Ever-curious Roush not looking for exit yet

Jack Roush runs the largest operation in NASCAR. It's little wonder his relentless curiosity -- and work ethic -- drives him, writes David Newton.

Updated: March 9, 2007, 12:38 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

MEXICO CITY -- The Busch Series race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was only a few hours away on Sunday and team owner Jack Roush was going over a manual in the back of Carl Edwards' hauler.

"When my health diminishes to the point where I'm not productive, I'll accept a diminished role. I just hope I have my vision and cognizant powers to make that time interesting as well."
-- Jack Roush

It had nothing to do with road-course strategy or one of his cars in the field.

It had nothing to do with racing at all.

This was an instruction book for one of Roush's newest toys, a Beechcraft Premier jet. He was studying for a test that he must pass before he flies the plane to future events such as this weekend's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"It's 100 knots faster than my Citation and will shorten the time I have to spend in transit for Michigan to Charlotte or from Charlotte to any place else on the circuit," Roush said.

Between five full-time Nextel Cup teams, half a dozen Busch teams and three Truck Series teams there never seems to be enough time in the day for the owner of NASCAR's largest organization.

Oh, he could take a weekend off here and there like most owners, but he won't. The last time he missed a race was in May 2002, and that only after almost dying in a plane crash near Talladega Superspeedway.

For anybody who's counting, that's 170 consecutive Cup races. He seldom if ever misses a Busch Series race either, which is what brought him to Mexico City on a weekend when most owners took a siesta.

Just call him the Cal Ripken of NASCAR.

"What I'm doing with my life today is managing race teams," Roush said. "I've raised myself to do this. For me to sit home on the couch when I could be off helping my race teams would be a waste of my time."

No owner is more active at the track than Roush. He's the only one you'll see on a regular basis walking through the garage carrying a wrench or with his head under the hood inspecting the engine.

Jack Roush
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJack Roush owns teams in Craftsman Truck, Busch and the Nextel Cup Series. He still stays busy with outside endeavors, like his new airplane.

Make that hat under the hood.

Roush, 64, is as distinguishable by the leather and straw hats he wears as is the Indiana Jones character played by Harrison Ford. He's seen without one about as often as Paris Hilton is without designer clothes.

There's no place Roush would rather be than the track. Give him the choice between a weekend in Las Vegas to gamble and a weekend in Vegas to race and he'll take the latter without blinking.

It would be hard to imagine the garage without this man who is short in stature but large in vision, although one day it will happen.

"When I get to the point, and it'll probably happen soon, when there's enough people around me to do all the things better than I do and we would be worse with my interference and presence I'll back away -- if they make it clear to me," Roush said.

Then he smiled.

Proving Roush Fenway Racing would be better off without its leader won't be easy. The organization has won two of the past four Nextel Cup titles and owned half of the 10 spots in the championship chase in 2005.

But Roush is anything but as aloof as some who reach his position of power. Unlike other owners who arrived at the Mexico track in chauffeur-driven SUVs or helicopters, he came in one of the crew buses provided by NASCAR.

He actually had to wait an extra 15 minutes one morning because the first bus in line was full when he arrived.

"I've enjoyed subjugating myself to the structure that is provided by the bus transportation," Roush said. "I've had to make fewer decisions this week than I do on a normal week. It's been OK. It's been a respite for me."

Roush uses 50-cent words such as "subjugating" and "respite" in a garage where "ain't" and "gonna" are the standard vocabulary, but not to sound smarter than the crewman or reporter next to him.

This is how you talk when you have a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's in scientific mathematics.

"Last time I checked, I am one of the guys," he said matter-of-factly.

Roush is anything but ordinary, though. He doesn't spend weekends hunting like fellow owner Richard Childress or fishing like Rick Hendrick. He doesn't come from a famous stock-car racing family like Richard Petty and he didn't make his mark as a crew chief like Ray Evernham.

He got his start in drag racing and developing road-racing cars for Ford. So when he says he feels truly honored to be a part of the most popular motorsport in the country, he means it.

Yes, Roush truly loves coming to the track. When he's not getting grease under his fingernails, debating with NASCAR officials or posing for a picture with his index finger raised to signal "No. 1," he's up in his hauler reading.

And not just books or manuals.

"I try to catch up on what's being said about me, what the various points of contention are in the media being discussed," Roush said. "But today and this weekend and since the first of December I've been focused on a new airplane."

Roush flies to most races by himself. He grades himself after each flight as strictly as he does his drivers after a race.

"The idea of managing the pilot's physiology to manage the airplane system, fuel, the weather and the airspace is a worthwhile challenge," Roush said. "I'll give myself a grade, whether it's an A, B, C or D-minus.

"One of the things that keeps me as active is I am and enthused as I am about many things at 64, close to 65, is I accept personal challenges."

There may come a day when Roush tires of the personal challenges, when he'd rather read a good novel than an airplane manual, when he'd rather spend a quiet weekend at home instead of a noisy one in the garage.

"Occasionally, I'll walk through a bookstore and I'll see two or three books that I haven't had time for and say, 'Boy, I wish I had time for those,' " Roush said.

"But now is not the time. When my health diminishes to the point where I'm not productive, I'll accept a diminished role. I just hope I have my vision and cognizant powers to make that time interesting as well."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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