Preseason Thunder: Ford - Rudd, Wood interview

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, posted the fastest speed of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup testing on Wednesday with a one-lap speed of 188.470 mph. Rudd, along with co-owner Eddie Wood, discussed through two days, in addition to the team's...

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, posted the fastest speed of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup testing on Wednesday with a one-lap speed of 188.470 mph. Rudd, along with co-owner Eddie Wood, discussed through two days, in addition to the team's move from Stuart, Va., to Mooresville, NC.

RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus

CAN YOU COMMENT ABOUT YOUR GOOD START?

"Yeah, we're definitely real pleased with that. It's been a long time since I've been at the top of a speed chart at Daytona - it's been many years. We did have a good run here last time. We actually qualified fifth overall for the 500 on speed, so Daytona has been a good track for the Wood Brothers. There has been a lot of big changes within the team and I think we're reaping some of the benefits Eddie put into the team. There have been a lot of personnel changes and a lot of good people brought on board, so we're just tickled to death right now."

HOW WAS YOUR FLIGHT IN THAT F-15 A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO?

"It was definitely a scenic flight. I think we saw half of the gulf when we were upside-down, so it looked a little bit different. It was an F-15 ride and the pilot I flew with was second in command of the squadron over there. They're real proud and they've got some really good guys. They're the best of the Air Force over there and the guy that I flew with was named Psycho. I was a little apprehensive about flying with Psycho when I heard his name because I'm sure he didn't get that name by accident, but it was cool. I said, 'Hey, just show me what you do.' So we didn't disrupt their day. We just went pretty much right through their routine and I hung in there for most of the flight. It was pretty aggressive, I think 8.5 g's. We went out over the gulf and broke the sound barrier, which I've never been able to do that. I think it was something like over 1,000 miles per hour, so that was pretty cool."

EDDIE WOOD , Co-Owner - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus

HOW DID THE MOVE FROM STUART GO?

"We're in Mooresville (NC) now and actually moved in and were up and running on December 22nd. It went fairly smooth. It was tough for a while, but we had everything pretty well planned out as to how we were gonna do it and when we were gonna do it and things went pretty well for us. It was a tough deal to even think about doing to start with, but now that it's done and over with and everybody is up and in place and up and running, I think it's gonna help us."

RUDD

HOW DID YOU HANDLE THE FLIGHT?

"I was able to keep my lunch down, but it took a lot of work to keep that down. You can go up and fly with those guys and take a joy ride or you can go through the paces and I purposely wanted to go through their routine, which is pretty aggressive. I have a tremendous amount of respect for how physical that is because 8.5 g's is a tremendous amount of weight sitting in your lap. You have g-suits on that pump up and inflate. The inflate so hard when you're pulling that many g's. The more g's you pull, the more the suit inflates. Really, it's hard to breathe. I don't know how those guys do it. When we did the 8.5 g stuff, we were probably in the corner maybe 15 seconds. If it would have been 20 or 25, I don't think I'd have been awake if we would have gone that far."

WOOD

HAVE YOU BENEFITTED FROM THE YATES-ROUSH ENGINE DEAL YET?

"That would be a question for my brother, but we're obviously, between the move, the help from Jack, the engineering help we've gotten, the motor thing - whatever - we're running much better than we normally do down here testing. A lot of times when we're down here testing we're struggling a bit and this week, fortunately, we're running pretty well.

"You can't really point to one thing, it's really a combination of things because a lot of things have changed within our team and around our team and, so far, everything is really better. I just hope I don't wake up and find out I'm two years behind from now and this is a dream that we're down here running like we are. It's been a struggle for us down here. We usually race pretty well, but we had trouble qualifying."

WHAT'S THE HISTORY OF THE MOTOR RICKY HAD IN THE CAR?

"I don't know. I honestly don't know."

RUDD

WHAT KIND OF THINGS DO YOU FEEL THE TEAM HAD TO ORK ON DURING THE OFF WSEASON?

"I think Eddie and I and Len and everybody involved looked out and it's not too hard to figure out that I think we were getting farther and farther behind on the engineering side of the sport. Everything now is rocket science and we didn't really have the engineering support that we needed to try to be competitive. Eddie and Len saw that and no matter how hard they tried to get the technical people they needed to come to Stuart, they couldn't get them to move out of the area. So the next thing they did is they moved the shop to the technical people. With the Roush situation, there's more of an alliance with the Roush camp. We pretty much operated without engineers last year, but now we've got the access to Roush engineering. It's not just one or two engineers, they've got a whole engineering staff and that information is available to us this year. There are some technical reasons why maybe it wasn't available last year and I think they've worked through those things a little bit. Now we're more of a complete team than we were last year."

WOOD

"I think what Ricky said is correct. Last year, we were trying to make things work and it's almost like putting band aids on things and we just couldn't quite get a hold of it. By moving like we did, we tapped into Roush's engineering force, which is a group of engineers - it's not just one guy. They've got a whole staff and we've got one particular engineer assigned to us that is in our shop daily, but he's linked to those guys. A lot of people don't really realize how big Roush Racing really is and for us to move in like that and tap into that, like I said, it's already showing benefits for us so we're really excited about that."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE IMPENDING POINTS CHANGE?

