Among IndyCar’s brotherhood and sisterhood of pit crew members, Team Penske’s Matt Jonsson holds a special place of distinction. Nearing his 25th anniversary with Team Penske, the Swede has come to define excellence as a mechanic and crew chief.
From within the close-knit community that puts on the IndyCar show, Jonsson is viewed as a leader — the standard for consistency, temperament, and professionalism. It made his latest Indy 500 win, captured on Sunday with Will Power, a celebratory moment for a number of fellow mechanics and crew chiefs in the Verizon IndyCar Series who cite Jonsson as an inspiration and role model.
Power’s emotional victory made the headlines, as did Penske’s 17th triumph as a team owner at the Indy 500, but behind the scenes, Jonsson’s friends and rivals were fast to honor the man whose work they admire most.
“I feel like Swede is the Scott Dixon of mechanics,” former Team Penske chief mechanic Billy Vincent, who trained under Jonsson, told RACER. “Through all these different types of cars and series, he always finds his way to the front, quietly.”
Vincent’s admiration for Jonsson typified the sentiments shared by others in the paddock. Having moved on from Penske to work for Porsche and Andretti Autosport before joining Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as James Hinchcliffe’s chief mechanic, Vincent is grateful for the lessons Jonsson provided while learning his trade.
“He’s a great teacher and organizer,” he continued. “Swede creates a great environment for people to learn from. No matter what group of guys he’s got with different strengths or weaknesses, he always finds that right balance to make the group as a whole as strong as possible.”
Even as friendly rivals working for different teams, Vincent continues to use Jonsson as his personal set of checks and balances. It’s an honest admission most competitors would not make, and stands as a measure of immense respect.
“People talk a lot about Penske setting the bar high. That’s for sure true. Swede sets the bar for mechanics,” he said. “I think people would be lying to you if they said they don’t always have an eye on him to make sure they are doing the right thing. I know I did while working with him. And to be honest, I still do from afar.”
Power’s veteran race engineer David Faustino also heaped praise on his rock-steady crew chief.
“You know, Matt is extremely focused. I think just like a racecar driver gets focused to do his job, Matt, he almost operates the same exact way, but as a crew chief. That’s my take on it, and he’s extremely, extremely detail oriented, makes lists for everything. I’ll forget things, and he’ll remind me. He’s always making sure that he doesn’t drop the ball on anything. That’s how sharp he is,” he said.
Like Vincent, and like Travis Law, chief mechanic on Josef Newgarden’s championship-winning No. 1 Team Penske Chevy, Faustino credits Jonsson’s ability to groom young talent and produce elite crew members.
“The other amazing thing about Matt is his ability to bring up these young kids we get straight out of UTI (Universal Technical Institute), right from school, and he brings them up the right way. If you look at our current crew chiefs, a lot of them have been mentored by Matt. Travis Law was on the 12 car and other cars before going to Josef’s car. He was mentored by Matt. Some of our best mechanics and crew chiefs right now all sort of came through his training, if you will, and his program,” he continued.
“He doesn’t necessarily buddy-buddy with the guys like maybe some of the other crew chiefs or hang out, but he works in a positive way with them. He teaches them the right way, teaches them how to do things right, and he’s always very respectful. And I think that’s why more of the crew chiefs that have come through and modeled themselves after him have become successful.”
Never one to accept the spotlight, Jonsson pointed to the team and their collective efforts — including five rocket-fast pit stops — for Power’s Indy 500 result.
“I really can’t take any credit for this at all myself,” he said. “It is the crew. It is the whole shop as a unit. We work together really well. We’ve got some really talented people back at the shop putting these things together, and we travel with them and do the same thing. I’ve got a very small part in this.”
Jonsson knows the feeling of winning the Indy 500, having reached the sport’s pinnacle with Penske drivers Gil de Ferran in 2003 and Sam Hornish in 2006. With Power as the chaperone for his third Speedway victory, Jonsson found extra joy in all it has meant for the Australian.
“To put it in perspective, I’ve been with Penske now for 23 years, and with Will, I’ve been with him for the longest of any driver as chief,” he said. “This is the sixth year with him, and I’m so happy for Will, [his wife] Liz, Mr. and Mrs. Penske and honestly, those are the people I’m most happy for. And it’s for Will because he has won almost everything except for this race.”
Considering all of the wins and championships Jonsson’s amassed at Team Penske, it’s refreshing to learn how much the latest Indy 500 win means to someone who left home long ago to start a new life in a different land.
“The reason I came to America — and it’s the best country in the world, there’s no doubt about that — is this country gives opportunity to anybody, and that’s what I love about this country,” he said with a smile. “Everybody starts on equal ground, and it doesn’t matter who you are when you start out. Hard work and the harder you try, the further you can make it, and I think again, by some luck, and obviously some fortune in some way ended up at the right place with Team Penske.
“That thought will never go away that you came to a new country for a reason. For me, the reason was racing, and to come over here and — at the time when I showed up over here, it was certainly to make it to Penske was one of my goals, although I started with Bettenhausen, and I don’t want to take anything away from that. Tony was a great friend and just wound up here doing this, and now I’ve [won Indy] with three different drivers. Standing in Victory Lane with RP, it means a lot.”