The 1980s was full of one-hit wonders, whether it was music, movies or on the NASCAR racetrack. When Greg Sacks looks back on his Cup Series career, he will forever be known as one of them, scoring his lone victory at 1985 in Daytona driving an R&D Chevrolet for former front-running outfit DiGard Racing.
Sacks rode that win and other solid finishes to a long-term career in the sport, driving nearly 20 years for such respected car owners as Rick Hendrick, Harry Ranier and Cale Yarborough. Severely injured in a Texas crash in April, 1998, he recovered but has been out of full-time racing ever since; his July Nationwide start at Daytona, made 25 years after that upset victory, was the first time behind the wheel in NASCAR for him since the middle of 2005.
But that doesn’t mean Sacks wants out of the sport; far from it. In a wide-ranging interview with Phil Allaway, he explains how Daytona’s 21st-place run with JR Motorsports, initially a one-off deal, could turn into bigger and better things down the road. Most importantly, he goes through the process of how a long-term driver starts serving the sport in another capacity; as unlike men like Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip, he’s chosen sponsorship, not broadcasting as his post-race career of choice by slapping Grand Touring Vodka on the side of the No. 88 JRM Chevrolet.
Phil Allaway, Frontstretch: You had an incident during the Open test that served as the opening practice session on Wednesday. What happened with that?
Greg Sacks: It was at the end of the day and we had one of the fastest groups out there [on the track]. I had a pretty good run coming down through [turns] 3 and 4. We were probably five mph faster than the car had been through the day. The car hadn’t moved all day and it jumped sideways on me coming off of [turn] 4. Brendan Gaughan was on the outside as I was turning up and I ran out of room. I rubbed my right front on his left rear and then I turned off of him because I didn’t want to take him out. I spun the car there and brushed the wall on the right side. It wasn’t a big deal, but with a team like JR Motorsports, you can flip a coin to which car we want to run when we come down here. This car that we have now is the one that we tested last month, so its a brand-new car like the other one, ready to go.
Allaway: The car you wrecked [on Wednesday], was that on the trailer as the backup during the test?
Sacks: No, it was built new after the test. That car is still fine. I talked to Tony [Eury] Sr. and said, “You know, if you guys don’t rebuild that car, I’d buy it and make it a show car.” Eury said, “No no, we’ll just put another side on that baby and she’ll be ready to go.”
Allaway: What are your thoughts about the new Nationwide car?
Sacks: I think that it is a great step, from a driver’s perspective, in safety. Especially the bigger drivers, the guys that are six feet and taller. I’ve always felt safe in the [old] car, but some of the guys that are taller; their heads are so close to the upper roll cage. Now, you take a look in the car and there’s six inches extra in there now. I think its a great move and I’m glad that NASCAR did that. A little tough on the teams as far as incurring more costs, but in the long run, it makes it a lot safer.
Allaway: You’re using this race in order to launch Grand Touring Vodka. How did you get involved with this company?
Sacks: This is a brand that we started developing about two years ago. I put together a team of spirits executives, and did a lot of research on this. We were originally looking for a sponsor for our own team [the No. 13 Sacks Motorsports Dodge], and when we didn’t have any success there, with all the data that we had learned about the spirits industry and vodka in particular over indexing with NASCAR fans, we thought that we would just come out with our own brand. We developed a premium vodka that matches up with any vodka in the world right here in the United States.
We looked at what would be the best business opportunity for Grand Touring Vodka, and right away, my oldest son Brian tells me, “Dad, you should call Dale and talk to him.” It took me about six months to get my arms around the idea of not fielding our own car with our own sponsor and getting out of the seat and more into the business side of things. But, it was the best business decision to make; I couldn’t be happier with than the partnership with JR Motorsports. They’ve got such a great organization, not just with their on-track performance, but their support for our organization in the media and online and the whole JR fanbase.
With the economy what it is, and with people out of jobs, we weren’t just about to import a vodka from somewhere else. This is homegrown, so to say. We’re using grain from the Heartland, the vodka is bottled right here in the United States. We’re looking to reach out to NASCAR fans and Junior Nation and if we can get them behind us, our goal is to be what Wrangler Jeans and Goodwrench was to Dale Sr. We’d like to be here for a long time to come.
Allaway: Currently, this is the only race that you’re scheduled to do in the No. 88. Is this potentially it for you, or are you looking to do more races down the line?
Sacks: For me from the racing standpoint, I set out this year that I would run this race, and then focus my energies towards the marketing and distribution of our brand. But, I’m not saying that it’s my last race.
Allaway: It’s been about four and a half years since you raced. Was it difficult to reacclimatize yourself to the racecar?
Sacks: No, it really wasn’t. When we came down to the test [in May], I jumped in the car. The car felt loose all morning and a lot of guys started drafting after noontime. We didn’t, because I felt that we weren’t ready yet.
The second day, after we made a few runs, I said “Alright, the car’s balanced enough. Let’s go out and make a run with some other cars.” It happened to be with eight of the best cars here. We rolled off the line the second time by, we were in the back. Then a hole opened up, so I passed a couple on the bottom going into [turn} 3 and passed a couple coming off of [turn] 4. To make a long story short, in two laps, we went through the field. However, the car was really too loose. Once we got to the front and they got back on my bumper, I had to wave them off because it was too loose to drive with someone tight on me. It wasn’t that I planned to do it, it was instinct. The hole opens and the driver goes for it. Also, it was about getting your team behind you. When they see you go out in the draft and go from the back to the front, that really pumps your guys up because they can see that you’re here to race and not to just ride around.
Allaway: You won your only career Cup Series race here in 1985. In being able to do this one race here, does it actually mean more than if you did it somewhere else?
Sacks: Absolutely. It wasn’t coincidental that I chose to run this race and that it was the 25th anniversary of my win here. I’m not saying that this would be my last race, but if it were, I could live with that, too.
Allaway: What kind of interests do you have away from the track?
Sacks: I love golfing and fishing. If I’m not driving a race car or selling vodka, I’m out on the golf course or out on the boat.
Allaway: What kind of handicap do you have?
Sacks: I’m not a very good golfer, but I can compete with them all on a good day. The one thing about anybody in the 15-18 handicap, which so many people are, is that you can make shots just like the pros on any given day. You just can’t do it on every shot.
Allaway: I haven’t played in a couple of years, and when I did, I was never all that good.
Sacks: The whole thing about golf is that to be good, you have to play it a lot and that is my nemesis. I don’t devote enough time to do it. I’ve got too many things going on.
Phil Allaway: What types of fish do you go after when you fish?
Greg Sacks: We like to go out and catch some… mahi-mahi and put them on the dinner table.
Phil Allaway: So this is more like deep sea fishing?
Greg Sacks: Oh yeah. We’ll put a few of those [mahi-mahi] in the box and then go sail fishing.
Phil Allaway: Where do you usually go off from?
Greg Sacks: Ponce Inlet, right here in town. We generally go out about 35 miles. There’s a ridge out there, 28 fathom ridge, and we go from there to an area called The Steeples. This is where these steeples come up from the bottom. The tallest one is about 50 feet, so they hold a lot of fish. We get most of the sails out there.