May Day: Roger Penske’s Indy 500 In The Age Of COVID-19

Roger Penske, honorable member of the Handshake Generation, does not grandly sweep into the conference room at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or even pause in the doorway for people to take a gander. He enters on a beeline, in a logoed navy pullover that matches the bespoke suit pants. No suit coat. He greets the room before sitting at the head of the table and gives a nod indicating he’s ready to go to work. Only then does his presence really register: Roger Penske, the 83-year-old racing legend, trucking mogul, owner of the Speedway, of the IndyCar Series. Known as “The Captain” to employees and fans alike, he looks fit, if you can say that about a man his age, alert, quick on his feet, silver-haired, and a little tan. Penske owns the room. Literally, of course. He also owns everything visible in the view out the window. The grandstand. The track. The pits. The Pagoda. The miles of new fencing. The ladders, the carts, the tarps, the hand-trucks, and dumpsters. Even the trees. A thousand acres yawning in the middle of a town named to signify this place. Speedway. The Speedway. All of it right outside the window. His. So it can be said: Penske enters like a boss.

Penske has commuted from his home in suburban Detroit to work a pair of back-to-back 12-hour days at the track and to discuss the slate of improvements here in advance of his first Indianapolis 500 as its owner. The race itself—its somewhat cryptic qualification process, a complicated joy to motorheads everywhere—will be unchanged. High-priced luxury seating, the bread and butter of revenue production for sports franchises everywhere, will go unexpanded. Penske is focusing squarely on the average ticketholder. “I’m interested in the guy who walks in and buys tickets for his family on race day, or just before,” he says. His father bought tickets that way almost 70 years ago. Penske himself has owned a set of four tickets since the mid-’70s. He speaks with the assurance that the work he’s ordered up will be appreciated by loyal racegoers. Lord knows there will be a lot of them.

Outside, workers are trimming the arbors, running fiber optics, and yanking old sinks from the dark cinderblocked restrooms. Penske rolls his palm up. “I tell people, before this, we owned the track on the inside,” he says. “Owned it. We won the race 18 times. I can say that the racing product—what’s inside the track, the track itself, the pits—all of that is first-class, as good as anywhere in the world. The best it’s ever been from the standpoint of any car, any owner. That was already here. We purchased that.”

Now, he says, he has to regard everything from the outside in, look at the edges of the place and work his way in. From the fence line, through the gates, past the bleachers, beyond the grandstand, over the pits. Inward, from end to end.  In the weeks before the purchase, “I walked the thousand acres,” he says. “I’ve driven it a hundred times. What we’ve got to do is to be sure the entire facility meets those standards— the standards of the racing—on the full thousand acres.”

He looks back to me. “When I look at the track, I see the 230,000 seats. I don’t see ‘revenue-producing opportunities.’ Those seats are nothing without the guests.” It’s a rare opportunity, he asserts. “There aren’t many places in the world where you’re going to stage an event which draws 300,000 people on one day.”

This is what Roger Penske and I discussed in a normal interview during a normal business day on the second Monday of March in this Year of the Virus. And somewhere in there, like normal, The Captain extends his hand, a gesture originally meant to convey, “I mean no harm.” Or I extend mine. I don’t know anymore. It’s unclear who initiates, but we shake.

That’s what you did back then.

Let’s pause and acknowledge the truth of our time. In the several weeks since that interview, the spread of coronavirus has altered our present in an elemental fashion. The Indianapolis 500 was rescheduled for August. There. It’s said.

Three hundred thousand people. Should places with crowds of that size exist at all? As if the entire city of Orlando or Cincinnati were arriving on the grounds of the Speedway for a single day, or, more accurately, a chain of days at the end of May. You wouldn’t travel to those cities now, much less transport their entire population to a single thousand-acre patch of land in your backyard. There’s no small measure of terror in envisioning it now.

It’s equally important to understand that for the most part, on that second Monday in March, things were still running. Everything. Everywhere. The calendar held. The certainties of the future, however petty they may now appear, still seemed pretty absolute in the sports world, and beyond. Yet two days after I met with Penske, the NBA abruptly halted its season. The Indiana High School Basketball Tournaments fell days after that. That same week, Major League Baseball suspended the start of its season, then the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament was canceled just as it was about to tip off. This stuff came like a Gatling gun back then.

