'Maestro' book details success of Penske engine builder

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Veteran motorsports journalist Gordon Kirby has penned an outstanding book on the life of one of the most preeminent engine builders in the history of sports car and open-wheel racing.

“Penske’s Maestro: Karl Kainhofer and the History of Penske Racing” is a richly illustrated (more than 350 photos) tome that traces the life of Kainhofer from a homeless orphan in his native Austria, to becoming the first employee of Penske Racing in 1966, and then more than 30 years at the helm of Penske’s racing operation.

During 22 years as Penske’s chief mechanic and nearly 32 years overall with Team Penske, Kainhofer proved to be an engine-building genius. Under his leadership and tutelage, Team Penske compiled 170 wins in 535 race starts, including 22 victories with the late Mark Donohue.

Also during that stretch, Kainhofer oversaw Team Penske earn 94 Indy car wins, including nine Indianapolis 500 victories.

Without question, Kainhofer was one of the best engine builders in all forms of motorsports. In fact, he was motorsports royalty.

And while he could tout all that he accomplished in his career, the quiet and reserved Kainhofer described himself and his career in much the same way he worked on race cars: simple and unassuming.

“In all the years involved, I was a mechanic,” he said in the book. “I called myself a mechanic and that’s what I was, nothing more. Up to the last day, I was a mechanic. That’s the trade I learned and I never lived any other way. I did that for 50 years.”

To his credit, Kainhofer, who lives in retirement with his wife and family in Reading, Pennsylvania, their home since 1985, has not touched a race car in nearly 20 years since his retirement.

The reason: there were more important things for him to not only be involved with, but also to make up for lost time.

“People asked me to consult on this or that, but I said no,” Kainhofer said in the book. “I decided after 50 years it was time to stop. I probably could have done some consulting work but I wasn’t interested.

“The time comes in your life to enjoy your retirement and your family, and that’s what I’ve been doing since 1997.”

One aspect that longtime race fans will enjoy – especially those who have followed Team Penske during its 50 years of existence – is the inclusion of more than two dozen retrospectives about Kainhofer from some of the biggest names in racing.

Among those included in the book are Mario Andretti, Al Unser Jr., Paul Tracy, Derrick Walker, Jay Signore and more.

And fittingly, the foreword is penned by Penske himself.

“It was amazing how reliable Karl’s engines were,” Penske wrote. “His record of reliability has got to be one of the best in the history of motor racing.

“We won many races and championships thanks to Karl’s engines. And that comes back to his relentless way of working. He would never stop. He was always refining this or that detail from the valve lash to the tension in the drive rears or belts.

“Karl is a special guy. … Karl built a culture around him of quality at the highest level and provided the inspiration for what Team Penske is today.”

While he appreciates all the plaudits he received in the book, Kainhofer looks back on his career in the same unassuming fashion.

“I was fortunate to work through a great time in auto racing,” Kainhofer said. “I’ve seen a lot of different things come and go and I’ve seen the sport when we had big crowds and big names.

“I started in motor sport in 1947 and worked in the sport for 50 years and through that time it just got bigger and bigger. I guess I was lucky to live and work through that era.”

To order the book, visit https://www.racemaker.com/catalog/penskes-maestro-karl-kainhofer-and-the-history-of-penske-racing/.

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