Team Penske kicks off 50th anniversary celebration in 2016


It seems like just yesterday that Roger Penske began building what would become one of the greatest racing empires ever.

Now, 50 years later and following an evolution that began as Roger Penske Racing, transitioned to Penske Racing and eventually to simply Team Penske, the IndyCar and NASCAR legend is throwing a year-long celebration of his organization’s 50-year history.

“We are very proud of all Team Penske has accomplished over the last 50 years,” team owner Roger Penske said in a team media release. “The celebration of our 50th Anniversary is truly a credit to the hard work, preparation and execution of our teams over the years.

“The 2016 season will be a special one in our history as we have the opportunity to reflect back on our heritage while continuing to produce and win at a high level each week on the race track.”

Originally formed in 1966 to compete in sports car and endurance events – it won the 24 Hours of Daytona in its first career start – the organization quickly added IndyCar competition and eventually NASCAR racing.

Along the way over those five decades, Team Penske has amassed a combined 424 wins (including 16 Indianapolis 500 wins and two Daytona 500 victories), 487 poles and 28 national championships. It also has had more than 80 different drivers behind the wheel of a Penske race vehicle.

And something for Gene Haas to shoot for as he debuts his Formula One team in 2016: Team Penske was also the last American team to win a Formula One race (1976, with driver John Watson).

The Penske legacy will be celebrated in several ways, most notably at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

First, the NASCAR Hall of Fame will debut a new display – “Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Team Penske” – starting on Jan. 20, during the annual NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“The special exhibit will not only focus on Team Penske’s successful NASCAR program, but will showcase cars spanning multiple racing disciplines from 1966 to the present and will include never before seen artifacts and trophies from the Team Penske archives,” according to a Team Penske media release.

Then in February, another display will debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. It will open 100 days before the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May.

The display will be more open-wheel centric, including cars that will reflect each Team Penske driver’s first win at IMS, along with other vehicles, artifacts and trophies from Penske’s 50 years of racing.

Other highlights of the year-long celebration include:

* Formation and inaugural introductions into the Team Penske Hall of Fame, which will honor current and former drivers and employees who have made significant contributions to the team and its history.

* The Jan. 18 issue of Sports Business Journal will have a special pullout section celebrating Team Penske. In addition, team patriarch Roger Penske will be featured as one of the magazine’s six annual Sports Business Champions.

* There will be a number of media placements featuring historic races, drivers, team members and key moments in Team Penske history. Those placements will include more than 70 interviews with former drivers, employees, sponsors and other influential individuals in the organization’s history to be used in print, online and broadcast media.

* Social media will play a key role in spreading the 50th anniversary message, keying on the hashtag #Penske50. As the year goes by, the team will post a variety of things such as driver biographies, photos, videos and key moments in the organization’s history.

* An extensive line of merchandise commemorating the organization’s 50th anniversary will debut in the next few months and will feature Puma apparel, collectables, novelties and diecasts.

For more information visit

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.