Motorsports Hall-of-Famer’s life affected by late Cornett
By BILL MARDIS, Editor Emeritus Commonwealth Journal
A member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and owner of a successful NASCAR racing team expressed sadness upon learning of the death Tuesday of “Red’ Cornett, owner-founder of Cornett Machine Shop and Cornett Racing Engines.
Jack Roush, founder, CEO and co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing, called Cornett “a prince of a fellow.”
“Cornett built the engine for my first serious race car in 1966,” said Roush, who has won 32 championships and more than 400 races in drag racing, sports and stock car racing. Roush Fenway Racing is headquartered in Concord, North Carolina.
Roush, a member of Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, got acquainted with Cornett at Berea College and “ ... after college I interviewed for a job with him.”
Later, Roush worked for Ford Motor Company, leaving in 1970 to form his own company. He went on to partner with Wayne Gapp to race in NHRA, IHRA and AHRA drag racing events. Roush Fenway Racing currently fields three cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and, as of January 2012, Roush Fenway has won five driver championships across NASCAR’s three premier series. Roush Industries employs more than 3,000 people at 50 facilities in several states.
Roush is lavish in praise of Cornett, and considers him a close friend.
“Cornett set a really high standard as a customer and supplier of parts,” said Roush. “During the 1970s and 1980s, I made frequent trips to Somerset, stopped by his house and visited with his family. He knows “Red’s” sons, David and Jack.
Roush’s wife, Pauline, is the former Pauline Correll of Monticello. “Monticello is just down the road from Somerset and I used to drive through there all the time. When I got my first airplane, I flew in and out of the Somerset airport. About 10 years ago, I picked up “Red” at the airport and took him to a NASCAR race.”
Ira Jackson Cornett – everybody knows him as “Red” – died Tuesday at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital some two months short of his 96th birthday. He founded Cornett Machine Shop in 1948 and was still going to work until about a week before he died.
“He was at the shop last week,” said his son, Jack. The elder Cornett often bemoaned what he believed was a lack of old-fashioned work ethic in today’s young people.
Cornett’s businesses prospered. An internationally known engine rebuilding firm, Cornett Machine Shop and Cornett Racing Engines rebuild all kinds of engines; racing engines; engines from all over the world. Last year, Cornett Racing Engines was featured on the cover of Race Engine Technology magazine.
Pulaski Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements for Mr. Cornett. A funeral service will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at Somerset First Baptist Church with Dr. French Harmon officiating. Burial will follow in the Lakeside Memorial Gardens. The family of Mr. Cornett will receive friends Thursday after 5 p.m. at the First Baptist Church.