On Friday, November 30, the spotlight of the racing world was focused on The Wynn in Las Vegas for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Banquet. The glamorous event, which included appearances by many stars of the entertainment industry, culminated with the presentation of the Sprint Cup to 2012 Series Championship driver Brad Keselowski and team owner Roger Penske.
Penske is a legend in the racing world – not just in NASCAR, but IndyCar as well. A former race car driver himself, Penske moved into ownership and formed teams that have scored 23 national championships across various racing platforms, including 12 in IndyCar. Now in his 70s, Penske has been inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, among many other prestigious honors.
Despite decades as a team owner in NASCAR, Penske did not reach the pinnacle of success in the sport until this year, when Brad Keselowski, crew chief Paul Wolfe, and the No. 2 team finally brought home the Cup Series trophy.
NASCAR writer Becca Gladden was at the banquet and caught up with Mr. Penske moments after the awards ceremony ended. He provided valuable insights on the qualities he looks for in up-and-coming racers and what young drivers can do to increase their chances for success.
Q. I’m doing a column about careers and I asked Brad what career advice he would have for developing drivers. I was wondering what career advice you’ve given him and other young drivers?
A. I think one of the things that I look at when I look at a driver is someone that’s won in some type of racing – it could be go-karts, it could be a much lower series – because you first have to know how to win.
Also, from a technical standpoint, you’re going to have to understand the car. Today, feedback is so important between the crew chief and the team and the driver.
Then, the third attribute, which is becoming more and more important, is the commercial side of it – the ability to represent your sponsor on a worldwide basis. That’s a big stage today and Brad has done an outstanding job. When you see Joey Logano, 21 years old, and what he’s done with Home Depot, now coming on board with Shell-Pennzoil will be amazing.
So, I think it’s first, being a winner in some series, second, understanding technically about the cars and, third, having some commercial savvy.
Q. What would you say to talented racers that are trying to make it to the higher levels of NASCAR, but are hitting roadblocks or can’t find sponsors?
A. They’ve just got to get a break and they’ve got to get somebody down the street that will help them. We’re looking all the time. Whether it’s Ryan Blaney, Justin Allgaier, Parker Kilgerman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – all these guys are out there and we’re looking at them.
Obviously, some get breaks and other ones don’t and that’s the tough thing. But, Denny Hamlin and guys like that who were consistent winners in their own pond, those are the ones that you’ve got to reach into it.
Q. You sound very optimistic about the talent pool of young drivers out there.
A. I think more and more of this sport is looking down at the younger people to see who can be the next champion. I think the window is open and it’s wide.
Racing people have a lot of ingenuity. If you’re a kid and you want to go, you have to knock on a lot of doors.