Jack Roush’s career in racing began on a backroad in Manchester, Ohio after a co-worker challenged him to a race. Roush didn’t win that day, rather he was wrecked by his opponent, but his career in racing has taken him to heights few in the sport have seen.
Roush, a Covington, Kentucky native and Berea College alumnus, has spent more than 30 years competing in NASCAR’s top series and counts eight championships and 325 wins among his stable of race teams.
Twice, he walked away from motorsports – he was involved with drag racing and road racing teams – before getting what he jokingly calls a “life sentence” when Ford encouraged him in 1987 to get into NASCAR.
Bill Elliott, then-driver of the No. 9 Melling Racing Ford Thunderbird, was a rising star in NASCAR’s top series in the late 1980s. In 1987, he set the average qualifying speed record of 212.809 mph at Talladega Superspeedway. In 1988, he won the Cup Series championship. But Elliott’s family-run team – his brother Ernie built the engines – clashed with his car manufacturer’s goals, according to Roush.
“Ford was frustrated with the (Bill) Elliott team, who kept them in the dark during their success, but became frustrated with Ford when there wasn’t success,” Roush said.
So, Roush agreed and immediately went to what he calls “NASCAR school” gathering knowledge and advice from the likes of Edwin “Banjo” Matthews and Bobby Allison.
“The fact that I was a drag and road racer who was successful didn’t carry with it the implicit process of being successful with stock cars and NASCAR,” Roush said. “I came in as an outsider and didn’t have the short track experience most owners had.”
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Roush brought with him the lessons learned in road racing, where teams had multiple drivers in their stable, as opposed to the way NASCAR operated back then with smaller teams and single drivers.
“When I came into the sport, the top drivers like Dale Earnhardt, Geoff Bodine and Rusty Wallace all had the owners convinced they needed one car one driver, but I wanted multiple drivers to compete against each other and the rest of the field,” Roush said.
Over the years, Roush’s team evolved to include five teams in the MENCS in 2006 as well as teams in the XFinity Series and NCWTS. In 2007, he formed a partnership with the Fenway Sports Group to create the modern stable of Roush Fenway Racing.
Roush won Cup titles in 2003 and 2004 with Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch respectively, but his teams have yet to win it all since the series moved to a playoff format in 2005. That year, Roush’s teams filled half of the 10 spots available in the playoffs.
While Roush still has his sights set on another MENCS championship, the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame owner and engine builder is hoping he can cross one more thing off his bucket list – a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win in the Quaker State 400, presented by Walmart.
“Kentucky and Indy – the two closest tracks to my hometown – are places I haven’t won yet,” Roush said. “I consider Kentucky my hometown track, and I won twice in the Camping World Truck Series and once in the XFinity Series there, but we haven’t won a Cup race.”
Roush will be going into this week’s race with the best cars he’s ever had for the Quaker State 400, he said, according to wind tunnel results. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the No. 17, won the first two stages at last week’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, before wrecking out in the third stage in a race where other drivers criticized his aggressive style.
“We were involved in three major wrecks – one that consumed us,” Roush said of Stenhouse. “And I’m hoping some of the drivers that were involved in those wrecks don’t carry forward hard feelings.”
Stenhouse currently sits 16th in the points race and would be on the outside looking in if the regular season ended today.
Ask about Mark Martin, and Roush and will tell you the story of their first meeting. Roush and Martin talked for several hours about the team’s composition, how much would be invested, what the growth strategy was, and how resources would be allocated.
“I left the meeting and on the way home realized we never talked about how much Mark would be paid,” Roush said. “Mark was never overpaid. In fact, he was underpaid most of his career because he wanted to make sure there were enough resources being spent on the team.”
Roush said Martin was an inspiration to everyone on his team. Over the 18 seasons he ran for Roush, Martin won 35 races and nearly won a championship before a 46-point deduction for a carburetor spacer at Richmond.