Steinbrenner continues winning family legacy, but in different sport

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MONTEREY, California – There is something in the Steinbrenner family DNA that knows how to win.

From the late George Steinbrenner’s leadership of the New York Yankees that restored the franchise to World Series championships, through the current ownership of his sons Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, winning is expected.

On Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, there was another generation of the Steinbrenner family holding a trophy. It was 22-year-old George Michael Steinbrenner, IV.

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo

He was holding the winning trophy for his NTT IndyCar Series team’s victory in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. His 19-year-old driver, Colton Herta, had just completed an impressive victory where he led 83 of the 90 laps in the race to complete a rookie season that included three poles and two wins.

There are more trophies in Steinbrenner’s future.

“Borg-Warner Trophy, Astor Cup (season championship) one of those, that would be nice,” Steinbrenner told NBC Sports.com in Victory Lane, referring to the trophies that go to the Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion.

Even a family that thrives on success admitted the 2019 accomplishments exceeded expectations.

“No, I did not expect two wins this season,” Steinbrenner said. “It was a crazy season. A lot of ups. A lot of downs. We had speed all year and this race was the first one all year that was a complete race for the whole team.

“We had speed all year. This race was the first one that was a complete race for the whole team. Colton drove not only with the best of them, but he drove like a complete veteran. He took care of his tires. Stayed out in front and the crew kept us out in front of that pack behind us. At a place like this, if you leave the pit cycle in first, odds are you are going to go back in, in first.”

When Herta became the youngest winner in IndyCar history with his win on March 24 at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in the INDYCAR Classic, it was actually Will Power that dominated that race. Once the caution flag came out and Power had yet to pit while every other driver had already made their final stop, he was shuffled to mid-pack.

Herta benefited that day, but was brilliant in keeping his Honda-powered car up front and across the checkered flag, just 10 days before his 19thbirthday.

This weekend was different.

He won his third pole and drove away from the field. In the end, he held off three of the best drivers of this era including 2014 IndyCar Series champion Will Power by 0.5878, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon by 6.240 and 2016 IndyCar Series champion and this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud by 6.3545.

“He drove a veteran race today,” Steinbrenner said. “It was best drive of his career so far. To have that and the last race of the year at a place like this that means a lot to his family is a big deal.”

It’s also a big deal to the Steinbrenner family, as his father Hank and uncle Hal are guiding the Yankees into the American League Playoffs in Major League Baseball.

“Next up is the World Series. That would be nice. We could get another trophy.”

This wasn’t an easy season, however, for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. In fact, the team was lucky to make it to the end of the season after having sponsorship difficulties leave the team without expected funding.

“It’s been a roller-coaster, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of curveballs,” Steinbrenner said. “Overall, three pole positions and two wins. We might not have gotten rookie of the year, but I wouldn’t trade our season for anything.

“Ending on a note like this on a drive like that, the car performing the way it did and the crew and driver performing the way we did, it’s the perfect way to go into the offseason.”

On Saturday, it was officially announced that Harding Steinbrenner Racing will join Andretti Autosport as a fifth entry. That will put the team on solid ground, creating an even stronger foundation and a chance to challenge for more victories and a championship.

Herta represents INDYCAR’s future in terms of driving talent. Steinbrenner’s success represents INDYCAR’s future in terms of developing and creating new team owners.

At the end of the race as Steinbrenner stood in the back of a room, championship team owner Roger Penske walked in after his driver, Josef Newgarden, had delivered the 16thIndyCar championship of team Penske’s career. Penske warmly greeted young Steinbrenner and was reminded of the connection between the two families.

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo

The Steinbrenner Family, dating back to George Steinbrenner, attended the prestigious Culver Military Academy in Northern Indiana. Hank Steinbrenner was born in Culver, Indiana and young Steinbrenner is part of the deep connection of CMA, although he never attended the Academy as a cadet.

Roger Penske also was a cadet at Culver Military Academy as a youngster and learned the discipline and organization that has made him successful in auto racing and as a business and industrial leader.

