2010 NASCAR Preseason Thunder Daytona Fan Fest: Saturday news conference
January 16, 2010
An Interview with David Ragan
DENISE MALOOF: David Ragan, No. 6 UPS Ford, I see.
DAVID RAGAN: Yep, still a Ford.
DENISE MALOOF: Not the greatest of years, which I'm sure you will agree, in '09, but you got a new start, a new crew chief, a new beginning, very important for you.
DAVID RAGAN: Yeah, to see the checkered flag fall at Homestead was certainly a good sight. If it wasn't for a couple of the Nationwide wins last year would have been a total disaster. But we struggled on our No. 6 car, and at Roush as a whole, not winning as many races and certainly not having more cars in the Chase was disappointing. But sometimes that's just the way things happen in this sport.
But I feel like we've got a lot of momentum over the off-season, certainly with our 6 team. I think we've got two people that were on our 6 team last year, so totally new group. Donnie Wingo has done a nice job with our over-the-wall team. We've got those guys already stating to practice pit stops and stuff as of this week. We're encouraged by the things that we've changed.
I think the merger with RPM, we've learned a few things about our race cars that we're doing different. So I think that California will be the first real test to see where we're at as a team. We were really strong at all the restrictor plate tracks last year, Daytona and Talladega were two of our stronger tracks on the schedule. When we show up to California, hopefully we'll have some fast cars. But I think everyone has worked really hard at Roush Fenway Racing on making our cars faster. Jack Roush and Robbie Reiser have kind of reorganized our engineering department and changed the way we go about doing some things on our race cars as far as preparing them and decisions we make at the racetrack.
This is certainly a big year for us. Donnie and I have -- I see Donnie every day of the week. I stop by the shop, and still getting to know all the guys on our team. We're ready for Daytona, and we're ready to come back down here and start making some laps.
!%Q: Speaking of Daytona, you start off with a sports marquee event. Have you already run the Daytona 500 in your mind?
DAVID RAGAN: Yeah, I've already won it three or four times in my mind. Walking down here, there's been a few questions asked today, what's some of your favorite Daytona 500 memories, and it's such a big race, and being a race fan growing up in a racing family, it's something that you always remember watching and taking an interest in as a young kid. Certainly I wasn't even thought about in 1979, but the race where Bobby and Cale and Donnie were fighting at the end, that might be what NASCAR might need to happen in 2010 Daytona 500 to see some excitement like that afterwards. Yeah, I'm running the Daytona 500 in my mind just off of past experiences.
We've got a couple of Top 10s down here. I finished 5th in 2007, so we've had some success in the 500. It's certainly a long race and a long couple of weeks. So much can happen between qualifying the first week, the twin races on Thursday, and getting ready for the big show on Sunday. You know, we're just taking a practice at a time, a qualifying lap at a time, and just try to do the best we can.
I think we're prepared, and I think our car is going to be good. This is always a fun track, fun race, and something fun to be a part of if you've got a good car to drive.
!%Q: Can you talk about -- there's talk of bringing back bump drafting, removing the yellow line, maybe making the restrictor plates bigger so giving you guys more power. How does that -- does that work for you, that kind of package?
DAVID RAGAN: Yeah, absolutely. If it'll work for everybody else, I can jump in the fight and go at it just like everyone else can. First of all, I think kudos to NASCAR for listening to some of the comments in the garage from the drivers, from the owners, from the fans. I think that's great to know that they do want to make the racing more competitive and more exciting for everyone that's a part of the sport.
You know, as far as the particular rules that may change, I think that Daytona is a little different style of race than Talladega just because the asphalt is a little more worn out. It's bumpier, it's narrower, so the cars have to handle well, so you don't get those two cars that hook up and push around the racetrack like you do at Talladega.
But as far as the bump drafting, we hold the steering wheel. We control the gas pedal and the brake pedal, and none of us want to wreck our cars but we want to race. I think that's good. I think putting it in control of the drivers' hands, I think there still needs to be some form of aggressive driving rules, but as far as bump drafting and just pushing people around and still racing, that's what built our fan base up over the last 15 or 20 years, and I think that that's a good thing that may change the yellow-line rule, I think that's been pretty well accepted since its inception. When did it happen? '01 or '02, I think is when that rule came into effect. That's a little more of a safety type of a thing than controlling how hard we race. But I'm one of the younger guys in the crowd; they're not going to listen to my opinion anyway.
