Bristol: Ford - Rudd, E. Wood, Jarrett on Iraqi Freedom

The No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus will carry an American flag on its rear decklid during the Food City 500 on Sunday. The Air Force is in its third year as an associate on the Wood Brothers' Ford. Driver Ricky Rudd and co-owner Eddie Wood talked about...

The No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus will carry an American flag on its rear decklid during the Food City 500 on Sunday. The Air Force is in its third year as an associate on the Wood Brothers' Ford. Driver Ricky Rudd and co-owner Eddie Wood talked about the team's association with the Air Force as Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. Also, Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Taurus, offered his thoughts about Operation Iraqi Freedom.

RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus

"I'm kind of new to the program, and Eddie's been around it for a little bit, and Len and all the Wood Brothers, and they see all these guys on TV and they know them all, you know, the guys that are doing the briefings at the Pentagon. I've met a couple of them. I've been up to the Pentagon, and looked around and seen how it works, a little bit. And, right now, with what's going on, you definitely feel like the military in this country is pretty darn strong. After going to visit a few bases, I couldn't imagine going against that firepower they've got."

YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU'VE MET SOME OF THE PERSONNEL. DOES THAT PERSONALIZE WHAT'S GOING ON IN IRAQ FOR YOU? "We've been able to meet a lot of men and women in the Air Force, and all vary in ranks from some of the biggest generals in the Air Force to people who have just recently been enlisted. When you have a situation like what's going on now, I think everyone becomes aware of what the military does for us, but before all this broke out, I guess it gives you a little bit better sense of what all these men and women go through in the military, the sacrifices they make. It's a different lifestyle, and one that I haven't talked to anybody that's unhappy. They all enjoy it. From our side of it, we're more exposed to the recruiting side of it."

COVERAGE IS ALL OVER TV AND THE NEWSPAPERS. DO YOU HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING, PERHAPS, OF WHAT'S BEING TALKED ABOUT BECAUSE OF THE TEAM'S AFFILIATION WITH THE AIR FORCE? "Not really. The military, they're very secretive about their operation. I'll tell you how secretive: We were out at Nellis Air Force Base with the Thunderbirds, and met all the Thunderbirds, and got a chance to see one of the new airplanes, the F/A-22, the latest, greatest fighter for the Air Force, and met the colonel that was flying it. I'd say there were about 30 people there and it was roped off. We got a chance to see it. I guess we had to send names and everything and get a clearance ahead of time. We got a chance to see it pretty up close. And there were, I guess, some of the pilots that were flying the F-15s or F-16s on that base, they came up and asked one of the commanding officers, 'Can we go take a closer look?' And they said, 'No, it's roped off.' No question about it, they're very strict, disciplined. It's kind of amazing to see. This guy just rolled in, he was flying on the F-15s or F-16s and he couldn't get any closer than a certain distance they were supposed to keep. Just a tremendous amount of organization and discipline. I've learned that, maybe more so, had I not been able to see the Air Force up close."

THE AMERICAN FLAG IS ON YOUR UNIFORM. SO IS THE AIR FORCE INSIGNIA. WHAT KIND OF REACTION DOES THAT GET FROM FANS? DO THEY SEEK YOU OUT AND MAKE MENTION OF IT? "I noticed when you go somewhere to sign autographs or make an appearance you get a lot people that will come up and will let you know that they were in the armed services, they were in the Air Force, and there's a lot of camaraderie, I guess, after they either retire or the ones that enlist and do a short period of time in the Air Force. They'll let you know that they're in the Air Force and where they were based and they're proud of it. Another thing I've noticed since we've been involved with the Air Force is how much of a friendly competition there is among them. You know, the Air Force wants to be the best car out there on the race track, compared to, you know, they definitely want to beat the Army car or the Marine car. There's a lot of friendly camaraderie that goes on there."

DO YOU HAVE ANY FAMILY OR FRIENDS THAT ARE IN OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM? "No, I don't. I grew up in a military town. I grew up in Chesapeake, which is a suburb of Norfolk, Virginia, which is a big Navy town. I was born and raised there, and lived there until I was in my 20s. So, I grew up around a town that had a lot of military presence. It's a little different. The town's a little different. You get a lot of people from all over the country that end up settling there, that you get a chance to meet, that normally would not have settled there had the military not been there."

AND A PATRIOTIC AREA? "At the time, we didn't think that much about it, we were kids, we didn't think that much about the military. As a kid, you just think that the military has a presence in every town like that. And it wasn't too much later that we realized that that was kind of a unique situation. And I think there wasn't a lack of respect, but probably not a respect like the military should've deserved in the area, just because I think it was taken for granted so much."

EDDIE WOOD - co-owner, No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus

"To me, I know all those people, the people that everyone's watching on TV on CNN and all the networks - Gen. (John) Jumper and Gen. (Richard) Myers, I know those guys. You know, it's just like it's a part of you, it's personal, because you know the people, they're real people. We went to the wind tunnel Thursday night and got one of those satellite radios so we could listen to CNN and all the news channels coming up the road, just to keep up with what was going on. And, it's just like it's a part of you. I've been up top spotting and just couldn't wait to get back down here to see what's going on. While I was up there the whole deal broke loose again. Like I say, we know all those guys, and it's really special to have them on our race car. It makes you feel like more of an American. We're not doing any fighting, obviously, but we're representing them to help get people to join the Air Force or the armed services, whatever they choose. And, right now, the thing to be is patriotic, and it just makes you feel that way. Racing is patriotic, this form of racing, especially, and it just makes you feel really proud."

