Simon Pagenaud doesn’t get many second glances from the local citizenry as he goes about his daily routine in the Lake Norman area – whether he’s working out at the gym or eating at a restaurant.
“I don’t have any issues, really,” said Pagenaud, a race-car driver whose focus this weekend is on the Indianapolis 500, not the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “It’s nice, because some people recognize me and know who I am. But I can really just go about my business; there are no issues.”
People in the Charlotte area, of course, are accustomed to having high-profile race car drivers living in their midst. But those drivers are invariably NASCAR stars, conveniently living their lives near the sport’s hub.
But in the Lake Norman area, home of Team Penske’s sprawling, 450,000-square foot headquarters, two drivers with decidedly different accents, have taken up residence.
Pagenaud, a Frenchman, and Australian teammate Will Power are two of the biggest stars in IndyCar – the open-wheel series headquartered in Indianapolis – with racing resumes and reputations comparable to those of NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch.
Yet Pagenaud and Power picked NASCAR’s backyard to live so they can be closer to Penske’s headquarters, the first organization in North America to house three major auto racing teams – NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series and IndyCar – under one roof.
It would be foolish to have one north team and one south team when you can bring everyone together. It’s more efficient and our results have shown how well it works.
This is a huge weekend for Team Penske, with NASCAR drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano entered in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 and Pagenaud, Power, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castrovenes in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
“One thing you realize is they’re racers,” said team owner Roger Penske, the man who brought them all together. “They’re all comfortable with each other. It’s about being friends and teammates. And when you’re all kind of living in the same neighborhood, you can be at the shop together. From a physical standpoint, we’re taking advantage of that.”
For the past three weeks, Power, Pagenaud and the rest of Penske’s IndyCar outfit have been in Indianapolis, preparing for Sunday’s 500. It took 11 race haulers to move the four teams’ cars and equipment the 550 miles from Mooresville to Indianapolis.
At the Brickyard, Team Penske rejoins the rest of the IndyCar teams, many of whom are based in Indianapolis.
“If we forget something,” one Penske official said, “we have to wait until the next day to get it.”
1 million pounds of Italian tile
This Memorial Day weekend carries more meaning than usual for Team Penske, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In 2007 Penske moved his IndyCar operation from Reading, Pa., to Mooresville and placed it under the same roof with his NASCAR team.
“From a management standpoint, there are so many functional areas where we can cross-pollinate,” Penske told the Observer. “It would be foolish to have one north team and one south team when you can bring everyone together. It’s more efficient and our results have shown how well it works.”
Penske consolidated his NASCAR and IndyCar operations to make them both more efficient.
All four Penske drivers are in the top 10 in IndyCar’s points standings, including leader Pagenaud, Montoya (third), Castrovenes (fourth) and Power (10th). Keselowski has two victories this season; Logano won last week’s Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte.
The Mooresville building, once an appliance compressor manufacturing plant, sits on 105 acres. Much of the facility’s flooring is covered with more than one million pounds of Italian tile, making it one of the largest tiled buildings in the country.
Penske’s NASCAR and IndyCar operations, while separate physically within the building, are interconnected in other ways. The huge facility includes shared in-house parts, chassis and body and machine shops. There’s even an indoor pit crew training facility. A gym was added in 2014, with motivational phrases on the walls. One comes from Penske’s father, Julius: “Effort equals results.”
The IndyCar team’s space – about 56,000 square feet – is tiny compared with what is laid out for Penske’s two-driver NASCAR operation (three, counting driver Ryan Blaney’s Xfinity team).
16 Indianapolis 500 victories for Team Penske, an IndyCar record
But there is an air of privilege in the IndyCar shop. While the walls of the cavernous NASCAR portion of the building are lined with banners commemorating each of Team Penske’s 149 race Cup and Xfinity victories, the IndyCar shop is adorned with 16 banners – each 6-feet high and emblematic of Penske’s record 16 Indy 500 triumphs. On those banners are the names of former Penske drivers and Indy champs such as Bobby Unser, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser and Emerson Fittipaldi.
Penske’s success at the Brickyard is why he is in Indianapolis this weekend instead of Charlotte.
Drivers learn from each other
Penske’s four IndyCar drivers and three NASCAR drivers have struck up strong relationships. Castrovenes and Montoya (who drove for seven years in NASCAR) both live in Florida.
“We do quite a few things together as Team Penske teammates,” said Logano. “We talk a lot. There are a lot of interesting personalities. Because none of them are from here, trying to figure out what they’re saying with their accents a lot of time is really hard for me to understand. But we have fun.
“It makes the Indy 500 more enjoyable for me, to be able to watch it, because you have those relationships with those guys. The success over there, a lot of times, helps the NASCAR side.
“We talk about momentum.”
Power said he knew nothing about NASCAR – had never even heard of the late Dale Earnhardt – while he was growing up racing in Australia or when he later moved to Europe.
That’s changed for him now that he’s moved to the Lake Norman area.
“It’s good, a really racing-oriented place,” Power said. “I feel like I fit right in.”
NASCAR isn’t the only racing organization to have teams in the Charlotte area. In addition to Team Penske’s IndyCar Series team in Mooresville, teams from two other series are located in the area:
Formula One: The Haas F1 Team is based in Kannapolis, next door to NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing facility. Drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez are competing in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.
National Hot Rod Association: Concord’s zMax Dragway has helped draw several NHRA teams to the area, including KB Racing (Mooresville), Gray Motorsports (Denver, N.C.) and Tasca Racing (Concord). Matt Smith’s pro stock motorcycle shop is in Winston-Salem.