Tim Cindric on Roger Penske’s guiding leadership through crisis


MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Leadership and teamwork are the cornerstones of Team Penske and the Penske Corp.

Tim Cindric has worked for Roger Penske since the end of the 1999 CART season and has learned the value of those two traits on a daily basis.

As the premier team in auto racing, with championships in IndyCar, NASCAR, IMSA and Virgin Australia Supercars, Team Penske’s success is the end result of leadership and teamwork.

Cindric, the Team Penske president, has seen that on full display during the past two weeks from Penske, who became the new owner of IndyCar, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 nearly three months ago.

All sports have been shut down because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

It’s during such darker times, that leadership steps in to provide the answers. That is why Penske and his leadership team, working in conjunction with Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles, IndyCar president Jay Frye and Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, made some difficult but necessary changes.

The 104th Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been moved from May 24 to Aug. 23. It was the best way to ensure a full Indy 500 lineup of practice, qualifications, Carb Day and the race.

The schedule was rearranged with races at Mid-Ohio, World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and Portland changing dates. Efforts are being made to revive the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in October after the March 15 race originally seemed canceled.

Hopefully, the season will start May 30-31 at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, provided the COVID-19 outbreak has been contained.

Finding solutions to difficult situations is what has made Penske a leader in auto racing and in business.

“In times like this is where his leadership skills are shown,” Cindric told NBCSports.com. “It’s amazing to be around him to a certain extent to see how he takes things that are so complex and simplifies the tasks and gets people to work together to find a solution. With everything that is announced, it shows that he expects to get things done and have people around him to work toward solutions. That is how you move forward.

“He has seen a lot in his life, but he has never seen anything like this. I don’t think anybody else has, either. We are all navigating new territory. His leadership takes another level during times like this.”

Roger Penske — Photo by Getty Images

Since taking control of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Jan. 6, Penske, 83, has removed himself from Team Penske’s IndyCar effort. He has continued to work with the team’s NASCAR and IMSA efforts on race weekends in addition to running his successful billion-dollar businesses across the automotive and transportation industry.

To help find a solution to the incredibly complex and difficult rescheduling issue, Penske and IndyCar worked together as a team. It also could not have happened without the help of promoters and TV partner NBC.

“You have to hand it to Mark and Doug and Jay and that whole group to not only come out and postpone the Indy 500, a huge thing in itself, but to come out with a full schedule,” Cindric said. “The promoters moved their schedules around to where we can have the Indy 500. That’s a big undertaking to have a complete plan. All of those moving parts, to get the TV to coordinate their schedules, is a big deal. It gives us something to plan around. In these times, anything that we can try and do to plan is important.

“Unfortunately for the teams, from a business aspect, it becomes more difficult. Usually, the month of May, when that is over, there is an influx of cash from the teams from the purse. Now, that moves from May to August. From a business perspective, it is tougher, but I would rather know that now than three weeks from now.”

If the new schedule goes as planned, the season will begin in eight weeks. The unexpected two-month break to an already long offseason has left many anxious to return to the track, but that simply cannot happen because of this international public health threat.

“A lot of what we are going through right now isn’t much fun for anybody,” Cindric said. “I think we are going to learn some things and when we get through this, we are going to be much smarter and forced to do things differently in life. That is one of the byproducts of what good can actually come out of this. It opens the minds to compromise. There was a lot of motivation to get this done.

“Hopefully, we will see this more in the future. Any time you can make a race a bigger event, it’s good for all of the fans.”

Once the season gets started, IndyCar’s schedule will resemble NASCAR’s in terms of racing for long stretches without a weekend off. In one span bridging June and July, there will be five consecutive weeks of races.

NASCAR is able to do that because many teams have a fleet of race cars designed specifically for each track. In IndyCar, many teams have two cars per driver with one or two spare cars if needed.

The same car that competes on a street course has to be adapted to running on an oval or short oval by the crew back at the shop.

Once racing returns, the teams will adapt to the relentless pace of the new schedule. They will be happy just to return to action.

“Without a doubt, everybody wants to get started,” Cindric said. “We are as eager as ever to get on with it. Having a two-week Indy in August, once we get there, it will feel right. It might not be May and you won’t see as many school buses at the event because school might not be in session yet, but we are very, very fortunate if we can run two weeks in a row like that and run the Indy 500 in 2020, it’s a win for everybody.”

The potential revival of St. Petersburg as the season finale is also a major surprise of the new schedule after it was announced as “canceled” on March 13.

“It shows the enthusiasm in St. Pete for that event,” Cindric said. “To re-create that and do it twice in one year, you have to take your hat off to Kevin Savoree and Kim Green (the promoters) and those guys for having a ‘can do’ attitude to make it happen. It’s also an indicator there is a lot of support for IndyCar racing in St. Pete.

“We have finished championships on ovals like Homestead and Fontana and on road courses like Sonoma and Laguna, but we have never finished on a street course. It’s an interesting event and the fact we are finishing in St. Pete is going to be a good one.”

Unfortunately, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, as well as races on permanent road courses at Barber Motorsports Park and Circuit of the Americas (COTA) were unable to be rescheduled for various reasons.

“Great events,” Cindric said. “We put on great races at Barber in the past. At COTA, we were starting to get more and more momentum. Not to go there and race after doing our tests, it’s a great venue. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the repercussions of what we are doing through.”

Back at the team’s impressive and immaculate racing facility on the northeast side of Mooresville, North Carolina, the team is preparing to shut down for the next 30 days. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has ordered a mandatory “Stay at Home” order for the state beginning Monday at 5 p.m. It will last through April 30.

Team Penske’s IndyCar shop essentially has throttled back since returning from St. Pete.

“(The schedule) is the first piece of the puzzle,” Cindric said. “We will figure out the shop schedule later. We haven’t done much at all since St. Pete. We went to Indy to pick up a tub and that is all we have done since St. Pete.

“Everybody is looking forward to racing now, more than ever. There is still quite a bit of time between now and getting back to the racetrack. We have to manage through it as best we can.”

Cindric is one of the key figures in IndyCar that remains hopeful the season can be salvaged. His confidence is strengthened by witnessing leadership in action on a daily basis from his boss, Roger Penske.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

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.”