Penske entranced by Indy 500's drama

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Detroit — Winning continues to enthrall and energize Roger Penske.

Penske, the 78-year-old Bloomfield Hills businessman, is entering his 50th year in racing, and on Wednesday night at the Renaissance Center, he and driver Juan Pablo Montoya each received a Baby Borg-Warner Trophy commemorating their 2015 Indianapolis 500 win.

The majestic Art Deco sterling silver Borg-Warner Trophy, which is nearly 5-feet-5 inches tall and weighs 110 pounds, bears three-dimensional likenesses of each Indy 500 winner. Montoya’s face appears twice, since he also won in his first attempt in 2000.

Penske, as a team owner, has won the Indianapolis 500 16 times, and will head to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing this May with one of the most powerful teams in the sport featuring drivers Helio Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Montoya.

He is fully aware of the captivating possibilities of winning a 17th Indianapolis 500 in his 50th season of racing in the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500.

“Nothing replaces a win at Indy,” Penske said Wednesday night. “Anybody who has won there, just look at the trophy. That’s a symbol of so many great people that have been there. There’s heartbreak, there’s tragedy, there’s elation, there’s winning -- there are so many things around that trophy.”

Penske returned Indy Car racing to Detroit at Belle Isle with Bud Denker as chairman for the race weekend June 3-5 this summer.

But the function Wednesday night was about the Indianapolis 500, which Penske deeply respects and covets.

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“You’re not sure how you got there 15 times before, and you have a full memory of last year’s race,” Penske said. “Quite honestly with Helio almost winning it in ’14 with that race with (Ryan) Hunter-Reay and this year to see two cars out front (Montoya and Power) with the last four, five laps is pretty special. You don’t have that happen very often.

“For us going into the 100th year race and being the previous winner, our 50th year in racing, it’s pretty good.”

Montoya and Penske are not particularly sentimental people. Their Baby Borg-Warner trophies, an 18-inch tall version of the original, are not kept at their homes. Penske has his trophies displayed alongside the helmets of the winning drivers in his race shop. Montoya, a Colombian, said he doesn’t keep anything at home and will have his at a museum in Colombia during a go-kart event.

“Over the weekend I saw (former Indy 500 winner) Emerson (Fittipaldi) and he was wearing his (Indy 500) ring and I’m like, ‘What the heck are you doing wearing that?’” Montoya said, smiling. “The ring is beautiful, but I’m married. I’m not a big showoff guy, it’s something I want for myself, not to show people what I’ve done.”

Still, he does appreciate seeing his image on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

“It’s pretty cool,” Montoya said. “It’s pretty nice. Now, twice is pretty exciting.”

For Penske, racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May never gets old and is always exciting.

The challenge of winning again and again brings him back.

“It’s so much time and effort to get to the top, and you start all over again,” Penske said. “This isn’t a case where they automatically guarantee you a top-five position when you go to the race. To me, it’s execution. But the key thing we’ve had over the years is the continuity of our people that keep coming to Indy and going with our drivers.

“We’ve had some great people. Montoya comes back and delivers. Power was right there, Helio was right there, so we’ve got a stacked deck to a certain extent when we go into this year’s race because Pagenaud is pretty strong, too."

And that’s why Penske has won 16 times.