Penske Racing Museum

 Posted by at 12:15 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 102020

People shopping for a new car at the upscale North Scottsdale Auto Mall in Arizona are likely to do a double-take when they come across the Penske Racing Museum, housed in a showroom sandwiched between a Jaguar dealership and a luxury pre-owned automobile outlet displaying such nameplates as Rolls Royce, Land Rover, and Mercedes. While the cars on display inside the museum don’t offer much in the way of creature comforts, if you want to get somewhere in a hurry, they’ll get the job done!

The Penske Racing Museum chronicles 40 years of the winning tradition of Team Penske, one of the most successful organizations in auto racing history. Showcasing a one-of-a-kind collection of vintage racing cars and memorabilia, the museum gives visitors the opportunity to see some of the fastest cars on earth. Included in the museum’s displays are several race cars that won the Indianapolis 500.

The Penske name has been associated with automobile racing for forty years. In 1958, Roger Penske raced his first official race in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National at Marlboro Motor Raceway in Maryland. He was running in second place until his car overheated and he had to drop out of the race. The next year, Penske won his first race at the SCCA Regional at Lime Rock, Connecticut, driving an F-Modified Porsche RS.

Penske’s fame shot up like a skyrocket. In 1961, Penske won the SCCA National D Modified Championship and was named SCCA Driver of the Year by Sports Illustrated magazine. The next year he was named the New York Times Driver of the Year, with winnings totaling $34,350. In 1963, Penske won his first NASCAR Grand National series race. In 1964, he took the checkered flag at five races driving a Chaparral Corvette GS.

In 1965, Roger Penske announced his retirement as a race car driver and purchased a Chevrolet dealership in Philadelphia. The next year Penske moved into race car ownership, launching Penske Racing and Team Penske. In 1967, in just its second year of competition, Penske Racing won the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) with driver Mark Donohue behind the wheel of a Lola T70 MKIII chassis with a Chevrolet power plant.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Penske race cars won one race after another. Retired chief engine builder Karl Kainhofer considered 1968 the most successful season in Penske Racing history when they won ten of thirteen Trans-Am races en-route to the SCCA Trans-Am Series Championship. The same year, the team won the USRRC points championship.

In 1969, Penske driver Mark Donohue finished seventh as a rookie at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to earn the “Rookie of the Year” honors. That same year Donohue won six of twelve races he competed in, to earn Penske Racing its second SCCA Trans-Am Championship in as many years, in a Chevrolet Camaro.

Mark Donahue continued to win races and trophies for the Penske organization for the next six years, including their first Champ Car victory at the Pocono 500 on in 1971, the SCCA Trans-Am Championship, and their first Indianapolis 500 win, in 1972. In 1973, Donohue, driving the #16 AMC Matador, won Team Penske their first NASCAR race at Riverside, California, in the Winston Western 500. Donohue finished out the year by winning the SCCA Can-Am Championship. The Penske racing family experienced tragedy in 1975 when hard-charging race car driver Mark Donohue was killed in a crash while practicing for the Austrian Grand Prix Formula One race.

The same year they lost Mark Donohue, Bobby Allison joined the Penske team and won at Darlington. In 1976, Penske Racing competed in the Austrian Grand Prix Formula One race, and driver John Watson, in a PC4-Ford powered machine, claimed the first and only Formula One victory for Penske Racing.

In 1979, driver Rick Mears had a record-breaking year with Team Penske. Mears won the pole position at every oval track all season. He won the prestigious Indianapolis 500 for the second time in Team Penske’s career, on the way to becoming the third consecutive national points championship for the team in as many years.

The next two decades were just as successful for Team Penske. In 1981, and again in 1984, Penske drivers won the Indianapolis 500. In 1985, Team Penske driver Danny Sullivan won the Indianapolis 500 for the team in history-making style. Halfway through the race, Sullivan spun the car around and managed to regain control. He went into the pit for four fresh tires and fuel, restarted the race on the tail end of the lead lap, and went on to win the race.

After wrecking their car in a crash while qualifying for the1987 Indianapolis 500, the team took a year-old March chassis that was on display in a Reading, Pennsylvania hotel lobby back to the shop to prepare it as a replacement. Al Unser qualified the car in the field in 20th position and went on to win the race to score the team’s sixth victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Penske drivers won the prestigious Indianapolis 500 race again in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1994, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2006. During that time period, Team Penske also won numerous CART, NASCAR races, and championships, and set a number of automobile racing records.

Racing fans, and anyone who appreciates fine machinery, will enjoy a visit to the Penske Racing Museum, which honors the winning tradition of Penske racing with a world-class collection that includes eleven of the thirteen Indianapolis 500 winning cars, several NASCAR vehicles, and Indy 500 pace cars. Some of the drivers featured at the museum include Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran of the Indy Racing League, as well as Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman of NASCAR. Among the memorabilia on display are racing trophies, photographs, and film clips of Penske racing history.

The race cars on display include the car Mark Donohue drove to win Penske’s first Indianapolis 500 victory in 1972; the first Penske-built car, the 1974 Penske PC-1 Formula 1 car; the Penske PC-6 that Rick Mears drove to victory in the 1979 Indianapolis 500; the 1981 Indianapolis 500 Winner, a Penske PC-9B driven by Bobby Unser; the Penske March 85C that Danny Sullivan performed his famous Spin and Win maneuver in to take the victory at the 1985 Indianapolis 500; and the Penske March 86C that Al Unser won the 1987 Indianapolis 500 in and Rick Mears drove to set the Closed Course Speed Record of 223.401 miles per hour at Michigan International Speedway on August 1, 1986.

NASCAR fans will appreciate the 820 horsepower 2002 Ford Taurus driven by Rusty Wallace, and the replica of the 1963 Pontiac Catalina that Roger Penske won the Riverside 250 in on May 16, 1963.

Another important car on display is the 2002 50th Anniversary Corvette Indianapolis 500 Pace Car, which marked the fifth time since 1978 that a Corvette has paced the race, setting a record for the most pace car appearances at the Indy 500 for a single brand.

The Penske Racing Museum is located at 7125 E. Chauncey Lane in Phoenix, just off the 101 Freeway. Although temporarily closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the museum is normally open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and admission is free. Parking is limited to passenger vehicles and trucks. There is no room for RVs to park in the auto mall. For more information, call the Penske Racing Museum at (480) 538-4444.

Thought For The Day – Confuse your doctor by putting on latex gloves at the time he does.

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

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