The Man Behind Team Penske
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.