Jack Sprague may not possess the media-drawing personality that his Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon has. Yet, as one of Hendrick Motorsports' top championship winners, Sprague has made up for it on the track. Stock Car Racing spoke with Sprague about his move from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to the NASCAR Busch Series, and his chance to show he can race in more than just a truck.
SCR: How did your racing career start?
Sprague: I guess it started in 1980 or 1981 when I was about 17. I actually started out in Demolition Derbies. I killed the car, but the motor still ran. So, I went to my uncle's junkyard and got a 1974 Chevelle, put the motor in it and started dirt track racing. I did that for a couple of years and won a lot of races and championships. Then I went to racing on asphalt at Berlin Raceway in Michigan. I moved to North Carolina in February of 1987, ran Concord (North Carolina) Motorsport Park and won the Big 10 Series Championship and track championship.
SCR: Many people may not know that you have more than 70 starts in the NASCAR Busch Series. Tell us more about your previous rides in the Busch Series.
Sprague: My first Busch deal was with Frank Cicci and unsponsored. Then I went to Fred Turner's team, which was sponsored by Staff America-which was Bill Baumgardner. We ran about five races and sat on the outside pole of Daytona-Todd Bodine wrecked and I got in that. In 1994 we were going to run the whole year sponsored by Staff America. We made it until Charlotte in May when Baumgardner and Turner got into wars with each other. The deal dissolved and there I sat with nothing again. I opted to go with Baumgardner. We ran five or six more races that year then he paid Jack Ingram to run me. Jack is my hero. He means the world to me even today. Together, we built that team. We started off terrible and stayed terrible. I wrecked a lot of stuff. We made it until Dover in the fall and finished fourth and I got fired on Monday. I have a pretty raw spot about that. But, it ended up working out for Bill. I don't agree with the decision he made, but I'm happy he did it because I wouldn't be here otherwise. Now I am racing for one of the best, if not the best, owners in motorsports.
While the series may be different,...
While the series may be different, Sprague has the same crew chief, team members and sponsor backing his equipment.
SCR: When did you get the nickname "One Track Jack?"
Sprague: In 1995 I went back to running my own Late Model. I just figured, "Forget everybody. I will do my own deal. I have nobody to answer to, and I can have fun and enjoy this again." I could only afford to go to one track-Concord Motorsport Park. That one track paid really well. I had a daughter to worry about now. I won 21 out of 22 races I ran in 1995.
SCR: You actually didn't start your Truck Series career with Hendrick. Tell us how your start in the trucks began.
Sprague: Over the winter, between 1995 and 1996, I got the opportunity to drive for Bruce Griffin in the No. 31 truck. Again, an unsponsored team that was underfunded. I figured if it doesn't work, I've got my car. If it does work, cool, I'm going to get a paycheck for a while. So, we did it and ran pretty well. We didn't win any races, but we had a lot of Top 5s. I think we were about fifth in points when it all came to an end. We got up to August-we made it that far unsponsored. There were only four of us. East Coast, West Coast. No plane tickets. It was tough. I would cash the winnings check and buy tires the following week. That is how tight it got.
SCR: How did your relationship with Rick Hendrick begin?
Sprague: We went to Topeka a couple of races before the No. 31 deal came to an end. Rick (Hendrick) was running out there with the Budweiser truck. I heard he was looking for a driver. I thought, "They aren't going to hire me." But I figured what have I got to lose. So, I started begging. Finally, they said they would run me at Flemington. I took a big chance and quit a deal that was going down anyway to go to a one shot deal. So, we went to test Flemington.