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From the hardwood to the blacktop

Tim Cindric learned about teamwork on the basketball court at Rose-Hulman; he applies those lessons in his job as an IndyCar team executive

Tim Cindric grew up in Indianapolis, surrounded by the roar of the engines that his father helped build for race cars.

He had lofty enough ambitions, wanting to follow in his dad’s footsteps and work with the high-performance machines that raced in the Indianapolis 500. It’s fair to say that since his time as a student-athlete at Rose-Hulman, where he enrolled to study mechanical engineering, Cindric has achieved his dream and much more.

He now is president of Team Penske (which recently changed its name from Penske Racing) – a powerful force in the IndyCar Racing League with drivers Helio Castroneves (three-time Indy 500 winner and 2013 IRL champion) and Will Power, and also a top contender in NASCAR with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

Cindric arrived on campus certain of his career ambitions, but Rose-Hulman, as a Division III member, also gave the honorable-mention Indiana all-state selection in basketball the opportunity to play a sport. He was coached by Bill Fenlon, who later coached another Division III 40-in-40 selection, current Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, at DePauw.

Cindric today attributes his career success not only to the engineering skills he gained at Rose-Hulman, but also to his opportunity to compete with a team.

“Athletics is all about getting people to work as a team and realizing their importance to achieving the team’s goals,” he said recently in an alumni news feature published by the communications and marketing office at Rose-Hulman, which presented Cindric with its Honor Alumni Award last year.

“In racing, second isn’t good enough. Our success from season to season is about getting the right kind of people and giving them the resources to do their jobs. That’s what Roger does best, putting the right people in the right places for the team’s success.”

That’s Roger Penske, who phoned Cindric one night in 1999 to recruit him as the “right person” for his racing operation after Cindric already twice had been named team manager of the year in the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) circuit at Rahal-Hogan Racing. Cindric accepted the offer, and his responsibilities have expanded since then to include wide-ranging duties in Penske’s global business operations – though he’s still able to stay close to the action on the track, serving as strategist for Power’s IndyCar team.

“From the beginning I saw that Tim was someone who could balance many different pieces of the racing team and do it consistently,” Penske said in the Rose-Hulman alumni feature. “The most important thing is his high integrity, on and off the track, which makes a huge difference.”

Cindric maintained balance on and off the court at Rose-Hulman, too. As a 6-foot-6 senior center, he averaged 12.8 points and five rebounds per game, and earned all-conference honors in leading the Engineers to a Division III Men’s Basketball Championship appearance. He also earned honorable mention Academic-All America honors. He finished with 1,081 career points and 123 assists, and ranks 12th at the school with 609 rebounds. The school inducted him into its athletics hall of fame in 2001.

This year, Team Penske already has been in victory lane with Keselowski’s victory earlier this month in Las Vegas. IndyCar competition begins March 30 with a street race in St. Petersburg, and Team Penske will be seeking its fourth series championship and sixth Indianapolis 500 victory since Cindric was promoted to president in 2000.

In May, he’ll be back at the Brickyard for qualifying for Memorial Day weekend’s Indianapolis 500 – back in the city where his dreams were fulfilled using lessons learned on a basketball court.

Nominated by Kevin Lanke, assistant director of athletics for sports information/communication at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.