For the rest of the world, Feb. 14th is Valentines Day. But for Jack Roush and his Roush Fenway Racing team, today marks the anniversary of their first foray into the world of NASCAR.
On Feb. 14, 1988 – 27 years ago today – Roush ran his first race at the highest level of stock car racing; and a day that served as the launching pad for one of the most successful organizations in professional sports history. Competing with a backup car not designed for superspeedway racing, Roush and his newly formed team completed just 19 laps before overheating and finishing 41st in the Daytona 500. Humble beginnings indeed for a team which went on to record a NASCAR record 315 wins and championships in all three of the sanctioning body’s national series.
Ronald Ragan was President of the United States back in 1988. A gallon of gasoline cost 96 cents, the average price of a car was just over $14,000, a loaf of bread would run you 61 cents and Roush was taking the first faltering steps toward becoming the winningest team owner in NASCAR history.
“We wrecked our car in the twin qualifying race and had to run a car that was built for a smaller track,” recalled Roush of that day. “We went with what we had and of course did not yield the results we would have liked for your intro to NASCAR that day.”
“We made the race on time,” said driver Mark Martin, who piloted the No. 6 Stroh’s Ford Thunderbird in Roush Fenway’s inaugural season and held the ride for the next 19 seasons. “Then we got wrecked in the Twin-125’s and we didn’t have a backup speedway car, so we used the Atlanta car for the race. We didn’t last 20 laps.”
Those results quickly improved however, with Roush and Martin winning a pole and earning 10 Top-10 finishes that season. The next year, Roush Fenway won six poles, earned 19 Top-10 finishes and its first win, breaking into the win column at Rockingham in the fall. Roush Fenway went on to earn its first NASCAR championship in 2000 and its first Cup championship in 2003.
RFR earned its historic 300th NASCAR victory in the 2012 Daytona 500; the same event in which their car had survived just 19 laps a quarter of a century earlier.
Today, Roush’s teams have competed in 5,115 NASCAR races, holding the record for most NASCAR wins, most NASCAR wins in the Nationwide Series and most NASCAR wins in the Truck Series. The team will look for its third Daytona 500 win this season.