For automotive legend Jack Roush, failure wasn’t an option

on Jul16

Roush’s racing teams have won more than 400 races, and his Roush Enterprises has become a major supplier to the auto industry.

DETROIT — For nearly as long as he can remember, Jack Roush has been determined not to fail.

Growing up in Manchester, Ohio, a village near the Kentucky border, Roush witnessed poverty on the streets in the form of forgotten war veterans and down-on-their-luck farmworkers.

His own father, Charlie, struggled as a businessman working in ice and coal delivery.

“I wanted that to never happen to me or my family,” Roush said during an interview in his office at Roush Enterprises Inc. in suburban Detroit. “I always wanted to have enough things going on that I wouldn’t have to worry about failure.”

He succeeded.

Now 75, Roush is a legend in the auto industry. He’s chairman of Roush Enterprises and co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing. His teams have won more than 400 races, while Roush Enterprises has become a major provider of engineering and product development services for the auto industry, with clients that include Google and Ford Motor Co.

Roush will be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame Thursday, July 20, here.

“It’s a great honor,” he said. “To have my name along with the greats in the industry is pretty special.”

Roush has loved cars since he was a teenager. By the time he enrolled at Berea College, he had built a handful of hot rods with parts he salvaged from local junkyards.

“I enjoyed taking things apart and putting them together and making them work hopefully as good or better than before,” he said.

After graduating from Berea with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a minor in physics (he later received a master’s in scientific mathematics from Eastern Michigan University), Roush said he interviewed at two places: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Ford Motor Co.

He chose the auto industry after the Air Force offered him only the chance to sit in the rear seat of a fighter jet.

“I felt that I wanted to do more than ride in the back seat of an F-4,” he said.

He found himself in the driver’s seat at Ford, ​ working on quality problems for the newly released Mustang shortly after he started as an engineer at the company in June of 1964. Incidentally, he had saved up enough money just before he was hired to buy his own pony car, two weeks after it hit dealer lots.

“The thing [Lee] Iacocca [head of Ford Division when the Mustang debuted in 1964] had in mind was creating a car that was not necessarily designed for utility, but something for excitement, for sports-mindedness and for a good value; the Mustang fit that bill,” he said. “It was the right car for me at my time of life, and it was the right car for a generation of us.”

The Mustang has held a special place in Roush’s heart ever since, and his Roush Performance business offers souped-up ‘Stang packages to about 250 dealers across the country.

Ford helped launch Roush’s career. His favorite racing memories include winning at Michigan International Speedway in 2003 on the celebration of Ford’s 100th anniversary, and being responsible for the automaker’s 1,000th NASCAR victory a few years later.

“Jack Roush has played a significant role in the Ford Motor Company over the years and to see him inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame is a true testament of his amazing contribution to the entire automotive industry,” Dave Pericak, head of Ford Performance, wrote in an email. “He is the epitome of courage, creative thinking and entrepreneurship. We at Ford congratulate Jack on this well-deserved recognition of his accomplishments.”

Roush’s businesses in recent years have adapted to the evolving automotive industry.

Google tapped Roush to build its “Firefly” self-driving test cars, and he has inked deals with bus companies and delivery services to develop propane, compressed natural gas and electrified technology.

“I’d like to be remembered as someone who feared for his own survival and gave other people the chance to advance themselves,” he said, adding that he’s not done yet.

“I want to go as fast as I can for as long as I can.”

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