Dream weekend for Roger Penske?
CONCORD, N.C. -- Travis Geisler is in the middle of monitoring the final practice for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway when his cell phone rings.
It's the boss.
Bang, bang, bang, bang. The boss rattles off four questions so fast that it almost leaves the director of competition for Penske Racing's NASCAR effort with his head spinning.
"He's in Indianapolis, but he's thinking about what we're doing, too," Geisler says. "He knows when we're on track. He wants to know up to the minute what we're doing.
"After everything he's accomplished he could push away from the table anytime and call it a heck of a career, but he's as hungry as I've ever seen him."
The boss is Roger Penske.
On Sunday, unlike any other race day, he'll be torn between two loves: the Indianapolis 500 -- which he has won more times (15) than any other owner, and where he has Ryan Briscoe on the pole and three drivers starting in the top six -- and NASCAR's longest race at CMS, where he believes Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger have legitimate chances to win.
It's like having two kids graduate from college on the same day in separate states. Which one do you attend?
Everyone knows Penske, 75, will be in Indianapolis with his first born, standing on the pit box and serving as the strategist for Briscoe. If he has his way he'll attend both, just as he did a week ago when he was with Briscoe for the pole run in Indianapolis and with Allmendinger at CMS for the end of his run that qualified him for the Sprint All-Star Race.
If he has his way, the billionaire owner will win both, something his organization never has done, something he wants almost as much as a Sprint Cup title to go with his 12 IndyCar titles.
If it happens, it'll be arguably the biggest day in the history of his empire, one of the biggest days ever in motorsports.
"When you consider what's at stake for eight days, it probably has the highest result potential for you, your drivers and your sponsors," Penske says in a phone interview. "It would be a real accomplishment if we could get that far."
Don't think his drivers and everyone else associated with Penske Racing aren't aware. They've worked harder this year than perhaps any other since the IndyCar and NASCAR effort merged into one shop in nearby Mooresville six years ago to get the boss the coveted sweep.
"It's probably the next-best thing to doing the double with one driver," Briscoe says. "We want to do the double as a team. We have three strong cars at the Indy 500. It's unbelievable. We know AJ and Brad are going to be super competitive, as they always seem to be at Charlotte.
"We're definitely excited. It'd mean so much to bring home two wins in the same day for Roger."
For Roger. It's a common theme this week at Penske Racing. Penske brings that out in those who work for him perhaps more than any other owner in any sport.
"I know how much it would mean to Roger to be able to pull that off," Keselowski says of the sweep. "It's a great opportunity; that's the key word that I want to use.
"Obviously, it takes a lot of time out of Roger's schedule, but he clears time on his schedule this month to make sure that he can be a part of it all. That just shows that he cares about both programs. ... I feel very lucky to have an owner that engaged."
The jet engines are warmed up and the pilots are on standby in Indianapolis. It's always that way when you work for the sport's busiest man.
"I always keep a plane on the pole at the airport," Penske says.
The past eight days have been particularly crazy. Penske has flown from Indianapolis to Charlotte to Indianapolis to Charlotte to his home in Detroit to work on the upcoming grand prix and back to Indianapolis.
He's met with the everyone from top level executives to workers in the fabrication shop because he wants the unsung heroes to feel just as important as the race heroes, his drivers.
The last person Allmendinger expected to see last Saturday was his boss after Briscoe won the Indy pole, but there Penske was on pit road after the Showdown.
"[He was] standing on pit road, fist pumping as I was going by, and I was like, 'Is that Roger that I just went by? Shouldn't he be in Indy celebrating a pole?'" Allmendinger says.
Penske doesn't really celebrate, at least not for long. Winning is something he expects, like a successful deal in one of his non-racing businesses.
"He's on to the next thing before that one [victory] is even done," Geisler says. "His way of celebrating is getting to come and watch another one of his race teams. That's what he enjoys."
Penske's mind was almost as much on Sam Hornish Jr. and winner Keselowski in Saturday's Nationwide Series race as it was in making final preparations with Briscoe for the 500.