“Well, George Steinbrenner wasfrom Cleveland where I’m from, so we have that in common, and I knew George Sr.,” Penske told NBC Sports.com. “And to have a Steinbrenner in motorsports is terrific.

“It’s like Ganassi, it’s like Andretti, all these people, Rahal, on and on and on. To see what they’ve put together, a small team, and the quality and the capability of Colton Herta is amazing. You could see him today, he ran a perfect race, stops were good, we were right next to him.

“So, I think they’ve got great momentum, and you’re going to hear a lot about them in the future, and I think we need more owners and ones who understand how to win and want to win.”

Penske is part of IndyCar’s history. Steinbrenner is laying claim to IndyCar’s future.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter @BruceMartin_500

Behind the scenes of how the biggest story in racing was kept a secret

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In a world where nobody is able to keep a secret, especially in auto racing, legendary business leader and race team owner Roger Penske and INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles were able to keep the biggest story of the year a secret.

That was Monday morning’s stunning announcement that after 74 years of leadership and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman George Family was selling the track, the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR to Penske.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports.com on Thursday, Miles revealed the extreme lengths both sides went to so that nobody found out about this deal ahead of time. That included meeting with Penske at his Detroit offices early on Saturday mornings and late on Sunday nights.

The most important way of keeping it confidential was containing the number of people who were involved.

“We thought it was important to keep it quiet until we were ready to announce it,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “The reason for that is No. 1, we wanted employees and other stakeholders to hear it from us and not through the distorting rumor mill.

“That was the motivation.

“We just didn’t involve many people. For most of the time, there were four people from Roger’s group in Michigan and four people from here (IMS/INDYCAR) involved and nobody else. There were just four of us. We all knew that none of the eight were going to talk to anybody about it until very late.”

Even key members of both staffs were kept out of the loop, notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who admitted earlier this week he was not told of the impending sale until Saturday when he was at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR race.

Both Penske and Miles realize the way a deal or a secret slips out is often from people far outside of the discussions who have to get called in to work to help set up an announcement.

Miles had a plan for that scenario, too.

“On Saturday, we had to set up a stream for Monday’s announcement,” Miles said. “We came up with an internal cover story so if anybody saw what was going on, there was a cover story for what that was, and it wasn’t that announcement.

“The key thing was we kept it at only those that needed to know.”

It wasn’t until very late Sunday night and very early Monday morning that key stakeholders in INDYCAR were informed. Team owner Bobby Rahal got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Racing legend Mario Andretti was also informed very early on Monday.

At 8 a.m. that day came the official word from Hulman & Company, which owns the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR as well as a few other businesses, that Penske was buying the racing properties of the company. It was an advisory that a media conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was a masterful move by both Penske and Miles.

Penske is already famous for keeping one of greatest secrets in racing history in 1993 and 1994. That is when his famed racing team along with Ilmor Engineering created “The Beast” – a 209 cubic-inch, pushrod engine that was designed, developed and tested in total secrecy. A small, select group of Team Penske mechanics were involved in the top-secret project and were told by Penske that if word of the engine leaked out, “it would be like cutting your paycheck.”

Nobody talked.

History repeated itself with the biggest racing story of the 21st Century, the sale of the world’s most famous race course that hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world – the annual Indianapolis 500.

When INDYCAR held its “Victory Lap” award ceremony on Sept. 26 in Indianapolis, Miles told the crowd of an impending announcement that would be big news for the sport.

Was he coming close to giving away Monday’s announcement?

“No, that was about a sponsor announcement that will be coming along later,” Miles said on Thursday night.

Penske is one of America’s greatest and most successful business leaders. He is also the most successful team owner in auto racing history with 545 wins in all forms of racing including a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins, a record 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships as well as two Daytona 500 wins and two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championships just to name a few.

Penske was not the only bidder, but he was the one who made the most sense to the Hulman George Family, because it was important to find an owner who believed in “stewardship” of the greatest racing tradition on Earth more so than “ownership” of an auto racing facility and series.

