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Jack Roush - The Cat in the Hat

By: Lawren Dame \ Associate Editor \ July, 29 2014

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On April 19, 1942, a legend was born—a man of spirit, endurance, and most of all, excellence. This man was a true expert, one who knew how to excel in a range of skillsets within his niche of racing. This man was Jack Ernest Roush.

 

Roush, born in Covington, Kentucky and raised in Manchester, Ohio, had a passion for discovering how things worked. He earned a Mathematics degree with a minor in Physics at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky in 1964, later finishing up his education in 1970 with a master’s in Scientific Mathematics from Eastern Michigan University. The same year he graduated from Berea, Jack moved to Detroit and began working for Ford Motor Company as an engineer, focusing on car assembling and tooling. It was here that he laid eyes on his first Mustang, and it was love at first sight. Jack would go on to purchase his very first Mustang at Ford.

Roush’s experiences at Ford also introduced him to the world of motorsports activities, leading him to join “The Fastbacks,” a group of racing enthusiasts. Roush eventually quit Ford in 1969 to work at Chrysler, leaving Chrysler in 1970 to pursue this newfound interest in drag racing. This year he also teamed up with Wayne Gapp, a move that garnered him national fame through the partnership’s wins at several national events as well as a championship each in NHRA, IHRA, and AHRA driving Pro Stock race cars. Roush was not just a participant in races, however—he provided engines for race teams in other sports including Pike’s Peak Hill Climb and powerboat and oval track series.

 

From 1971 to 1972, Roush taught his favorite subjects at Monroe Community College in Monroe, Michigan—mathematics, physics, and, of course, automotive classes.

In 1976, Roush’s partnership with Gapp came to an end. Now a renowned name in auto sports, Jack founded Roush Performance Engineering, building performance engines for a variety of racers, including boats, hill climbs, and oval track series to name a few. His company flourished under Jack’s reputation as a successful racer as well as engineer, and in 1982 he formed another partnership—this time with Zakspeed Racing, designed to race GTX and GTP cars for Ford.  

1984 brought some major wins in Roush’s life—literally. Through the encouragement of Ford, Jack returned to road racing, joining Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). That first year he won the manufacturer’s championship for Lincoln-Mercury, and he only excelled from here —to date, Jack Roush has won 119 races and 24 national championships in total. These were astounding feats in themselves, but Roush didn’t stop there—he was victorious in 10 consecutive sedan class championships at 24 Hours of Daytona, with team members such as Tommy Kendall, Scott Pruett, Mark Martin, Paul Newman and Bruce Jenner, to name a few.

 

Jack created Roush Racing in 1988, as well as managing his first NASCAR team with Mark Martin. The partnership gained its first NASCAR Cup win in October of 1989 at North Carolina Motor Speedway. They would go on to gain 120 more wins, including championships in Busch and Craftsman Trucks, earning themselves the prestige of one of the most successful NASCAR teams ever formed. During this time, Roush wasn’t just a winner, but an innovator; he made a huge impact when it came to stock car racing safety, such as incorporating the use of roof flaps.

1995 brought the birth of another of Roush’s companies: Roush Performance Products. It sold performance parts for all types of engines and vehicles, namely Mustangs. The most popular products were Stages 1, 2 and 3 Roush packages for the Mustang. 2004 brought about the Roush Mustang 440A, a special edition Mustang released in honor of 40 years of Mustang production. This muscled beauty pushed 400 horsepower, and only 40 were produced. 

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Not only was Roush a lover of vehicles, but airplanes as well. He owned two P-51 Mustangs which he still flies recreationally today. April 20, 2002, however, Roush had a brush with death - his plane; an experimental two-engine Aircam hit a telephone line and went down in a lake. Underwater and unconscious, suffering from a head concussion, Roush was luckily pulled from the water by Larry Hicks, a retired Marine Sergeant Major who just happened to be on a boat nearby. Larry and Jack remain friends to this very day. Amazingly, this wasn’t the only crash Roush suffered. On July 27, 2010, Roush crash-landed his Hawker Beechcraft Premier jet at Wittman Ait Field in OshKosh, Wisconsin. The accident left him with multiple injuries including a fractured back, broken jaw, and the loss of his left eye. Nonetheless, Roush counts himself lucky to be alive and well today, and remains undeterred in his hobby, saying, "I enjoy telling people I don't fly any more…but I don’t fly any less either.”

 

In 2005, Roush joined up with Robert and Doug Yates. The effort of this trio resulted in the creation of Roush Yates Engines in Mooresville, North Carolina. They supplied horsepower for multiple Ford teams, including Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports, in racing in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Truck, and ARCA Series.

 

Jack was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame on April 27, 2006, as well as the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame on September 13, 2010.

Roush Racing and Fenway Sports Group came together in 2007 to parent Roush Fenway Racing, a major move which marked the beginning of a new era for both championship organizations who had seen much success since their respective creation. In 2010, the company reached its one millionth mile milestone in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series. By 2012, Roush Fenway had received 5 Driver Championships throughout NASCAR’s premier series, earning a total of 50 wins for truck, 124 for Nationwide, and 125 for Sprint Cup—a grand sum of nearly 300.

 

Today, Roush Fenway Racing has three cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and three in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Roush has garnered 7 championships as a car owner in NASCAR’s top 3 series, consisting of 2 Sprint Cup titles, 4 Nationwide Series titles, and a Camping World Truck Series. He also maintains 2 Daytona 500 victories as a car owner, amounting to 283 wins and 212 poles for his team. 

All racing aside, Roush additionally oversees Roush Industries, Inc., which is a supplier of engineering and development support services to automotive industries across the world.

 

Now 72 years old, Jack Roush has plenty of spunk and vivaciousness for life. To this very day you can still find Jack walking amongst the crown, shaking hands, and autographing dashboards at his summer open houses in Livonia, Michigan. For over 45 years, he has personally won 32 championships and over 400 races in more forms of racing than anyone else. A true master, this “Cat in the Hat” - known as such by his NASCAR followers due to his trademark Panama hat - will forever remain a legend. 

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