I think that the restrictor plate size, the bump drafting, the yellow-line rule, it's just some things to get everyone back in the rhythm of, hey, even though it's a 500-mile race, you still have to race hard all 500 miles, and I think the fans will appreciate that.
!%Q: That could be a catalyst for one of those after-race fights.
DAVID RAGAN: Yeah, and I think that would be good for the sport. I've always heard people say if you do get in a fight make sure it's on the front straight away or pit row where the fans can see it, don't do it in the garage or the motor home lot, do it where some TV cameras can catch you. I say bring a boxing ring on the front grass, and you sell some more tickets to a boxing match after the race and let us put some gloves on and go at it.
!%Q: I've got two quick ones. First of all, in terms of the benefit that you guys have gotten from the association with RPM at this point, is that primarily in the handling department?
DAVID RAGAN: You know, in the handling as far as the cars? I think the biggest thing is in the same Ford camp, we always try to make our Fords more competitive, and I feel like our engines have been great since I've been at Roush Fenway racing. Doug Yates and the guys over there continue to excel in our engine department. I think, yes, the primary focus on sharing some of the information with the RPM guys and certainly letting them know some of our things that we were doing with our Ford cars the last few years, yeah, it's all at the end of the day to make our cars handle better and to make them faster.
!%Q: Second, when Kasey was in Nashville last week, he started talking about his teammates, and he mentioned you and Biff and Matt and Carl, as well, as his own three teammates. Do you view that sort of relationship the same way as eight guys pulling together pretty much doing the same thing, and do you expect the interaction with them to be pretty much unfettered in terms of flow of information?
DAVID RAGAN: I think there's always a competitive side of every team. Our UPS team with Donnie Wingo and David Ragan, we want to beat the other Roush teams just as bad as we want to beat the other manufacturers and the other teams down the road. Yes, we all will work together for a common interest, and that's for Ford Racing, for Jack Roush, for Richard Petty, for the Engine Shop. At the end of the day, we're a big team. But we're still out there to win races for our particular car, for our sponsor and for our group. But it's a good feeling to know that there's more Fords out there on the track that we can talk to and communicate with, and certainly I think the sport is going into the bigger the better. And the more people that you can bounce ideas off of, and with the testing policies the way it is, it's so important to be in good with the other Ford teams because just one manufacturer car gets to go to those Goodyear tire tests, and that's very important. We have to be a big team. You see that with some of the other manufacturers' teams. They may not broadcast it out as much as we do, but that type of information is shared with other guys, as well.
!%Q: Did the fact that none of the Roush teams last year ran well last year, Carl Edwards didn't even win a race, does that help your mindset and your confidence some?
DAVID RAGAN: Not really. I mean, I don't -- I wish they would have run great now that I -- that would have looked bad upon me if I can't run as well as some of the guys that I surround myself by. We want everyone to run good, and I think that, like I just mentioned earlier, it's all about this group of four Roush Fenway guys. At the end of the day, we all want to be in the Top 4. Now, whatever position that we finish in, that's, I guess, to be determined, or we can duke it out on the last few laps.
But in the big scheme of things, and that's what Jack really tries to promote is teamwork and working together, but to see Carl go out and struggle, no, that doesn't make me feel any better, it just makes me realize that, hey, this is a serious -- we do have a serious problem that we're facing and we need to fix it.
!%Q: As a follow-up to Tony's question, how much of your confidence -- did you have trouble sleeping last year and say, hey, the problem is with me? Or were you able to reconcile that the problem was with the equipment?
DAVID RAGAN: Well, a lot of things go through your head. Certainly I don't like to point fingers. I'm a man; I can take the blame when I mess up, I'll say it. Certainly there were some times when I made some mistakes last year where it cost us a Top 10 or Top 15 finish. But I also have to be a man and say, hey, this is wrong and tell Jack or tell Robby or tell Jimmy Fennig and say, hey, this is wrong, we've got to go fix it.
So I grew up a lot last year by trying to realize that -- what was wrong, figuring out, thinking about what we need to do to fix things. Yeah, there were a lot of nights that I couldn't fall asleep and I hated to wake up the next morning because there were just weekends that we just did not have any idea of what to do to make our cars go any faster. So it was certainly not a lack of effort, just the lack of maybe some of the tools we were working with or the ideas that we had that we thought was one direction maybe was 360 degrees off.
I think it was a character-building year for sure for everyone, and as long as we can learn from those types of years and correct it, it's okay. But if we continue to do the same thing that we've been doing, we'll continue to get the same results.
