Novelists arenaturally more confident of the decisive moments in their characters' livesthan biographers, but it is not too great a hazard to relate that the turningpoint in the life of Roger Penske, who has become one of the world's mostaccomplished racing drivers while devotedly working five days a week as analuminum salesman, came when he was 10. That year—it was 1947—Roger was growingup in Shaker Heights, the fashionable Cleveland suburb. One day, momentous onlyin retrospect, like the footprint in the flower bed, he asked his father for anew bike. Instead of buying it for him, which he could easily have afforded, J.H. Penske (it is German and pronounced Pen-ski) told his son he would have toget one on his own hook. At the time Roger was a carrier for the ClevelandNews. The News was offering a bicycle to any boy who could get 20 newsubscribers on his route. "I got 40," Roger recalled the other day."I could have had two bikes. Then I thought it was easy, but it gave meconfidence. Anything you want you can get if you work at it."
This is an article from the March 25, 1963 issue
Although Roger'sfeat was not enough to save the News—it was sold in 1960—it taught him somefirm precepts that are no less valid for being the catch phrases of apeculiarly American approach to success. "I have always felt, believe me,that nothing is impossible," Roger says, rather grimly. "I meannothing. If they say it's impossible it only turns me on. The guy who puts themost work in gets the most results. You never get anywhere unless you dosomething. The guy who's sitting back will get passed while he's waiting.Everything I've said we're going to do, I've done. If it has to be done, I'llget it done somehow."
Due in large partto an unrelenting allegiance to these slogans, Roger Penske has made phenomenalprogress in the four years he has gone to the races. In 1961 he won his class—Dmodified—in Sports Car Club of America competition and was selected as SPORTSILLUSTRATED'S Sports Car Driver of the Year. In the final months of 1962 Rogerwon the Riverside (Calif.) Grand Prix and the Pacific Grand Prix at LagunaSeca, Calif., two of the richest and most prestigious sports car races in theworld, and wound up the year by winning twice more: in the Grand Prix of PuertoRico and in the Bahamas Tourist Trophy Race in Nassau. All told, in 1962 he won$34,350 racing sports cars—a record sum. He was North American champion and waschosen by both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times as Sports CarDriver of the Year. This unparalleled succession of triumphs established Rogerwithout question as the finest road-racing driver competing exclusively inAmerica. Since he has confined himself chiefly to sports cars and has notparticipated in the Grandes Épreuves abroad, which are contested in Formula Icars, he cannot be compared with ranking American drivers: Dan Gurney,considered by many, including Roger, to be the best in the world, and PhilHill, world champion in 1961. As Stirling Moss forthrightly put it when askedto evaluate Penske and Gurney: "Bloody silly!"
This is not tosay that Moss intended to slight Penske. After Roger finished ninth in the U.S.Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, N.Y. last year, Moss sent him a postcard. It read:"It's none of my business, but I wanted to tell you that I thought youdrove a damn good race. Intelligence is a rare ability.... P.S. My first fanletter for years."
Gurney thinkshighly of his young rival, too. "Considering the time he's been able tospend at it," Dan said at Daytona Beach last month, "he's doneextremely well. He's got a real good idea of things equipmentwise,preparationwise. And he gets the best men to help him. If I were running on ateam, I'd want him on it. He can sum up a situation. He realizes it's not worthtaking a chance until he has eliminated a number of the variables, safetywise.His attitude and his approach from all angles is the best. Chances are he haswhat it takes to achieve whatever goal he has set out to achieve inracing." As Penske sauntered within earshot, Gurney added, "He's gotthe money in the bank and everybody hates him."
"My ideas ineverything are so much bigger than anyone else's" is another of RogerPenske's tenets. His boldest and most profitable idea is the controversialZerex-Duralite Special, in which he won the Riverside, Laguna and Puerto RicoGrands Prix. It is a hybrid: a sports car body on the restored frame of aFormula I Cooper wreck.
Still anothertenet of Roger's is: "There are some things I can't do, but I know peoplewho can do them for me." Roger's mechanic, Roy (Axle) Gane; Bob Webb, abody man from Indianapolis; and Harry Tidmarsh, a local body man, built theSpecial in 11 weeks. "A guy that can take good people, put them together,gets results," Roger says.
"I had to dosomething to beat those other guys," Roger says, referring to the Special."After I did it a lot of people came up to me and said, 'Gee, I thoughtabout doing that.' If it was so easy it should have been done long ago, but Iwas the one who did it and I won the races."