"I don't know a lot about it. What I know about it is what I've read, heard and stuff like that. No more than I know about it, it would be hard to comment on it a lot. I'll say this, through the years - and I'm even going back to my dad and them - there has been a lot of things that have come and gone in racing that NASCAR has done, whether they changed this or changed that. Through the years there have been some things they did that I didn't really agree with, but I have found through that, more often than not, they'll be right. So before I comment on it, I want to hear more and see more. I'm sure they did a lot of research on it. They just didn't get up one morning and say, 'Hey, we're gonna do this.' Every time I ever thought they did the wrong thing I was wrong, so that's kind of my position on it."

RUDD

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

"Again, we only see a small part of NASCAR. We see the competition side of it in the garage area and, as competitors, that's the only part that we see. We don't really know how the promotion of the sport actually works with the television packages and so on and what draws the fans to the race track. I mean, there are a lot of things that we don't know. My gut instinct right away is to say, 'Well, that's crazy. Who came up with that absurd plan?' But like Eddie said, a lot of things you didn't agree with originally...NASCAR has some pretty savvy people. They didn't get to be the top form of motorsports in the country without doing some things right.

"The way I look at it, the changes are happening and they're there, so we need to learn how to make the best of them. As we go along, we might even learn how to like these changes. There might even be a plus, but, right now, a lot of people in general - I'm fighting very hard because I'm getting to be a definitely older driver and I'm hearing that older drivers are set in their ways. I'm not that way. I'm open-minded. My initial impact is I don't like the sound of it, but let's try it and see what happens."

WOOD

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PEOPLE WHO WORKED IN STUART?

"A number of people came with us or are commuting. The way the thing worked out, we're in Mooresville on I-77, which is actually closer to Stuart than the original shop we were looking at. As that happened, quite a few of the people stayed with us. Some of them couldn't move and some of them didn't really want to move, but we've hired quite a few new people too. So far, it's worked out. Our shop was built new in '97 - the one in Stuart - and the one before that was there forever, so that's really the only time we had moved. You hate to just pick up and move, but there comes a time when you've got to do something. For our race team to survive, we had to get closer (to Charlotte). It's kind of like if you're going to sing, you've got to be in Nashville. So far it seems to be working. This is the first place we've been since we moved and, of course, we're a little behind because of the move. We've got a new crew chief in Ben Leslie and the way he set up everything to move, we actually only stopped and lost one day on the Daytona cars as far as people working on them. We had stuff laying everywhere in the shop and there were four guys over there working on these two race cars. We're gonna go to Vegas and test also with two new cars, so, hopefully, we don't put ourselves in a position that we're suffering just because of lack of time. But so far, I think it's gonna be OK. We're gonna just go forward with it and I think it was the right decision. We made it and here we are."

RUDD

HOW MUCH MORE OF A GRIND IS THE NASCAR SEASON NOW THAN WHEN YOU STARTED AND WILL DRIVERS COMPETE AS LONG IN THE FUTURE?

"It's definitely different now than it was when we started. When I first started, it's kind of hard to believe we could be any busier now than we were then. It was busier in a different way. Back then the drivers worked on the cars and you did what you had to do. You had a crew of about three or four full-time guys and that was considered a pretty good-sized team, so the driver was right in there with them doing a little of everything. We drove everywhere. We didn't fly airplanes everywhere, so I think probably the lost time that we had a lot was commuting to the race tracks. Now you can take advantage of that. You can run the Daytona 500 on Sunday and be in L.A. on Monday testing out there. That's something we didn't have the access to be able to do because of the plane situation, but the test schedule is definitely heavier. Instead of four people, it takes almost 100 people to run one of these race teams now, so it's changed in many different ways. As far as the driver's personal time that he has, probably the biggest change that has happened is the testing schedule has picked up. It used to be if you raced on Sunday, you'd meet the guys at the race track the next week. A travel day was Thursday and you got on the race track on Friday. Other than Daytona and maybe Charlotte there wasn't testing. Nobody tested, so everybody was fairly even. Nowadays, you're pretty much in the race car three or four days a week and if you're not at a NEXTEL Cup test session, you're actually at some other type of race track testing there, so it is different. The sponsorship requirements are a lot greater now because we didn't used to hardly have sponsors, so now you've got a lot more commitments from that aspect. I personally think where the sport is heading, I think you're gonna see guys come in at whatever the legal age is to race, which is probably around 18.

"I think when all the smoke clears, you'll see them be out of the sport by the time they turn 30 or very early thirties. I think the main reason for that is I think a lot of guys are gonna be forced to put their families on hold and basically have a family after they're done racing because it's gonna continue to get harder and harder to have some kind of normal family life. If you're married with no children, that's one thing. But if you have kids it's gonna be very difficult to have kids with today's schedule."

