Penske again up to speed Tim Cindric has helped guide the racing outfit's turnaround.

Posted: May 30, 2004

Visitors to Tim Cindric's house in Reading might be surprised by what they don't see. For a man who has devoted much of his life to motor sports, there are very few racing photos.

But enter the billiard room, and you will spy his most prized piece of artwork.

It is an oversize photo of Roger Penske, joyously spraying champagne over his crew members and driver Gil de Ferran, who on that day in May 2000 claimed the team's 100th victory at Nazareth Speedway.

Along with ending a two-year drought for the winningest program in Indy-style racing, it was also the first win for Cindric since he was hired as president of Penske Racing in October 1999.

Yet it is not his accomplishment that makes the picture so dear.

"Over the years, I've come to appreciate how special that was, because that milestone, and that track, were a part of Roger," Cindric said. "His enthusiasm is always there, but I found that you don't usually see that kind of emotion from him. He goes to victory circle in Indianapolis and a couple select races, but typically he's sending me or someone else to reap the rewards, so to speak."

Cindric, 36, has been at the heart of a remarkable turnaround for the organization, proving equally adept at overseeing Penske's many racing-related business ventures and calling the shots in the pits as car chief for Helio Castroneves. Early last week, he was in Reading to monitor the renovation of the team's race shop.

Today, the Indianapolis native will be back home again for the Indy 500, and he wouldn't mind escorting the 67-year-old, silver-maned Penske to the winner's circle for a fourth consecutive year. Castroneves won the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" in 2000 and 2001, and de Ferran, in the midst of a retirement tour, gave Penske his 13th victory at the Brickyard last May.

During the race, Cindric will be on the radio plotting strategy for Castroneves, while Penske does the same for the team's other driver, Sam Hornish Jr.

"There's a great bit of competition between the two of us," Cindric said with a chuckle. "It's healthy, and we have a lot of fun racing each other. It doesn't matter to us who crosses the line first - as long as it's one of our drivers."

A 1990 graduate of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana with a degree in mechanical engineering, Cindric has been on a fast track his entire career. He set a goal to become a team manager "by the time I was 35" but accomplished the feat much sooner, earning that position with Rahal-Hogan Racing at 26. Just before joining Penske, Cindric was named CART team manager of the year in 1998 and '99.

Now he wears many hats in the Penske organization. Along with his duties with the race team, Cindric is also a vice president of the Penske Corp., attending board meetings and seeing how Penske's global business outside the racing industry is run.

"To be entrusted with my responsibilities is certainly more than I could have hoped for at this point in time," he said.

Penske said he has the right man for the job.

"What I saw in Tim was someone that could balance many different pieces of the racing team and do it consistently," Penske said.

"The most important thing is his high integrity, on and off the track, which makes a huge difference. In every business that we have, the leadership really decides the fate. I can tell you, [Tim's] the guy there every day. He's the one that calls the shots."

Cindric alternately refers to Penske as a "mentor," "father figure" and "good friend." But he also acknowledges that, as in any high-pressure situation, they don't always see eye-to-eye.

"We have our disagreements, but we typically have them behind closed doors," Cindric said. "When we make a decision, we're 100 percent behind it. It may have been his idea or it may have been mine, but once those [meeting-room] doors open, we are focused on one goal."

Boasting two of the sport's top drivers, perhaps the best equipment and technology that money can buy, and a string of three consecutive victories, Marlboro Team Penske could easily be labeled the favorite heading into today's 500.

Yet the performance by the Honda engines, which took eight of the top nine qualifying positions, has led some to tag Penske's Toyota-powered tandem as underdogs.

"I got that feeling as well, which is fine," Cindric said. "I don't think there's been a year in the last three when we've been the favorite. Maybe last year was as close as we've been, because Helio sat on the pole. But I don't think there were a lot of people who picked Gil as a favorite.

"It's all down to the people and execution. The [500] is more about execution than equipment. I'll take our chances, regardless of what the rest of them say."

Another win for Team Penske?

It would be a picture-perfect finish for Cindric.

Contact Pete Schnatz

at 215-854-5817 or pschnatz@phillynews.com.

Indianapolis 500

Today at 11 a.m.

* Indianapolis Motor Speedway

* TV: Channel 6.

Coca-Cola 600

Today at 5 p.m.

Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.

* TV: Channel 29.

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