by Scott Kindberg
July 15, 2021
Jim Beichner was driving to Clarion University to watch a football game in the fall of 2013, but before arriving at his alma mater, he pulled off Interstate 79 somewhere in Pennsylvania in order to take a prearranged cell phone call.It was for a job interview with Penske Racing.
“I pull into a truck stop,” the Sinclairville native said last week, “pull into this space, and as (the phone call begins), I look in my mirror and there’s a Penske truck square in my mirror.”
Talk about serendipity.
“I couldn’t have set it up any better,” Beichner said.
Not long after that chance encounter, the 1982 Cassadaga Valley Central School graduate found himself in another interview, this time with Roger Penske, at corporate headquarters in Michigan.
“He asked five or six questions, kind of leaned back in his chair, looked around the table and said, ‘Can we get this guy a contract on Monday?'” Beichner recalled.
Eight years later, Beichner, the director of athletics for Penske Racing, is still pinching himself.
“What a privilege it is to work for Roger Penske,” he said. “I feel extremely fortunate and lucky.”
Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame president Randy Anderson feels pretty fortunate, too.
Last Thursday, Anderson received a phone call from Beichner. Back in the area for the weekend to attend a wedding, Beichner wondered if he could pay a visit to the CSHOF.
Twenty-four hours later, the former Clarion All-American wrestler and former University at Buffalo wrestling coach appeared at the Hall bearing gifts. But they had nothing to do with his career on the mat and everything to do with his time with Penske Racing.
Included on his gift-giving excursion were the following: a championship ring from the 2015 Daytona 500, which was won by Joey Logano; a championship ring from the 2015 Indianapolis 500, which was won by Juan Pablo Montoya; a championship ring from the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Series, which was won by Logano; a 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy, which was won by Logano; and a championship ring from the 2019 IndyCar Series, which was won by Josef Newgarden.
“This is where I grew up, so anything that is accomplished really starts with your past,” said Beichner, who was inducted into the Cassadaga Valley Central School Hall of Fame in 1982, the Eastern Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1993, the Clarion University Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. “I felt why not have some of these things that are sitting around the house not doing anything but collecting dust come to the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame and maybe people can enjoy seeing something.”
Then Beichner, who was seated at a table at the CSHOF in downtown Jamestown, added: “Because this is an unbelievable place and there’s more things here than I even thought. … You can come here 10 days in a row or 100 days in a row and pick up new information about all kinds of great things that Chautauqua County (athletes) have done.”
What Beichner has accomplished in his career puts him near the top of the list of the area’s all-time greats.
As director of athletics, the Landis, North Carolina resident is responsible for about 90 people in the Penske Racing operation.
“As the AD, it’s like working for a small college,” Beichner said. “You have strength coaches, equipment room people and trainers. You hire, you fire and you manage. … You surround yourself with the best people and try and win with the best people.”
Beichner has more than proven to be up to the challenge, and loving every minute along the way.
“It’s really just amazing,” he said. “You’re talking about the pinnacle of all sports. It’s the biggest team and the biggest name. It’s like working for the Yankees. It’s no different. You always expect to win championships. Roger Penske has been doing this for well over 50 years and is one of the most successful leaders, I think, in the entire country.”
Beichner is 57, but he has no designs on thinking about retirement.
“I have to be productive and have to represent the right way, and the Penske way is we try and separate ourselves,” he said. “… When people go to the track, we like to know that people look at us and say, ‘Those are Penske guys.’ We’re dressed right, shaved right, we act right and we’re doing all the right things.”
The man who grew up on Route 380 in Sinclairville checks all those boxes.
“If it ended today, I’d be the luckiest guy in the world,” Beichner said. “If it lasts another 10 to 15 years, I’d be even luckier.”