The disputeddesign feature of the Special was that Roger's seat was in the middle of thecar, as in Formula I's; the passenger's seat required by sports carspecifications was outside the frame.
The Specialpassed inspection and no one protested it in any of its three races, but thecritics began to complain. "Some of the gloss was taken off his wins,"wrote one critic, "by his non-sporting Zerex-Duralite F-1 disguised as asports car." But as another pointed out, "Roger made two mistakes: hewon and he was from the East."
"The guy ontop," Roger says bitterly, "no matter who he is, there's alwayssomething wrong with him. If they can't find anything else to complain about,they'll say he's cheating with another guy's wife. The biggest thing in thisracing—everyone's got an excuse. I'll be honest with you. I won races beforeCalifornia. The car just didn't go on the road and run around byitself."
Since the Specialdoesn't comply with FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile)regulations—which were not binding in the three Grands Prix—Roger has recentlymodified it. He has moved his seat over four inches and now sits on the right,with the passenger's seat alongside him, within the frame, as in conventionalsports cars. But by now the Special may be obsolete; Roger has high hopes for anew car, a factory Cooper powered by an all-aluminum Chevrolet engine."I've got to keep one step ahead of the next guy," Roger says.
"IngemarJohansson got into boxing because he liked it," Penske said recently whiledining in a restaurant near his home in Gladwyne, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb,"not because he thought he would be champion of the world. And I got intoracing because I like cars, I understand cars, I know what has to be done to acar to make it a good one. My success has not been because I'm the best driver.It's been because I outthink, out-prepare, outstrategy the next guy.
"The two mostimportant things in racing are preparing a car right and not taking a hell of alot of chances. Sure, I like to go fast. Speed doesn't scare me at all. Nothinggives me more fun than to get in a real good dice at top speed with a real gooddriver, but I've got too much at stake to break my neck. I don't want to gethurt. There's so much I want to do, and I want to be around to do it. I try tokeep in mind: you can get hurt in motor racing. It lurks in my mind: use yourhead and not your foot.
"The mainthing is to win the race at the lowest possible speed. If someone's smoking,why bust your hump? You got to finish to win. The thing I worry about most isthe unexpected, coming over a hill and seeing three cars stacked up and there'snothing you can do. I know I can prepare myself for the expected." Rogerhas had only one accident, in a Formula Junior in Nassau last December when histhrottle stuck. He went off the road and banged up his left arm and ribs.
"I could seea person in front of me get killed and it wouldn't faze me," he said."If I'm killed the guys will keep racing. I know what I do. When the roadgets wet, I go slow. No one will ever say Roger Penske drove over his head. Iswear to God they won't. I'm not going to go flat out to give the people ashow. I don't get paid for the show. I get paid to win.
"This is myown challenge, do you understand that? No one forced me to go racing. I realizethe danger. I've been asked to run at Indianapolis. I turned it down. It's toodangerous. That's my opinion. Not yours, not my wife's, not anyone else's. Theplain facts are that if something happens at 160 mph you're in real toughtrouble and you better whistle out loud.
"But I feelthat nothing's going to happen. I feel that I'm too smart. Ninety percent ofthe fatalities are a result of driver error. I've driven with guys and let thempass me. Dan [Gurney] passed me at Riverside. The track was oily, we weresliding around the corners. I said to myself, 'Why should I be dicing withhim?' I let him pass. Later he dropped out. He had problems [a broken throttlelinkage]. I know guys say that Dan really blew me off at Riverside, but he andI know he couldn't have passed me if it wasn't oily. He and I know who won therace. Listen, if this radiator right here"—Roger indicated the radiatoralongside the table—"is death, I want to be as far away from it aspossible. Arnold Palmer can try harder if he's behind, and if he fails he won'tget hurt, but if I try harder, drive faster....
"You'redealing with a team sport here, not just an athlete. You're dealing withsomething mechanical and something human. A boxer may be big, strong andhealthy, but he's got the same gloves on his opponent has. Auto racing is ateam sport like horse racing and sailboat racing. The team is the individualand the thing—in this case, the mechanical object. You must be able to get intime with that object.
