Race king Penske leads Detroit's Super Bowl plan

Updated: January 6, 2006, 11:15 AM ET
Associated Press

DETROIT -- Known for his stunning successes in the worlds of racing and business, Roger Penske's latest project is leading Detroit's preparations for next month's Super Bowl.

As chairman of the host committee, he is ultimately responsible for the public festivities and logistics surrounding the game -- all part of the weighty task of polishing Detroit's long-tarnished image.

But when he talks about the road from the city's 2000 Super Bowl bid to the Feb. 5 game, Penske -- who at 68 is estimated by Forbes to be worth $1.7 billion -- portrays himself as part of a crew that includes host committee staff, city government, business and civic leaders and thousands of volunteers.

More than mere diplomacy, that attitude reflects a team-building management style that Penske says has been crucial to his success.

"My biggest reward that I get is just growing the human capital side and giving people a chance," Penske told The Associated Press in an interview this week.

Best known as the owner of an auto racing team that has won the Indy 500 13 times, Penske is himself a former race car driver. In 1962, he was named New York Times Driver of the Year, but gave up driving two years later for the chance to become a Chevrolet dealer in Philadelphia.

Today, in addition to Penske Racing, his privately held Penske Corp. includes a controlling stake in United Auto Group Inc., the second-largest publicly traded dealership chain after AutoNation Inc.; Penske Automotive Group Inc., a chain of luxury dealerships; Penske Truck Leasing, a transportation and logistics company and a joint venture with General Electric Co.; and other transportation-related businesses.

"I love anything to do with wheels and motors and speed," Penske said.

As a businessman, he's known for investing in money-losing companies and making them successful. Today, he's putting his talents toward repairing United Auto Group after buying a controlling stake in the auto retailer in 1999.

Penske, who describes himself as "a seven by 24 person" and "fully engaged" in his businesses, said he currently spends most of his time on UAG. He serves as chairman and chief executive of the company, which, along with Penske Corp., is based in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills.

"We're in a building mode," he said of the dealership chain, which had a net income of $88.9 million for the first nine months of 2005, a 16 percent increase over adjusted earnings for 2004.

Penske's longtime connection to the auto industry landed him the Super Bowl gig. Ford Motor Co. Chairman and chief executive Bill Ford, whose family owns the Detroit Lions, asked him to take it on.

Penske said he wanted to give back to the city. "Detroit -- the automobile industry -- has really been the foundation of my business career," he said.

The Super Bowl has been a catalyst for a flurry of development in downtown Detroit in recent years. New buildings have gone up, old ones have been renovated and converted into lofts, and many of the biggest eyesores have come down. The city has provided matching grants for facade improvement, and a new park with an eye-catching fountain and an ice-skating rink anchors the central business district.

Such lasting improvements are the real significance of the Super Bowl, far more important than the event itself, Penske said.

"The Super Bowl, what it's really done is put the goal posts in. One goal post was put in when we got the bid, the second goal post obviously will be the game," he said. "And there's been a lot of play between those goal posts. ... And I think there's been lots of touchdowns."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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