Thirty-one years ago, a graduating senior at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology listened to the commencement speaker, although Tim Cindric concedes he remembers nothing about what the man said in the address.
However, Cindric applied much of what the speaker said, turning his mechanical engineering degree into a Team Penske leadership position and a starring role in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge over the past two decades.
Saturday morning, the Indianapolis native with eight “500” victories will stand behind a Rose-Hulman lectern as A.J. Foyt, a four-time Indy winner, did that day in 1990. Cindric expects to be nervous, knowing that even as the graduates likely won’t remember the words he delivers at Cook Stadium, they will try to use them to emulate his success in their careers.
“The thing I can relate to is what it takes to graduate from Rose-Hulman and how you embrace that and take it to the next level,” said Cindric, who also will earn an honorary degree from the university in Terre Haute, Indiana. “It’s not just what you learn in the books or the physics, it’s what you do with it when you leave the school.”
Cindric, 53, has gone on to become one of the most successful team leaders in auto racing history. Joining Roger Penske’s organization in 1999, Cindric has overall management responsibility for the team’s entire racing organization, which includes teams competing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and NASCAR’s Cup and Xfinity Series. The team also is returning to sports car racing in 2023.
Cindric’s career with Team Penske consists of more than 300 race victories and 19 season championships. Included are eight Indianapolis 500 wins, two Daytona 500 victories and an overall win at the 12 Hours of Sebring.
In addition, Cindric oversees Penske Technology Group, Penske Restoration, the Penske Heritage Center and the Penske Racing Museum.
Prior to joining Team Penske, Cindric served as team manager for Team Rahal from 1994-99 and worked as interim general manager and design engineer for Truesports’ INDYCAR team after graduating from Rose-Hulman.
Sunday, Cindric will oversee four Team Penske drivers – Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and rookie Scott McLaughlin – trying to score the organization’s record-extending 19th “500” victory. Cindric will be Newgarden’s strategist in the race airing live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network beginning with the pre-race show at 11 a.m.
This isn’t the first Rose-Hulman honor for Cindric, a four-year basketball letterman who was inducted to the school’s athletic hall of fame in 2001 and received the Honor Alumni Award in 2013. But he said this honor is significantly more special.
“Your athletic career is something that you really don’t build on past playing,” he said. “Winning the Indy 500 helped me become an honorary alum, but never did I think I’d be asked to speak at a commencement.
“If you would have asked me 31 years ago if I would have been giving a commencement speech at Rose-Hulman, I’d have probably laughed at you. And doing something that A.J. Foyt did is really cool. He was the guy I had posters of as a kid on my (bedroom) wall; I had photos from every year he won the ‘500.’ The fact I’ve been asked to do the same thing he did puts this honor in perspective.”
Cindric was asked to give last year’s address at Rose-Hulman, but he requested a one-year delay amid the COVID-19 pandemic that forced a virtual commencement.
“I wanted to be there in person,” he said.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb gave last year’s address virtually. As if preparing for a race, Cindric has watched and studied how Holcomb, his friend and former Pike High School classmate, handled the moment. He wants to be prepared; his success in motorsports suggest she will be.
“Right now (I’m) anxious, as it’s a new experience,” Cindric said. “But the good news is, I’m not sure many graduates can tell you what was said at their commencement.”