By Dan Zacharias
Ford Racing Public Relations
Jack Roush and I both celebrated milestones recently, and I’d like to think mine underscores just how impressive his truly is because I find it nothing short of amazing.
In May of 1964, Jack was hired by Ford Motor Company after graduating from Berea College in Kentucky with a degree in mathematics. His first job was to track down quality problems as part of the automotive assembly division in Dearborn. Shortly after he began doing that in June, I was born just a few miles away at Grace Hospital in Detroit.
Here we are 50 years later and both of us now work together representing Ford, albeit Jack has been doing it for literally my entire life.
While I was a baby in the sixties, Jack was embarking on a racing career with 10 fellow Ford employees known as the ‘Fastbacks.’ This group would contribute $45 a month and compete in drag races around the country, where they set records and won races.
That lit a fire in Jack and instead of being just a hobby, it began to take on a more dominant role in his life and got to a point that in 1973, when I was in the third grade learning how to read and write, he was competing professionally in drag racing with partner Wayne Gapp. The duo won the National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock championship that year, which marked the second of three straight national titles.
Even when Ford pulled out of racing in the Seventies, he remained associated with the company as an engineering prototype supplier. When they decided to get back into racing in 1980, Ford turned to Jack and asked him to produce engines for its teams that were competing in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) and the Trans-Am Series. This is just as I was halfway through high school and got my first job bagging groceries in a suburban Detroit supermarket.
Five years later as a junior in college, I figured out what I wanted to do in life and began trying to build a career in athletics. While I was interning in the media relations department for the Detroit Pistons in 1985, Jack entered a Mustang in his first Rolex 24 Hour endurance race at Daytona International Speedway and won with drivers John Jones, Wally Dallenbach Jr., and Doc Bundy. That proved to be the first of 10 consecutive class wins in the event, culminating with a 1995 triumph that included actor Paul Newman behind the wheel.
Even though I had been driving for a few years myself, I didn’t buy my first new car -- a two-tone silver and gray Mercury Cougar -- until 1987 after landing a full-time job. That was just about the same time Jack was performing his due diligence on whether or not to form his own NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. He eventually pulled the trigger and hired Mark Martin to drive for him starting with the 1988 season, but little did I know that 10 years later our paths would come together.
Since then, our careers and lives have continued to run parallel.
The turn of the century saw Jack win championships in all three of NASCAR’s top touring divisions, starting with his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title in 2000, continuing with a NASCAR Nationwide Series crown in 2002, and ending with back-to-back Sprint Cup championships in 2003-04. One week after Kurt Busch lifted the trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway to end that ’04 season, I went on my first date with the woman I would eventually marry. We tied the knot in 2006, which also happened to coincide with Jack receiving the Spirit of Ford Award, which is the highest honor you can get from Ford Racing.
In 2009, Jack won his first Daytona 500 as Matt Kenseth passed Elliott Sadler just seconds before it started raining and forced an early conclusion to the event. He no doubt had the same feeling of excitement and joy as I did when I became a father for the first time just a few months later.
And while Jack was celebrating his first of back-to-back NASCAR Nationwide Series championships with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011, I was changing diapers for two kids after our second was born in mid-season.
Jack Roush has obviously amassed a lifetime worth of achievements in his 50 years as part of the Ford family, and he’s not done yet. I consider that good news because, even though I’m not as young as I once was, there’s still a lot of gas left in this tank.
Dan Zacharias is a member for the Ford Racing Public Relations staff.
- 16 years on the NASCAR beat for Ford Racing
- Faster than a speeding bullet when it comes to transcribing driver interviews
- Able to leap pit wall in a single bound during post-race mayhem