The Team Penske Sultans of the Smoker

June 29, 2021


"Penske Material" provides an inside look at some of the personalities, stories and moments that make Team Penske so unique.

In NASCAR, the individuals that are responsible for the adjustments made on a car to improve performance are called crew chiefs.

In the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, those key people are referred to as race engineers. At Team Penske, three of the four INDYCAR race engineers could also be considered the sultans of the smoker. Gavin Ward, David Faustino and Ben Bretzman all know their way around a grill or smoker, and they take almost as much pride in producing a juicy, favor-filled beef brisket as engineering fast racecars.

The fourth engineer of the group, Jonathan Diuguid – the race engineer for Scott McLaughlin and the No. 3 Chevrolet team - is not as proficient in the art of grilling or smoking meats, but he is quick to offer his expertise as a taste tester when needed.

Take a look inside the Team Penske INDYCAR smoker and see what’s cooking.

 

Gavin Ward

Ward, a native of Toronto, serves as the lead engineer for two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden. While the Great White North is not generally thought of as a barbeque hotspot, Ward says his native country is where he was first introduced to the art of “low and slow.”

“I think my first great experience with the art of low and slow was Montreal Smoked Meat sandwiches at Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal,” said Ward. “But I never knew how good barbecue could be until I went to Austin (Texas) while working for an F1 team. Over the years there I managed to sample some of the best barbecue in the world.”

His favorite cuts of meat to throw on his Franklin BBQ Pits backyard smoker is brisket, followed closely by beef chuck short ribs. He was on a waiting list for years to buy his smoker and received it this spring (No. 115). He is a strict user of oak logs as his heat source, just like his inspiration, the creator of the piece of equipment Ward uses to cook his delicacies – Aaron Franklin.

“I’ve eaten at his Austin restaurant five times,” said Ward. “I have his smoker, his cookbook and I bought his Masterclass. You could say I’m a little bit of a fan.”

        

 

David Faustino

In their 15 seasons together – the last 12 with Team Penske – Will Power and David Faustino have cemented their place as one of the most-successful driver/engineer combinations in INDYCAR history. The duo has combined for nearly 40 race victories, an INDYCAR championship and a win in the 2018 Indianapolis 500.

Faustino is a proponent of a Big Green Egg (BGE) that he received as a gift this past Christmas. While still a bit of a novice when it comes to being a grill master or smoker, Faustino has already found one of his favorite uses for his BGE.

“My favorite thing to make so far is New York-style pizza,” said Faustino. “The crispy crust without burning or overcooking the cheese is what makes it so good on the Egg. And I use wood lump charcoal so there is also a slight infusion of wood smoke that I like.”

He also throws some different cuts of meat on his Egg and is learning by osmosis from his time spent in the Team Penske engineering room.

“I have done a few pork shoulders, pork ribs, lots of smoked chicken wings and beer can chicken,” continued Faustino. “I’m learning from my teammates so I’m planning a brisket soon!”

 

 

Ben Bretzman

Ben Bretzman made the move to Team Penske in 2015 to continue his work with racer Simon Pagenaud. Their time together with the team has been very productive as the tandem captured the series championship in 2016 and won the 2019 Indianapolis 500.

Like his counterpart, Gavin Ward, Bretzman is an avid “stick burner,” meaning he strictly uses oak logs as his cooking source. Bretzman is also a believer in the new-traditionalist barbecue technique pioneered by Aaron Franklin.

“Growing up in Florida we used water-soaked wood chips to smoke fish and poultry,” stated Bretzman. “After college, I started experimenting with different cuts and bought a cube smoker that used chips, but quickly realized that wasn’t enough smoke.”

It was then that Bretzman upgraded to an offset, indirect flame, stick-burning smoker. He still uses that style of smoker today – an Old Country Pecos Smoker. He has been known to throw down a mean, reversed-seared Tomahawk ribeye on his gas Napoleon Grill with sear plate as well.

His largest smoke?

“A 16.5-lb. brisket with two dozen chicken wings," said Bretzman. "It didn’t last long!”

Whether is getting the most out of their team’s Dallara/Chevys on track or creating a delicious masterpiece on their grills or smokers, these Team Penske technicians know how to make some magic.