"A goodjockey isn't a good jockey unless he's got a good horse. We're prettyparticular. We don't assume anything. We don't have time for this drama a lotof others go through. I try to be a perfectionist—in how I live, too, mypersonal appearance. I feel bad when I have to do something a little sloppy.I've always been very conscious of my appearance.
"When a car'sin good shape and looks good, automatically you're in good shape. When youbring a car on the grid that's beautiful you got a psychological edge. When Ibrought my car out to Riverside the people were flabbergasted. Everyoneexpected a backyard special. I mean, the car was beautiful.
"Cars andclothes are the two things I spend money on," Roger says. He has, at lastcount, 25 suits and sports jackets. He has had, since he was 15, 32automobiles. The first was a used MG that he bought with the proceeds from thesale of a motorcycle and the insurance he collected when his motorboat waswrecked. His second car was a 1950 Oldsmobile convertible. "That was theneatest car I ever had," Roger says, almost reverently. Then came another1950 Olds. "I fixed it up in a week and sold it for $600 profit," hesays.
There followed:another 1950 Olds convertible ("I made it a mint"); an MG-TC; a 1950Jaguar XK-120 roadster; a 1954 Jaguar XK-120M roadster ("I ran my firstraces in that Jag at Can-field, Ohio. I got a third"); a wrecked Chevrolet;another wrecked Chevy ("I fixed them up and sold both"); a 1956 Ford: a1955 Jaguar MC-140 roadster; a Corvette ("That was the first real race carI had. I won a couple of hill climbs with it"); a 1948 Chevrolet; a 300 SLMercedes ("That was my ultimate. It had only 4,000 miles on it. Just acream puff!"); a Chevy station wagon; a 1950 Chevy; a Porsche RS Spyder("That was my first all-out racing car"); a Porsche RSK Spyder("That had been wrecked at Marlboro, Md. I started winning with it in 1959.I was third in my class. My wife Lissa and I worked on that one. She'd get downand hold something for me. You know, in the beginning, love is blind"); aPorsche RS-60: a Chevy wagon; a Birdcage Maserati; a Cooper; another Cooper;the Cooper that became the Zerex Special: a Corvair; two more Corvairs; a Fordwagon; an E-type Jag; another Corvair; and a Pontiac Grand Prix.
Ever since he wonthe bicycle from the Cleveland News Roger Penske has been determined to makehis own way. "What we're going to do," he has said, including his wife,"we're going to do, but on our own. We're going to make our own name."There was no real need for Roger to work, as he did each summer and duringschool holidays from the time he was 9 until he graduated from Lehigh. J. H.Penske is a vice-president of Williams & Co., a prosperous metalwarehousing concern. Even as recently as his senior year at Lehigh, however,Roger worked a whole day of his Christmas holiday delivering flowers beforetaking Lissa to a fancy ball. "I think the greatest legacy you can leave aboy is a desire to work," J.H. says.
When Roger was 14his newspaper route became too big for him to cover by bicycle, so he bought amotorbike. The bike and frequent visits to Sportsman's Park, an Akron speedway,helped kindle his interest in racing. But a motorcycle he purchased at 16nearly ended any thoughts of a racing career; his right ankle was badly crushedin an accident. At first the doctors thought they would have to amputate, butafter 12 weeks in the hospital Roger pulled through, and when football practicebegan at Shaker Heights High the following year he reported, limping. He hadlost his speed and couldn't cut, but he found he could manage at defensive end.In a game against Euclid, Roger blocked two punts in the end zone fortouchdowns, recovering one himself.
Despite his weakankle, Roger has now taken up skiing. "I'm not satisfied if I'm sittingstill," he says. "I like to do everything. But if I'm doing this withmy right hand I know I'm going to be able to do this with my left. My wife saysI'm going to be dead before I'm 40. But I don't do anything I don't do withboth feet, carry through. If I go skiing I have to have the best of equipment,of everything. We're going skiing, we're not just going over to a golf courseand run down the hill. I have a 10 handicap in golf, but I don't want to be ahacker. I know I'm going to get down to five or six this summer. And I'm a 160,170 bowler. My wife and I are in a mixed bowling league."
Roger has alwaysfared better in sports than in schoolwork. "I never studied," headmits. "I'd get behind in a course, forget about it." He did, however,scrape through Lehigh and got his B.S. in industrial management in 1959. Whathe most fondly remembers about college was being elected to Arcadia, thestudent government, with the second highest number of votes. "I've alwaysliked politics," he says. "My first and biggest defeat was when I lostan election for president of my class in elementary school. I wasn't put off.They always pick a typical president-type guy. I was also head of theconcession committee at Lehigh. That was right down my alley. School scarves!We made a mint on that! We sold 300 scarves in two nights at a $3 profit perscarf."
