Saturday, March 7, 2009

25 And Counting For Sellers

Jack Sellers
West veteran doesn't let age slow him down

At NASCAR’s premier developmental level, the NASCAR Camping World Series serves as a stepping stone to many young drivers with aspirations of competing on a national stage. But for one driver, the series is his racing home and has been for nearly a quarter of a century.

Jack Sellers, who will turn 65 this summer, will be celebrating his 25th season when the NASCAR Camping World Series West kicks off its 2009 campaign with the Allstate Texas Thunder 150 at Thunderhill Raceway in Kyle, Texas, on March 14.

While he is three times as old as some drivers hoping to launch their racing career in the series, the good-natured Sellers does not let age be a deterrent.

“I didn’t start until I was 41 years old,” he said. “So, I was kind of over the hill when I started. But I was not one of the oldest. We had Hershel McGriff, Bill Schmitt and Jim Robinson … and there were a slew of other guys that had been in the series for a while.”

Sellers has competed in 220 events since his first series race in 1985. He is approaching Bill Schmitt’s modern era record of 237 series starts, a mark that he could break midway through the 2010 season. While acknowledging that goal, Sellers prefers to focus for now on the 2009 season.

“I’m looking forward to another good season,” he said. “We’re very optimistic. We’re probably more prepared now than we’ve ever been.”

“It just goes to show that sometimes it takes a quarter of a century for you to get your act together,” he said with a chuckle.

Sellers has registered 32 top-10 finishes, with a career-best seventh-place finish on four occasions. He has finished in the top 10 of the championship standings seven times, with a career mark of fifth in points in 1993.

“It’s like a life-long effort,” Sellers said of competing in the West’s oldest stock-car racing circuit. “I’ve watched this series evolve a long way from what it was 25 years ago to what it is now.”

While he’s seen many developments, the changes in safety have been among the most important in his viewpoint, according to Sellers.

“I’m very pleased with how the safety has grown,” he said. “When I first started in the series, you didn’t always walk away from a car wreck like you do nowadays. The cars are so much safer. I don’t give that a second thought any more. And I’ve hit a few walls.”

Sellers was known early in his career as the Coca-Cola Cowboy – due in part to his trademark cowboy hat and his family’s ownership of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif. While racing might appear as a hobby for some, it is a big part of life for Sellers.

“Although it’s only 13 to 15 weekends a year, it still takes quit a bit of your time – even though I’m not the one (actually) working on the car,” he said. “It does take a lot of your time, though it’s primarily a weekend deal.”

Sellers began competing in the NASCAR Camping World Series West, which was then known as the NASCAR Winston West Grand National Series, after being approached by series veteran John Krebs for sponsorship.

“John came to me and wanted a sponsorship about 26 years ago,” Sellers recalled. “I helped him out with a few things. In those days it was some gasoline, sodas and some T-shirts.”

The following year, Sellers decided to give the series a try and rented a race car from Krebs. One of his first races was on the quarter-mile oval in Stateline, Idaho.

“I had two of his crew members,” Sellers said. “We went up there. Back then, you did not have radios or communications. I had a flat tire and didn’t even know it was flat. I kept driving it and finally my crew had me black flagged. I came in and my arms were like butter.”

Sellers has been more than just a competitor in the NASCAR Camping World Series West the past 24 years, however, often stepping forward to support the series or a fellow competitor in need.

“There were times when the series just didn’t have enough cars,” he explained. “So, off and on we’ve had a second or third car going.”

When Sellers brought an additional car to an event, he did not always know who would drive it.

“One of the more prominent drivers that I put in for his first race in the series was Ron Hornaday (Jr.),” said Sellers.

“His first race was in one of my cars at Saugus. I got down there and didn’t have a driver and he was there,” Sellers recalled of his multi-car effort for the 1989 event at the now-shuttered race track in Santa Clarita, Calif.

Other times, Sellers came to the assistance of a driver in need of some help. Among those was Bill McAnally, who has since built his own multi-car race team and won four series championships. After vandals destroyed McAnally’s only race car and equipment just before the 1994 season opener, Sellers stepped in.

“He was left with nothing,” Sellers said. “So, we gave him one of my cars to race.”

Sellers continues to provide opportunities to others – such as Johnathan Hale, who competed in a second Sellers entry in 10 events last year and is returning as part of a two-car tandem this season. For Hale – a talented second-generation competitor who experienced success as a 17-year-old rookie in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model class at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif., in 2007 – it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

“We were just practicing (at Roseville) a year ago in the winter and he and his dad happened to be there,” Sellers said. “We put him in the car to see how he would do. Then, we started practicing with him more and more.”

One thing led to another and Hale was soon competing in the NASCAR Camping World Series.

While his enjoyment of racing keeps Sellers coming back year after year – he seems to also thrive on seeing those around him, like Hale and members of their team, enjoy being part of the sport.

“It kind of gets in your blood and is hard to give up,” Sellers said. “I’ve been meaning to give it up for four years. But the crew is still with me and we’ve got two guys coming on. I’ve still got the basic skeleton crew of Mark (Posey), Kevin (Williams) and Charlie (Silva) and sometimes Billy (Croucher) and John (Krebs). I’m doing it as much for them as for me, in fact more so for them. But I still enjoy it. It’s not easy to say, ‘okay, that’s enough.’ It’s just not that easy to do. I’ve been meaning to.”

Asked how he would like to be remembered when he does finally retire, Sellers responded, “About the only thing they’re going to remember about me is that I was there an awfully long time,” he chuckled. “You could call me Last Man Standing.”
By Kevin Green, NASCAR

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