Roger Penske in favor of Detroit auto show date change

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Roger Penske, right, founder and chairman of Penske Corporation, and Team Penske driver Will Power pose with the Borg-Warner Trophy before the evening session of the Automotive News World Congress at the RenCen Marriott Hotel in Detroit on Wednesday.

Detroit — It seems like a no-brainer that the vanity plate should be updated and ready to go each year before it's even requested. After all, IndyCar team owner Roger Penske has dominated the Indianapolis 500 like no other.

Penske, the Bloomfield Hills-based businessman, can be seen driving around town with the most unique of plates — 1 Indy 17 — which commemorates Team Penske’s 17th Indianapolis 500 victory when Will Power won at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway last May.

Penske was in Detroit Wednesday night as part of the auto show festivities with Power to each accept a “baby” Borg-Warner trophy, a 14-inch tall, sterling silver replica of the Borg-Warner Trophy, worth $50,000. The trophy bears the likeness of all the Indy 500 winners dating back to Ray Harroun in 1911.

The 81-year-old Penske has no desire to slow down and likes the idea of a “1 Indy 18” plate ready to go.

“Well, they should (have it ready),” Penske said, animatedly.

While Penske is a fan of change and evolving whether in his sport or business, there is no change in his desire to win at the Indianapolis 500.

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“Our biggest focus as we go into motorsport each year is to win the Indianapolis 500,” Penske said. “For every race driver in the world, the goal is to race at Indy.

“It’s an icon track, an icon race. For us, the experience we’ve had there, the drivers, it’s the whole team. We’ll bring somewhere between 400 and 500 years of experience around our effort as we go there in 2019.”

Penske attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1951 when he was 14 years old. It never gets old going back.

“You walk out in pit lane the start of each season, and think, ‘Wow we’re here again,’” Penske said. “But you also know there are 29, 30 cars that can beat you.

“That’s why we go. It’s built our brand. The brand we’ve built is the brand through our racing. You think about execution and team work and speed and the things that go around to win the race at Indy, that’s the hallmark, the pinnacle of what I say is the mission for our company.”

Penske and Bud Denker, president of Penske Corporation, spearheaded the return of the Detroit Grand Prix to Belle Isle. Denker is the chairman of the race that takes place each June. Next year, the Detroit auto show will move to June, a week after the Grand Prix.

For Penske, who has been part of the revitalization of downtown Detroit, he sees this as a win-win for the city.

“Hopefully there’s a byproduct coming out of the race that we have at Belle Isle, and we can use some of that to help the auto show,” he said.

“The good thing about the (auto) show at that time of year, the cost to put on the show over the holidays is just tough and there’s the weather. It’s time for change. If we look at that, hopefully we’ll be able to get back some of the manufacturers that maybe stayed out because of cost. But I think when they can really demonstrate their cars to customers, this might be a real opportunity for them to come back.”

Penske believes it’s time to adjust the auto show calendar, in large part because he embraces the concept of change in all respects — in his business and his racing.

“I think no risk, no reward,” Penske said. “That’s way the world is driven today with technology. Things you did 10 years ago you wouldn’t even think of doing them today because of the technology. I’m always for change. That’s what we’re all built on.”

Twitter: @chengelis