Greg Sacks put a bumper sticker on the dashboard of a race car he bought shortly after “Days of Thunder” was released in 1990. It read: “Yes I am a movie star.”
If you’ve watched that movie, you’ve seen Sacks. Well, sort of.
He was the on-track driver who doubled for the movie’s star, Tom Cruise, in the movie. He drove the No. 46 green and yellow Chevrolet in races, giving producers stock film for the movie. When the movie was complete, he bought the car.
Greg had a lot of amusing stories about making the movie, including a midnight breakfast with Cruise at a Waffle House in Charlotte or a day at the New Smyrna Beach airport creating the big crash scene.
And the place Greg loved telling those stories the most was on the golf course.
Greg was a regular part of our foursome. So was Curly Neal of the Harlem Globetrotters and my father. Together we made a lot of noise and had a lot of fun.
Greg and I first met minutes following the 1985 Daytona 500. He ran in the top 10 most of the day in a family-owned Chevrolet. Bill Elliott won the race and Sacks wound up sixth in one of the most-improbable finishes in the race’s history.
But it got better.
After the race I told him he could tell his grandchildren about running up front at the Daytona 500. Without blinking, he said: “I’m going to show them a trophy from this place.”
Talk about a lasting memory.
Five months later I had to write cute remarks about the starting line for the Firecracker 400 at the Daytona International Speedway, like “Bill Elliott – His race to lose; Clark Dwyer – Who?; Trevor Boys – It’s a man’s world.” You get the picture.
Greg Sacks started ninth. I still hadn’t forgotten what he told me in February. My comment ahead of the race: “Will be day’s biggest surprise.”
Surprise didn’t come close to describing Sacks’ day. He led 33 laps and beat Elliott by a half-lap in what’s considered one of the biggest upsets in stock-car history. When he walked into the press box, he stopped at my seat before taking the microphone.
We’ve been friends since.
The day after his victory, he was back at work at his family produce store on Long Island, New York. His family allowed him to chase is racing dream, but if he wasn’t in the car, he had to be loading boxes of carrots.
As we waited on the tee for the group to clear in front of us, Greg told us a secret about his Daytona win. He had the same engine that powered Richard Petty to his 200th victory a year earlier at Daytona – the same race where President Ronald Reagan was waiting in Victory Lane.
He also played golf the way he drove his race car – flat-out. And when I rode with him, he expected me to do the same. He never let me lay up short. Always go for it, he’d say.
He brought many of the stories from the garage to the big screen for “Days of Thunder.” The scenes involving the pit crew eating ice cream during the race, Robert Duvall convincing Cruise he was on a special set of tires and Duvall telling Cruise to hit the pace car since he already hit every car in the race really happened.
Sacks had a chance to prove his Daytona victory wasn’t a fluke at the 1990 Winston 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway. He had earned a chance to drive one of Rick Hendrick’s car – Hendrick did it to incite his regular group of drivers – and he and Dale Earnhardt turned it into a two-car race.
Sacks rode inches off Earnhardt’s back bumper for more than 50 laps, waiting for an opening on the last lap. Earnhardt didn’t provide one.
Sacks retired in Ormond Beach, but he hasn’t slowed down. He and his sons have partnered to create Grand Touring Vodka.
We’ve both become a little grayer and we’ve lost 30 yards off our drives. But we never play it safe by laying up. We still go for it.