White House Oval Office Washington D.C. October 24 4:47 P.M. EDT
Thank you very much. It's a very special day. I am delighted to present our nation's highest civilian honor to a giant of American industry, entrepreneurship, and auto racing: The legendary Roger Penske. Roger, I want to congratulate you in receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Incredible. (Applause.) Thank you, Kathryn.
With us today is Vice President Mike Pence and many terrific members of my Cabinet. Thank you all for being here. I appreciate it. They're all fans of Roger's. And most importantly with us is Kathryn. And you've been married for a couple of years. Do you want to give the number? I know what the number is, but I refuse to give it. Go ahead.
Forty-six years. That's pretty amazing. And you look at the conditioning and - you're doing something right, both of you. Right? And it's been a beautiful marriage, I know that, for a long time.
Roger was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in 1937. The son of a successful businessman, Roger learned the value of hard work at a very young age. At the age of 14, he attended his first Indianapolis 500. At 15, he bought his first car with money saved from his newspaper route. As a teenager, Roger spent his free time taking apart engines and repairing the old wrecks. He obviously learned right from the start. He knew what he was doing.
In 1955, he attended Lehigh University, where he studied business administration and started racing in the Sports Car Club of America. Roger quickly demonstrated exceptional talent for racing cars. Over the next few years, he was named Sports Car Driver of the Year by Sports Illustrated and North American Driver of the Year by the New York Times and the LA Times. He also became the only person to win the SCCA's President's Cup three times - an astonishing feat, rarely equaled.
After 55 victories in the top racing series of his time, Roger ended his career as a driver in 1965. You know, I didn't know you were that great a driver. I knew you were really great at other things, like winning the Indy 500, but I had no idea he was that good a driver. See? What do I know? Right? That's pretty amazing, actually.
But he ended his career as a driver in 1965 to run a Chevrolet dealership in Philadelphia. He rapidly succeeded in the auto business and returned to the racing world in 1966 with the creation of Team Penske. Who would have thought what that would have meant? Who would have known what was going to happen?
The new team exemplified professionalism, dedication, and discipline in everything it did. Penske quickly became known for immaculately clean cars - of great colors, I might add; the colors are incredible; scrubbed wheels; waxed garage floors; and excellence on the asphalt.
The team earned the reputation of "Penske Perfect" and soon built an unrivaled brand in the world of racing.
Team Penske's drivers form a roster of racing legends - from Mark Donohue, who delivered Team Penske its first Indianapolis 500 win, to Al Unser and Rick Mears, who are tied for the most Indy 500 victories in history. There was Danny Sullivan and his unbelievable 1985 "spin and win"; Rusty Wallace who made Team Penske's presence known in NASCAR; and the iconic three-time Indy 500 winner, Helio Castroneves.
I recently hosted Team Penske's newest champions, Joey Logano and Simey - Simon Pagenaud, who is a terrific guy. They were here just recently; I guess that was for - it was for a big moment, because we're going to tell you that story - at the White House after their victories in the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series and the 2019 Indianapolis 500.
But Roger was here just before his 18th Indy win. And he was here, being honored, for what he's done with NASCAR in the Cup Series. And I just looked at him, I said, "How many times have you won the Indianapolis 500?" Because I know how hard it is. It's very hard. Japan, Germany, all of these countries - Italy, they all spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year trying to win. I said, "How many times have you won?" He said, "17." I said, "You got to be kidding. Seventeen?" I knew it was a lot, but 17. And I said, "That's great." I shook his hand. That was the end of it. He has been a friend of mine for a long time, by the way. We go a long way back. I refuse to say how far. Right, Roger? But we go a long way back.
But I said, "So, you won 17 times? That's great." And that was the end. And then, about two months later, I had the television on, it's the Indianapolis 500, and Simon is doing good, but then he's in second and first and back and forth. And it ends up he wins by about two inches. And it was an incredible race, and with an incredible driver and a beautiful car. And it's, "Roger Penske won." So I said, "Wait a minute. He told me 17 times. And now this is the 18th time."
And I called him at the track. And I was watching him on television. He takes the phone out. He's talking to me. I said, "You think you can get..." - these operators in the White House, they're unbelievable, John. They're, like, unbelievable. I said, "Do you think you can get Roger Penske? He won the Indianapolis 500 about two seconds ago." And - Edwin, he said, "No problem, sir." He had him on the phone, like, 30 seconds later. And I'm watching him, the car is pulling in, and I congratulated Roger.
And I thought to myself, it's an incredible achievement because I know how hard other countries - not just people, but countries - they can't win it. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars. New technology, new engines. One engine is fast, but it breaks down. One engine is slow, but it's reliable. This guy keeps winning.
So, to do that, was incredible. So I said, "I think we have to give him the Presidential Medal. It's the greatest medal there is, except for, as you know, the Congressional Medal of Honor. And they're on a par. One is for military, one is for civilian.
But I just thought it was an incredible thing. I just leave him - he's up to 17. And now I turn on again, and he's winning again. And I know what it takes to win and - to win in that league, because it is very, very tough. And that's in addition to all of the NASCAR victories he's had.
So all of these exceptional racers were part of a team of professionals that never stopped working to achieve perfection. And it's really that. Every member of Team Penske would admit they could not have done it without the man that they call, very affectionately, "the Captain." He's the captain.
No detail is too small or effort too great for Roger in his relentless pursuit - and he is relentless, I can tell you that - of the competitive edge.
In 1993, he started building an engine he would later describe as "a rocket." He worked with a small team of engineers for months in total secrecy. Didn't want to talk to anybody. Wouldn't let anybody out. Lucky he didn't work at the White House; he'd have leaks. He would have had leak. That engine would have been built long before you said, "What happened?" Not only the White House, all of Washington. He decided not to do it in Washington. That was a good move.
The incredible pushrod engine - still existing or not? The push- - no good?
They have better than that now. That was old stuff, right?
The pushrod engine he developed became known as "the Beast" and delivered over 150 horsepower more than the competition. Team Penske roared to victory at the 1994 Indianapolis 500, leading 193 out of 200 laps. Incredible.
In total, Team Penske has won nearly 550 major races, 35 national championships, two Daytona 500s, 18 Indianapolis 500s. I think that's just an incredible achievement. Eighteen Indianapolis 500s. And secured over 600 pole positions. In other words, he knows what he's doing.
Incredibly, Team Penske won more than one out every three Indy 500 championships in which he competed. So every third year, he'd win, essentially. It's not even conceivable when you see all of the tremendous talent, money, rich people, rich men, rich countries with a lot of talent. They can't beat him.
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