Ricky Rudd: "...A lot of the guys I raced against were steel workers, pretty burly guys. I remember almost getting my dad in a couple of fights over there because they were in their 30s, and I was only nine years old." Ricky Rudd, driver of...
"...A lot of the guys I raced against were steel workers, pretty burly guys. I remember almost getting my dad in a couple of fights over there because they were in their 30s, and I was only nine years old."
Ricky Rudd, driver of the #21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus, answers the fans' questions this week concerning Chicagoland Speedway, his early racing career, drafting and his idol, his father.
Since Chicagoland is almost identical Kansas Speedway, do you believe you can have a good race there?
"If the rules were exactly the same as they were last year and we had the same body rules and spoiler rules, I would say yes. But, I don't know. I'm not saying no, but we haven't tested there, and the rules are different and the tires are different. We have been really good on tracks of that size this year, but again the cars are different than they were a year ago. I won't know that until we get to the first lap of practice. You can usually tell pretty early what you've got. I hope so."
Do you like Chicagoland?
"I like it. It is very similar to Kansas. Last year, if we had run well at Chicago, I would have said taking the same car to Kansas we should be really good. I'd like to say that again this time based on our race last year at Kansas, but the rules are different, so don't put any money down yet. Let us have practice and Happy Hour first."
How long have you been racing?
"I was eight years old when I started, so 40 years, I guess. It was very similar to Little League. Kids come up pretty early in baseball. Their career didn't really start when they hit the majors. They had probably been going at it pretty aggressively since they were about that age, the same as I was when I started kart racing."
Did you know you wanted to be a race-car driver when you were a kid racing karts, or was that just an exciting thing to do as a kid?
"When I was little, I played other sports, mainly community league stuff, and I was an okay athlete, pretty decent. But, I really knew I wanted to race. I knew probably when I was 9, 10, 11 years old that was what I wanted to do. But, at that age every kid wants to be a pilot, a policeman, a fireman, but I knew I wanted to drive cars then. Again, maybe it was a childhood fantasy or whatever, but it never went away. It stayed with me. I raced Karts and I raced motorcycles. I remember bugging my dad. I told him I wanted to go run Indy cars when I was 15 or 16 years old. But I didn't have the money to do it, and where we lived we didn't have the connections to really know how to get going. I really didn't know how to go stock-car racing. The opportunity just presented itself. But, at an early age I did know that was what I wanted to do. The karts that we raced were professional. I say professional series, when I was 9, 10 years old, the two-cycle go-karts we raced were pretty fast. We ran on a track they used to call the 'blood bowl.' It was over at Hampton, Virginia, and they did not have a kids' class. My dad had to sign a legal document to let me race against the adults over there. They raced for money and trophies. It was a pretty tough part of the country. There were a lot of people who worked at the shipyard, a big ship-building place over in Newport News, Virginia. They built a lot of military ships - submarines and everything. Anyway, a lot of the guys I raced against were steel workers, pretty burly guys. I remember almost getting my dad in a couple of fights over there because they were in their 30s, and I was only nine yearsold. It could be a pretty tough situation. To me, that was racing. I didn't know anything else existed. That was pretty serious racing. They didn't call it the 'blood bowl' for nothing. It was pretty tough. And then there was a sanctioning body called IKF - International Kart Federation - and another WKA - World Karting Association - which are still around today. Anyway, we quit running at the local tracks and started traveling all over the country when I was about 10 or 11. Those karts would probably run about 80 or 90 (mph) the first year that I ran, and the next year they were running 118, 120 (mph). And I was doing that when I was about 11 years old. To me that was professional racing. My racing heroes were the guys that were in the sport that were the best at that. I knew guys from all over the country. We went to the Nationals to race, and I didn't know a whole lot about other racing. It was pretty neat. There was no money in it, just trophies, but it was very organized and I never really saw a transition from when I left go-karts for professional racing. The process was very similar. And, I raced probably six or seven years in the dirt bikes. I won a lot races in dirt bikes. We ran mainly in Virginia and Carolina, eastern Carolina. I'd usually run in the top two everywhere we went. Third was a bad day."
Who decides who to draft with - you or Fatback?
"It depends on who can help your situation. As far as who you go with, sometimes the crew tells you who you can pit with, and what I mean by that, sometimes you try to get together with someone who wants to stretch fuel mileage. A lot of it just develops as the race gets going. The spotter gets involved. The driver really doesn't know about that. You are just trying to hang onto anybody who will help you run better. Sometimes the cars will act differently depending on what car you are behind. Years ago, the cars would react differently if you got behind a Chevy or a Ford. Sometimes your car would push or would be loose, and a lot of it was car-related depending on the weight of the air being moved by the car you were driving. It wasn't always the model of car, but the particular car you were driving."
Do the Wood Brothers use Roush/Yates engines or do they build their own?
"They use the Roush/Yates package."
Who is your idol?
"Probably my father. That is the guy I look up to most. I have a lot of respect for him."