Team Penske considers return to sports cars; ‘We could move a program in tomorrow’

Robert Laberge/Getty Images

MOORESVILLE, N.C. –Team Penske’s sprawling headquarters occupies more than 400,000 square feet, 90,000 of which remain undeveloped.

Could the team that has stakes in IndyCar, NASCAR and V8 Supercars (with a base in Australia) be considering another racing series to occupy its vacant space?

Yes, and it would be a familiar operation: Sports cars.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric said a sports car team would be a virtual plug-and-play endeavor for the storied organization, and he believes a prototype push in sports cars might drive the funding to return.

“We have the flexibility to do that, and we’ve pursued that really since 2009,” Cindric said during an episode of this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast.

“A factory-type program. But essentially the prototype side of it really hasn’t had a lot of factory support up until now. I think you’ll see in the next two to three years a lot of factories coming in and supporting this new IMSA series to where you have four different manufacturers now of the cars. There’s going to be a lot more factory support.

“So we’ll continue to look at that as far as a program to bring in-house here. But the moons haven’t aligned. But we could move a sports car program in here tomorrow and replace the one we had before.”

Team Penske raced an LMP2 class Porsche RS Spyder in the American Le Mans Series from 2005-08, winning three consecutive championships, and ran the GRAND-AM Series in 2009. Those circuits merged as the rebranded IMSA championship in 2014.

If Penske were to restart its sports car team, Cindric said it might affect how any possible expansion plans for its two-car Sprint Cup operation.

“If we were to do sports car and add in NASCAR, we probably would have to add a little architecture to the place,” Cindric said. “But we’re well positioned to expand.”

Team Penske also is intrigued by the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, which has drawn entries from fellow IndyCar teams Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, SH Rallycross and Bryan Herta Rallysport.

The Red Bull-sponsored OMSE team also races Global Rallycross from a base in Mooresville near NASCAR’s Technical Institute. Cindric’s son, Austin, raced GRC Lites for OMSE last season.

Tim Cindric said Global Rallycross is “something we look at” but wasn’t a short-term priority for Penske.

“But it’s an up and coming sport,” he said. “It’s a differentiator. It’s the right demographics.”

Of course, a return to another racing series would make the biggest splash: Formula One. Penske fielded F1 cars in the 1970s, winning the 1976 Grand Prix of Austria with John Watson.

Could an F1 operation slide onto the same campus with NASCAR and IndyCar teams?

“Roger’s been there and done that,” Cindric said. “So I don’t think that’s something he’s interested in doing right now. But I guess within the Penske family, (sons) Jay, Greg and Roger Jr. all have the racing bug. They haven’t been there and done that. Jay has a Formula E team, and he races throughout the world in the electric series right now.

“So I wouldn’t say never. I’d just say Roger probably isn’t going to be the one to push the button on that one.”

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”