While the series may be different, Sprague has the same crew chief, team members and spons
Sprague is no stranger to the Busch Series, where he has more than 70 starts.
This season gives Sprague another chance to mix it up with other former Truck Series compe
Sprague overcame a variety of obstacles to build a career that led to driving for Rick
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 uncles 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 Turners team, which was sponsored by Staff Americawhich was Bill Baumgardner. We ran about five races and sat on the outside pole of DaytonaTodd 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 dont agree with the decision he made, but Im happy he did it because I wouldnt be here otherwise. Now I am racing for one of the best, if not the best, owners in motorsports.
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 trackConcord 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 didnt 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 doesnt work, Ive got my car. If it does work, cool, Im going to get a paycheck for a while. So, we did it and ran pretty well. We didnt 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 Augustwe 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 arent 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.
SCR: So how did the race at Flemington go?
Sprague: I hated that track. I was thinking, Im going to Flemington to debut for my career and I hate this place. We finished fourth. Im thinking this is the best finish I have ever hadIm in. So we get home and they tell me we are going to Richmond for a one-race deal. Terry (Labonte) was running the DuPont truck and I ran the Budweiser truck. I tried to set it on the pole and qualified 21st. Terry set it on the pole. First lap running into one, Butch Miller tags me, I spin out and get hit. Im tore all to hell. There I went again. Blew the whole deal. I went to the back and came back to pass Johnny Benson for 10th. I got out of the truck thinking I just ruined myself again. I was trying too hard and got myself in trouble. I no sooner got out of the truck and (Hendrick general manager) Jimmy Johnson walked up to me and said, Be in my office tomorrow morning. We are going to sign you. Cool. They signed me for 1996.
SCR: You left the Truck Series with three championships under your belt. But it wasnt always easy was it?
Sprague: We went into last year with another team on board. We kicked some butt and set a lot of records. It would have been a lot better had we not had engine troubles in races we were leading. We were hurting the motors and didnt know it. The motor builders are retired nowprobably because of that deal. They thought it was their fault. I thought it was their fault. Heck, it wasnt their fault. We were hurting the motors from the outside in instead of the inside out. Once we got that figured out we never lost another motor and we won races. The last seven years have been unbelievable. Prior to that was rather difficult. A lot of people dont see those years. If someone said, Youre done you have to go back and do it all over again, I would tell them to climb a tree. I think because of what I went through and had to go through to get to this point gives me an edge.
SCR: You certainly do have an edge.
Sprague: It might be a rough one. I dont ever give up, and I dont lie down for second place. I think a lot of that came from what we had to go through. Even what my wife had to go through to get to this point. I have never once got in a race and said, Man I dont feel like racing. Im just going to ride around here and if I get a Top 10, cool. Man, that doesnt happen. I see guys get out of cars and do interviews and say, I wasnt on today. What does that mean? I dont think what I went through was a bad thing, I just wouldnt want to do it again.
SCR: Up until Daytona you had 170 starts in the Truck Series. Not many drivers can say they have raced in every race since a series started. How important is that to you?
Sprague: That is cool, but that is not what I set out to do. Three years ago I wanted to race Winston Cup so bad I couldnt stand it. Then I just got comfortable. I liked doing what I was doing. I could still be doing that right now and be happy. Running the Busch Series this year was a decision that Rick thought was best for the company, and I am cool with that, too. But, I was having the time of my life in the truck. I hope I have as much fun doing this. I have the same guys, the same crew chief and the same sponsor.
SCR: So is getting to the Cup level still a goal of yours?
Sprague: That is what I moved to North Carolina for, and what I worked so hard for and went through all the trouble to do. Then I watched guys like (Ron) Hornaday, who is a friend of mine, and Stacy (Compton) get themselves in situations they shouldnt have and be miserable. Im not going to do that. If I am going to race Winston Cup I am going to be in a situation I am comfortable withnot be miserable.
SCR: Gene Haas and Haas CNC has been a longtime associate sponsor of Hendrick Motorsports. He is now becoming a Winston Cup owner. You will be running a handful of Winston Cup races with them while still under the Hendrick Motorsports umbrella.
Sprague: Ill tell you I had my reservations. I dont know these guys. I was thinking I would run trucks for four or five more years and then hide out in the woods somewhere riding snowmobiles and motorcycles, spending time with my kid. Now all of a sudden I am in the 38-week rat race. I was thinking, Man I never even thought about driving for anybody except Rick. I talked to Rick about 20 times about it. Finally he said, Damn it Jack, just pretend I am the owner. It is the same thing. It is the same stuff. Youre just going to get a check from them. It is under my umbrella; Im just not paying the bill. Rick said this was the best situation he could put me in, and I believe him. Since then I have gotten to know everyone with Gene Haas Motorsports and they are good dudes. They are not trying to come in here and turn the apple cart upside down. They are with us.
SCR: What do you see yourself doing if you are not racing?
Sprague: Playing. Ive worked the last seven years and been pretty frugal. We dont have the $3 million house. We certainly have what we need and have plenty of toys. But, I have worked it to where my family can remain with the same lifestyle we have now.
SCR: What makes racing exciting for you?
Sprague: It is a disease. I like to winat anything. It is just a cool feeling. I can get the same feeling running a snowmobile or four-wheelers, except youre not doing it to win. I just like the speed, horsepower, anything with motors on it. I found a way to do it and make a living.