But on that Monday before the curtain of change fell, it seemed somehow fortunate that race day was still almost three months away. When The Captain entered the room, the Indianapolis 500 remained a vivid possibility, a ticking clock for an accomplished corporate manager like Penske to count down in the coming weeks. And fair to say, Roger Penske seemed excited about the challenge. Weeks? Come on. On that morning anyway, the coronavirus felt likely to become a mere subtext of a larger moment in American life. Not Y2K exactly, but not 9/11, either. Surely, the virus would fade. We sat in the conference room, drinking from the cask of a shared conceit.

We sat there and let the minutes tick by, insulated in a cloud of conference-room denial regarding what was coming. Maybe it speaks to what a lousy journalist I am that Roger Penske and I did not discuss the possible impact of the world health crisis on the Indianapolis 500 in any more than passing terms. Remember, the race was the only certainty. It was a kind of comfort. That was when we still believed in sports seasons, election primaries, the approach of tax day, all the steamroller progress of the American cultural calendar. The virus? That was only possibility. Just a projection.

The next day, I got on a plane for an assignment for Esquire magazine and flew to Nebraska to visit the National Quarantine Center and Biocontainment Unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. I returned three days later. The next day, I developed a cough. That was Friday. By Sunday, I had a fever.

In the conference room with Penske, hope fills the air. Hope and planning. It seems a bit bold for an 83-year-old man to expect so much from himself, and his people, with so little time before the race. Audacious, yes. Ambitious, of course. But apt for a man who operates a diversified transportation corporation with a valuation of more than $32 billion with 64,000 employees worldwide. The name is practically a logo of its own. Everywhere on highways, anywhere there are trucks—Penske Automotive, Penske Truck Group, Penske Entertainment, Penske Logistics, Penske Truck Leasing, Penske Truck Rental. He has owned a dozen racetracks. He currently owns the Detroit Grand Prix. Penske is a man who has dominated a field of American professional sports in the late-20th century, and beyond. If anyone is capable of taking over the Indianapolis 500, improving the experience, it is he. It was exciting to feel his certainty as he looked at the track through the conference room window, second Monday in March, Year of the Virus. It’s what made him a leader.

Time moves quickly. You get it. Penske himself gets it. The purchase of the track, the race, and the IndyCar Series? That happened quickly. The process compressed itself. “To put it all in perspective,” he says, “[previous track owner] Tony George and I talked on the grid at Laguna Seca last fall, September 22. He said that he wanted to talk to me about the future, and I came to Indianapolis the following Thursday. He outlined what the trustees and the family had decided was best, and the upshot was, if we were interested in the track, and the league, that we would be the choice.”

Penske did not hesitate. He leapt. “I told them I’m very interested,” he says. The corporate machinations were unleashed on the process, NDAs were signed, and two teams—one from Penske’s office in Detroit and one from Indianapolis—began working seven days a week. They ended up closing the deal on the track, the race, and the league in five weeks, faster than a four-bedroom in Noblesville. “We pushed hard because we wanted to announce on January 1 and get to work.” Penske says this with a kind of corporate pride in the ability to make fast decisions in real time. The man is a notorious stickler for detail, who walks the breadth of every construction project and catalogs improvements to operations as he glides through them daily. He is happy to ask a lot from the people who work for him, willing to praise those who deliver. “From that point, we had four months. New teams, new goals, and four months to make changes,” he says, breathing deeply at the thought of it. “With the race, once you get to May, if you’re not ready to go, you’re not ready for anything at all.”

In 1961, Roger Penske took the checkered flag in the 100-mile sprint at Wisconsin’s Road America.

Penske has lived through so much change in this one place. “Quite honestly, in 1951 when I was here with my dad, and probably like 14, I dreamed that I was there to race with my dad. I was so lucky to be there at all.” Then he toggles to the voice of Penske the race fan. The kid. As if he were seeing it just then. “We had tickets out on the fourth turn. And we got there a little late. We had lunch at someone’s home beforehand, and there was a show car there. And I remember I sat in the car and a helmet I put on.” He pauses to think it through before toggling back to his role as owner of it all.

Penske calculates. “And to think how many years it’s been since then,” he says. “Let’s see, 1951 … How many years is that? Alex?”

Alex, the media guy, looks up from his phone. “That’s a lot of years,” he says.

I calculate. “Sixty-nine years. Did you start your planning then?”

