THE BILLIONAIRE AND THE BATTLERS
INSIDE TEAM PENSKE KE
THE call that would save Dick Johnson Racing came out of the blue.
“Hello, it’s Roger Penske,’’ the US billionaire told DJR co-owner Ryan Story.
“I like what you guys are doing and would like to get involved.’’
This is the untold story of how the then battling DJR became the Australian Supercars juggernaut known as DJR/Team Penske.
The tale of how a couple of Aussie battlers landed an American billionaire, putting them on a path that could lead to a history-making V8 crown for Scott McLaughlin in two weeks.
It is a tale of private jets, secret wheeling and dealing and Big Macs. And it all started with a phone call.
“A number beginning with a +1 came up on my mobile phone,’’ Story told The Sunday Telegraph.
“It looked like an American number. The guy on the other end said he was Roger Penske.’’
Story, who became a coowner of DJR, struggled to believe he was speaking to the legendary owner of Team Penske — an American NASCAR and IndyCar giant.
“I am the world’s biggest pessimist,’’ Story said.
“I had a hard time believing it was him. Everyone in world motorsport knows who Roger Penske is.
“He has achieved everything in the US and is at the absolute pinnacle.
“Eventually, I had to accept that it was him on the phone. And when you have Roger talking to you, well, you listen.’’
And Story liked what the US trucking empire owner — the man whose net worth is currently listed by Forbes as $2.2 billion — had to say.
“He basically went through a sales pitch telling me why he wanted to go racing with us,’’ Story said. “He spoke about his admiration for Dick (Johnson) and the achievements Dick has had. He told me that he wanted to come and race with us here in Australia.’’
The call could not have come at a better time.
“We were struggling,’’ Johnson said. “We were going week to week at the time and our future was in doubt. We put everything we had into winning the championship in 2010 and it almost killed us.’’
A fading force on the track, the business a week-to-week proposition, Johnson and Story made a secret trip to the US two weeks after the surprise call.
“He (Penske) actually wanted to fly us to America to meet him in his private jet,’’ Story said.
“And I think he was impressed when we said no. We didn’t think it was appropriate and we paid for our own fares. Anyway, there we were sitting in the headquarters of this famous team in the US talking about becoming partners. It was surreal.
“And yeah, I still couldn’t believe it was happening.’’
Penske’s interest in becoming a Supercars owner became both real and public when Team Penske general Tim Cindric made a surprise visit to the season-ending Sydney 500 in 2013.
“The cat was out of the bag when Tim and Jamie Allison (former head of Ford Performance Racing) turned up to the race at Homebush,’’ Story said. “The media got wind of it and so did every team owner in pit lane.’’
Suddenly the battling DJR had competition.
“Every team in pit lane barring Triple Eight contacted Roger,’’ Story said.
“They all contacted him and said they wanted to partner him after the Homebush trip. It was then we had to get serious and get the deal done.
“We knuckled down and went through a comprehensive due diligence phase.
“We opened the books and gave them a true indication of both the business and the sport.
“We gave them the real costs and challenges of going racing.’’
The history-making deal was sealed at Stapylton McDonald’s, south of Brisbane, four months later.
“Roger did the deal with a handshake in our factory,’’ Story said. “And then he requested we go to McDonald’s to celebrate.’’
The billionaire ate a Big Mac after saving DJR.
“It is the second time in my life I have had McDonald’s,’’ Johnson said. “I hate the stuff but it tasted pretty damn good on that day.’’
Fast forward four years and DJR is now known as DJR/Team Penske. The bestbacked team on the grid, they are preparing to put the Ford Mustang on the grid in 2019 as Ford’s official team.
They are also on the verge of winning the 2018 Supercars championship as McLaughlin leads heading into the season-ending Newcastle 500.
“Roger will be here,’’ Johnson said. “And I am hoping we get to eat McDonald’s again.
“I’ll go and eat another damn Big Mac if we can get the job done and repay him for everything he has done by winning him the championship.’’
The McDonald’s s south of Brisbane where the deal was done.
DJR/Team Penske’s Dick Johnson, and (left) the Penske Racing Facility in North Carolina. Main picture: Richard Waugh