Ricky Rudd - Texas: "There's not a lot of bank, but the speeds are so great and the tires sticks so good that it really plasters you into the right side of the seat.
Ricky Rudd, driver of the #21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus, makes his 786th consecutive NEXTEL Cup start and his 873rd career start at Texas this weekend. This week, the Virginia driver answers questions about the speeds at Texas, how he will run the race and other fan questions.
Texas is a very fast track. Do you feel a difference in g-forces there, as opposed to high-banked tracks, like Bristol, Dover or Talladega/Daytona? "Well, at Daytona you don't feel any G-force. Texas has a tremendous amount of G-force. The cars make a lot of grip there. There's not a lot of bank, but the speeds are so great and the tires stick so good that it really plasters you into the right side of the seat. Somewhere like a Bristol you feel G-force, a lot of vertical G-loads, because when you drive in there it's like driving in a barrel, so when a car loads, it loads vertically. You do get some side load G-force. But at Texas it is all side load and it is probably up over two Gs somewhere, two and a half." Is it worse for you physically? "The more the side load, generally the harder it is on your body. The seats and the seat technology over the years have gotten so much better; the headrest situation is a lot better. We used to run without headrests, and the only way to keep your head up at a place like Bristol or Atlanta was sort of a bungee cord, but it didn't have any stretch to it. It was adjustable. You would anchor it to your left shoulder and your helmet and that would keep your helmet straight. I don't think that would work too good today. With all the stuff we've got going on today I don't think that would be an option. But the seats, the right side of the seats, and the headrests, and the type of foam you have to use in your headrests; there's a different density of foam. At a place like Texas, where I'm loaded into the seat real hard on the right side, they've got these gel packs. If you've ever seen these bicycle seats that are made out of almost a gel type of substance, I use that just because it stops some of the vibration that comes through the headrest. When you go to Texas you hope all these suspension parts are able to hold all this stress. You know everything is in a lot of load there."
The team has been performing very well over the past few months. The team has scored several top- 10s as well. With a couple of races to go, would you take a bigger risk of staying out on a late pit stop or taking a risk for winning a race? "I think you've got to be smart about that. You might roll the dice, but if the car is good enough it is not necessary to take a whole lot of chances if the car continues to perform like it has recently. You're not having to roll the dice because the car is such a strong car. For instance at Martinsville, we could put on, actually, somewhat of a conservative approach. We were putting on four tires early in the race when a lot of guys were forced to put on two; the same thing at Charlotte. Fatback is real smart about watching and seeing the whole field and the history - let's see the whole history of how these guys run on two tires. Is it fast or slower; how many laps can they run before it starts to fall off when they get only two tires and he's keeping notes. Like at Charlotte we did two tires when it was time to do two tires, but he knew what the history was when we did it. We don't need to gamble and be the first car to do that. If the car is running good enough, you don't have to do that."
What determines when you leave your pits on a caution flag stop? Are you on your own or does someone tell you? "When the jack drops, that's the signal unless you are doing right side tires only. Then you have to wait for the front tire changer to clear, and then you go. But, if it is a four-tire stop, the jack drops and you go. And we have a little system that clears us on pit road because it is hard to see cars coming, especially cars coming into the stall in front of you. So Fatback usually clears me one lane and that gets me rolling. After that it is between me and the spotter and up to me as to what cars are peeling out onto pit road in front of me. The most dangerous time is when you are pulling into the stall and pulling out. Coming in, I'm generally watching to guy behind our pit if he is there before us - where he's at. If you see his right side go down and his left side come up, you can generally figure that in five seconds that left side is coming down and he is going to be pulling out, and he is not going to be watching you. That is sort of my responsibility. The crew chief will remind you that it is going to be tight getting in and that a car is getting ready to leave. But you have to be real careful entering your pit box and leaving. That is a real critical time."
If NASCAR eliminated testing and went to each track a day earlier, do you think that the advantage of a multi-car team would be eliminated or am I way off base? "That is a real good thought process. At least I think so because I've thought that myself. Still the trouble you have would be with the multi-car teams because that first day would allow computers and stuff. I do think it would save everybody some money and I do think it would work. If you are allowed to roll out two or three cars and if it were like a normal test session, use that day for yourself with no inspections, no nothing; then you could find out which is the right car and it would save the teams a lot of money. The way the multi-car teams would gain advantage - if you've got five teams out there and all five of them have different set-ups, maybe some with new shocks they have learned about; maybe one of them has some aero stuff they learned on the car within the first hour or two they will have determined what will work best on the cars. And they all have access to that data. They are going to be able to hone in and get to the ideal set-up quicker than a smaller operation."
When Tide was your sponsor, did you get free Tide from them to do your wash at home and work? Or if Oreo was, do you get all the cookies you want? "When it was Tide, we'd get all our Tide through the show car program. The show car drivers got it first and if there was any left over we'd get some for ourselves. That was just the way it worked. Recently I haven't really asked for anything. Motorcraft makes a lot of products, and I've probably been stupid not to ask for stuff, but I've just never asked. When Coca-Cola was sponsoring us we did get a lot of Coca-Cola products. With the Tide deal, I don't think it was that they didn't want to give it to us, they just weren't set up for it. It was outside the normal distribution process. With Coke it wasn't."
Is there an old time driver that you would have liked to be able to race against? "When I grew up the people I admired were in bikes or karts. I didn't really think about car racing. When I did, I was in it. When I was little I wasn't watching car racing, so I didn't really have a hero there. By the time I was about eight I was busy racing my own stuff, so my heroes were the guys in Karts. I thought it would be cool to race against them. I was able to meet legends of the sport when I was in dirt bikes, but I couldn't race against them because I was in a different level. My heroes were like Roger DeCoster and people like that. I've had a chance to race with a lot of the greats in car racing - Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Buddy Baker. There are a lot of guys I raced against that if you had been watching it on TV would have been the heroes and people I would have wanted to race against and I had the chance to do that."
Fatback: Is there an old time driver you would have liked to have been the crew chief for? "My problem is that I was never a fan. I can't give an honest answer. I can't go back much further than Dale Earnhardt. I take that back - he raced a little bit after I got started - I'd have to say Neil Bonnett. He wasn't really an old time driver, but he came before an Earnhardt or Ricky. He was there right as I got started. I liked Neil. I liked his style. I liked his personality. I think he was an awesome person."
What type of education does it take to become a crew chief? "I'd say it takes more of a hands on education. I probably got most of my education because I was willing to work on any kind of race car any time, any where, any place. When I was 18, 19, 20 years old, I'd work all day at a job and all night on race cars. Even once I started in Winston Cup I'd work all day and then work at night with people like Robert Gee and people like that. My education has been more hands on, but if hindsight were 20/20 even though I was pretty good at geometry I wish I'd put more emphasis on it. If I could do it all over again, I would have put more emphasis on that than I did. A lot of it is common sense. It is a form of engineering. When I say that and what I mean is that the way I grew up if you didn't know how to do something, you figured out how to do it. If something was broke you figured out how to fix it. If something needed to be done you figured out how to do it. Some people can do that and some people can't. Now, there are jobs in this industry for people both ways. But I think to be a crew chief you've got to be able to take any type instance and be able to adapt."