“We started coming back every year,” he says. In the late ’50s, he began a promising career as a driver—participating in two Formula One Grand Prix races and a NASCAR event, returning to the Speedway every year. In 1964, he stepped out of a rookie qualifier for the 500 to attend a business deal that clinched the formation of Penske Racing, allowing a young driver named Mario Andretti to take his spot. He kept coming to Indianapolis. In the ’70s, he bought a block of tickets in the fourth turn that he still owns today. “I’ve been here every May since, except a few in the ’90s, and that was the biggest mistake of my life,” he says. “I came to realize I should be here every May. The track is part of the calendar. Some things take a lot of years.” He speaks of attending in terms of family. “Being here in May, at the track. It’s who we are.”

After my conference-room meeting with Penske, with all the sports seasons having fallen, with schools canceled, restaurants beginning to close, I found myself in isolation, living in an Airbnb apartment, riding out a low-grade fever, a runny nose, and a crippling headache. A week had passed. I’d put this story on hold. The 500 had yet to be postponed. The media contact was ignoring my inquiries.

I was sleeping on a queen-sized bed, with a bottle of water on a pillow next to me. Sweating out fevers. Grinding out headaches. I binged Netflix as per cultural instruction in the afternoons. I favored Schitt’s Creek. My daughter delivered groceries, which she hung on the door handle in the hall. My wife, still living at our home 20 minutes north, FaceTimed with me at night. Eventually, news came from my doctor that COVID-19 test kits would soon be available. (I have a heart condition and diabetes, two factors that made me a high-risk patient.) I hectored my doctor, who in turn hectored her supervisor, and I was granted a test late the following afternoon.

I mention this here not to get anyone’s sympathy or to single out the suffering that followed. I’m using it to illustrate the fact that the previous Monday, the second one in March, was nowhere in my head. It was like a scene described in a history book. I had sat down with Roger Penske and he had unfurled his somewhat quaint vision of a new and improved fan experience at IMS, his straight-ahead attitude toward the work of upgrading a product like the race at such an enormous scale. I’d sent the recording of our meeting to be transcribed, and it had been returned. There was a period when I couldn’t even glance at it. But when I did, the entire episode read as if it had happened to someone else. Yet the story still demanded to be written, and, worse, it was already past due, putting me behind on a project that was already outdated before I’d felt well enough to begin.

I drove to Indianapolis to get a nasal swab test for COVID-19. I had been given an address in the suburbs, which turned out to be a deserted restaurant called Granite City, where I once had eaten a sandwich. Pretty good, I remembered. I drove alone, in a fever. I put the air conditioning in my truck on full blast. The sun fell behind me. The falling light was red on the surface of things. The sky, a fierce blue. The music I played (what difference could it make to name it here?) sounded miraculous. It was not a bad ride.

Before I left, I had sent the media contact, an email asking for an update on the plan for the 500. I mentioned that I was on my way to get a test for COVID-19 and that I’d be available to talk during the drive. I called my brother. Then my mom. The usual suspects. During the conversation with my mom, I received a call from my editor. I declined it and went on with my mom. The editor persisted, calling twice more in succession, so I begged off with my mother, who seemed alarmed by the fact that I was getting a test. “What are you worried about? I’m lucky,” I told her. “I’m happy to be getting a test. At least I’ll know.” That didn’t register much past her general alarm. She was teary when I hung up. “I’ll call you when it’s over,” I told her.

“Why would you do that?” she asked sternly. “Call me when you know the results.”

I sighed. Might be a while, I told her.

I called my editor and prepared to lie about how much copy I had written, but the first thing he said was, “I don’t care about the story. Tell me how you’re doing.” I explained where I was headed. He already knew.

Alex, the media rep, had called him, alarmed to hear that I was ill, and to remind him that I’d been in the room with Roger Penske just eight days prior. We’d been next to each other at the corner of a long table for perhaps an hour. That was it. Except, the handshake. Two of them, actually. “I shook his hand,” I told my editor, as if that were the story of it all. I shook his hand a week ago. That’s what we did back then.

Then I called Alex, who asked how I was feeling right off the bat. “You know what I’m worried about,” he said. I was rolling down the Meridian Street ramp, about to exit I-465. I suddenly felt like a criminal. I did not want to go down as the man who killed Roger Penske. Petty and stupid. I started asking questions. “Is he okay?” I said. “How’s he feeling? You were in the room—how are you feeling?”

“I don’t matter,” he said quickly.

