Driver, team owner and motorsports legend Roger Penske joined racers Pete Lovely, Wayne Rainey, Bobby Rahal, Dan Gurney, Eddie Lawson and Kenny Roberts Sr as the seventh Legend of Laguna Seca.
Monterey County Administrative Officer Lew Bauman presented a “Steps to the Corkscrew” brick and City of Monterey Mayor Chuck Della Sala delivered a proclamation welcoming Penske into the Legends of Laguna Seca at a celebration at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Saturday, October 18th before the American Le Mans race.
“Roger is a true racer in every aspect of his life,” said Gill Campbell, CEO/general manager of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, “He exemplifies what a racing legend is and has contributed massively to the sport not just as a driver but as a team owner in multiple series.”
Roger Penske’s racing career began at an early age and by 1960, he was a well known race car driver and was given the honor of Sports Illustrated SCCA Driver of the Year.
He raced a Porsche RSK and won the SCCA ‘F’ category championship that year. He then acquired a Cooper-Monaco, Cooper Formula One car which he modified into the Zerex Special. Between 1961 and 1963 he gained many successes with this car, winning several races including one at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to win the USAC road racing championship. In 1964 he raced for Jim Hall’s Chaparral team and again won here at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
In 1965 Penske retired from driving in order to focus on the business side of racing and launched Penske Racing. In just its second year, Penske Racing won the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC). The following year they won 10 out of 13 races en route to the Trans-Am Championship and won the USRRC points title.
Penske’s team first competed in the Indianapolis 500 in 1969 and has won more Indy 500s than any other team, winning the event 14 times since 1973. Penske’s first NASCAR win was in 1973. His teams have won many races in the subsequent years.
Penske surprised the Trans-Am series when he switched from his championship winning Chevrolet Camaros and entered AMC Javelins in 1970. Winning quickly again at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the switch in manufacturers proved it was Penske Racing, not Chevrolet that was responsible. The red-white-blue Javelins were the cream of the crop with high profile drivers like Mark Donohue, George Follmer, Vic Elford and Peter Revson piloting the Javelins to victories.
In 1971 Porsche announced it had hired Penske to run its 917 in the prestigious Can-Am series. It was this relationship, and the corresponding Penske Porsche success, that left a lasting imprint on American road racing history. Penske-led teams won here in 1972 and 1973 and won the Can-Am Championship both years. Porsche and Penske clearly dominated the series, leading the SCCA to regulate the car out of existence, and bring to an end the Penske Racing sports car era.
Penske Racing competed in open-wheel racing with Champ Car/CART and won six times at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with notable drivers such as Danny Sullivan, Paul Tracy and Helio Castroneves.
Sport car racing was in the cards again for Penske. In April of 2005, Penske and Porsche came full circle as the German manufacturer filled a void in its motorsports program to compete in the American Le Mans Series LMP2 class – and hired Penske Racing to prepare and enter the car in U.S. competition.
After winning their debut American Le Mans Series race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the 2006 RS Spyders won the LMP2 drivers championship, the manufacturers and team titles. In 2007, with their 11 class wins in 12 races, Penske Racing swept all the championships in the LMP2 class.
For 2008, the American Le Mans success of the Penske Porsches continues as the team has won its third straight driver and team championships with a podium sweep at the 2008 Petit Le Mans on October 4th.