According to TMZ, "the son of NASCAR legend Roger Penske,", was arrested Wednesday evening. "The son," TMZ references is of course, Jay Penske, owner of the Dragon Racing IndyCar team. Jay, 33 and his brother Mark, 35, allegedly broke into an apartment to avoid authorities after Jay allegedly urinated on a woman outside the Nantucket Yacht Club. Both Penske brothers were held overnight, released Thursday morning, and are scheduled to be arraigned next Friday August 20th.
Now, there are many directions one could go with this story. Of course, family patriarch Roger, known for his squeaky clean image and professional approach to numerous successful endeavors, has endured something of a difficult summer. Last week, he had to fire A.J. Allmendinger from his NASCAR team after he failed a drug test and now his two adult sons connect him to a urinating incident outside a yacht club. Clearly, The Captain has seen better days.
As for Jay Penske, many have already and likely will to continue to poke fun at an evening that was, at minimum, a monumental embarrassment for the 33 year-old media entrepreneur. However, neither Roger nor his son Jay, will be a focus of this column.
To start, after over a half-century in racing, Roger's reputation as the self-made driving force behind the most professional team in Indy Car history, is well documented. Thus, a poor decision by one employee, and the unfortunate behavior of his, at least in terms of age, adult sons, will not leave Penske much the worse for wear.
Further, any analysis of Jay is difficult, as he tends to be something of an elusive figure. Yes, people are aware of his success as an entrepreneur in starting many online media companies. Reports indicate that he boasts a net worth of $60 million at a relatively young age. However prior to yesterday, young Penske was probably best known for two things: rivaling only Dario Franchitti for best head of hair in the IndyCar paddock, and at one point Elaine Irwin Mellencamp, the ex-wife of singer John Mellencamp. And despite the ex-Mrs. Mellencamp being nine years Penske's senior, I will resist the low hanging fruit and urge to insert any "cougar," references.
Otherwise, young Penske was and probably still is something of an enigma to many even within the IndyCar world.
However, there is a story here, and it goes back to the quote in the opening sentence about "NASCAR legend Roger Penske." See, according to TMZ, a mainstream media outlet, Roger Penske, is not a "racing" legend, who has won in sports cars, Indy cars, and stock cars. No, according to TMZ, Roger Penske is a "NASCAR legend." And TMZ's referencing Penske as a NASCAR legend, is an indication of something IndyCar fans, and fans of other racing programs, probably don't like to admit: IndyCar can't even get credit for pissing on someone.
No, NASCAR gets the credit because NASCAR is the 800 lb. gorilla in American motorsport. Yes, Despite their recent downturns in attendance and TV ratings; despite their long, boring races; despite their corporate sanitation in the last decade, NASCAR still dominates American motorsport. And the domination is so extensive, the acronym NASCAR is actually part of the vernacular.
Yes, NASCAR, which is actually a sanctioning body, has become synonymous with racing in the American vernacular. When TMZ says "NASCAR legend," they mean racing legend. Worse, when they say NASCAR legend, they think they mean racing legend.
Now, before going ahead, I want to make something clear. My intention is not to rip TMZ for not knowing the difference between a carburetor and fuel injection. Nor am I going to rip them for failing to acknowledge that Penske's greatest success in racing has come in Indy Car, not NASCAR, where his teams have never won a championship. If anything, TMZ is simply a reflection of my thesis.
I imagine that when this story broke yesterday, TMZ inevitably did some research on The Captain. They may have discovered that in addition to competing in NASCAR, Penske has owned Indy car teams for decades, and been prominent in other areas of the sport. For example, he founded the sanctioning body Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) in the late 1970s, when he and other team owners were frustrated with the United States Auto Club (USAC). CART teams, of course, for many years competed in the PPG Indy Car World Series, and then later incorporated the term IndyCar.
Perhaps, TMZ was further confused when discovering that for a time, IndyCar, and the teams competing in the PPG Indy Car World Series, didn't compete in the Indianapolis 500. They may also have discovered that none of the previously mentioned terms should be confused with Indy Car Inc., or the present Izod IndyCar Series or INDYCAR. Confused as to how they should reference Penske, they may have simply decided using NASCAR was easier. After all Penske is a racer, and to many, NASCAR is racing.
Of course, the back story to this is a long, depressing one that will merely be glossed over here. While Indy car racing has long been a rudderless ship, NASCAR has long been a united organization, steadily building a brand synonymous with racing in America. Despite their recent struggles with attendance and TV ratings, NASCAR is a classic American success story.
And if you don't believe me, where else would rednecks driving souped-up taxi cabs in circles draw 17 of the top 20 sporting crowds in the world in a single year? Where else would someone like Michael Waltrip be able to run 25th for 3 decades and be millionaire many times over? In what other endeavor would another mediocre performer like Kenny Wallace be able to make hundreds of thousands selling a coloring book?
For the mainstream public, that does know the difference between a skid plate and restrictor plate, nor has the time to be educated on the various acronyms associated with Championship Car racing, referring to racing as NASCAR, despite being incorrect, works just fine.
And if you read this blog, you've probably encountered this personally. My father-in-law often introduces me as his son-in-law Brian, who likes NASCAR. Once, he did this to a NASCAR fan, and the guy spoke to me for about an hour on a variety of topics from Dale Earnhardt to the fact he didn't like Toyota, a foreign manufacturer, competing in the sport. And this is simply one example. Family members have sent me Dale Earnhardt, Jr. shirts, and other NASCAR paraphernalia as gifts, because I like racing, and well, NASCAR is racing. Not once, has anyone sent me a Will Power shirt.
Ironically, IndyCar can probably take some solace in the fact one of their owners urinating on a woman gets attached to NASCAR. Still, the larger point remains unfortunate. When much of the mainstream public says NASCAR, they mean racing. While TMZ was wrong, or at the very least, slightly incomplete, in referring to Roger Penske as a NASCAR legend, the fact they did, shows the extent of NASCAR's monopoly on racing. And that is the biggest pisser of all! The Chrome Horn