"He was oneof the most enterprising guys at Lehigh," recalls Bruce Crichton, whoroomed with Roger at the Phi Gamma Delta house and is now a partner in abrokerage house. "He had a fantastic business sense. He was always doingsomething, and he certainly didn't need the dough. The guy was a fireball!Always out, always looking for more. And he usually got what he wanted. Iadmired this kind of guy. Still do. 'There goes Roger Penske,' he wanted peopleto say. 'He's done thus and so." The guy wanted to be tops. He liked to bein the center of things. 'Let's do this, let's do that,' he was always saying.He was never a sit-down-and-have-a-long-chat-type guy.
"He takesthem pretty much to the limit in business," Bruce says. "He knows theline and goes right to the edge, but if he let everyone take the inside cornerevery time he'd just be another guy on the track. He can sell anything toanybody.
"He enjoys acrowd and 'What's new, Roger?' and he enjoys telling them. He always wants tomake sure you know what he's done. He gets carried away at times. He wants tobe Roger Penske. He wants to be up there. I've named my daughter Lissa—afterhis wife."
For the last fouryears Roger has been working for Alcoa as a sales engineer. "It's aglorified name for peddler," he said the other day. "I sell aluminum. Ilike Alcoa. I like the big leagues. Your future in Alcoa today is terrific, ifyou want to work. Guys can go up this way"—Roger drew a rapid, ascendingline through the air with his forefinger—"rather than go slowly up thetree. In 15 years I want to be very, very successful in business, because Ithink I will have wasted my life if I haven't been. I won't stay with Alcoaunless I can be at the top in four or five years. I want to be able to doexactly what I want to do. Right now I've got a lot of pressure on me. Thepressure has given me forward momentum. I've taken a lot of gambles. I'm notafraid to take a gamble—except on my life. I've been lucky, but I think youmake your luck. I've never had any real setbacks, real disappointments. I'mtrying to maintain an image as a businessman, a responsible person. Racing, inthis sense, is hurting me. I don't want to be known as a race driver. I'll beselling aluminum long after I'm through racing. I could just say I'll go onracing, but you become a has-been, you turn into a jerk. But racing's enabledme to meet people you got to know, to have contacts.
"You got tocapitalize on this thing while you can. One day you eat the bear, one day thebear eats you. I'll get out of racing when it becomes too great a liability tothe company, when I'm worth something. Down deep I'm trying to exploit thisthing as much as I can. Why shouldn't I? I can get as vicious as the next guy.I've been giving away too much until this past year. I want to make as muchmoney as I can. I'll do anything for a buck."
"We don'twant to ruin Roger Penske," said an Alcoa executive one day last month."He's only 26. His progress has been almost spectacular, and it points toan outstanding future. He's not brilliant, but he shows a very unusual poise, asavvy about business matters, a meticulous attention to detail not generallyassociated with a topflight salesman.
"We'veendorsed his racing activities with a proviso—if it hurts business he has tomake the choice. I had a talk with him a year ago. He asked me to tell him whenhis racing began to interfere. I think he hopes it will. It will show he ismaking progress. He has maintained admirable balance in view of his success. Hedoesn't do any of the little things that spring from conceit, arrogance, aninflated self-opinion."
Some of ourpeople in Pittsburgh look askance at his racing activities. 'Ah. no,' we tellthem, 'keep your shirt on. He knows the score.' It's hard for me to believehe's completely immune to the applause. I wonder at times. He tries to do somuch. I worry. One thing not yet determined is how much patience he has. Thereis a reasonable progression in a conservative firm like Alcoa when you'resurrounded by senior, capable men. Roger will get his in time if he'll wait forit. I've got people willing to bet he won't be with Alcoa when he's 30. Oneyear more I'll take that bet.
"Roger's anormal American boy who grew up, got interested in something and had successwith it. I hope he'll grow up further and realize it's not for him. Hisintelligence tells him it's not for the long pull. His ambition to rise inAlcoa will be the alternative to his racing. At the moment the two are inbalance. We're trying to feed this drive for greater responsibility, keep hisincentive alive, but only as he earns it. He's a handsome young scamp and wewish him well."