To which I countered, “Yes, you do.” One of the mantras I’d picked up in the week since the curtain fell: Everybody matters. He explained that Penske was fine, but they wanted to watch out. He asked for my doctor’s name. I told him I’d keep him updated instead. “We’ve changed the way we do things,” he said. “But that interview was before everything changed.”

“Yeah, and that was last week,” I told him.

At the back door of the former Granite City, a nurse fully outfitted in PPE trundled out past the dumpster. Nice kid. She stuck a long plastic swab up my nose, which felt like a cocktail sword. She handed me a tissue. I was the last test subject that day. I looked over her head at the deserted restaurant and narrowed my eyes. “Too late for sweet-potato fries?”

She laughed, then informed me: “You’ll get the results in three to five business days.”

Weird, I thought. “Business days?” I said. What other business were they thinking about?

Let’s pause again for another important acknowledgment: Though the race has been moved to August, there’s no guarantee the coronavirus and world events will cooperate. The way 2020 has unfolded, would you make that bet? Put good money down that says we’ll be racing a few months from now? After this is all over, will hundreds of thousands of people still want to cram into a concrete bowl? We no longer live in a world of sure things.

Still, when Penske’s race was lounging on the calendar as a promise balanced at the gateway to summer, he shared his vision for the track. Upgraded restrooms. Devoted 5G cellular service on site. Improved signage designed to make it easier to follow the progress of the race from nearly any seat. Redesigned entrances, new exterior fencing, wider walkways requiring the re-engineering and reconstruction of city streets. Georgetown Road, on the west side of the track, has lost a lane to the swelling of the fence line. More room for people in the track to move more comfortably.

In the world of mega-events, the Indy 500 is a menagerie of crowd-control challenges.  The rough-and-tumble infamy of the Snake Pit, a weeklong outdoor concert in turn 3, sits snugly within the expansive and motley infield, itself a small city of camping, glamping, stomping, whooping, and parking. The pits are a storm of movement and near-collision across the roadbed from fence and barrier holding in grandstands packed cheek-by-jowl with sunburned flesh. Those sit atop dark mouths of tunnels running beneath the track to outside streets teeming with yet more people and snarled traffic routed through neighborhoods and festival grounds that grip the border of the place. It is loud. Chaotic. Packed. Proximate. The churning amplitude of race day is a clattering, crazy-fun beast of noise, color, and speed set free by the calendar, as it is a densely attended, highly managed convention of the industry of speed.

Yet Penske insists the guest experience under his ownership will align more with the elegance of the Masters, the corporate organization of the Super Bowl, the massive family-friendly energy of the Final Four. Only, he knows it will be bigger. It always is. “Put it in perspective,” Penske says of the job ahead of him. “Seventy-thousand people attended the Super Bowl in Miami last month. We’ll have four times that in attendance here for race day.”

If you’ve been to the track in winter, even if you’ve only driven past it, you know that it sits like a vast empty bathtub of sun-bald concrete on the city’s west side. From the outside, it’s not featureless, exactly, but it does feel deeply lonely without people there, without a crowd. The memories may be lush and beautiful, but in many ways it is a quilt of cement and pavement and sod, hinged together in blocks that don’t easily invite comparison to places like Augusta Country Club, the hyper-tended, dogwood-strewn gardenscape that hosts a significant crowd of its own during the Masters. Officials there do not announce attendance figures for the Masters, but estimates tend to top out at 40,000, a sixth of the paid crowd at the 500. Yet Roger Penske mentions Augusta six times during our conversation about what he wants for the track.

So how best to create bucolic splendor in the belly of the IMS? In steps. First, reducing the commercial signage. “You don’t go to an Augusta and see a Titleist golf ball painted on every stairway you encounter. Every surface is not sign space.” The LED displays are his signage. “Yes, we’ll use our LED boards to create some commercial value, but they’re redesigned to keep everybody better following the race.” So less paint, more light. They’re installing sitewide Verizon 5G data to allow fans to more easily tie themselves to the dynamics of the race on their handheld devices.

Crowds on race day can swell to over 300,000.