“There were a number of parties that were engaged in thinking about this with us,” Miles revealed to NBC Sports.com. “There were a couple that got as far as what I call the ‘Red Zone.’

“Then, Tony George reached out to Roger Penske on Sept. 22.

“Price and value were always important, but the thing that nobody could match was the attributes that Roger could bring to the table, in terms of his history of the sport, his knowledge of the sport, combined with his business sense.

“He was viewed as the leader from a legacy or stewardship perspective, which was a very important factor.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

McLaren IndyCar boss breaks down team’s first test since missing Indy 500

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McLaren Sporting Director Gil De Ferran left Sebring International Raceway last Tuesday with a much happier outlook than when he left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19.

That was when McLaren and famed two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ill-prepared. They failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

That day in May, De Ferran vowed that McLaren would return.

Last Tuesday, what is now known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP after purchasing into Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, De Ferran was back to evaluate the team’s NTT IndyCar Series effort.

Instead of Alonso in the cockpit, it was the team’s recently named full-time drivers for 2020 at the test. That included 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico, the 2018 Indy Lights champion and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida, the 2019 Indy Lights champion.

O’Ward was in the car for the test with Askew watching from the pit area.

“Pato did a great job, did not put a foot wrong, got on to it straight away and it was all good,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “It was a positive day on all fronts. To work together, to build the team together and embark on this team together was very positive.”

De Ferran is a two-time CART champion with titles in 2000 and 2001 when he was with Team Penske. He also won the 2003 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske before retiring as a driver at the end of that season.

Since then, he has been involved in numerous Formula One, IndyCar and Sports Car efforts. As McLaren’s Sporting Director, De Ferran is involved in both Formula One and IndyCar.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP also includes partners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. Arrow also has a financial stake in the team in addition to serving as sponsor.

The chance to work with two young drivers is something that has De Ferran excited.

“They are both very young, but they have been around for a while,” De Ferran said. “It’s not like these guys are completely clueless about racing. They have been racing ever since they were kids. Generally speaking, as a trend in motorsports, they start much younger than I did. They move to cars at a younger age and tend to reach this level of the sport at a younger age then when I was coming up.

“Although they don’t have a lot of experience in IndyCar, several members of the team can help in their development. These guys are very accomplished and top-level guys. They have won a lot of races and championships before getting the nod from our team.”

Last week’s test was part of INDYCAR’s evaluation of the new aeroscreen that will be on all cars beginning in 2020. Arrow McLaren Racing SP is a Chevrolet team. Honda team Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan also participated in the test with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais as the driver.

This was the only test that Arrow McLaren Racing SP will conduct in 2019. Testing time is severely limited De Ferran said it won’t be back on track until the 2020 regulations take effect.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP has already experienced some controversy after the team said several weeks ago that popular driver James Hinchcliffe would not be driving for the team. He remains on the payroll and is expected to be at the track in a public relations capacity.

That has angered many IndyCar fans who are huge fans of the popular Canadian driver.

“I have nothing more to add to this than what was said at the time,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s head-down. We have to go racing. We are on a journey here together with this partnership and two young drivers that are very accomplished and have a lot of talent. Our job is to deliver the results on the track.

“That is where my focus is. I’m completely focused on improving every aspect of everything that we do trackside.

“One thing I guarantee you, whatever we start, to have that focus to improve everything that we do we will continue to move forward. It was like that when I was driving, and it was like that throughout my professional career away from the cockpit. We will keep looking for opportunities to improve.

“Eventually, good things will happen.”

It was just Day One on the track, but after seeing this team struggle at last year’s Indianapolis 500, McLaren took its first step in returning as a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team.

“This is the beginning of a journey that we embarked on several months ago now and you do a lot in the background,” De Ferran said. “The guys from SPM and us have put a lot into this partnership. Behind the scenes, we have been working hard together.

“We’re all racers, man. We want to see cars on track. This has been like a little check off the box and it feels good that we were on track.

“We have a long journey ahead, but it’s good to be working together, at the race track, how the car is handling, the engine is working and how the drivers do.

“First day on the track for Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It’s a good day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500