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM IS EVERYWHERE IN THE MEDIA. THAT YOU KNOW SOME OF THE KEY PLAYERS, DOES THAT MAKE IT EASIER OR HARDER FOR YOU? "If you don't know someone, you think, 'Well, they're just doing it,' and you really don't think that much about it. But, once you've met these guys, they're real people. They've got the same interests and all that you and I do, and they've got families. It's amazing the load that these people have on them that are making all the decisions, and the quickness they have to make them in. It's just amazing to me, I'm just proud to know them. We know a lot of generals in the Air Force, I know a lot of people in the Navy because my son drives the Navy truck - I know Adm. (Vernon) Clark - and it's just a great honor to say you know those guys. You see them on TV and say, 'I know him.' It just makes you feel a part of it."

ASIDE FROM THOSE IN THE AIR FORCE WHOM YOU'VE MET, DO YOU KNOW ANYONE ELSE INVOLVED, LIKE FAMILY OR FRIENDS? "No, not necessarily that is immediate family or anybody I really know. I know a lot of people in the Air Force, yes. But, I feel like I know them all just because I know those guys. Just last week we spoke with Mickey Handy, Gen. (John) Handy's wife. You'd have to be me to know what I'm talking about, but you talk to those people and they talk to you like you're somebody they've known for 20 or 30 years. But, they're big people. They're controlling what's going on in the world right now. If you knew those people like I do, you wouldn't think twice about what's going on. I mean, they're in control."

A FLAG IS ALWAYS ON THE HAULER... "We've always tried to have a flag in our pit, on our truck during the week. We always have had and always will have. We've always tried to have an American flag on our uniforms, on our Sunday stuff. If you're not an American, you don't need to be here, you know what I mean?"

WHERE DOES THAT PATRIOTISM COME FROM? "I don't know. There are very few things that I'm close to. Like I've said, we race. I don't golf or hunt. I don't have any hobbies, I just race. That's all I care about, and the people I care about, a lot are in the military. It's America, racing, God, family, that kind of thing. That's just the way we are."

SO THE AIR FORCE ON YOUR CAR AND THE NAVY ON JON'S TRUCK IS MORE THAN JUST A DECAL... "To me it is. It really is."

DALE JARRETT - No. 88 UPS Taurus

OFTEN, ENTERTAINMENT AND SPORTS HAVE SERVED AS A DIVERSION DURING DIFFICULT TIMES. DO YOU LOOK AT IT THAT WAY? "Well, I think, certainly it can be that. I think everyone needs to know that we continue on because that's why our people are there fighting, so we can continue to have our freedom and continue to do the things that we enjoy in the United States. Obviously, entertainment is our business, and I think that for a few hours here on the weekends that maybe people can put things aside with what's going on in the world right now, and that we can provide a little entertainment for them to take their minds off of the war and the things there. On that side also, I think that we're very proud to see how prepared our troops were to go in and the stand that they're making right now. It makes me proud to be a part of this United States, but, again, hopefully we can give millions of people a little bit of time away from that on Sundays."

AND, A NASCAR AUDIENCE IS PROBABLY AS PATRIOTIC AN AUDIENCE THAT YOU'LL FIND... "You'd be hard-pressed to find a group this large - you're going to have 160,000 people on Sunday - and I can't imagine that you'd find a more patriotic group anywhere around, whether it's a sporting event or any type of entertainment, you'd be hard-pressed. Red, white and blue is what these people are. I think that is one of those things that helps to make our sport what it is today."

THERE IS TREMENDOUS MEDIA COVERAGE OF WHAT'S GOING ON IN IRAQ. ARE YOU FOLLOWING ALL OF IT OR ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A DIVERSION? "No, I think I'm keeping up more because it's there. I wonder sometimes if we're getting into too much information, but it is great to have that and the opportunity to see exactly what is happening. Before, it used to be, really, days, weeks before we had any idea of what was taking place. This is up-to-the-minute, and it's very intriguing, and I think that's where I realize just how prepared we were to go in there and do what we had to do. None of us wanted to see this war happen, but I think that it was time that we did make a stand, and our people seem to be extremely prepared and ready to do their jobs. So, yeah, I've been keeping up with it quite a bit. When I get a little bit too much of that then I can always turn on the NCAA and get a little bit of my basketball fix."

DO YOU HAVE ANY FAMILY OR FRIENDS OR NEIGHBORS IN OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM? "No, I really don't. I'm fortunate in that respect. But over the last few years as our armed forces have gotten involved in this sport and more have been able to come around, you remember people that you've met there. I've been very fortunate to meet a lot, and certainly wish them all the best and keep their families in our prayers."

-ford racing-

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett