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.”
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.