Roger Penske could have been a contender as a race car driver.
As a young man, he bought, raced and sold race cars and did well enough on the track to be named Sports Car Club of America's Driver of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1961. With his movie-star looks and unflappable demeanor, his future looked bright.
But Penske soon would make a decision that would change his life, that of another driver and indeed the history of auto racing.
"I was asked to take a driver's test to race in the Indianapolis 500 around 1965, and I couldn't do that because I had a job, and I had to pass on it," Penske told Automotive News. That job was as a Chevrolet dealer in Philadelphia -- the start of his automotive career.
Instead, "Mario Andretti took his test and became one of the greatest race car drivers of all time," said Penske, who turns 79 this week. "So he ended up on his feet, and I ended up on mine."
Now there's an understatement.
With characteristic stoicism, The Captain has no regrets about the momentous decision to forsake his own driving career for a life managing other drivers and running a business empire.
"I don't know if it could have been me," says Penske, who became smitten with racing when his father took first took him to the Indianapolis 500 in 1951 at age 14. "But I'm very happy with the side I'm on right now, to be honest with you."
And a great side it has been for the half century since his racing team entered the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona, an anniversary Penske is celebrating this year. Team Penske has rolled up a racing record that will stand for a long time. His drivers have won 16 Indianapolis 500s, 11 ahead of the next owner. Penske has won two Daytona 500s, a NASCAR Cup Championship and 28 national titles in all. And Penske has translated his racing successes into a template for his diverse business ventures.
The question is: How could one man rise so far above his competitors so consistently? The answer comes in how Penske built and ran his team.