"He'shandsome and he knows it," says Al Bochroch, a partner in Gray &Rogers, the advertising agency that handles the DuPont Zerex racingexploitation program. "He's unusually clean-cut. He's a prototype. He'scagey, but in a good, clean-cut American way. He's apple pie. People, olderpeople, take a liking to him for his clean-cutness. Roger knows it. He's myyoung friend, but I'm not blind to his faults. He's like a fighter who sellsover 100% of himself. He's got 87 balls in the air: racing, Alcoa, Zerex. Hesays Duralite just means durable and light, but I wouldn't be surprised if somefriend of his in Texas comes out with a product called Duralite. He owns 100U-Haul trailers; he's done an ad endorsing Champion spark plugs; he's gone outto the Mojave Desert to do a commercial for Rapid-Shave. He's like a MonteCarlo croupier. Everything Roger does is expedient. He's going to die from anervous breakdown."
"Roger alwayswanted to do well," Lissa Stouffer Penske said one afternoon last week."We used to talk about the time he would do so." Lissa's father, nowdeceased, was one of the two Stouffer brothers who founded the restaurant chainthat bears their name. ("You should have seen Roger and Lissa'swedding," says Bruce Crichton. "Meyer Davis himself! They ended upleaving in a helicopter for their honeymoon. The damn thing dropped down on thefront lawn.")
Lissa was sittingin the living room of their pleasant, modern home. The boys, Kip, 3½, and Greg,9 months, were supposed to be taking naps. Greg was; distant, faint commotionindicated Kip wasn't. "Sure, Roger's grown up," Lissa said. "He'sno longer the guy who got drunk at every college party. But so has everyoneelse grown up. He's matured, he's not so carefree, but so has everyone. I methim when he was 20, I was about 18. It was a blind date. I was the May Queen atschool—Hathaway Brown—so he had seen my picture. I had never seen him, but Ihad seen this little girl he was going with who always wore his letter sweater.It came down to her knees. I mean, she was petite. I pictured him as beingpinstripe-thin, but he turned out to be just normal size. I was told he was afast person with a lot of lines and not to take anything he said seriously. Hehad been told that I was very cold. That's what I was supposed to be. When hesaid good night to me he must have been standing 20 yards from the door.
"The firsttime we went out it was a double date. We went to a movie and he fell asleep.He was driving his Jaguar. I didn't know one car from another then. I couldn'thave cared less. I learned later that he had spent five hours washing the carbefore taking me out. He had to impress me, show me what good brakes he had.When we were driving home he went 100 mph in a 35-mph zone and slammed on thebrakes. I practically went through the windshield. 'Yes,' I said, 'you havegood brakes.' We were pinned that fall, engaged at Christmas and married thenext September—September 6, 1958.
"Before wewent to a dance or a party we had to wash the car, whether or not it meantbeing three hours late. Every day, wash the car. He'd drop me off sometimes at4 a.m. and go home and wash the car. He wants the prettiest car. I never datedanyone like that—so neat and everything pressed and shining. He's still likethat. He very rarely goes out of the house without shining his shoes. He'llwear khakis sometimes, but they're always starched. Many a time he'll go outand buy me a dress. They're always perfect. Many a time he'll look at my hairand go, 'Ugh,' and ask me if I had been sitting in the washingmachine."
Kip charged intothe living room, shoelaces flying, gulped a glass of milk and began building aplastic railroad on the carpet. "This one," Lissa said, "is worsethan his father. 'He's an extremely independent child,' it said on hisnursery-school report card. It's hard to get Roger to sit still for a meal.Roger doesn't relax. He doesn't want to. He gets bored. Sometimes he'll go tobed at 8 with big plans for watching television. Five minutes later he'sasleep."
Lissa got up,went into the bedroom to get Greg. She put him in his playpen, where he beganto play furiously with his Busy Box. "It's a joy to look back at thebeginning," she said. "Roger idolized the guys at the track in Akron.We used to sneak in, sit on a fire truck. It's amazing how quickly it's come.It's so vivid in my mind when we were sneaking in. But he's been more thanlucky. It's like he sort of dreamed it. I think he's still amazed. He wasalmost like a child that had seen I don't know what after Riverside."
