Livonia businessman Jack Roush will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Friday night in Charlotte, N.C., kicking off a busy month that includes the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.
Roush has experienced a lot during his lifetime, escaping death on two occasions in plane crashes, winning multiple NASCAR championships and building many successful businesses, including Roush Industries and Roush Performance.
Roush took some time to talk about his racing career Wednesday before making his way to Charlotte to take part in the induction ceremony, which will also honor legendary car owner Roger Penske, four-time NASCAR Monster Energy Cup champion Jeff Gordon, and the late Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki, drivers killed in aviation accidents just months apart at the peak of their careers in the early 1990s.
Roush had Mark Martin as his first driver in NASCAR’s premier series back in 1988, winning series championships with Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004. A longtime partner with Ford Motor Company, his drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Newman will be competing in the new Ford Mustang this season.
And, while it was freezing outside, Roush’s schedule had heated up with multiple meetings and interviews throughout the day.
“Things are a little crazy here,” Roush said. “I have several trips that my corporate airplane needs to make to haul people from here to Charlotte, and then we had a trip taking some folks to South Carolina yesterday for work for the company, and darn if they didn’t break the door on the airplane before they came home. So we’re trying to nurse this airplane back to health.”
Sounds like a typical day in the life of Jack Roush. The active 76-year-old is looking forward to Friday night’s ceremony.
“The thing that really doesn’t attract much attention is that there’s only 45 people in the Hall of Fame, so with the class that’s coming in, that will make 50 of us, so to be one of the first 50 inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is really a great honor,” said Roush. “When I thought about the success of all the drivers and all of the people that have worked on the cars, I’m just proud to be running with them and share with them the excitement here.
“This will be my 33rd year and it’s gone by in a huge hurry. I was really excited to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame last year and that was great, and it’s followed up by this NASCAR Hall of Fame thing, so I feel like I’m being pushed toward retirement, but I’m not ready quite yet.”
Martin earned 34 of his 40 Monster Cup victories with Roush, competing in the No. 6 Ford for 19 years with the team, finishing second in points on four occasions (1990, ’94, ’98 and 2002), winning seven races in ’98.
Kenseth won the Monster Cup series title for Roush in 2003, also winning two Daytona 500s for Roush, the first in 2009 and again in 2012. Kurt Busch won the series championship in 2004.
Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle also had successful careers while driving for Roush with Edwards finishing as the series runnerup in 2008, winning a series-high eight races, and again in 2011. Jeff Burton won 17 races in nine years with Roush, finishing third in points in 2000.
Still, while Kenseth and Busch won Monster Energy Cup championships, it was the one that got away for Martin in 1990 that still stings Roush.
Martin was penalized 46 points after a post-race inspection following his win at Richmond found that he had raced with an illegal carburetor spacer. Dale Earnhardt ended up winning the series championship during that 1990 season by 26 points over Martin.
“The thing in the 1990 championship was just a shame," said Roush. “He (NASCAR president Bill France) discounted the fact that there’s a bulletin that had everybody – the inspectors and crew chiefs – everybody thinking that it didn’t matter anymore. We were not the first ones to run a spacer that was higher than two inches, but we didn’t survive that day and it cost us 46 points.
“You can’t rewrite history, but if Mark won that championship I think he may have had the energy and the momentum to win (championships in) some of those seasons where he finished second.”
Nearly 30 years later, Roush is excited how Stenhouse and Newman will do in their first year together. Stenhouse won two races and finished 13th in points for Roush in 2017. This will be Newman's first year with the team after competing the last five years with Childress, finishing second in points in 2014.
Of the 36 races on the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup schedule, Roush plans to attend 30-32, including the June 9 race at Michigan International Speedway and the Aug. 11 event at the two-mile superspeedway in the Irish Hills. He has won more Cup races (13) at MIS than any other team owner.
Roush said he now gets satisfaction from watching his employees be successful.
“It’s a little different since I’ve won my first championship, won my first Daytona 500, and all those things that were firsts for me we’re very exciting,” said Roush. “More recently I’m more driven by the look on the faces of the crew people as they realize their early success in their careers and the look on their children’s faces as they realize their parents having the success that they are having. So I live vicariously, celebrating the success of others for the things that they are doing.
“We’ve won over 500 races drag racing, boat racing, road racing and of course Cup racing, so that’s taken me certainly more than I need to satisfy myself for a successful motorsports career. But it just keeps coming with the great people that we have around.”
NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony
When: Friday, 8 p.m.
Where: Charlotte, N.C.
Inductees: Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Davey Allison, Jeff Gordon and Alan Kulwicki.