Jay Penske hopes to follow in footsteps of famous father
By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor
INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker)—Jay Penske used to make his name on the lacrosse fields and hockey rinks when he was a college student at the Wharton School of Business at Penn University.
When it comes to making a name for himself at the Indianapolis 500, it’s hard to top Jay’s father, Roger, who is the winningest team owner in the famous race with 14 Indy 500 wins.
In Sunday’s 91st running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Jay Penske will follow in his father’s path as a team owner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Nothing I ever do here will ever match anything my dad has done but it is so much fun to give this a run,” said the 28-year-old Penske, who along with Steve Luczo, the Chairman of computer technology company Seagate, formed Luczo Dragon Racing with Ryan Briscoe as the driver.
Of all the “Indy-only” teams at this year’s race, this team has been the most impressive as Briscoe qualified for the outside of the second row with a four-lap average of 224.410 miles per hour on Pole Day.
Briscoe drives for Penske Racing American Le Mans Series team in the Penske Porsche. Briscoe is one of the stars of that series and won Saturday’s ALMS race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah before flying back to Indianapolis to prepare for the 500.
Penske spent part of his youth at the Indianapolis 500 every year cheering on his father’s team and drivers. Now he has his own team to support.
“I didn’t grow up always wanting to be in racing but I’ve been around Indy 19 times,” Penske said. “It was always a most exciting event for me every year. I saw how much pleasure it brought my dad and my family over the years. When we saw an opportunity, we had to jump on it.”
Penske said the opportunity to have his own team at Indy began the second week in March. Several factors came together, including the availability of Jay Signore to run the team after he closed down the International Race of Champions (IROC) series.
“We saw the opportunity was available and we knew we could split some of Ryan’s time away from ALMS which was just dynamite for us,” Jay Penske said. “Jay Signore closed down the IROC shop and became available.
“When I was six years old, Jay (Signore) helped me with my Soap Box Derby cars so that relationship goes quite far back with him.”
Backed with an impressive sponsorship from Norton 360, a computer security and anti-virus product, the No. 12 car is impressive both on and off the race track. The bright yellow car brings back memories of the Pennzoil car that four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears once drove for Roger Penske.
Before that, the paint scheme was dubbed the “Yellow Submarine,” when Johnny Rutherford drove the Pennzoil car for former team owner Jim Hall.
“I knew I would have trouble here not rooting every time the red and white cars went around, but to see the yellow car reminds of Rick Mears, who was my favorite driver,” Jay Penske said. “The first year he won the Indy 500 was the first year I was born in 1979.”
It is a first-class effort, but what else would be expected when a Penske is in charge?
“We didn’t want to come here with a second-class effort, we wanted to come here strong,” Jay Penske said. “We wanted to come here with the right team, the right equipment and the right group of guys, and I’m real proud of what we’ve done so far.”
Penske runs Dragon Books, a rare antiquarian book store on the west side of Los Angeles, and also has started two technology companies including Firefly Mobile, a cell phone designed for young kids.
“When I got out of school, I didn’t go into the family business,” Jay Penske admitted. “To this day, my dad hasn’t invested in any of my businesses.
“I’m doing the best I can to make a name for myself, but I have a great family.”
Penske’s father is one of America’s leading industrialists who runs Detroit Diesel, Penske Truck Leasing and the United Auto Group. His vast business holdings often kept him away from home when Jay was growing up, but he always made an effort to support his son’s competitive endeavors.
“Whether I was at a ski race, a hockey game or a lacrosse match, my dad would fly red-eyes to get to my games,” said Jay Penske, an exceptionally bright individual who is currently on the board of the Entrepreneurial School at the Wharton School of Business. “With as much time as he spends at a race track, he would try equally hard to get to all of my games.”
With cars and equipment provided by Team Penske, some of the smaller teams in Gasoline Alley believe it’s unfair to compare their team to Jay Penske’s - a satellite team that can benefit from Team Penske’s resources.
Because of that arrangement, it’s been called “Sputnik” in the garage area.
“I don’t think that’s accurate,” Jay Penske said. “The Penske team has been so helpful to us, but our crew is made up mostly of IROC people and we have a great driver. But we know we wouldn’t be here without Team Penske.
“I don’t know what to expect on Race Day. We’re going to be so excited, I’m going to need to bring seat belts here.”
Take a few steps down pit lane and talk to Roger Penske, who is one happy and proud father to see what his son’s team has accomplished at Indy.
“This all came out of Jay’s interest in the sport,” said Roger Penske, the team owner for defending Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. and two-time Indy champion Helio Castroneves. “We went through the proper channels and were able to supply them a car. They have got a lot of experience in that garage, and I think we want to see them do well. It’s good to have him here.”
Competition is a Penske trademark, and it has been passed down to his youngest son.
“It runs in the blood, for sure,” Jay Penske said. “He wanted us to compete, have fun playing sports and show integrity and class and never be a bad loser. But in every one of our bloods is this competitive nature.”