He likes to dosomething well," Lissa said. "We went into a dance contest once. Justat the club. He really got keyed up for it. He doesn't like to lose. If hecan't do something well he'll keep at it until he can do it. One thing hecouldn't get at first was the twist. He stood for hours in front of that mirrorwith a towel. When challenged, he'll do it, and when he does something he's allfor that thing at that moment.
"Rogerdoesn't change when he gets into a car. Others get on a track, they seem likethey're not even with it. They become fearless, so cold. I don't think theyshould drive that hard, but apparently that's what it takes. As long as Rogerdoesn't lose his head and forget the dangers of racing, everything will be allright. I could make him stop, but it wouldn't do much good unless he wanted to.I am more afraid now because of the responsibility, the children, our friendsgetting hurt and killed. But we feel there's a reason for every one of ourfriends. Each one was driver error. As long as it's driver error he won't getinto trouble. He won't take that extra step over the line to win. He doesn'thave that drive. He always seems to do best in time trials. You can walk acrossa street and something happens. I believe that. It helps. Roger told me heplans to give it up next year.
"I never knewanything about it when I started," she said, "but I enjoy it nowbecause I know about cars. I help Roger in the pits. I know and I like thepeople in racing. I don't see how people can enjoy a race without knowinganyone in it, just watching cars go round and round. We were driving home froma party the other night and we said, 'Isn't racing more fun?' We said it at thesame time.
"Many a timehe goes to bed at 4 a.m. after working on the car and is up at 7, but he'sstill pleasant, still awake. He wants to please everyone. They asked him to betreasurer of our local SCCA. He accepted. That's the biggest job I ever got.But, oh boy! Those women who have 8-to-5 husbands. Really great! For a few daysit'd be just fine, but I don't want that kind of husband. I've got nocomplaints. I hear of those 8-to-5 husbands who have a drink after work, windup having seven, come home at 10, never call. At least I know where he is. Inthe shop with Roy. But he should spend more time with the kids. I have longtalks with him about that. Kip gets so excited when Roger comes home. I tellhim to please stay home until Kip goes to bed." Kip was building trestles,hitching up his train; Greg was breaststroking on the bottom of the playpen."If Roger stops racing at the end of this year," Lissa said, "Kipwill never realize what it was. It'll just be a scrapbook."
A couple of weeksbefore Roger was to race in the Daytona Continental on February 17, he wasfretting about three cars: the Zerex Special, which Roy Gane and Harry Tidmarshwere putting together in Roger's shop, Updraught Enterprises, in Bryn Mawr,Pa.; the new Cooper with the aluminum Chevrolet engine, which he was anxious totest-drive at Riverside; and the blue Ferrari GTO, which he would race atDaytona.
The Ferrari andthe new Cooper belong to John W. Mecom Jr., a 23-year-old Texas oilmillionaire. Roger is driving for the Mecom racing team this year. Mecom paysthe bills and splits the prize and appearance money with Roger.
One Saturdaymorning Roger drove to Luigi Chinetti's Ferrari shop in New York, where NeilRobson, Mecom's Australian mechanic, and his assistant, Chris Rackcliss, wereworking on the Ferrari. "Will it be ready?" Roger asked one of theItalian mechanics. "The car will be ready," he replied softly."Will you?" "Do you think I'll be ready?" Roger asked,pointedly. "I think so," said the Italian. Roger left after lunch; hehad to get back to Philadelphia for a bowling tournament. He didn't makeit.
"I'll tellyou how Roger does all the things he does," Roy said the following day."He doesn't. Our lord was mad when he came in last night. He's luckyanyone's still around."
"He'll windup finishing it [the Special] himself," said Harry.
"Well, we'llsoon find out whether he's going to race or play games," Roy said. "Ourlord is coming," he said, hearing Roger's Corvair on the drive. "Standat attention."
The Continentalwas on a Sunday. Roger arrived in Daytona on Thursday night. He takes his threeweeks' vacation a day or two at a time, tagged onto weekends, and often arrivesat the track with barely enough time to get in his practice laps. He learnedthat Marvin Panch had been badly hurt that morning when the experimentalFord-powered Maserati he was driving crashed and burned. "I'd never havedriven that thing," Roger said. "I'd never have gotten within six feetof it.
