Robin Miller, SPEED TV
Roger Penske began fielding cars at the Indianapolis 500 in 1969 and during this time span The Captain has amassed 153 wins, 12 championships and made a record 15 trips to Victory Lane at Indianapolis.
He also built a template for success and re-shaped the business model for motorsports.
Looking back on these past 42 years, several people have tried to draft Penske into the fast lane. Bobby Hillin and Rick Galles damn near went bust trying to keep up with R.P. in CART and billionaire John Menard threw good money after bad trying to catch The Captain at 16th & Georgetown.
Gerald Forsythe, Barry Green and Bruce McCaw had their moments of glory before bowing out while other pretenders like Andy Evans got sent home C.O.D.
Only Paul Newman and Carl Haas were able to stand in and trade punches with Penske in the ‘80s and ‘90s before being separated in 2002. And Michael Andretti’s team had the upper hand for a couple of seasons in 2004 and 2005 before fading.
But, throughout CART’s heydays, The Split and unification; during the engine, car and tire wars; from taking a chance on equipment to being stuck with spec racing, there has only been one constant thorn in The Captain’s side.
That would our boy Chip Ganassi.
And while there’s no denying the Chipster can be a pain in the ass to a lot of people on any given day, he’s accomplished what nobody else has been able to pull off.
His IndyCar team has pulled alongside of Penske’s.
In a horse racing form, they would be coupled: 1 and 1A.
Since 1994, the year Target/Ganassi Racing scored its initial victory, it’s almost a dead heat.
Chip’s drivers have 79 wins, seven championships and three baby Borgs from winning Indianapolis.
Team Penske’s stats are 73 victories, four titles and five Indy 500s.
Ganassi and Target have been partners since 1990, while The Captain had Marlboro for the better part of 20 years.
Helio Castroneves returns for his 12th year with R.P. and Scott Dixon is back in the saddle for his ninth consecutive season at Ganassi’s.
Tim Lombardi, Tom Wertz, Clive Howell and Rick Rinaman are lifers at Penske just like Ricky Davis, Barry Wanser, Julian Robertson, Scott Harner and Mike Hull for Ganassi as both organizations breed loyalty.
If a driver is hired at either place, winning is the only option.
“I don’t know that Chip’s goal was to be like Roger but, let’s face it, Roger is the model for success in this business,” said Hull, the managing director who joined Ganassi in 1992.
“Chip is fueled by the passion of winning and the passion of having comparison. Both of them are from the same competitive mold.”
Penske became the first car owner to ever get a win at Daytona and Indy when Ryan Newman took NASCAR’s biggest plum in 2008. Ganassi became the first to do it in the same year when Jamie McMurray and Dario Franchitti delivered in 2010. McMurray followed that up with a victory at the Brickyard 400 to give Ganassi the first IMS double and Dario capped a dream season by snatching the IndyCar title in the last race.
There is no denying that The Captain is one of the smartest people on this planet and his work ethic is second to none. He builds up companies, resuscitates others and knows how to keep customers and sponsors satisfied. Racing is how he unwinds.
Ganassi lives and breathes motorsports, from his IndyCar and Grand-Am headquarters in Indy to his NASCAR shop in Charlotte. Pittsburgh is his home but racing is his family.
“The biggest difference between them is that Roger runs his empire from Monday through Thursday and follows his passion from Friday to Sunday,” continued Hull. “Chip is focused on racing from Monday to Sunday.
“I always hear that Chip gives us the resources to succeed but the resource is the mindset and culture we’ve been fortunate enough to develop. Chip is all about building for tomorrow and the future. It’s all about staying power.”
Staying up front with Penske has proved to be almost impossible during the past four decades. But he can’t shake Ganassi.
Nothing better illustrates this like 2010. At Indy, Castroneves and Will Power qualified 1-2 but the Ganassi team never concerned themselves with qualifying, and Franchitti totally dominated the race. Power was the class of the IndyCar season but lost the title in the finale when Dario and Dixon delivered a psychological blow in qualifying before sealing the deal in the race.
It was the second straight season that a Ganassi driver (Franchitti) had overtaken a Penske driver in the last race to win the championship.
While many have grown tired of the same two teams winning everything, and nothing is going to change drastically until those new cars/engines arrive in 2012, Ganassi and Penske have evolved into one of the best rivalries in sports.
Make no mistake: The Captain still casts a long shadow but the ‘ol Chipster is standing right in it.