SPARTA, Ky. – Mark Jacobs and Lorin Rainer arrived to work the NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway more energized than usual.
Being home for a change tends to have that effect for the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing crew members with Kentucky roots.
Rainer, a Prestonsburg native, is the spotter for Jamie McMurray's No. 1 Chevy. His father and grandfather owned cars in Sprint Cup and ARCA, driven by such NASCAR greats as Buddy Baker and Bobby and Davey Allison.
Jacobs, who flew in Saturday for jackman duties on Juan Pablo Montoya's No. 42, was a defensive tackle for the University of Kentucky, earning two degrees and four letters.
Having seen the track evolve from a concept to being on NASCAR's premier circuit, the EGR teammates are more determined to succeed being in familiar surroundings on its biggest weekend.
"It's really cool being here," the 48-year-old Rainer said before the race was postponed until Sunday because of rain. "Growing up, my father used to say this tri-state area (Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky) would be a perfect place for a track. I was thinking about that today as I was driving in, and I wish dad could've seen this."
Jacobs, 36, is a 14-year NASCAR veteran who has worked here with teams since the track's early years, mostly in the Nationwide Series. Though confident that Kentucky would eventually get a Cup date, preparing for his third race here on that level still catches him off guard.
Maybe that's because Jacobs sometimes can't believe that he's in the sport. Playing for Wildcats coaches Bill Curry and Hal Mumme from 1995-98, the Fort Walton Beach, Fla., native was focused more on football and studying for degrees in social work and education.
The sport remains dear to the hulking Jacobs, who shares a football background with several crew members. Each trip to Kentucky reminds him of how fortunate he is to have been a player in two sports in the state, and how important it is to win in both.
"Some markets we go to, people aren't into the racing as much," he said. "But everybody here is fired up to be here and excited about it. Plus, I see a lot of people wearing UK stuff.
"I have five years of awesome memories (at UK), and having a win here, I'd be so proud to have that."
Rainer's wish for similar fulfillment with McMurray, 21st in points, almost makes him forget about his homecoming. But when he came in at midweek to celebrate his and his mother's same-day birthdays, he recalled his roots that make him hungry to help his driver end a 93-race drought.
"I looked around on practice day and felt nostalgic being here," the Wildcats fan said. "But when the race starts, it's business and I'm not as nostalgic."