LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 19, 2011) – Roger Penske, known as “the Captain” in the motorsports world, was honored by the Road Racing Drivers Club at the RRDC Evening with Roger Penske presented by Firestone on April 14, at the organization’s third annual West Coast banquet prior to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Before a capacity crowd of 400 auto-racing dignitaries, the focal point of the evening was an entertaining interview of Penske by RRDC president Bobby Rahal, in the style of the “Late Show with Letterman.” Rahal’s questions covered the iconic team owner’s early years in the sport.
Prior to the “inquisition,” previous RRDC honoree Dan Gurney surprised Penske by launching a tongue-in-cheek campaign to elect “Roger for President.” Gurney passed the torch by producing a bumper sticker with those words, evoking the highly popular “Dan Gurney for President” campaign that Car and Driver magazine started in the 1960s.
A video tribute written by RRDC member Sam Posey and produced by RRDC member Tom Davey was shown, as well as a comprehensive slide show, depicting Penske’s early years as a race-car driver and his rise to stardom as a meticulous and tireless racing team manager. Photography was provided by numerous photographers of the era, including Pete Biro, Bernard Cahier, David Friedman, Pete Luongo, Pete and Ozzie Lyons, Barry Tenin, and others.
The dinner was supported by contributions from Firestone, American Honda, Sunoco, Penske Automotive Group, Penske Truck Leasing and Penske Racing, with wine provided by the Bernardus Winery.
Parnelli Jones, who was honored by the RRDC in 2010, was in attendance, as well as a who’s who in auto racing, including Edsel Ford, Alma and Derek Hill, who presented the Phil Hill Award to Rick Mears, INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard, Scott Atherton, president and CEO of American LeMans Series, IndyCar Series driver Simona De Silvestro, 2010 ALMS champions Simon Pagenaud and Patrick Long, NHRA’s Don Prudhomme, Vince Granatelli, as well as Penske Racing’s Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Will Power. A large number of RRDC members attended, among them Chip Ganassi, Dario Franchitti, Arie Luyendyk, Lyn St. James, Duncan Dayton, Dick Guldstrand and Bob Bondurant.
Joining Penske were his wife Kathy and sons Roger Jr. and Greg, along with their wives Jennifer and Patty, respectively.
“It’s a pleasure to be here and I just want to thank everyone that is here tonight and the RRDC for this great honor,” said Penske. “Obviously, to see so many friends and people you compete with every day, and the sponsors who have supported me and the team for so long, I just can’t thank you enough. My wife Kathy and my family are here, so to me it’s pretty special to go back and see some of those pictures that are really terrific and to think about the times we had. We had some tough times in racing and we had great times. We forget about the losses and live day to day by the wins.
“Dan, Parnelli, Bondurant and everybody who is here tonight, these are people that I have such respect for. Thank you all, and Bobby Rahal, for having me here. I really appreciate it.”
The evening raised funds for the RRDC’s “SAFE is FAST” initiative and the Team USA Scholarship, which the RRDC has supported since 1997. Former scholarship winners in attendance included Bryan Herta, J.R. Hildebrand and Josef Newgarden.
About the RRDC: The Road Racing Drivers Club was formed in 1952 as a way to give champion drivers a say in their sport, particularly in the areas of safety, and has evolved to serve the future of road racing by mentoring new drivers on both amateur and professional levels. The Club’s membership includes leading industry professionals, race officials and motorsports journalists, in addition to prominent racing names.
President Bobby Rahal is the 1986 Indy 500 winner and is co-owner, with David Letterman, of the 2004 Indianapolis 500 winning Rahal Letterman Racing team. Six-time SCCA National champion John Fergus is the Club’s Vice President/Treasurer, and five-time SCCA National champion Tom Davey is the Secretary.
In addition to RRDC members lending their expertise to up-and-coming drivers, the Club presents three annual awards: the Phil Hill Award for rendering outstanding service to road racing; the Mark Donohue Award for personal spirit and performance at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs; and the Bob Akin Award – the top award presented to amateur and semi-professional racers – for speed with style, passion, sportsmanship and contribution to motorsports.
The RRDC also supports the Team USA Scholarship, which has been assisting young Americans in the early stages of their careers since 1990.