He was never pressured into racing, but Jack Roush Jr. never strayed far from it. Of course, when racing is a family affair, or when racing is in your blood, it’s hard to just shake it from your lifestyle.
Roush took a different career path than his famous father Jack Roush Sr., a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner who guided his team to the 2009 Daytona 500 victory last February. The younger Roush didn’t feel the team owner title was one he wanted to don. Instead of owning cars, he wanted to race them.
He got that first taste as a child, and his team, not surprisingly, was owned by his father. But that was at a time when dad didn’t own a professional team. Instead, the father-son combination went go-karting, and their efforts were rewarded with a handful of championships. Of course, Roush Sr. has gone on to win two NASCAR Sprint Cup titles, as well as two NASCAR Nationwide Series championships and the 2000 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series crown, but those karting championships were imperative to his son’s interest in motorsports.
Roush Jr. put his driving career on hold at the age of 11, but he didn’t lose interest in the sport. When Roush Sr. became involved as a car owner in Trans-Am and GTO racing, Roush Jr. took note of his father’s involvement and professionalism.
“Since I was pretty impressionable at that point in my life, I learned a lot,” Roush Jr. said.
Roush Jr. later attended college at the University of Colorado at Boulder, earning a degree in Business Information Systems. That prompted him, along with some friends, to form a partnership and develop an IT business, where he worked at for several seasons. During that time, the driving bug returned.
He got back into karting and eventually participated in NMRA drag racing; Roush Sr. was also active in drag racing throughout the 1970s. But straightline racing didn’t appeal enough to Roush Jr.; in fact, he wanted to revisit his roots and compete on road courses.
Eventually, he left his IT job and got a job within the family business at ROUSH Performance in Livonia, Mich. That also started his path to full-bodied, road racing cars, which is what he does today – race sports cars in the GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Grand Sport (GS) class.
“I still really enjoyed (driving) and wanted to be involved in it,” Roush Jr. said. “I wanted to take it to the next level.”
Teaming up with former Ford engineers Larry Rehagen and Dean Martin, Roush Jr. debuted with Rehagen Racing as Martin’s co-driver in 2006 in a Ford Mustang GT, with Roush-Yates engines. Roush Jr. ran nearly an entire season with Rehagen Racing in 2007, finishing a season-best seventh at Watkins Glen International.
Roush Jr. quickly learned how competitive the series was.
“There was definitely a lot to learn in a full-bodied car when I got to the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge,” Roush said. “Most of the tracks I raced on in go-karting were pretty flat.”
In 2008, he returned fulltime with Martin as his co-driver and mentor, and together, they managed one of the strongest streaks in the second half of the season, with Roush Jr. taking a then career-best second at Virginia International Raceway. That year, he finished 14th in the points standings.
For 2009, Roush Jr. left Rehagen and teamed with Horsepower Ranch, another Ford Mustang GT team. He started the season with co-driver Hugh Plumb to assist in the car’s development, and they garnered attention with a second-place finish at Daytona.
Midway through the season, the team hired Californian Billy Johnson as Roush Jr.’s co-driver. They notched several strong results the remainder of the season, and Roush Jr. celebrated his first-ever GRAND-AM victory at Miller Motorsports Park in September. He also corralled fifth in the points standings.
The success has come not only due to seat time, but also out-of-car analysis.
“There is a lot you can learn in the car, but I think that intuition can only get you so far; you reach a point where you’re almost as fast as you can go,” Roush Jr. said. “But you can look at data and realize that you might be able to get just a little bit more out of the car.”
It doesn’t hurt that dad also is a spectator at several GRAND-AM races.
“He’s definitely not an idle spectator when he comes to the races,” Roush Jr. said. “He doesn’t try to overstep his bounds, but he tries to help wherever possible. It’s a great experience. When we talk, usually it’s more technical and about trying to get feedback. There are also some strategic things we might try to go over.”
“I'm excited to get the year started,” Roush Jr. said. “We’ve put together a great team and great crew, which has been one of the reasons we were so good last season. We’re going to just continue to get better and better. At the same time, the competition has been getting more and more intense. I don’t expect this to be an easy year at all, but I think we’ll do well, too.”
In addition, he’ll hope this trip to Daytona starts a successful winning streak at the 3.56-mile, 12-turn track. In addition to winning the Daytona 500 last year, Roush Sr.’s road course career at Daytona is stellar, with 10 consecutive class victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Those road course triumphs, Roush Jr. said, inspires him to do well at the World Center of Racing.
Overall, Roush Jr. is happy to make racing his career, having developed his own personality while relying on his father for advice from time to time.
“He didn’t push me to race, really ever,” Roush Jr. said. “He’s tried to make it possible to race if I wanted to, but he didn’t pressure me to race at all. But at the same time, watching him compete has been very inspiring to me. There is a family aspect to it, and it feels good to be racing.”
Note: This story was written for the 2010 Rolex 24 At Daytona event program and is posted here courtesy of Grand-Am Road Racing.