YOU HAVE THE FASTEST TIME FOR TESTING SO FAR. ANY REASON?

"I can speak for myself and say I'd much rather be at the top of the sheet than at the bottom of the sheet. We've been at the bottom of the sheet enough. It excites me to come into Daytona. You come here to do good. You come here to learn and get better. We came here and unloaded fast and we got faster. I'm excited about it. What does this mean for a pole contender or 500 winner? It doesn't necessarily mean you have the pole wrapped up by any means, but if you come back with the same things we have today, we can be a contender for the pole or we can at least have a shot at a top 10 in speed, which is basically insurance for the Daytona 500. That's why we're here - to try to race and try to win. I get excited about running fast, so I guess we won today. It didn't pay anything, but it's still nice to do it."

WOOD

WE'RE SEEING A LOT OF CHANGES IN THE SPORT TODAY. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?

"From my point of view, it's just like a template change. It's just another change and, like I said before, there's been a lot of thought put into what's happening so far as the sponsorship, the points change. It's just another change and if that's what it takes, that's what it takes. NASCAR has done a lot of things right and I don't foresee them doing this wrong. I don't know a lot about it, but Ricky puts his career in it and we put livelihood and trust in NASCAR that it will work and I feel certain it will work. If they see it's not working, they'll make an adjustment as they do with our templates. If they make a template change or a rule change and it doesn't work, they're not the type that will just say, 'We're gonna live with this.' They'll make a change and if that doesn't work, they'll make another one. Change is better, I think, for everybody."

RUDD

DODGE CAME IN WITH A ONE-TEAM CONCEPT AND IT SEEMS FORD IS DOING THAT NOW AS WELL. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

"That's probably more of an owner's situation, but I think your analogy is probably correct as far as observing what Dodge has done. I think Dodge sort of raised the benchmark a little bit. Chevrolet is right there and every one sees that Toyota is coming and just based off what they've done in other series, you better have all your ducks in a row when they get here. I think the Ford alliance, that is their goal. There's not a tremendous amount of teams out there. There are probably around eight Fords, so to have those guys work closer together is something Ford needs to have happen and the race teams need that to happen. All of those heads pulling together are better than they are divided and so far it seems to be going very well with the Yates-Roush situation. It's a very friendly atmosphere amongst all the Ford teams right now. Eddie could tell you more from the inside, but I think it's gonna be productive as well."

WOOD

"That's correct. What I'm seeing just down here testing is a lot of cooperation between the Yates group, the Roush group and our group. You normally don't see that. It's always been, 'Well, if I can't be the fastest, I don't want to be the best Ford.' That attitude is not here now. We've all got to work together to beat everybody else and then worry about beating each other after you get that accomplished. I think it's the correct way to do it. Us being a single team, we're gonna benefit a lot from it because we're getting the pull from not only the Roush group but the Yates group also. So far, so good from what I'm seeing."

RUDD

WHAT WAS IT LIKE IN YOUR ROOKIE SEASON?

"The only trouble with getting old is I think I've got a case of Alzheimer's right now. It's been a long time ago. It was just a different time. I came into it and the first time I drove a Winston Cup car I was about 18 years old. I was not prepared to drive a Winston Cup car. I had never been in a race car, period. I drove go-karts, motorcycles and the next thing is some friends said, 'Hey we've got a chance, do you want to go drive a Winston Cup car?' I didn't really know much about it. There was no testing. I hopped in a car and went to Rockingham, North Carolina and hopped in a race car for the first time. I went out and qualified, made the race and finished 12th, but I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Unlike today, you've got young guys coming in that are prepared, they've been trained, they've gone through the Busch Series or the Truck Series. If they get here when they're 18, they've been groomed and prepared for it. That's a lot different than the time that I came up."

DO YOU REMEMBER THAT FIRST RACE?

"Yeah, I was scared to death. I remember that. It was kind of weird because I showed up and I never really followed the sport that much. I was always busy racing go karts or motorcycles traveling around the country and didn't really follow motorsports that much because I was so involved in what I was doing. I obviously knew who Richard Petty was and David Pearson. We got to Rockingham and I'm looking around saying, 'Hey, I saw those guys on TV before.' And the next thing I know I'm out there racing with them. I was pretty cocky at 18 years old that I was gonna come in and, in my head I thought, 'Man, these guys are old men. I can beat all these guys. There's nothing to it.' But I got a pretty rude awakening right quick that these guys knew what they were doing and that I had a long learning curve in front of me. I enjoyed that and always liked the challenge, so I hung in there. It was sort of more on-the-job training the way I came along versus guys today. It was a neat time. Qualifying wasn't that difficult. You didn't usually have a full field, so you could go out there and qualify. You knew you were in the race and you just knew you had to take care of your equipment and log track miles and learn what you were doing. The sport today doesn't allow you to do that. You've got to be pretty darn good just to make these races, so you don't have the luxury of being inexperienced now."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Richard Petty , David Pearson