This is how crazy fate can be.
One day in the early 1960s, Trudy Hennep, an American Airlines flight attendant born in Dutch Guiana, pulled her car in for service at a Mobil gas station in New York City. There, Mexican-born Lucio Pena was working. They met, dated, fell in love, had three children … and years later their youngest son is one of the most decorated crew members in North American motorsports.
Meet Dave Pena, who has worked directly on Chip Ganassi Racing teams that have won four Indianapolis 500s and five NTT INDYCAR SERIES season championships while contributing to a half-dozen other standout CGR programs, including Rolex 24 At Daytona sports car victories, during his 22 years with the Indianapolis-based team.
All told, Pena has “14 or 15” rings as a member of Chip Ganassi’s organization, and he was the crew chief on Marcus Ericsson’s car that won the “500” in 2022 and finished second earlier this year. He also has celebrated with Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Scott Pruett, among other racing legends, and is about to embark on a new effort with the next wave of Ganassi talent in Marcus Armstrong and series rookies Linus Lundqvist and Kyffin Simpson.
Even Pena finds it remarkable how this career has come together, and it is something to celebrate during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“Crazy,” he said.
Pena, 55, was born in New York, but the family was in South Florida when he was in high school. His parents owned an automotive shop in Hollywood, Florida, and he and older brother Robert were mechanically inclined, loved muscle cars and were part-time drag racers.
“Wild boys,” he said, noting the Chevrolets – a 1976 Camaro and a 1968 Nova -- they souped up and competed with.
Next to the family’s automotive shop was a Formula Atlantic team. Pena spent so much time helping its crew members that he eventually was offered a job. The team’s driver was Stan Wattles, who competed in the first INDYCAR SERIES event at Walt Disney World Speedway in 1996, finishing 13th in a car owned by Leigh Miller. Wattles became Pena’s connection to this part of the sport.
Pena joined PacWest’s INDY NXT by Firestone team for the 1999 season, and the next year a young New Zealander became the driver. In one form or another, Pena and Dixon have been together ever since.
Ganassi’s organization is a collective one, with almost everyone’s hands touching the cars of the whole. Therefore, Pena has contributed to all of the success – the four Indy wins, the 11 series titles, plus the sports car racing championships and Daytona wins – since joining the operation in 2002.
Mike Hull, CGR’s managing director, said Pena exemplifies the selflessness and the culture of an organization that has approximately 60 percent of its employees serving 10-plus years.
“I would describe him as an unselfish teammate who has always stepped up and filled the role we’ve asked him to fill, whether that’s (in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES) or in sports cars,” Hull said. “Whether that’s supporting the culture we have here or being tireless in how he operates, Dave has been everything we could ask for on this team.”
Pena worked directly on the winning “500” cars of Franchitti (2010, 2012) and Ericsson (2022) while doing the same on the title-winning cars of Dixon (2003, 2018) and Franchitti (2009, 2010, 2011), and he described winning Indy with Ericsson as a shining moment.
The other extra-special moment in his career: Franchitti’s Indy win in 2012.
“We got spun around (during) the first pit stop (by EJ Viso), and we ran out there and got him (facing the right direction),” Pena said. “We were in 33rd (place) but went on to win. That was a really gratifying race. You thought you were out of it on the first (pit) stop, and we just kept getting positions in the pits, and he kept passing people.
“And then, my first year as crew chief at the ‘500’ (in 2022), to win that was a great achievement.”
Pena said he has shared his love of motorsports with his children, Tommy and Charlotte, but most of all, he wants them to know how much their heritage means to him.
“I try to teach my kids and make sure they know where they came from,” he said of the Mexican and Dutch backgrounds. “Those are important to me.”