Part six of the 15-part feature series ‘How Roger Penske Changed The Indy 500,’ which celebrates the most successful entrant at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the 50th anniversary of his first which took place in 1969, is master mechanic and team manager Chuck Sprague.
Sprague’s time at Team Penske, from the late 1970s through the late 1990s, helped produce countless IndyCar championships and Indy 500 wins.
Below are a few excerpts from the interview:
BUYING BIG SHINY TRANSPORTERS
“He said, ‘It looks nice, but will it make us faster?’ And I hadn’t actually thought about that, but then when I did, I said, ‘Yes it will.’ I said, ‘There are things we can do now that we couldn’t do before.’ And that was where I think the evolution really started, as just giving yourself deeper capabilities and turning around your response time, and that translated over the years into keeping spare parts and spare cars and whatever up to speed.”
“I think Penske Cars is the unsung hero of the history of Penske Racing and deserves far more credit than it’s been given and gets to this day. I know I keep in touch with Nick Goozee who was a managing director over there and a good friend, and a number of the other guys there; and the job those guys did was nothing short of spectacular. Like the team, they started off on a fairly basic level and as time went on they evolved as well to full-on CNC and composite capabilities. We worked together as a joint organization to capitalize on it where we could.
“The upside is you get something that nobody else has, but the downside is you have something that nobody else has, so it can play both ways and it certainly did over time. People criticized us for having to go buy somebody else’s car or having a car that nobody else had; it did seem there was a no-win situation no matter what we had. If we did well, it was because we had an advantage but you know, in the case of the 1984, we hadn’t even seen a 1984 March [chassis] until late April, yet we acquitted ourselves quite well in the race. First and third, if I recall.
“The capability of the team, the drivers, to adapt and to move on to a new protocol is there, but at the same time there are years when it swings the other way. For example, 1982, 1988, 1994. I mean, those were three particularly banner years, but there are others as well where we had something that gave us that edge and capitalized on it. The biggest thing there that sort of relates to my previous comments is that Penske Cars had to make everything. I mean, early on we were buying transmissions, but in the later seasons, even our gears and dog rings were bespoke to us, and the supply issues there could be dramatic — you couldn’t run down and borrow a wishbone from somebody else because it wasn’t going to fit, so you had to manage that program very carefully.”