#PrimalNumbers №66: Mark Donohue’s 1969 Penske Lola-Offy T152
This is another in an ongoing series of our #PrimalNumbers project. Read more about the project and see our others here.
I think this is going to be the start of a great offshoot thread all by itself: our first venture into significant racing cars and designs that include either single or multiple 6’s — if you’re like me there’s instantly 10 or 12 that pop into your head! This particular #66 is a special one — it marked both driver Mark Donohue’s and team owner Roger Penske’s first attempt at the Indianapolis 500.
Penske’s use of the number 6 is now a part of the company’s lore, and we love this one because it ultimately led to the recognizable 66 of Donohue’s 1972 500 winner and likewise the ferocious 1973 Porsche 917/30 Can Am car. But we were really drawn to this one because it was just a little more funky. It feels like a number design that hasn’t quite had all the kinks worked out, which actually makes it pretty awesome.
While digging through the archives, we uncovered a couple of interesting details: even before the month of May 1969 and all throughout the month itself, this number changed significantly in appearance. At the beginning of the month each individual 6 was independently outlined, whereas each pair of 6’s would eventually be outlined with a conjoined background by race-day. Even still, each 66 on the car is slightly different — another example of how hand-lettered this work was at the time. On the nose the two 6’s are angled as if they are italicized, and are on the same horizontal plane as if they were written next to each other on lined paper — — the bottoms of each of the 6’s are flat and straight. The 6’s on the right side are similar in this way, with slightly different spacing. The 6’s on the left side of the car are both angled as if italicized and also independently angled slightly upward. If you look really closely, you can see that the bottom of the background outline, even once this pair of 6’s was outlined together, actually contours up slightly between them.
Our design digitally preserved is of the right-side of the vehicle as seen above, much like that on the nose.
One of the things that makes this so cool is that you can see some tinkering and experimentation from the master even with his racing numbers. It sounds far-fetched at first, but I bet Roger was as equally focused on the detail of how his numbers looked as he was about his trick rear suspension or fuel filler.
In a related twist, a surprising element of the 1969 team gear as seen below shows us something incongruous. You see The Captain shaking hands with Dan Gurney in a white shirt featuring #66 on the sleeve. However, that design is far closer to Jim Hall’s Chaparral #66 than the Penske #66 (we’d love to know what that was about…).
In the end, what this all shows is that this particular #66 was not fully sorted out yet, just as Penske and Donohue’s handle on Indy wasn’t yet fully dialed in. As with everything the Captain has done, however, it didn’t take long to be at the top of the heap. These #PrimalNumbers really do have some great stories to tell.
(P.S. — Holy shit, Indy cars from the late pre-wing era just look insane and awesome)