He shows no favorites to his race teams, like he never showed favorites to his five children, even though there's the perception he leans to the Indy Car side.
That's one reason he merged his racing operations into one. He wanted to create a synergy that would make each one better. It has worked, particularly on the NASCAR side, beginning in the middle of last season when Keselowski went on a tear with three wins and a Chase berth.
It's all come together this year. Keselowski has two Cup wins on the NASCAR side and is a championship contender. Will Power has won the past three IndyCar races and leads the points, and Helio Castroneves won the season opener.
"None of us knew how it was going to work," Geisler says of merging the two worlds. "But Mr. Penske had that vision and knew it would work, and now we're starting to reap the benefits of it."
That's because everyone has committed to making it work. Even the drivers have moved to the same area and spend time together, from the workout room to the board room.
"We moved a lot of people around, but there's one organization, one race team," Penske says. "We see great continuity."
But the key, as it always has been, is Penske's leadership. It motivates people who work for him to the point it's hard for them to define him.
"That's futile for me to attempt," Geisler says. "I'll just say he is the most incredible person to work for from the aspect of making you want to do everything within your power for him every day you go to work for him without him ever telling you to.
"It's pretty incredible when you consider the amount of daily things this guy has to deal with. I know when we go to him with a problem it's pretty darn big, so nobody is going to him with the little, easy ones. He continues to be able to solve those problems for us and put us in positions to succeed."
He wears many hats
Penske is running late for a Friday afternoon phone interview to put out a fire in another department. He puts out more fires in a week than some firefighters put out in a career.
The man is so involved in all aspects of his race organizations -- and others -- that you'd swear there are two or three of him.
Beyond his racing entities, Penske owns more than 150 car dealerships in the United States and 101 internationally, he has a truck leasing business, he's a co-owner of Deer Valley ski resort, is one of the corporate directors of General Electric and is on the board of directors at Universal Technical Institute.
In 2006, he was chairman of the Super Bowl XL host committee in economic-torn Detroit. He employs more than 36,000 people worldwide.
He's so busy that Geisler wonders if his boss ever sleeps.
"I'm pretty sure he doesn't," Geisler says with a laugh. "I know he outworks me by a good bit, and I work pretty hard."
Penske works so hard that Geisler believes Sundays such as this are almost like a day off from the aspect his boss can enjoy the races like many businessmen do a round of golf.
This is anything but a day off. Penske's mind will be racing in a hundred different directions as he figures Briscoe's fuel and pit strategy, among other things. If he wins, his mind will be racing forward on how to get through the postrace duties and get to the 600.
"Roger himself has said in the past that racing has been like his golf game," says Walt Czarnecki, Penske's right-hand man and the vice president of Penske Corp. "But a day like Sunday is a little more. It's not like Martinsville and a street race in Baltimore.
"This is different. It's like majors in golf. We have two majors in the same day."
And Penske doesn't like to skip a racing major any more than Tiger Woods likes to in golf. He just has a different motivation for being there.
"You lead with direction and you try to lead by example," Penske says. "I try to be there when things are not good and obviously share the spoils of success."
Says Czarnecki, "It's important, that physical presence, just to be there, that both sides know that they have his level of interest and involvement and engagement from the highest level of the company. He will be working very hard to ensure both teams are successful."
Penske has come close a couple of times: 1988 with Rick Mears winning the 500 and Rusty Wallace finishing second at CMS; 1994 with Al Unser Jr. winning the 500 and Wallace finishing second in Charlotte.
"It would be a significant day for us if we ... get two wins in the same day," Czarnecki says. "This year, with the cars we have, we have an excellent chance in both. We just have to execute."
One could argue the toughest execution of the day might be getting Penske to both places, considering the victory celebration at Indy will last at least two hours and the flight to Charlotte is 90 minutes.
"First things first," Penske says with a laugh. "I've got the plane ready to go. It would be my goal I could come to both places. We don't end the weekend until we see the last lap of the 600."
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