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Jack Roush opens up for AutoRacing1.com

by Tim Wohlford
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

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Jack Roush built his life around Ford Racing
Coursing through Jack Roush's veins is a mixture of racing fuel, adrenalin, and Ford-blue blood. Jack's first job out of college was with Ford, which he left to pursue a career of making Fords go faster. Jack looks like a kid caught in a cookie jar when asked about those stories of his younger days when he used to “test” customer's Mustangs on Detroit area highways at well over twice the legal speed limit.

His cars – Fords, of course -- dominated IMSA in the 1980s, before he moved to NASCAR and became one of the most successful owners of all time – once again in Fords. He built his go-fast business into a world-class Tier 1 Ford automotive supplier. Oh, yeah, he has another business - stuffing 500+ hp motors into Mustangs which are sold in Ford dealerships.

Jack Roush won many races with longtime Ford driver, now Chevy driver, Mark Martin
When Jack returns to Michigan International Speedway, he's playing on his home turf. His teams routed the rest of this field Sunday, as cars finished first, third, fourth, sixth and twelfth, running Roush's Cup win total at MIS to eleven in the process.  AutoRacing1 caught up with Jack in his hauler before the race, where he held court on the state of NASCAR, the auto racing business, the “Car of Tomorrow,” and anything else that came to his mind.

Ford went on the record this week saying that it's reevaluating its participation in the Craftsman Truck Series. Roush was one of the founding teams in the Series, and AR1 asked Jack about the future of NASCAR truck racing. Jack didn't hesitate to look into his crystal ball:

"The Truck series is on its way to being a single-marque series. Dodge jumped in to start with, and they brought their trucks, and they had no sponsorship. So they (Dodge) said, 'We're going to run two teams with two trucks each,' on their first deal, and then accepted whatever they could get from sponsors that would jump ship to be on their trucks.

"By doing that, the price of the sponsorship on trucks was discounted by 50%. And when Toyota came in, and they made their incursion, and started their trucks with teams that, by and large didn't have sponsorship, and sold off their sponsorship at low prices, they (Toyota) also undervalued the thing. There is an expectation and a history of the Truck series being undervalued to primary sponsors, and that has placed the burden on which ever manufacturers decide to stay.

Jack Roush chats with Edsel Ford following an employee pep rally at Ford World Headquarters
"We've got commitments for people, for sponsors and to drivers, through 2009, and I hope that Ford is there with me. I certainly will be racing Ford trucks in 2009. There is a period of valuation of what... these marketing venues are worth, and how they stack up in relation to one another, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more Nationwide cars per manufacturer and have the Truck series go the way that Chrysler and Toyota pushed it --, to be only a single-marque series.

"I don't want that... and certainly I don't think that the series is strengthened by it... but unless the manufacturers back off from underwriting the primary sponsorships, and the sponsors are able to come back and see the value being commensurate to, proportional to, what the cost is, unless that happens it's definitely in question in its liability.

"A truck sponsorship today has been discounted two times, first 50%, then another 25% -- at the very most, it's been devalued by 2/3. It's either 2/3 or ¾ today. If you looked eight years ago (at) what a Truck sponsorship was worth a couple of years after it got started, and look what its worth today, it's the same, or even less, in terms of what a sponsor will pay. And no sponsor is going to come and pay more than the going rate, the street rate for what someone else is getting their service for."

Jack initially was against changing the Cup series car spec en masse, especially since it cost him over $20 million dollars to make the change, as virtually everything in his parts inventory was obsoleted overnight. He still thinks that most of the improvements could've been incorporated into the old car, since there wasn't any new technology that demanded a totally new car be built. However, he seemed to have made his peace with the new car.

"They made the cars easier for NASCAR to inspect, even though there were more templates and more fixturing, it was more of a black-and-white thing, it was less subjective. And NASCAR wanted to make it less subjective, they wanted to stop manufacturers from coming in and upstaging the other manufacturers and them caught in the middle. They wanted to reduce the importance of the wind tunnel. Those were things they wanted to do. And for that reason they wound up obsoleting all the cars.

"Well, I resisted that mightily, initially. But coming out of it, as it turns out, the cars are more expensive to build, they are more expensive to maintain. We do in fact have fewer cars. There are probably 1/3 fewer cars we have to have per team. And if the offset was a third more expense – and it was – it's pretty much a wash.

"We're through that now, and the idea of not having a new manufacturer come in, or a manufacturer come in with a new car, that upstages, I like that. The idea of being able to do it with less cars, I like that. You know, before you'd have 20 cars per team. Demons would live in some of the cars. The driver would drive this car, and he'd look over, 'There's a demon in this car... this car does something that I don't understand, that's unforgivable,' -- so he'd never drive that car again. The cars were in such variance based on things the crew chief wanted, and what they were trying to do. You can't do those things now. The car's got to be a plain ole $5 horse.

"Whatever they (NASCAR) want to do, whatever they want to do for rules, as long as rules are administered even-handedly, and the result is affordable, is okay with me."

Finally, we mentioned that some drivers seemed to have trouble driving this car, including most of the Indy car transplants. Jack quickly rerouted the conversation to a quick definition of the word “talent.” Talent, he explained, is the ability to do something with no previous experience or training – for instance, a person who has never picked up a bow and arrow, but hits a bulls-eye in their first few tries, have “talent” in shooting a bow and arrow. Either you have talent, or you don't. Jack then continued his discussion of some of the drivers that are struggling with the current NASCAR Cup car.

"Some of the drivers that have been traditionally successful (with the old car) can't drive this car. It does things they don't like. So those guys need to do something else. There's probably eighty percent of the guys who drove the other car that can adapt to this car, and twenty percent of them can't. And twenty percent of the guys who could be successful, and the youngsters coming in, can't drive the new car – that's okay. I certainly don't want them to change it again.

"There's some things you can do to make a car not be loose in. This car... it has to be loose in, almost to the point of jumping out from underneath of you, to turn in the middle. And you get it to where it's tight enough going in to where it's not jumping out from underneath you, it doesn't want to turn in the middle and it pushes the front end off.

"The guys that will prosper and do the best in this car are the guys that got that sense, that fine finesse, that lets them be able to take a car that's about ready to jump out from underneath of you as you unload it going in, and can deal with that...

"Now the other thing, if a driver is so impatient that he wants to move the corner up, he wants to really crowd the corner, then the loose-in is much worse. Some drivers just don't have the patience not to crowd the corner, and they won't stand to have the car jumping out when they've gone into a corner, and (then) God couldn't put springs and bars to make it do the rest of what it needs to do correctly. If you're in the mindset that doesn't want you to do those things, you can't drive this car."

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