President Donald Trump will award Roger Penske, auto retail luminary and racing heavyweight, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is presented to those who have made meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the country, to world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors, according to the White House.
"He's very deserving. He's a great gentleman. A very brilliant guy," Trump said at an Oval Office meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday, as he praised Penske's racing achievements.
"He won Daytona; he won Indianapolis," Trump said. "He won probably more than anyone in the history of racing. I can't imagine anyone even being close."
Penske Automotive spokesman Anthony Pordon said the award came as a surprise to Penske and he learned about it Thursday.
Pordon said a ceremony is planned but has not been scheduled by the White House.
“It is truly an honor to be recognized by President Trump and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom," Penske said in a statement. "I am humbled by the President’s acknowledgement of our achievements in business, in motorsports and in our community. Thank you to President Trump for this special recognition. On behalf of my wife Kathy (Penske), our family and our nearly 65,000 team members worldwide, it will be my privilege to accept this prestigious award.”
Penske, 82, began racing in the late 1950s and won the Sports Car Club of America's Presidents Cup in 1960, 1962 and 1963. He won Sports Illustrated's Driver of the Year award in 1961.
After retiring from driving in 1965, Penske started his own racing teams. Last month, Penske celebrated Team Penske's latest Indianapolis 500 win and his 50th anniversary at Indy. The race marked Team Penske's 18th victory, making Penske the most decorated racing owner.
Trump has given the medal to nine others, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth and Tiger Woods.
Penske's dealership group -- Penske Automotive Group, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. -- ranks No. 2 on Automotive News' list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., retailing 236,000 new vehicles in 2018. It retailed 282,500 used vehicles for the same period, ranking No. 2 on Automotive News' list of the top 100 retailers in used-vehicle sales.
Penske, who has led the dealership group since 1999, has innovated the business by adding more standalone used-vehicle stores, implementing sales and financing technology, and launching a digital retail platform.
Penske also owns truck leasing and logistics businesses.
He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2015 and the NASCAR Hall of Fame this year.
Melissa Burden and Reuters contributed to this report.