"I'm not hereto wear out my good clothes," Roger said in his motel room that night."I want to start the season ahead. When I go racing I race to win. I usedto not feel that way. I used to feel that if, say, Dan was in a race with mehe's got to beat me, he's so good. It was a mental block. I'd relax my drivingand let him go by. I felt it didn't hurt me to come in second behind him. Istill have a tendency when someone passes me to give up the fight, and that'swrong. I run at a certain pace, the way I feel. Sometimes people think I'm notvery fast. 'He's just lucky,' they say. It worries me sometimes what otherpeople think. And that may be wrong, too. I don't know. When you go racing yougot to race. You can't do it halfway. You got to key yourself up. They don'tpay for second place. You got to be enthusiastic and you have to want towin."
The next morninghe went out and took his practice laps. "Gee, isn't this fun," Rogersaid that night. He was wound up. "Fireball [Glenn (Fireball) Roberts, astock-car driver] showed me how to run those banks. I was really enthused. Boy,that was fun. I passed old Fireball. I don't know if I was supposed to do that.I'm not kidding. That's fantastic."
The night beforethe race Roger's mood changed again. "The fun's gone," he said."I'll be honest with you, I won't enter a race unless I can make some moneyat it. It's cutthroat. It's a business for everyone that's in it. As soon asmoney entered into it, it was finished. I hate to see it come out this way. Ifeel sorry for anyone that doesn't have a competitive car.
"Sometimesyou're very confident, but sometimes you get scared, too. Sometimes you want tohave a good excuse not to drive. I'm going to go out and get with it. I know Iwant to go fastest. It's an advantage to go out and run a couple of fast laps,enhance your position. Psychologically you have an advantage. I'll lay awakenow going over the race, how I'm going to come out. I've had thoughts in mymind that something might happen and I didn't know what to do. But I've gottenmentally to a point where I know I can win a race; before I wasn't sure. Thenerves and the tension are like pitching the last three outs in a no-hit ballgame. You're really there! I want to go out, get a lead and then build it. WhenI'm leading the race I don't look in the mirror at all."
At 1:45 p.m.Sunday, Roger got into the blue Ferrari. He was wearing his white crash helmet,a baby-blue, fireproof suit, freshly cleaned and pressed, one pink glove andone red glove. He gave his final instructions to his pit crew, who crouched onthe grid by the car. Miss Pure Oil, a saftig blonde, went by on a float, andRoger paused. "Hey, look at that," he said.
"Are youready?" Tyler Alexander, another of Neil's assistants, asked. "Tell youwhen I get back," Roger replied. "Remember, I want to see one of youguys out there every lap whether I can see you or not." This drew a nervouslaugh.
Roger shook eachof their hands, spit into his gloves and slid the window shut. He began to gunhis engine, as 41 other drivers were doing, and tested his horn. It had a high,almost ridiculous note, as though it belonged on a toy car. Just before therace began he beckoned to one of his crew, who ran back onto the grid. Rogerslid open the window and told him to be sure they had something to cut the sealon the gas tank cap with when he came in for his fueling stop. Then he closedthe window for the last time. He sat back in his seat, arms outstretched, andgrasped the wheel. His face was totally devoid of expression. He looked neithergrim nor tense nor reposeful. As much as anything else, he looked as though hewere dead.
Roger had a badstarting position, there was a lot of traffic to get by and he never attainedthe early lead he had sought. He slowly worked his way up to second behindPedro Rodriguez, who was driving a slightly newer model of the same Ferrari.Once, Roger spun and went off the road when he hit an oil slick. He couldn'trestart his engine immediately and lost 30 seconds. He finished the race insecond place, 14 seconds behind Rodriguez, who was penalized 50 seconds for animproper pit stop. A protest involving another of Pedro's pit stops wasdisallowed. If it had been upheld Roger would have won. Pedro won $11,000;place money was $4,600.
"You see theway I drive," he said, elated again. "I didn't take a chance all day. Iwas so mad when I went off the road. I just hunched down like this and waited.There'll be other races. I'm not at the top by a long shot, but if I ever wentover to win the world championship I think I'd have a chance. I'd have to spendthree years over there. It'd take a year to learn the courses. People ask me,'Why are you racing?' Listen, with $30,000 in five races a guy might dosomething out of the ordinary.
"The thingthat thrills me about racing," he said, as he got out of his fireproofsuit, "is that you have a chance to prepare a mechanism and then put itthrough its paces. The only boundaries are the scientific limits. Each raceyou're trying to establish these limits. Each year they get faster and faster.It's a dance, isn't it?"