Racing With Roger Penske, A History of a Motorsport Dynasty
by Sigur E. Whitaker
This is one of those instances where learning about a book’s author becomes part of the commentary as one discovers that that author is every bit as interesting as the people and subjects she has chosen to chronicle. Sigur Whitaker is that author. More about her further on.
Each of her books—now totaling five—she researched carefully as the bibliographies, indices, and chapter end notes of each testify. As fellow SpeedReaders reviewer Don Capps so correctly noted in his words on this site about Whitaker’s earlier The Indy Car Wars, her primary sources are the likes of Speed Sport News, some USAC newsletters, of course The Indianapolis Star newspaper, and even some trusted internet sources. (That last is not an oxymoron for there truly are some online sources that are accurate and thus trustworthy.)
In the case of this Penske book, her chosen sources mean she doesn’t (can’t) include such fun stories as Roger P. noticing and hiring timing/scoring whiz Judy Stropus to act in that capacity for his teams during the early 1970s. Or wonderful stories related to Penske driver Dick Guldstrand who would go on to become nothing short of legendary himself with his tuning and building superfast Corvettes and other machines, some of which are featured in the Guldstrand Motor Productions-published book (2003) featuring Dave Friedman photography titled Corvette Thunder.
The above observations are not intended as a criticism of this book. For Whitaker’s approach is very disciplined and she wisely doesn’t deviate from her self-appointed task of chronicling, year by year, Penske’s race record 1958–2020 including 18 of his incredible 19 Indy 500 wins. Why “only” 18 of the 19? Simple, that 19th took place the year after the book’s 2022 publication.
As Capps observed in his Indy Car Wars commentary, Whitaker “mines her sources well” and does readers a real service by enabling them to see precisely the source/s of each important item or point. This approach also renders her book subsequently an excellent research resource especially with its extensive bibliography, detailed chapter end notes, and excellent index. It also happens to be very readable and, as Whitaker writes with enormous clarity, the pages turn quickly.
Sigur Whitaker no doubt gained some of her abilities with the written word and accuracy from her 35 years in the banking industry. But it was a trip to hometown Indianapolis and discovery of a photo album, along with her innate curiosity and love of history, that prompted her to delve into learning more about her great-great uncle James Allison. Whitaker’s talents and accomplishments don’t stop with five published non-fiction titles since retirement. She also sings (soprano) in what she calls “a very good choir.” So good in fact that the choir has now been booked for the seventh time since 2000 to travel to the UK where it will replace the choir in residence at Canterbury Cathedral and St Paul’s London for a week at each singing all services each day. On a previous trip it had been the choir in residence at Lincoln Cathedral and York Minster.
Roger Penske initially started his racing in the driver’s seat but it wasn’t long before business opportunities also proved attractive and he’s quoted as having told a reporter in 1982 that, “I was a good race driver and I knew that my future in the sport was as bright as I wanted it to be. But I also knew I was a good businessman, and I wanted to prove just how good.” That led him into the new car dealership business to which he quickly added a national car rental firm along with race team(s) ownership with hired drivers such as previously mentioned Dick Guldstrand, the “flying dentist” Dr. Dick Thompson and, of course, Mark Donohue and that list would grow just as the venues/series in which his teams competed would.
As history and this book record, Penske’s confidence in his abilities was right on both counts. He’s been enormously successful in racing while his business empire has grown to include purchase of Detroit Diesel and several racetracks culminating with acquiring the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from the Hulman family in 2019, a purchase that included the IndyCar race series. Prior to that in 2016 that famed race had observed its 10th anniversary as Penske was observing his 50th year in racing. To celebrate and observe both Roger was invited and did drive the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS pace car.
Having accomplished the monumental task of chronicling Penske’s race history and with The Captain showing no signs of retiring, Whitaker decided to do annual update supplements which she offers free to purchasers of this book. The 2021 racing year supplement titled “The Importance of Deep Pockets and Earned Credibility” is currently available. The 2022 supplement will be available soon. To receive these supplements Whitaker requests a copy of your purchase receipt be provided her at RacingWithRogerPenske@gmail.com or email@example.com
With all of his achievements and successes, Roger Penske is and has always been a gracious, polite, and thoughtful individual. He was the first to congratulate Helio Castroneves when he finally achieved his long desired fourth Indy 500 win in 2021 even though Castroneves no longer drove for Penske. As telling about the nature of the man is a comment he’s been heard to utter more than once, “Don’t trip over your own press clippings.”
Copyright 2023 Helen V Hutchings, SAH (speedreaders.info)