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Six Pack of Pop: Gold-medalist knows his way around race car

April 03, 2012, Joe Menzer,

Six Pack of Pop: Gold-medalist knows his way around race car
After Olympic triumphs, Jenner went to another track ... and found success

Bruce Jenner, former Olympic decathlon champion, grand marshal for the recent Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway in California and current reality television personality, answers this week's six questions.

1. What was it like racing Ford Mustangs for car owner Jack Roush, when you won two IMSA GTO races along with teammate Scott Pruett in 1985-86?

"I competed for so many years in the Olympics and other things, so you look for other things that you can do and racing, to me, I've always loved cars. People don't realize how difficult of a sport this is in so many ways."


Jenner: You couldn't have found a better team owner. We had Jack and obviously Ford Motor Company, but the real key to the whole success was in 1983 when I found this kid at a go-kart track and he was like the king of karting. I talked to him -- nice kid, nice family -- and I asked him, 'What do you want to do?' And he says, 'I want to race. This is what I want to do for a living. This is what I want my career to be.' So I said, 'Well, maybe I can get you in a car with me.'

Well, it took a few years to get him in the car with me, but in 1985 he finally got in his first Jack Roush Mustang with me and the rest is history. His name is Scott Pruett. He only won the Rolex Series this year. He's 51 and still winning series races.

2. So you discovered Scott Pruett?

Jenner (laughing): He left me in the dust, this kid. Jack and Ford really put a great effort together. We should have won the 24 Hours at Daytona that year [1985], but had a little spur gear problem and I had to stop right at the end. We had the lead for 23.5 hours out of 24, but came back and won Sebring. We won the manufacturer's championship for Ford. Scott won the series drivers' points and I was second, so I really had a lot of fun.

There's nothing like being with a team that's winning and has the resources to be able to put a great car out there every week and Jack has always done that. It was so much fun to go to tech with Jack. It was great fun to watch Jack Roush work these tech guys over.

3. What does racing mean to you?

Jenner: It meant a lot. I competed for so many years in the Olympics and other things, so you look for other things that you can do and racing, to me, I've always loved cars. People don't realize how difficult of a sport this is in so many ways.

I had dinner with Jimmie Johnson after he won his fifth [consecutive Sprint Cup championship] and I said to him, 'I think one of the hardest things to do in all of sport is to win in auto racing and be consistent at doing something like that.'

4. So you have great respect for what Jimmie Johnson has accomplished?

Jenner: Him winning five championships is sick because there's so much to this sport. It's not only the ability to drive the car, it's starting a year in advance with the right technology, putting the right people together and getting that right effort and getting something that everybody can work together. Then you finally get out there and if you've got all the right combinations and you get out there, it's so competitive, especially here in NASCAR. ... So, to me, that was just very challenging and I like challenging things. I did it for 10 years and had a lot of fun doing it.

5. What was your own greatest strength as a driver?

Jenner (laughing): I don't think I had any strengths. I stayed out of trouble. I did the 24 Hours and Sebring and other things and my job was to hold my position, maybe improve it a little bit, but be easy on the car and get that sucker home -- stay out of traffic and be just a little more cautious if you have to be. You can run 12-hour races, 24-hour races, 500-mile races with two drivers. I would do my job and then let Pruett get in the car and just let him go. I put myself in positions to win and was able to win a lot of races, especially when you had Scott in the car, too. That made it even easier to win races, but I have some of my own.

6. What's your best memory of racing for Roush?

Jenner: The biggest race was 1986 when we were running Sebring. It was a two-car effort. Scott and I were in one car with 7-Eleven as our sponsor. The other car was Ricky Rudd and Bill Elliott because there was starting to be more road racing [in NASCAR] and they had an off weekend, so they wanted to go race.

Well, the race is going on and we get to about an hour to go until it's over. We're running pace. We've got something like a six-lap lead on the rest of the field. Our cars are just boogeying. Ricky Rudd was driving the other car and was in front and was about 50 seconds ahead of our car. Now, Jack felt we had to run a certain pace because the race was all sewn up. He didn't want us going too fast because we had first and second.

Well, I went to the pits and said, 'Jack, you've got to let my kid Pruett go.' And he goes, 'No, no, no. We can't do that.' I said, 'What do you mean we can't do that, Jack? Are you kidding me? Pruett will run Ricky Rudd down in a heartbeat.' And he goes, 'No, no, no. We can't. We've got this thing all wrapped up.' Now there were like 45 minutes left to go in the race and we're still 50 seconds behind, but I think Jack was feeling bad -- so with about a half-hour to go and finally he says, 'OK, go.' I called Pruett on the radio and just said, 'Go.' I mean, Ricky and Scott were running faster than they qualified in the last half-hour of that race, but every lap he would knock off two seconds. It got all the way to the final lap when Scott passed Ricky for the win. It was a great race and a lot of fun.