On an exceedingly pragmatic level, Penske wants fewer obstructed views. As a seat-holder, he knows the advantages and disadvantages of given grandstand sight lines. Precisely. Without checking notes, he imparts, “We know from fan input that the running order during the races is very hard to know. Fans can see the cars go around, but not really know who’s winning.” Penske wants the fan to be in touch with the action of the race. Understanding the race, he says, being able to follow it precisely, is the key to creating a race culture that will endure. Knowledge is power. He details the changes as if he himself were sitting in the grandstand and looking at and redesigning sight lines to increase race comprehension. He speaks of the changes in a feet-on-the-ground perspective, sounding like the most fervent race fan, reading from a tumbledown wish list of improvements written on the back of a restaurant menu. To wit: “After reading fan input, we talked a lot about the main paddock grandstand. You get up past row 11, you’ve got no visibility of what’s going on with the running order. You’re so close to the track, you can see the cars go by, see the pits, look at every bay. But even so, you have to duck down to see the leaderboard. We’re hanging a 12-foot-by-4-foot LED screen in every section, but high enough that it’s out of the sight line, to put the running order in view. We want eyes on the race.”

He’s taking on other venue priorities, like the food service and overhauling concession stands. “They needed a lot of work,” he concedes. “So we’re redoing all concession stands.” Every restroom is also being retooled, refitted with new stainless-steel fixtures, broader touch-free sinks, and state-of-the-art hand dryers. Penske is far too reserved to make cheap jokes. He does note that the request he gets most often from fans wanting a piece of the past is to get hold of the massive 40-year-old urinals being discarded in the restroom upgrades.

“They are unique,” he says, shaking his head a little. “People want those. It’s just … well—” There are jokes to be made, but he holds up a hand and smiles. He will not bite. “We do get requests,” is all he can muster.

In isolation, the business days tick by. Three days come and go. Then five. The test results don’t come. It’s all sandwiches and soup behind a set of windows, over the courthouse square. I tell myself to keep a journal, and fail.  I decide to draw, and don’t. Boredom stacks itself. The sore throat persists. I examine the transcript of the interview at the track. Penske reads like a guy I never met, dedicated to his work without being eager to call attention to it. He likes the small jobs inside large tasks and knows he can solve big problems with coordinated responses.  Small answers. I take notes. But my thinking grows fuzzy in isolation, and my memory seems to fail. It’s hard to remember him in the conference room that day. I draw the layout of the room. Sketch his face as I remember it. He had a tan, I think. It feels as if the experience was unearthed from a distant past, yet I know it to be recent. Distant recency is the term I come up with. I drift as the days string together. I write updates on Facebook, which garner me support. I draw sketches of crows. I play cribbage online with a friend in New Jersey. I will try to express my memory in my lede of the article on first draft. I spend afternoons staring at traffic on the square. Order more sandwiches, which drivers leave on the doorstep. I have no cash. My throat hurts, my bones hurt, my head aches. Six business days. Eight. Ten. No results. The tests, I’m told, are piling up in labs all over the country. I’m not uncomfortable, but I can’t remember being comforted much either. Another weekend passes. Isolation compounds. No test results. No news from inside isolation. I can’t remember what the story was. What good is a conversation before the curtain fell? I’m waiting for some news before I can begin. 

Finally, when the postponement of the 500 to August 23 is announced, Penske tells reporters, “I took the road that gave us the longest distance, five months. If this thing isn’t over in five months, we’ve got bigger problems.” I get that. He speaks of time in terms of distance, which is what time becomes in the Year of the Virus. It has, at this moment, been three weeks since the interview in the conference room. That distance feels inexpressible. The calendar offers no certainty now. It’s just a long way to go.

Still, Penske plans. The story presses me.

The race had been canceled before, once just before the U.S. entered World War I (1917–18) and once during World War II (1942–45), but those spans wiped out six contests. It has been reported recently that the first cancellation was due in part to the outbreak of Spanish Flu. But track historian and first-rate enthusiast for historical detail Donald Davidson, host of the seasonal radio talk show The Talk of Gasoline Alley, quickly clarifies, “It was not the flu at all. In 1917 and ’18, the track owners turned the track over to the government. Allison Engineering was getting cranked up then. And they flew airplanes into the infield.”

Davidson spoke to me from the track, although he was supposed to be working from home. “I’m not sure I’m essential,” he said, with a hint of his inimitable West Country accent, “but I’m here today so I could check facts against the documentation I have here, which is not on a computer.

“No sooner was the U.S. at war in 1941 when track ownership offered the facility to the Air Force, which politely declined, as their planes were now too large to land on the infield.” Starting in 1942, the race was canceled when the Speedway’s thousand acres housed a battalion of soldiers until the conclusion of the war.

If the race returns in August, will the throngs of fans follow?

