Mon, May 29, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Roger Penske details everything in his little empire


Roger Penske's inner sanctum at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a plush motor home parked in the infield, not far from his team's garage. Printed on the door is a request: "Please clean shoes before entering."

Penske does not merely like being immaculate; he considers tidiness to be a hallmark of his race team, which will seek a record 14th Indianapolis 500 victory Sunday, and of his business empire in general, which includes 34,000 employees.

Early Friday, as crews prepared for the final practice before the race, a Penske employee, wearing a crisp white shirt, black pants and black shoes, stood outside the garage, using a paper towel to wipe down barricades printed with Penske's logo.

Most teams do not have such barricades. Penske's employees wear uniforms with embroidered logos, not stitched-on patches. They share one big tool box, but each crew member has a drawer. Parts that can be polished are polished -- every day.

"The real success is in the details," Penske said as he sat behind the desk in his motor home Friday. "I've tried to be a leader by getting my own hands dirty."

Then he washes them. Penske cannot say for sure that being fastidious off the racetrack results in being fast on it. What he can say, though, is that he has created a culture that has fostered loyalty. And loyal employees produce results.

"We all have the feeling that we want to do the right thing by Roger, because he does the right thing by us," said Sam Hornish Jr., one of Penske's drivers.

Hornish and his teammate, the two-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves, have dominated practice sessions for this year's race. Hornish was fastest in Friday's final practice before Castroneves' crew won the annual pit-stop competition.

Hornish will start from the pole position Sunday; Castroneves is second in the 33-car field. Their cars were so well prepared that they were usually the first to take the track for practice. Castroneves' car was the first at full speed Friday.

"When you beat him, you feel as if you've beaten the best, and that's what I like about Roger," said the car owner Michael Andretti, who will end a three-year retirement Sunday to drive in the race. Penske, 69, raced sports cars before he started a team. He first put a car into the Indianapolis 500 in 1969 and had his first victory by 1972, when Mark Donohue won. Penske cars won the race seven times between 1984 and 1994.

"He is the one car owner of all the car owners I drove for who truly understands what a driver is going through out there," Al Unser Jr., who won the 1994 Indy 500 for Penske, said last week.

Penske announced late last year that he was closing his Indy-car team shop in Reading, Pennsylvania, which has been open since 1973. He is merging his Indy-car, NASCAR and sports-car operations in one place -- Mooresville, North Carolina. But he also said that the shop would not close for a year and that his employees had been encouraged to move with the company.

"I could look them in the eye and say there were no secrets," he said Friday.

Team Penske's employees sometimes take their dedication to an extreme. Tim Cindric, the 38-year-old president of Penske's racing operations, had hip surgery about a month ago. He needed a comfortable place to watch his team from the pits, so his employees built him an adjustable seat that can slide from one side of the pit stand to the other.

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