!%Q: You mentioned turnover on your crew. Where do those guys come from for the most part?
DAVID RAGAN: Kind of scattered around. Most of them came from the 26 team with Donnie Wingo. Certainly, he's our head guy, he's our crew chief, he's our team leader and he can bring in who he feels like will make our team better.
Loren Ranier is going to spot for me next year, which was Jaime's spotter last year. I feel like he'll be a key asset to our team and an asset to myself getting -- being he's worked with Donnie so much in the past, he can kind of help that flow from myself to Donnie throughout the three of us. A few came from within the organization on other teams.
From the Roush side, I think that on all four teams, some personnel switched around and changed around just trying to make things better.
!%Q: Can you kind of describe the difference between Donnie and Jimmy's philosophy, maybe their personality, since you really haven't had time to be in a competitive situation with wing owe yet?
DAVID RAGAN: Well, I think that Donnie and Jimmy are both, I call it, from the old school of racing. If the computer shut down and the engineers fall off the pit box, they can still make it. And I think the difference between Jimmy and Donnie is that Jimmy is -- he is a firm believer in what he knows is right and is wrong, and sometimes Jimmy and I just couldn't communicate and get on the same page at times. That was difficult when we have to rely on other teams' notes, and communicating from our team to the 99 or to the 16, 17, and sometimes I felt like that's where we missed a little bit over the race weekend.
But I think that Donnie is -- he's a little more personable. He's a little more laid back. When Jimmy is at the racetrack, it's all about racing. He's not a talker, he's not a media guy at all. He's all about racing. And I think that there's certainly a lot of good to that, and I learned a lot about racing through Jimmy Fennig, and he'll still be around quite a bit in the role that he'll still play at Roush.
But I think myself and Donnie will be able to communicate better and with the engineer he brought over, I think as a whole, as a team we'll just be able to get on the same page, and I feel like that I can help fix some of the problems by communicating with those two. But Donnie, I like that combination of having a good engineering staff, but I like having a good racer that if things go haywire, he's still got a good feel for what to do and what not to do just because he's been a part of the sport for so many years. And Donnie has been a great guy for what we've done so far.
!%Q: About your work with the Humpy's Heroes last fall, how are those guys progressing? Who can we look forward to show up in some racing series doing good this year coming our of that program?
DAVID RAGAN: Humpy's Heroes, obviously Humpy Wheeler has been an instrumental guy in my career helping me a lot as a young kid, and he had some young guys that he wanted to kind of coach and develop a little bit along and asked myself and Andy Hillenburg and Gary Nelson and a few of us if we would kind of go with him some to the racetrack and help him. Basically not catch the fish for them, but teach them how to catch fish or something like that. One of Humpy's sayings.
Andrew Smith was their overall winner, and he's a great short track winner. He's a promising young kid, got a good head on his shoulders. There's a young kid out of Florida, Josh Williams that's a racer that loves to work on his own cars.
And you hear Humpy talk about there's a lot of people that love to race, but there's only a few people that have the dedication and the fire in the belly, is what he likes to say, that they can make the sacrifices to make it. I think some of those, Josh and some of the Andrew Smiths and guys like that, they can drive and they've got the passion.
In this day in Motorsports, you know, the teams don't have a lot of extra money, where four or five years ago every team would have three or four development drivers just at the side. But you don't see that as much as you did a few years back. Things in our sport are changing, but those are two young kids that if they get an opportunity, I think they can make the best of it.
!%Q: Just curious on your thoughts for the weekend, there's a lot of excited fans out there. Is it kind of nice to get back to Daytona and give the fans something to shout about in January?
DAVID RAGAN: Yeah, I mean, for a driver when you get off the plane or when you drive through the tunnel, that's a good feeling, to be at Daytona, and you know that Speed Weeks is just right around the corner. Thanks to the fans for coming out. Obviously if they wouldn't come out, we wouldn't have this. Obviously this is the biggest race of the year for our sport, and it deserves all the credit that it gets.
I think by having some interest in January leading up to Speed Weeks and leading up to the Media Tour in Charlotte next week, I think it's just stuff to kind of put Christmas and the New Year's behind us and start thinking about racing. It's just good for everyone, and it gets everyone excited and thinking about February and the Daytona 500 coming up.
You know, it's a good opportunity for us to come down here and talk to you guys, see a few fans, sign a few autographs, and hopefully the end result is there's some extra buzz getting created around the Daytona 500 and everybody gets excited.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, David, and good luck this season.
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