Roger Penske still gets ‘goosebumps’ at the Indy 500 like he did in 1951


Indianapolis Motor Speedway is undergoing a significant overhaul under its new owner, but one thing never will change for Roger Penske and the world’s most famous racetrack.

“Every time they say, ‘Gentlemen start your engines,’ I get goosebumps as I did, probably when I was 14,” Penske said, referring to the first time he attended the Indianapolis 500 in 1951. “That’s a special place. I found out how special the last several weeks as we completed our transaction there. It’s really the Holy Grail of the state of Indiana.”

As the most recent guest on the “Coffee With Kyle” feature (video above), Penske regaled host Kyle Petty with many stories about IMS’ past, present and future.

Aside from regularly walking the 1,000-acre property (“I’ve tried to become an expert on what’s going on outside and the guest experience”) since the track announced him as the buyer last November (the sale closed Jan. 6), Penske also has spent time at the track’s infield museum.

He got a black and white and color photo from each program in the 18 Indianapolis 500 victories by Team Penske. “I said, ‘Listen you don’t have any pictures of ’51, do you?’ Sure enough, they bring out 25 pictures,” Penske said with a chuckle. “Once we get through this race season, I’m going to just go there for a couple of days and look at some of the things they have.”

Penske told Petty that as of the Jan. 31 interview, 78 percent of the track’s more than 230,000 grandstands were sold, and all the suites were sold out.

When the crowd arrives May 24 for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 (and its record purse), they will notice an expansion of videoboards, freshly paved parking lots and upgraded restrooms among the enhancements.

Penske, who turned 83 last Thursday, likely will be remembered for the work he did in refurbishing one of auto racing’s public trust, but he deflected a question about whether he will can improve on the legacy of the Hulman-George family, which owned the track for 74 years.

“Well, we’ll never know,” Penske said. “It’s going to be 74 years before somebody can say, ‘Did he do any better?’ Certainly our focus is on guest experience. We need that with an asset like this. In today’s world, when someone has a car plant, they don’t run it one shift.

“We’ve got to look at we can reinvest to generate revenue. We have the Brickyard, the Indy 500 on Memorial Day. We need to look at special events. Fans are looking for variety. They’re looking for change.”

Other topics that Penske discussed with Petty:

Asked about what the biggest challenges are for auto racing in general, Penske said cost reduction, venues, length and diversity of races should be on priority lists. “The costs have gotten way out of line from the standpoint of sponsorship and what’s available,” he said. “There are people who can write checks but how many of them? That’s something we have to look at. There’s no question NASCAR and IndyCar have looked at it. Racing Supercars on a budget of two cars for $8 million a season. … The technology in many cases has gotten the cars to where we can’t drive them because they’re stuck to the ground. We need to focus on trying to make racers, racers instead of it being a technical challenge.”

On receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year: “For my family, it’s probably more important than the next Indy win for me. This is more important. It takes all the things you’ve tried to do in your life, and someone in a very high position realizes you made a difference with people inside and outside. And to have your family in the White House, the president couldn’t have been more gracious to everyone. Having that experience is something you’ll never forget. Means more than any race win and probably any championship. Ask your dad (Richard Petty) would he give up a championship to go to the White House and get his medal of honor? I guarantee he would. It’s a big deal.”

On his memories of Mark Donohue, who won the 1972 Indianapolis 500 for Penske and also delivered his team’s first NASCAR Cup win in 1973: “His approach as a partner, you almost forgot he was a driver. Sometimes I’d say, ‘You have to get some sleep to drive these things.’ He was very understated. Very skilled.”

You can watch the video above or you also can subscribe to the Motorsports on NBC YouTube channel to watch here.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field


Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2