Team Penske president Tim Cindric realizes that working for Hall of Fame team owner Roger Penske requires an understanding of which man he’s addressing.
And it’s a daily test.
“I have to know who I’m talking to,” Cindric said. “I’ve always said there are three guys there for me.
“It’s Mr. Penske, the entrepreneur billionaire who everybody looks up to. I’ve got to know when to call him that. I’ve got to know when to call him Roger because that’s my boss. That’s the guy that I work for, that’s Roger.
“And then I’ve got to know when to call him R.P. That’s my friend, when we’re sitting around just the two of us joking around, and you can pretty much say anything to him about any subject and he’s got probably a better sense of humor than most people I know. There are only a few that really get to see that side of him. I’m fortunate to know R.P. At the same time, I’m fortunate to sit in the board room where Mr. Penske works.”
The reality of where Cindric stands today, as Team Penske prepares four of the best race contenders for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, is still somewhat unbelievable for the team president to grasp.
Cindric used to be that local kid sitting in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grandstands. He’d watch Penske on pit road and wonder what made the man tick.
Since 1999, he’s been Penske’s right-hand man and an invaluable contributor to an organization that, among other things, has celebrated a record 16 Indy 500 triumphs and 200 career Indy car victories.
Cindric likes to share the story about when Penske summoned him 19 years ago with an unexpected phone call. Cindric thought the call was to seek a reference on somebody else. Cindric’s wife, Megan, stated the obvious, that this job offer was a no-brainer, that her husband couldn’t be sitting in a rocking chair one day wondering what it would have been like to work for the man.
To be dressed in the requisite best-pressed Team Penske black on race day and working alongside the man also requires an understanding of what’s expected.
“There’s no demand to get the car, but you better know that you’re the one that should get the car,” Cindric said. “If he has to tell you to get the car, you’re probably the wrong guy.”
Penske, 81, has always had an eye for spotting talent. Look at the drivers in his cars on Sunday: a three-time Indy 500 winner in Helio Castroneves and three Verizon IndyCar Series champions in Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden. Cindric is calling the race strategy for reigning series champion and current points leader Newgarden. Penske has returned to his familiar spot atop Castroneves’ pit stand this month, though he is calling the shots for Power at all races outside Indy this season.
Their Chevrolet-powered machines will roll off the line up front: Pagenaud second, Power third, Newgarden fourth and Castroneves eighth.
To work for Penske also provides a greater appreciation for his competitive drive.
“He’s still your boss, he’s still shrewd, he’s still demanding,” Cindric said. “But there’s no better human being to learn about business and life and competition at the same time. You won’t find anyone more competitive than him. You just have to remember that when you deal with him because there’s a competitive side to him that defines why he’s so successful.”
Competitors probably hope Penske will eventually slow down, but good luck with that.
“When he’s losing patience, he’ll tell you, ‘I’m running out of birthdays,’” Cindric said. “Or he’ll say, ‘I’m going to have another birthday before that happens.’”
Penske was amused about the fuss regarding him staying on the stand for all 24 hours of the Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance sports car race in January. “The Captain” had done that before.
“For me, that wasn’t even a question,” Cindric said. “I knew that’s what he was going to do. I laugh about it. I saw him the next Tuesday and said, ‘There’s the iron man of IMSA.’ He’s like, ‘What did they think I was going to do? Go to a hotel? I’ve never gone to a hotel.’ He said, ‘It’s not my first 24 hours.’”
When Penske isn’t there and Cindric is faced with solving a situation, he asks himself a simple question: “What would Roger do?” The boss has a matter-of-fact way of seeing things. It inevitably rubs off on everyone else.
“You ask yourself that a lot,” Cindric said. “How would Roger handle it? He has a way of taking the very complex situation and making it very simple. He simplifies a lot of things.
“He said to me (today), and he’s said it a million times when we’re talking about a subject, he asked me what I would have done differently. I told him and he said, ‘Well, if you’re not trying something different, nothing is going to change.’”
Penske is a gold-standard constant in an ever-changing racing universe.
Cindric has asked when a book will be written on Mr. Penske, Roger and R.P. But Penske doesn’t have enough birthdays left to spend time on that.
“I want to work on the future,” Penske said, “not the past.”