Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: SUNDAY, May 20, 1990                   TAG: 9005200083
SECTION: SPORTS                    PAGE: B6   EDITION: METRO 
DATELINE: CONCORD, N.C.                                LENGTH: Medium


When "Days of Thunder," starring Tom Cruise, hits the big screen June 27, driver Greg Sacks plans to be sitting on the pole - at a local movie theater.

"I'll be the first in line to see it," Sacks said. "Why shouldn't I? Hey, right now, I owe everything I've got to that movie."

Thanks to Hollywood's interest in stock car racing, Sacks' NASCAR career is back on Cruise control after several seasons of stop-and-go driving.

"The movie deal has been the break of a lifetime for me," Sacks said.

After being fired by car owner Buddy Baker in June 1989, Sacks' Winston Cup driving career appeared to be burned down to the filter.

"There was definitely some smoke," Sacks said.

Unable to hitch another competitive ride, the 37-year-old New Yorker with one career big-league victory was happy to help Rick Hendrick when the car owner came calling last summer.

Hendrick, a close friend of Cruise's, was in charge of producing 11 race cars for the movie. He wanted Sacks as a driver double for Cruise in the high-speed scenes.

Sacks spent the rest of the 1989 season working on the movie as crews captured film footage at various NASCAR stops.

Startled by the dedication Sacks and crew chief Gary DeHart showed toward the film, Hendrick decided to let the movie team run in February's Busch Clash, which Sacks had qualified for as a "wild-card" entry.

"These guys worked so hard," Hendrick said. "They showed up at a track with a movie car and ran as fast as any car there.

"They said, `Hey, boss, let us race.' "

And race they did. Sacks, a heavy underdog, finished a surprisingly close second to Hendrick stablemate Ken Schrader in the 50-mile Clash.

Hendrick, who owns the team along with actor Paul Newman, said Sacks' impressive run helped steer major sponsorship (Ultra Slim Fast) his way.

With filming completed for "Days of Thunder," Hendrick announced in March that Sacks and Co. would compete on a limited basis for the rest of the 1990 season.

In the team's first start two weeks ago at Talladega, Ala., Sacks nearly won the Winston 500, coming home two car lengths behind winner Dale Earnhardt.

Hendrick, who has yet to win this season with three established cars driven by Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd and Schrader, admitted to having his head turned at Talladega.

"It's hard to believe, really," Hendrick said marveling at Sacks' success. "We wouldn't have this team if not for the movie.

"In order not to bother our three teams, we had to do something to support our movie effort. This team was created for that purpose.

"These guys have worked harder than any group of people I've seen in a long time. They worked seven days a week, 12-13 hours a day having to paint and repaint cars. They took five [movie] cars to Daytona, plus the Clash car.

"It was an unbelievable effort, but they work like a bunch of Marines. I'm glad to see them have an opportunity to show everybody what they can do."

Hendrick has nothing but praise for DeHart, who until Talladega, had been working in the shadow of more well-known wrench hounds such as Waddell Wilson and Jeff Hammond.

"Gary DeHart is a company man, one heck of a trooper," Hendrick said. "He'll do anything he can to help the organization.

"The movie people asked some unbelievable things of him. He'd paint a car one day, and they'd want another car the next day. He never failed. He accepted every challenge and revealed the talent that's there.

"He's always been like the No. 2 guy on the team. He got a chance to be the No. 1 guy and he really showed his stuff.

"Who knows? This might be a full-time team next season."

DeHart said racing is a "piece of cake" compared to the movie workload.

"That was the worst thing I ever went through in my life as far as working hours and tempers flaring," DeHart said.

"Our R&D shop got the name of the Reject Dept. in Hendrick Motorsports because so many guys on our team have worked with other teams in the past here. They've all got something to prove. We've got to work on our pit stops, but it will come. I'm proud of 'em."

Sacks, though, should be used to working with a ragtag group. His only Winston Cup victory in 113 starts came in the 1985 Firecracker 400, when he scored a startling upset in a DiGard Racing R&D car built by Gary Nelson.

"There are some similarities, but this team is much better," Sacks said. "Nobody expected me to win at Daytona. It wasn't quite that way at Talladega. The car's strength was no surprise.

"Two starts and two seconds. That ain't too bad, is it? That win is just around the corner. This team is going to show a lot for the rest of the season.

"I think we can be a big hit."


 by CNB