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DATE News (chronologically)
05/27/10
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Penske: the way its done  At the heart of the gargantuan headquarters of Penske Racing, there is a long concrete hallway tall and wide enough to fit an 18-wheeler.

Employees of the 427,000-square-foot shop have nicknamed it "The Mason-Dixon line." On one side, the Sprint Cup cars of Kurt Busch, Sam Hornish Jr. and Brad Keselowski are assembled. Behind the other wall is the IndyCar operation supporting Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

But the gap isn't meant to separate the teams. In their fourth season of sharing an address, those who toil in divergent disciplines are finding commonality, or "cross-pollination" as team owner Roger Penske prefers.

"As we live together, then you start finding groups that play together," Penske Racing President Tim Cindric says. "You have to be neighbors before we're friends. We've evolved in many ways, and there continues to be more crossover. I see it evolving more."

Penske is one of two organizations capable of winning both of racing's Memorial Day weekend showcases: the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. But unlike Ganassi Racing, which has headquarters in Indianapolis and Concord, N.C., Penske is the only team that can claim its cars were produced under the same roof.

Castroneves will start on the pole at Indy. About four hours later, the green flag will fall at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Busch will enter as a strong contender after winning the Sprint All-Star Race warm-up Saturday at the track.

All six Penske cars will contain many components built by some of the same people who make up the 350-member staff inside the former Panasonic factory that sits on a 100-acre tract in a business park.

Cindric oversees both operations (and an annual budget of more than $100 million) and tries to make weekly tours of the facility, which also fields two Nationwide Series cars and has extra capacity if Penske elects to revive its dormant sports-car team.

"It's like changing the radio channel," he says. "They're all playing music, but it's different. You have to appreciate each type."

Tailoring to the series

There are stark differences, mostly driven by the series' schedules and rule books. The demands of the 36-race schedule and the rigid inspection process in NASCAR require a more specialized and expanded workforce that continually hands off a car through several phases of production. One group is responsible for building, another handles at-track preparations and a third (often contract labor) pits the car on race days.

In IndyCar, which has a 17-race schedule and a vehicle with less surface area and fewer parts, the same mechanics supervise the cars from the assembly line to the green flag.

There also is the element of culture shock. When the NASCAR team entered the shop in 2005, the move was in-town from another building in Mooresville. The IndyCar team was relocated three years ago from a 35,000-square-foot shop in Reading, Pa., where it was based from 1973-2006.

"It used to be you knew everyone's name, their wives, their kids and the cars they drove," says Tom Wurtz, Penske's IndyCar team manager.

Clive Howell, general manager of the IndyCar team, says he learned he had to wear out his shoes to talk to someone instead of just looking out of the office. "It's a different feel, and we're still adjusting in some ways," he says.

But there have been benefits, as employees have shuttled between NASCAR and IndyCar. One of the most prominent is Tom German, who has been Penske's NASCAR technical director for 18 months after 10 years in the same IndyCar role.

Though the team's NASCAR and IndyCar engineering departments are separate, German has fostered interaction between the teams and says the computer-simulation programs are similar enough that the potential exists for having engineers handle data collection for both series. The teams use the same high-tech testing apparatus (including a wind tunnel and seven-post shaker rig) in another building nearby.

"It's more similar than it appears," German says. "The systems for optimizing things are transferable. The actual solution, whether changing the mirror shape on an IndyCar or the fender on a Cup car, is different, but the approach to get there might be very similar."

Plenty of common ground

There are departments with no divisions. Merchandising, licensing, human resources, accounting and transportation staffs handle both teams. Its marketing department sells sponsorships as a package across both series, which proved useful when Penske hooked Shell as the new backer of Busch's No. 2 Dodge for next year.

With fuel suppliers restricted in NASCAR advertising, Cindric says Penske could offer an enhanced package through its IndyCar teams.

The most important nexus, though, might be the carbon fiber specialists who work on parts for both series. In the carbon fiber shop on a recent Wednesday, one crewman trimmed the edges of a NASCAR dashboard as another polished a road-course wing flap for an Indy car.

Travis Geisler, crew chief for Hornish, says the NASCAR team also realizes cost savings from carbon fiber, which allows for more efficient mass production of interchangeable parts (such as leg braces, dashboards and chassis mounts) instead of custom-built steel.

"I go over to the IndyCar side of the shop just to keep up on what they're doing," Geisler says. "There is stuff to be learned on the way they set up cars. You can pick up on little nuances that can help." USAToday.com

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