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

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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.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).