If you are a Nebraska football fan, you probably are wondering why I would be featuring Jack Stark in a racing column.
Well, it’s because Stark’s championship formula goes way beyond Big Red football and other traditional sports.
A quick refresher: Stark was the team psychologist for the Nebraska football program from 1989 through 2004. During that time, the Huskers won 88 percent of their games, including three national championships, and had the highest winning percentage of any college football team in the 1990s.
Stark also helped the UNO wrestling team as it won several national championships. He currently works with the Creighton basketball team, now ranked 11th and 12th in the two major polls.
Now let’s travel 1,200 miles to the heart of NASCAR country, in Charlotte, N.C. Only a couple of miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway is Hendricks Motorsports, home to 650 of NASCAR’s finest.
You may have heard of it. Hendricks Motorsports has won more than 200 Sprint Cup races and one of its drivers, Jimmie Johnson, just claimed his sixth Sprint Cup championship.
And guess who has been the team psychologist for Hendricks Motorsports the past 14 years? You got it, Jack Stark.
Take it from someone who has firsthand experience, Stark has a way of making people feel better about themselves. With six championships in the past eight years, I think the people at Hendricks Motorsports feel pretty good about themselves right now.
Stark’s journey to NASCAR has made him realize things that most typical stick and ball sport fans probably haven’t grasped.
“I have never met a harder-working group of people than the teams of NASCAR,” Stark said. “They are hard working, patriotic, faithful and loving, but their jobs and the hours they work can put a real strain on things.”
So how did a sports psychologist born and raised in Hastings, Neb., and practicing in Omaha end up in NASCAR?
“Well, 14 years ago I got a call from a strength coach at Hendricks Motorsports with ties to the University of Nebraska,” Stark said. “I hopped on a plane and went to Charlotte and ended up going to work for Hendricks.
“After a year of being on pit road and having had time to realize what all was going on, I said to myself, ‘Wow, this is truly incredible,’” he said. “In NASCAR, sports and technology are merged together. One mistake and a team can lose a championship.”
I asked Stark what makes the No. 48 team and Jimmie Johnson so good. He didn’t disappoint.
“Not only is Jimmie one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, but he has tremendous camaraderie with his team.” Stark said. “He knows everybody on his team by name and he will stay at the shop and work as long as they do to get it right.”
Stark works in three areas of psychology with Hendricks Motorsports. First, there’s the clinical part, which may entail family things, such as marriage and kids. This was especially tough when the Hendricks team plane crashed in October 2004 on route to a race in Martinsville, Va., killing all 10 people on board.
“A lot of those people, including Rick’s (Hendricks) son Richie, I was very close to,” Stark said. “That was real tough.”
Second is organizational psychology, which is aimed at getting everybody to work together as a championship unit.
Third is sports psychology, which is the mental part.
So how does Stark feel about his 14-year trip in NASCAR?
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” he said. “I have met so many wonderful people.”
So, with the Daytona 500 coming up Sunday, look for the drivers from Hendricks Motorsports to have another good year. It wouldn’t surprise me that with the help of Stark, they will be contending for another Sprint Cup championship in 2014.
To learn more about Stark and his formula for success, he has written a book that is widely available called “The Championship Formula: How to Transform Your Team Into a Dynasty.”