The team was started in late 1997, beginning racing in the IRL's 1998 season, with sponsorship from Pennzoil and six owners—open-wheel racing team manager John Barnes, Indianapolis car dealer Gary Pedigo, former radio personality Mike Griffin, television production executive Terry Lingner, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh and City of Indianapolis director of corporate government affairs Doug Boles sharing in ownership of the team. The cars carried an unusual yellow and black paint scheme, as Pennzoil ditched its traditional all-yellow livery in favour of a Sam Bass design as part of changes by the sponsor when they added NASCAR sponsorship in 1998. (Bass, a well-known race car paint scheme designer, wanted more focus on black instead of the traditional yellow to reflect Pennzoil's sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 1998—Earnhardt's signature color, and it was shown on the Pennzoil IRL car.) The team's top car bore #4, which reflected Harbaugh's jersey number with the Colts. Scott Goodyear drove the car and scored modest success, finishing seventh in championship standings.
Goodyear closed his driving career during the 2000 season with the Panther team, winning his last race (Texas in October), and finishing second to Buddy Lazier in overall points. The team also reverted to traditional Pennzoil yellow for 2000, turning away from the Sam Bass yellow and black Pennzoil design, but keeping its General Motors affiliation, as Gary Pedigo owns a Chevrolet dealership.
For the 2001 season, the team signed second-year driver Sam Hornish Jr., who had made his debut at PDM Racing, as its driver. He won the IRL Championship by 105 points and earned three wins (Phoenix, Homestead-Miami Speedway, and Texas in October). The impressive season included 11 top-five finishes and 12 top-10 finishes. Interestingly, the team chose not to wear the champion's #1, owing instead to wearing Harbaugh's #4 for identity purposes, owing to marketing of the team as #4 out of respect for Harbaugh. Ironically, Harbaugh paid respect to A. J. Foyt during his final year in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers when he wore #14, because kicker John Kasay wears #4 for the Charlotte-based team.
The team repeated its season championship in 2002. However, with an influx of new teams from the troubled CART defecting to the IRL, the loyalists were disadvantaged, and when Hornish was unable to continue his success in the 2003 season, he left for Penske Racing.
In 2004, Team Menard merged into Panther Racing, which had Mark Taylor and Tomas Scheckter driving the Chevrolets for the season, with Taylor the #2 Johns Manville Chevrolet, and Scheckter the #4 Pennzoil Chevrolet. Taylor was fired mid-2004 through the team's worst drought, caused by an uncompetitive engine.
For the 2005 season, Rockstar Energy Drink, replaced Johns Manville as the primary sponsor of the #2 car, with Tomáš Enge as its driver, while Scheckter stayed with the #4, winning at Texas Motor Speedway.
Shell Oil was not happy with their sponsorship, and withdrew as primary sponsor for the team. However, new sponsorship was found and Vitor Meira was confirmed as their driver for 2006, with a series of different sponsors (including EcoNova, Harrah's, Revive!, and Lincoln Tech) throughout the year on the #4 Honda. Pennzoil remained on the car as an associate sponsor.
For 2007, Kosuke Matsuura joined Panther as a second car, running Panasonic sponsorship and in association with the Autobacs Racing Team Aguri, with the #55. Meira's #4 carried Delphi sponsorship. Both drivers had so-so years, with Matsuura taking a top five at Michigan. For 2008, Matsuura was released from the 55 and Panasonic sponsorship went to the 27 of rookie Hideki Mutoh for Andretti Green Racing. Meira's team remained unchanged. Meira scored a second place finish for Panther Racing at the 2008 Indianapolis 500, earning more than a million dollars.