Among the barrage of COVID-related changes affecting this year’s running of the Indianapolis 500, another break from tradition will take place on Sunday when Roger Penske is sans headset and missing from his timing stand.
A fixture on Indy’s pit lane for most of Team Penske’s 51 years at the Speedway, the last time The Captain wasn’t found calling the race strategy shots for one of his drivers came during the contentious CART and Indy Racing League split from 1996-2000. After returning for the month of May in 2001 with Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran, Penske — now the owner of IndyCar and the Speedway — has recused himself from the four-car outfit’s on-track efforts.
“It’s been odd from the beginning of the year, I’ll be honest,” Team Penske president Tim Cindric told RACER. “I miss him — I miss his interactions. I miss that guy in my left ear throughout the weekend and especially during the race. Because he and I had a line between each other — we call it the ‘management channel’ — to where in my left ear. Not having him on that strategist channel or management channels is missing, and not having him in the garage area on a constant basis is strange. I’m sure he misses it as well.”
With Penske’s attention turned to overseeing the series and world-renowned circuit, Cindric has found a new appreciation for his boss of more than 20 years as the 83-year-old’s stewardship of American open-wheel racing take priority over participating in the Indy 500.
“I think we’re all willing to compromise those things for the role which he’s playing for IndyCar, in general, and for IMS, because without his leadership through this whole COVID situation, I think things would be a lot different right now,” he said. “I think everybody appreciates who he is and what he’s put into it and how difficult it’s been just to get to the point where we are. So, I keep those things in mind when I start to complain to myself about the situation of not having him on pit lane with us.”