The Man Behind Team Penske

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One thing that I always try to point out is that I am a blogger and not a journalist. I have a real job and family and this is strictly a hobby. One of the biggest advantages of that statement means that I do not have to subscribe to any journalistic integrity. I am completely free to reveal whom I like and don’t like. I have made it no secret in the eleven months I have been doing this that I have always been a big fan of Team Penske. I was there when Roger Penske made his debut at Indianapolis in 1969 with Mark Donohue as his driver in the blue Sunoco Special. I have been a fan ever since.

In the late nineties, Team Penske hit a lull. The Penske chassis built in Poole, England was no longer the class of the field. Paul Tracy left and returned only to leave again. Andre Ribeiro had a very forgettable tenure with the team and Al Unser, Jr. was allowing his demons to surface and effect his driving. When Paul Tracy won at Gateway in May of 1997, no one would have guessed that that would be Penske’s last win of the decade

Things bottomed out in 1999. The team had scaled back to one full-time car for Al Unser, Jr. who finished a disappointing twenty-first in points, partly due to the fact that he missed three races with a broken leg sustained in the season opener. An unknown Tarso Marques was tabbed as Unser’s replacement and drove in a few races as Unser’s teammate after his return, in the sometimes used second car. Then during practice at Laguna Seca, rookie driver Gonzalo Rodriguez was driving the second car when his car plunged over a barrier near the corkscrew, and was fatally injured. The team withdrew Unser’s car and went home. Alex Barron was chosen for the second car in the season finale at California.

By that time, it had already been announced that The Captain was cleaning house and would be bringing in Gil de Ferran and Greg Moore as his new drivers for the new millennium. Tragically, the worst part of 1999 was still to come as Greg Moore lost his life in the final race of the season at Fontana; paving the way for Helio Castroneves to join Team Penske in 2000 and still have the seat he has today.

The other changes that Penske announced for 2000 was to dump his own Penske chassis in favor of the proven Reynard. He also traded his Ilmor-Mercedes powerplant for Honda and he switched from Goodyear tires to Firestone. Everything was about to change at Team Penske.

Almost unnoticed amongst the changes was the hiring of Tim Cindric from Team Rahal, where his peers named him CART Team Manager of the year in 1998 and 1999. Cindric joined Rahal-Hogan Racing in 1993 after a two-year stint at Truesports, where he served as interim general manager and design manager. Prior to that, he had worked to develop the Judd Indy V8 engine.

Tim Cindric is a graduate of the Rose-Hulman Institute of technology where he lettered in basketball for four years. He was just thirty-one when he was hired by Roger Penske at the end of the 1999 season.

At the end of the 2005 season, Cindric was named as President of Penske Performance, Inc – a title that puts him over all racing entities of Penske Racing including the IndyCar and NASCAR teams. Part of his new duties was to oversee the move of the IndyCar team from Reading, PA to the team’s colossal new shop in Mooresville, NC; as all of the Penske racing teams consolidated under one roof. It was a monumental task, but Cindric seemed to pull it off effortlessly.

Tim Cindric calls the races for Helio while Roger Penske makes the calls for Ryan Briscoe. Helio and Cindric seem to have developed an excellent chemistry as they begin their eleventh season together. Cindric also holds a slight 3-2 edge over his boss in calling races at the Indianapolis 500 during that time. Cindric serves as a buffer between the happy-go-lucky, effervescent Castroneves and the stoic, all-business Roger Penske. Cindric can loosen up enough to relate to Helio while maintaining the business persona to placate The Captain.

Tim Cindric is one of the more personable team leaders in the paddock. His status within the team notwithstanding, he never seems to take himself too seriously or put himself above the fray. Immediately following the 2007 Firestone Indy 200 here in Nashville, which was finally run on a Sunday afternoon owing to a downpour the night before – I walked through the paddock afterward and came across Tim Cindric and Helio on a golf cart. Cindric noticed my usual race day attire – my Marlboro Team Penske polo shirt – and yelled out “Hey, nice shirt!” as he drove by with a mischievous look on his face. I have come across Cindric several times in the past few years and he always seems to understand how important the fans are to this sport. Prior to his joining the team, the Penske drivers were not near as accessible as they are now.

While this is still very much Roger Penske’s team and he has the final say in most aspects – make no mistake that this will be Cindric’s team at some point in the near future. Roger Penske was smart enough to realize that he will not be around forever and started grooming his successor while he was still in his early sixties. Now that Penske is seventy-three, he shows no signs of slowing down, but he could if he had to knowing that his racing company is in excellent hands.

Going into his eleventh season with Team Penske, Tim Cindric has been around Roger Penske to learn every aspect of running the team as well as how to conduct himself in the business of racing. At age forty-two, Tim Cindric is just entering his prime and is set up for a long and successful tenure at Team Penske for years to come.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “The Man Behind Team Penske”

  1. Don’t know Cindric personally, but he certainly seems like a really good guy. As do most of the folks who graduated from his alma mater… ;)

  2. Why are the only options on your poll, I hate Team Penske, I don’t care, and Tim Cindric is the greatest guy ever and he’ll be with Penske for 25 years. I like your little polls at the end but sometimes the options are very bizarre. I think he gets the job done, will he effectively be able to lead this team past the Roger Penske years? I don’t know, look how fast Newman Haas has fallen.

    • I think that last sentence of yours is kind of the point. Newman-Haas is falling apart in the era in which one owner passed away, another owner is getting on in years and may not be in the best of health, and the third owner (from what I’ve heard) is not necessarily getting along with or seeing eye to eye with the other leadership that’s been brought in by owner #2 (either offspring or somebody else, I’m not clear on that). Meanwhile, Penske brought Cindric in almost 10 full years ago, and while it’s not necessarily clear if Roger had his eye on Cindric taking the reins completely upon Roger’s retirement back in 2000, it’s obvious at this point that Cindric will be the person that’ll take over when Roger does step aside.

