Jack Sellers, a 30-year fixture on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, has passed away. Sellers, who finished 14th at Roseville in the K&N season finale just nine days before his death, competed in 282 series events in his career. He drove his own underfunded equipment for the entirety of his career, and as a result - despite the sheer number of his K&N starts - never won. In fact, he never finished in the top-five in a single one of those races.
And to his final day, I think that was totally okay with Jack Sellers. In a way, I think he relished his role on the circuit. He was a personality who watched young drivers come and go, perfectly content to log laps, be a mentor, and have some fun.
The only conversation I had with Sellers came back in 2013, when the West Series came well east to race at Lebanon I-44 Speedway in Missouri. Being based on the East Coast, I didn't get to talk to many West Coast guys that often, so I prioritized spending a few minutes in the back of Sellers' hauler, eager to hear the story of a man I had seen in my old NASCAR Preview and Press Guides for so many years, never quite understanding why the guy kept on racing.
Sellers' family were fixtures in the Central Valley area of California since the turn of the 20th century. Sellers' grandfather, Nathan, had opened the Sacramento Coca-Cola Bottling Company and it has run in the family ever since. When Nathan passed on, Jack Sr. took over. When Jack Sr. passed on in 1973, it became his son's. So Jack Sellers took over and ran the bottler in various positions until retiring to a emeritus position in 2007.
Sometime in the mid-80s, Sellers made the switch from carbonation to carburation. He got the racing bug and began racing at the Roseville Fairgrounds, the exact site he would make his last race this October. After two years of doing that, he tried his hand in the West Series, running a limited schedule in 1985 before committing to the series for many years to come. He wheeled his Coca-Cola machine around in the 80s, his Dad's Root Beer machine around in the 90s, and his unsponsored solid red machine around in the 00s with essentially the same result in each showing - a few laps off the pace but almost always being there for the checkered flag, finishing somewhere between 12th to 14th. 282 starts total, just 35 top-10 finishes, a fifth-place points finish in 1993 being the highlight of his career.
I wish I still had the recording of that conversation in Missouri. I had hoped to write a feature about him for Speed51, but that race in Missouri wound up being pretty crazy. Every leader in the race seemed to break. Michael Self came from the back to win at the last lap. Daryl Harr recorded his best ever finish in 2nd. Heck, Sellers' protege, Dylan Hutchison finished 5th, the first and only top-five finish a Sellers Racing machine would ever record in competition. Sellers reliably finished 13th and I never got around to featuring him on this site in the flourish of other things to write about that race. By the time I was free, my old phone was broke and the audio lost.
But of all the interviews I've done with anyone in racing, I vividly remember the one with Sellers the most. His hearing was pretty long gone at that point, so most of our conversation was me shouting and him answering my questions while fiddling with his hearing aid. He was friendly, polite, very insightful. He said he didn't mind the fact he'd never found Victory Lane. He'd wondered from time to time what would have happened if he could have gotten in good equipment instead of the duct-taped machines he self-bought with the little bit of money he didn't reinvest in the Bottling Company. But he was having fun, a lot of it. That's what counted to him. He said he appreciated what NASCAR had done for him, given him a place to race and to travel.
He had a conversation with Hutchison, talking about setup and the unique high-banked style of the track. Hutchison was one of a dozen or so young drivers he let pilot his team car. Sellers, I gathered, had a pretty fair deal for giving someone a shot. Help out the team, be willing to work on the car yourself, and he'd put you in for a few races. He also said he wanted to drive until he died, and I guess he accomplished that.
Sellers was the last of a dying breed in short track racing, that of the touring backmarker. Every series needs a few of these characters. Guys who'll be there in years where the car count is low, ensuring you have a full field. Guys who no one can feel the least bit guilty for cheering for when they're running in the top-ten late in race. Guys who give race directors fits for never staying out the way as much as they should - but at the same time, generally liked and respected enough that if they really didn't belong, they'd have been long run off. In the North you had Scott Bouley running Busch North. In the East you had Wade Cole running Tour Modifieds. In the South you had Allen Karnes running All Pro. And in the West, you had Jack Sellers.
I remember clearly that Sellers called his racing career a success, a statistically untenable claim yet one, on a personal level, I can agree with. A lot of people never follow their dreams, and if they do, quit when they realize they will not achieve notoriety. There is something inherently compelling about those that try even knowing with certainty they will not win. The hopeless underdog fascinates us as much as the superhero. Sellers loved telling stories. Now his story in the racing history books is uniquely his own. That's success enough for me.
-- Story by Tim Quievryn // 51's Third Turn // @thethirdturn