve as an umbrella organization to all of his future business ventures, including a truck leasing organization and a racing tire distribution network.

Team Penske won its first Indianapolis 500 race in 1972. The following year, Penske purchased the Michigan International Speedway for nearly three million dollars. Later, he purchased the Pennsylvania National Raceway. For much of the next three decades, Team Penske became synonymous with winning the Indianapolis 500. The team took home the trophy in 1979, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1991, and 1993. Besides Donahue, Team Penske drivers included: Rick Mears, Tom Sneva, Bobby Unser, Al Unser Sr., and Emerson Fittapaldi.

Penske united with U.E. Patrick in 1978, to form CART as an alternative to the Indy car organization. CART soon developed its own Indy car races at various tracks across America and has dominated Indy car racing since 1981.

Social and Economic Impact

Penske’s devotion and commitment to the automobile industry ran deeper than his CART affiliations and racing team. In 1987, he entered into a joint venture with General Motors (GM) for the operation of the Detroit Diesel Corporation. The venture, worth about a billion dollars, put GM’s 49-year-old heavy truck engine plant up for sale. GM needed the cash and Penske, as a longtime distributor of Detroit Diesel, wanted to diversify his place in the automotive market.

Detroit Diesel’s market share had plummeted from 25 percent in 1979 to three percent a decade later. Penske sought to rejuvenate the company by having his truck leasing company promote the benefits of Detroit Diesel’s engines. Penske’s marketing approach, combined with the introduction of new engine models, helped Detroit Diesel’s market share climb to 26 percent by 1991. Despite strong competition from others in the industry, Penske has managed to keep Detroit Diesel’s market share at approximately 25 percent.

When asked about why he took on the burden of Detroit Diesel, Penske told Ward’s Auto World , “It was a business opportunity. I typically have taken businesses, which were not highly fine tuned and been able to add our expertise in team management style to bring them to a solid and profitable market position.I realized here was a business I had been involved with for 15 years as a distributor. I knew the product, I knew the problem, I knew the people. So with that in hand, I took a look at what the structure of the deal could be. Typically, I have always wanted to have good partners.”

Re-engineering Detroit Diesel kept Penske busy for much of the early 1990s, but it was only one facet of his expanding transportation empire. The different facets of the corporation worked together to build and support the trucking and racing industries. Some of the subdivisions of the Penske Corporation included: the transportation group, which included Detroit Diesel; the diesel technology corporation, which built commercial diesel injectors; the Penske Truck Leasing Corporation; a Southern California based retail sales venture; and the automotive performance group, which included Penske Racing.

In 1997, Penske purchased the Outboard Marine Corporation, the producer of Chris Craft boats along with Johnson and Evinrude outboard motors. Penske’s plan was to expand Detroit Diesel’s market share into the marine business.

Chronology: Roger Penske

1939: Born.

1961: Named Sports Illustrated Sports Car Driver of the Year.

1965: Retired from racing.

1966: Formed Penske Racing and Team Penske.

1969: Created the Penske Corporation.

1972: Team Penske won its first Indianapolis 500 race.

1978: Formed Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) with U.E. Patrick.

1982: Formed Hertz Penske Truck Leasing.

1987: Bought Detroit Diesel.

1997: Bought Outboard Marine Corporation.

Explaining his drive to Ward’s Auto World Penske said, “I want to understand what’s going on in the organization. I’ll be walking through the plants, or looking at the suspension set up or looking at dyno sheets for my whole life. The day I stay out of the factories, I should get out of the business.”

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