Owner remains as involved as ever in Roush Racing.
By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One of the most successful owners on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit doesn't build cars from planters anymore. Although if he did, you can bet it would be the fastest planter you've ever seen.
He doesn't sell engines out of his drag racer to ensure another week at the track. Though if he did, you can bet it would be one of the best engines his customer ever bought.
The days of Jack Roush scraping by to race another week are gone. That doesn't mean Roush's days are done.
Even in a season in which his team is struggling, Roush still likes to tinker and he still loves to involve himself in the business side of racing. The thing Roush loves more than anything, though, is competing.
It is that drive for competition -- be it against another business, another driver or himself -- that led Roush to preside over an empire that includes four Winston Cup teams, one part-time and one full-schedule Busch team, two Craftsman Truck teams and a 1,800-employee transportation management, engineering and prototype company with facilities in five states, Mexico and Britain.
The spirit of competition is the force behind a man who has been successful at every level of racing but still seeks that first Winston Cup championship. It is the reason Roush left his hometown of Manchester, Ohio, to look for a way to combine his need to compete with his love for juicing things up.
"He's extremely focused, and he's a fierce competitor. He's very much like I am in that aspect," Roush's most tenured driver, Mark Martin, said.
It started with a young Roush who chose gears and cranks over baskets and touchdowns.
"I would have loved to play basketball," he said. "While all my friends were out playing the different sports, I liked to make things. Work on clocks, build things with wood. As we got older, all my buddies were playing baseball, football, basketball, but I wasn't very good. Besides, I was the short guy. I didn't do very well. Instead I built a nice, fast car for myself."
That car was ultimate Roush.
He took parts from a local junkyard and combined them with the body of a 1951 Plymouth from the garden in his aunt's front yard. Despite the flowers and weeds that grew through the frame as Roush worked on it, that car became his sole means of transportation, taking him to and from high school. More important, it kept him out of his father's garage.
"When I was 17, my father told me, "I'll be glad when you leave,' " Roush said. "I had an idea that was how he felt, but I didn't ever think he'd come out and say it. He told me, "Everything I own has tinker-itis.' I worked on his lawn mower, his clocks. Everything he had I got to."
Roush has gone from 1951 Plymouth planters to fielding one of the most well-known racing organizations in the world.
In 1981 Roush set his sights on the Winston Cup circuit. He began stockpiling money, setting up a home shop and turning what would become Roush Racing into a place people would want to work. Seven years later he had $1.5-million in investment capital and decided it was time to put a car on the track. Martin was his first driver and he won $223,630 that year, finishing second one time.
"He's a racer at heart," Martin said. "He's a businessman who learned how to be a good businessman so he could be in racing. He did what he needed to get where he wanted and to where he is at now."
Since then Roush has diversified, adding teams in 1992 and 1996 before expanding to five Winston Cup teams in 1998, 1999 and 2000. The stable is down to four teams, and all are struggling this season. Martin ranks 21st in the points standings, Jeff Burton is 25th, Kurt Busch is 20th and defending rookie of the year Matt Kenseth, who won last year's Coca-Cola 600, is 11th.
Over the past 14 years Roush drivers have won 48 Winston Cup races and 47 poles. He has one Craftsman Truck title but the closest he has come to becoming Winston Cup champion was Martin's second-place showing in 1990, 1994 and 1998. The '90 finish is still somewhat of a sore spot with the 59-year-old owner.
That year Martin was penalized 46 points at Richmond for a spacer in his carburetor that was a half-inch too tall. He lost the title by 26 points to Dale Earnhardt.
"We have 230-something professional racing victories," said Roush, who owns 10 24 Hours of Daytona victories as a owner. "I've helped Ford win a manufacturer's title and we have a truck championship. Some of NASCAR's decisions cost us a championship in the third year with Mark. It was a decision they made that was highly controversial, unwarranted and unjust. NASCAR can orchestrate through politics the outcome of the championship and has before.
"I think as long as I give my best effort and I feel the team has given its best effort, I'm happy."
That's all Roush ever asks. Give your best performance every time out and good things will happen, he believes.
Roush stays as involved as possible when it comes to readying his cars for race day. He is famous for poking around under the hoods of his cars and interjecting his thoughts based on 30 years of engine research and development.
"He's a little different from some of the other owners," Kenseth said. "He likes to get in the car and work with the engines and spark plugs. Whatever he thinks will make it run better."