Book Review: Penske’s Maestro – Karl Kainhofer and the History of Penske Racing

Penske’s Maestro – Karl Kainhofer and the History of Penske Racing
By Gordon Kirby-Racemaker

review by Paul Gohde

Nothing is better than reading a good book, except perhaps reading a well-written racing book, and American racing biographer Gordon Kirby adds to his library of Indianapolis 500 drivers with an interesting but quite different subject.

Having written biographies covering the careers of Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi and the Unser clan among others, his latest effort takes us behind the scenes of Penske Racing, highlighting the work of master mechanic and engine builder Karl Kainhofer.

Not well known to many racing fans is the story of the Austrian-born Kainhofer, Penske’s Maestro, and his days with the Pennsylvania-based team. He worked first as Penske’s personal mechanic during his early years in the cockpit of an RS Porsche Spyder, and then as part of The Captain’s major league racing team successes. Beginning in 1966 through 1975, Kainhofer was a chief mechanic for Mark Donahue in USRRC, Can-Am, Formula A/5000, Indy car and F1. Following Donahue’s death in the ’75 Austrian Grand Prix, Karl moved back to the U.S., working for one-year on Penske’s NASCAR engines before becoming the team’s chief engine builder for Indy cars the next season. He worked with cars that were powered by Cosworth, Ilmor/Chevrolet or Mercedes-Benz, motors which brought the Penske juggernaut 94 race wins including nine Indy 500’s. Over the course of Kainhofer’s 40 seasons with Penske, the team recorded a remarkable 170 overall wins in 535 races.

The volume’s format begins with Kainhofer’s family history in Europe, his move to America to work at Porsche dealerships in Pittsburgh and Connecticut, and continues with a plethora of racing stories, records and more than 350 photos. The publishing of this book by Racemaker Press in 2016 coincides with the 50th Anniversary of Penske Racing and is a complete telling of not only the story of Karl Kainhofer’s career in racing, but also a parallel account of Penske Racing’s history. Kirby interviewed Kainhofer as well as sixty people who worked with him; many who were Penske drivers such as Mario Andretti, Al Unser and Rick Mears, whose commentaries throughout the book add interesting perspective to the Penske team’s five decades, whether in Indy car, F1 or sports cars… Highly recommended.

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”