      It’s about having a contingency plan for the future, for when you’re not around anymore. Roger has developed such a plan over the course of the last decade, while Paul Newman and Carl Haas apparently did not come up with such a clear plan. That’s unfortunate, both for the team and for fans of the team.

  3. George, I don’t like to pimp our site on other people’s blog so please remove this comment if you feel it is inappropriate. However, I had the pleasure of speaking with Tim as part of our Off-Season Interview Series at Planet-IRL and he was everything just as you described him. If your readers are interested in hearing more from the man himself, the audio link can be found here: http://planet-irl.com/2009/12/09/an-interview-with-tim-cindric/.

  4. bickelmom Says:

    George, I really enjoy these kinds of articles from you. I’m still learning so much about the sport and these types of articles remind me that there is much more to the sport than what you see on race day. Team member profiles/observations/histories give great prospective and backstory. Thanks!

  5. Tim Cindric is about the perfect all around team manager. Last year I was at Indy and I spotted him making his way through the crowd and said “good luck Tim” and he stopped in his tracks, looked to see who said it and even though he didn’t know who I was, he shook my hand and said thanks.

    As the article said, he’s the perfect person to be between Penske and Helio and a pretty damn smart & nice guy.

  6. Mr. Cindric is a graduate of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (abbreviated RHIT), RHIT is highly regarded for its undergraduate engineering program, which is ranked as the best in the United States (of schools whose highest degree is a bachelor’s or master’s). Its campus is located in Terre Haute, Indiana. The Hulman family “obviously” has invested in education so engineering is readily available to Indy drivers. RHIT is “obviously” a fantastic opportunity for all the kids in the racing league, no excuses and some college education should be required for all professionals. Mr. Cendric is the alumni with the intellegence behind the winner! (Mrs. Hulman also has one of the very best equine centers ion the USA, she and her family deserve alot of credit for supporting education “obviously.”)

    • It’s true that the Hulman family and the IRL are involved with Rose-Hulman (Jeff Belskus and Tony and Mari Hulman George sit on the board of trustees, and Belskus is the Vice-Chair), but I think you’re kind of overstating the importance of a full-on engineering education for an IndyCar driver. I don’t really think that Danica or Marco or Mario Moraes or whoever would be all that well served by having to sit though differential equations, materials science, thermodynamics, technical communications, mechanics of materials, chem labs and the like. A class in vehicle dynamics might be a different matter, but those are graduate-level and above (and not available at Rose, anyway), and probably far too specific for what a racing driver needs. Plus, I think most drivers are probably aiming for careers in business after their driving days are over, so a lot of this stuff would be completely unnecessary.

      Nice thought, but this suggestion is not very practical. Ask the average young racing driver and their parents if they’d rather spend $40k a year on a their racing budget or on an engineering degree that they may never use (and which the kid may not have the smarts or desire to finish anyway), and I think they’ll give you a pretty quick answer.

  7. An Associate degree in engineering after High School might not be so bad for these younger kids. Thinking of one youngster, “who has permission to race-but not to drive” and honestly if that is the satndard for American openwheel racing-the associate degree might be helpful. “You Know.”
    The kids should also have classes in business so they can manage their taxes, and their own perfolios, and also because they may need a backup plan sometime in the future-
    Most adults want their American kids educated. (Race- car driver kids are not a protected class, BTW. “The racing budget” should include a class or 2 in college business and basic engineering, during the :”silly-season.” 1 semester.
    Randy Bernard might agree that 15 year old racers should not skip school to race cars, at least.
    Roger Penske is definetely the captain-and he made a great choice for his engineer. He is the smart looking guy with the white hair-
    (“Ask their parents”…reminds me of the e-trade babies…
    Milka-What?)
    Closing with that-
    Milka Duno has 4 Master’s Degrees and is not the fastest driver-but she is one of the smartest woman on the league, and now Simona, who also probably speaks at least 4 languages, as the Swiss children are required to know.
    New Rule for Randy:No skipping school, for racing-
    In Florida, we are only allowed 10 days of absences per year! Including Sports…so if you race in Florida, you play by the Florida-Gator rules!
    Off to St. Pete. where Roy is waving his Golden Spatula!
    Also, my friend harry (at least 40 years old,now) raced in LeMans last year in Paris…didn’t see any young kids driving in that series-He owns an Ace hardware store in Coronado CA, and ran the first SEMA show-which my husband wrote the software for. I am not that unfamiliar with racing or a professional racecar H-8er! Kids and racing-not so much!

  8. My wife is a HUGE fan of Helio. Last year after Helio won the pole at Indy, she was hoping to get a message to him. Helio was giving on camera interviews and Tim Cendric was also inside the closed off media area, so she asked Mr Cendric to come over to the crowd barrier. The President of Penske Racing comes over, listens to her request, then takes a memo pad out of his back pocket and writes down the message to give to Helio later. Incredible but true.

    Tim Cendric is in many ways like Rick Mears: amazingly successful yet seemingly without ego.

  9. [...] The Man Behind Team Penske « OilpressureBACK TO SQUARE ONE; Team Penske is quickest with Indy’s new 3.0-liter formula.(News) … find AutoWeek articles. div id="be-doc-text" Byline: CURT CAVINThe Indianapolis 500 is unofficial- ly divided into two races ea… … Roger Penske’s team is the defending champion of both parts of the event, winning the pole last year… [...]

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