In Davidson’s thinking, the only time the running of the race was truly altered by history may have come during the Depression. “The race was fully established, already a tradition by the early ’30s. In 1932, there was pressure to not run it due to the cost and the level of the purse. Ticket prices were slashed so that the crowd would hold, the purse was reduced, and, although there were very few paid employees at the time, every one of them took a salary cut.” Davidson excuses himself to go to his records. Time stretches out. The past deserves a nod in the middle of a quickly accelerating present. When Davidson returns, he apologizes. He isn’t allowed much time in the facility while it is under lockdown. He found what he was looking for. A comparison and contrast. “In 1930,” he clarifies, “Billy Arnold won $50,000 total, which included his bonuses for lap wins. But in 1933, Louis Meyer won. His take was only $18,000, which would have made it possible for his team to make a profit, but not certain. Not at all certain. No other team would have made a profit.” He apologizes for not knowing the exact prices of tickets. He could look, if I had a little more time. “I’m not sure what the importance would be,” Davidson says.   

The crowd. The people. There existed a sense that working Americans needed the race, that tradition ought to hold. “Due to the pressures of the economy,” Davidson says, “the race was altered, but the race was always run. The crowd demanded that much.” And the race always delivered.

As this story goes to print, I am still in isolation. My test results have not arrived. Thirteen business days later. Seventeen days in all.  Not yet. As I finish, it’s clear my part of the story is not over. But this is always true of the stories we tell. We start and stop somewhat arbitrarily in an effort to pin down something real.

And what Penske wants is real, if not modest: to take on the smallest, most guest-friendly improvements to the track first. There is certainly a lack of flash to the endeavor. It’s something like buying a pricey Victorian mansion and upgrading the electrical. Nothing very showy. Penske acknowledges as much, but insists, “It’s a lot for the four months we had.”

He understands people might want things to stay as they are at the track (although the urinals are out, for sure). “This place is something like an old chair,” he says. “People want to treat it that way. Just leave it alone. But if you live in the modern day, you have expectations when you come in and out, when you sit, when you eat. At this Motor Speedway, you see that the fastest cars in the world should have a place that’s all their own.”

“It’s the same for the guests. This is a generational race. This is not something where you run $20 million worth of commercials to fill the stands. The tickets here are passed down from generation to generation, and there’s an obligation to the ones who return. And there’s an entire set of events surrounding the race—the race queen, the parade downtown, porch parties, cars, the princess program,” all of which have become just as much a part of the Indianapolis 500 experience as the call for drivers to start their engines or a cold glass of milk for the winner.

Roger Penske is 83. A corporate magnate. A racing giant. A man with a legacy already in hand. The question for Penske is pretty much the one I walked into the conference room with on that second Monday in March: Why now?

“There was not an inkling in my mind that this would happen,” he says. “It was nowhere in my short- or long-term strategic plan that we would own the Speedway. There was a lot of talk over the years that people wanted to buy it, and speculation about what it was worth. And I think that when an opportunity comes, and if the economics are right—I mean, we could afford it, I can do it—then why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I try?”

Penske’s next words speak to me directly when I find them in the transcript. I go back and listen to the recording to be sure he really said them. He did.

“You can’t know when things will happen,” Penske says. “You can’t control time.”

Or life.

As a team owner, Penske has won the Indianapolis 500 18 times.

Before my wife and I got married, her daughter had a child. I was in the relationship for the long haul, but didn’t want to be called Opa or G-pa or any of that. So, I thought for a bit and told my wife I wanted to be called “The Captain.” No one thought it would work—why would they? But the nickname stuck, and everyone—kids from the neighborhood, my own friends, the people at Kroger—called me “The Captain” for 10 years or more. But the child, my granddaughter, who is now 13 and under our guardianship, stopped using the name a few years ago. And that really made me sad. Not hearing it these days makes me feel like I’ve been stripped of rank. I miss the title, but am glad to know there is another Captain out there.

Roger Penske is still working with a small staff in Detroit, having fully embraced the changes demanded by the times, using video conferencing and social distancing in the office, newspaper accounts say. I enjoy imagining The Captain as he rethinks what he’ll do using the extra time that he’s been given. He’ll create teams. Employ impossible deadlines. Race against the clock. He’ll walk that thousand acres in the western part of Indianapolis. He will keep everything moving forward.

I picture him out at the Speedway on a visit: Penske, with his people, making lists of the things they must do, in the time they still have. It feels possible with him. Then it feels possible for me. Makes me think we can all be Captains again. Makes me happy I shook his hand.