You have to take your hat off to Roger Penske. At a time when many American race teams are struggling to sell sponsorship, Penske has announced a string of new deals in the past week. Using the power of the Penske brand both within motor racing and beyond, as well as his superb ability as a salesman, Roger has completed a skein of new agreements for his NASCAR and IndyCar teams.
Last week Penske announced that Shell and Pennzoil would replace long-time backer Miller Beer as the sponsor of Kurt Busch’s NASCAR car (below). Both companies will also act as primary sponsor of Hélio Castroneves’s Indycar at next year’s Indianapolis 500 and on other selected events, as well as associate sponsors of Roger’s entire IndyCar team. On December 1 Roger announced that Meijer (a thriving Midwestern grocery and superstore chain) would be another associate sponsor of his three Indycars. And this week Penske announced IZOD (a clothing brand which is the IndyCar Series’ title sponsor) as an associate sponsor of his Indycars and the primary sponsor of Ryan Briscoe’s car.
From 1990-09 Penske’s IndyCar team was sponsored primarily by Marlboro, but in recent years restrictions on tobacco advertising progressively reduced the company’s involvement with the team. Although Penske Indycars continued to appear in Marlboro’s familiar red and white colours, the cars were not allowed to carry the cigarette manufacturer’s brand. Last year, after the arrangement finally came to an end, Roger’s cars were painted black and white with Team Penske logos, while Verizon came on board as the primary sponsor of Will Power’s car.
Now the team’s post-Marlboro age has arrived. In recent years Shell and Pennzoil have backed Richard Childress’s NASCAR car driven by Kevin Harvick (above), while IZOD became the IndyCar Series sponsor last year and also backed Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosports car for the most of the season. Grocery chain Meijer has been active for many years as an associate sponsor of a variety of Indycars, and with Verizon continuing as the primary backer of Power’s Indycar, Team Penske will enjoy a full slate of sponsorship in 2011. There’s also a chance that Sam Hornish will return to Indy racing to drive a fourth Penske entry in the Indy 500.
It was revealed last month that a new Ilmor/Chevrolet Indycar engine will appear in 2012 and of course Penske is the driving force behind the latest Ilmor/Chevy partnership. RP started his race team in 1966 and has established himself as one of American racing’s most successful and influential figures. Over the years his teams have won 332 major races – including 15 Indy 500s – and 23 national championships in numerous categories. Then there’s the Penske Corporation, described as a diversified transportation services company, which operates in more than 1800 locations worldwide with more than 36,000 employees and annual revenues exceeding US$16 billion.
Roger will celebrate his 74th birthday in February and his role in the sport remains as pervasive as ever. Other US team owners like Rick Hendrick and Chip Ganassi have achieved their share of success, but in the big picture Penske stands in a class of his own.