Fontana: Ford - Ricky Rudd interview

This Week in Ford Racing April 15, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, captured the first of his 23 NASCAR Winston Cup victories at Riverside International Raceway on June 5, 1983. With the next series...

This Week in Ford Racing
April 15, 2003

NASCAR Winston Cup

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, captured the first of his 23 NASCAR Winston Cup victories at Riverside International Raceway on June 5, 1983. With the next series stop scheduled for April 27 at nearby California Speedway in Fontana, Rudd reminisced about that first win almost 20 years ago during a speedway-sponsored teleconference Tuesday afternoon.

RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus:

WHAT DO YOU RECALL ABOUT THAT INITIAL WIN AT RIVERSIDE? "I remember right much about it because it was my first Winston Cup win. I'm not really sure how the race unfolded or how we won it. I remember driving Richard Childress' car out there and that was Richard's first win as a car owner also, so it was a big day for us. I remember, just to show you how far things have come, there really wasn't an official Victory Lane. We were trying to do the Victory Lane stuff and TV was trying to get there, but they didn't have enough cable to get down where they had Victory Lane set up, so that gives you an idea of how much things have changed since then. It was a big day for us. I've always liked going to California and racing. As a kid, we raced go-karts but primarily raced them on the east coast, so I was real excited when we got a chance to race in California the first time. That was actually back at the old Ontario Speedway in '77, but the win came at Riverside in '83 and that really changed my whole career after that."

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO COME TO THIS MARKET? "From more of a driver's perspective, to me, as a kid when we raced out in California it was always a fun time. I guess maybe just traveling across to the other side of the country and racing was why, but when I came up through go-karts a lot of our stuff was built out in California so I knew some people out there when we would head west. A lot of the real famous motorcycle racers came from that area, so, I don't know, I always enjoyed going out there and racing. Plus, we started gathering a lot of fan support out there in that area. So, to me, especially being a road course, it was sort of a break from the regular routine of running ovals every week. I always had a lot of fun and enjoyed going there. I know that at the time I came along probably 70 percent of the drivers didn't do well on road courses, so they didn't enjoy going to them. Then you had the other 30 percent that did well and had fun on them and, I guess, I was in that 30 percent crowd."

YOU'RE LOWER IN THE POINTS STANDINGS NOW THAN YOU WERE AT THIS TIME LAST YEAR. ARE YOUR DISAPPOINTED AT WHERE YOU ARE? "I'm kind of with a new situation this year with the Wood Brothers and Motorcraft and the Air Force. We took a big hit at Talladega. We were actually as high as ninth in the points going into Talladega and came out 19th or so, and then we finished 11th this past week at Martinsville. But that 41st-place finish two weeks ago at Talladega where we were in that big 27-car wreck, that's when we took the big hit in the points. It's gonna take us a little while to dig back out of it, but we feel like we're somewhere in a top-10 or late top-10 type car. Our performance needs to be a little bit better, but the reason we're back in 19th is that the DNF at Talladega really killed us. Certainly, we'd love to be sitting here talking about leading the championship right now, but it's not that way so we just sort of work on our weaknesses and staying out of wrecks is probably our biggest problem."

HAS CARBON MONOXIDE ALWAYS BEEN A PROBLEM IN THIS SPORT OR NOT? "I can say that over the years you've always sort of been aware that inside the driver's cockpit you try to make sure you keep all the heat out that you can. I didn't really realize that, I guess, keeping the heat out was keeping a lot of carbon monoxide coming in the car from all the exhaust smoke. I know some tracks seem to be worse than others and I guess it's supposed to be a colorless, odorless gas but, to me, I can smell exhaust smoke because I've been around it so long. You can sense it and smell it. After all the races, when I first got going, after every race it was always common to have headache. I just thought it was from the stress and everything else. I guess we weren't smart enough to figure out that it might be carbon monoxide that's taken its toll on us, but over the years the air-conditioned helmets have come into play. I used to run a filter on my helmet. I thought it was a carbon monoxide filter and I understand that filter really wasn't doing much good, but I think a key is that the air we breathe in the race cars now through the cool system is much cooler now. I don't know if that has something to do with it or not, but when I get out of the car now after the race I feel like I could run another 500 laps. Whereas, going back in the early part of my career I felt like they had to drag me out of the car. Somebody would drag you and put you in a cold shower and turn the spigot on and wake you up. Then you could come back to life again and go on, but I haven't experienced that since the air-conditioned helmets have come along. So, I guess to answer your question, I'm not saying it's not a problem. Obviously, it affected Rick Mast and it has ended his driving career, but they say it's something that accumulates over time and gets worse, but, personally, I haven't really experienced problems with it."

YOU THINK THE COOL AIR THROUGH THE HELMET HELPS? "I think the helmet systems and the cool air is better. I'm not a doctor or a medical field expert, but I'm thinking it maybe has something to do with the cooler air that we breathe - maybe it doesn't get as saturated with the carbon monoxide as bad. The last 10-15 years, to me, if I had to go out and run another 500 miles when the race was over, I'd be able to do that today. Ten or 15 years ago, I couldn't have done it. I would time myself just to get to the end of the race, especially in the hot summer time, and feel pretty well used up. If I didn't feel used up and didn't have a headache after the race, then I felt like maybe I didn't drive hard enough. So I would have to say just the awareness in recent years of carbon monoxide being a problem has helped. I know the crews work real hard sealing the race cars off. The exhaust system, I know NASCAR polices the length of the exhaust pipes - things of that nature - to make sure the carbon monoxide and the exhaust smoke doesn't come inside the car. All of that works pretty good until you have a little fender-bender or something and now you've knocked the crush panels back, which separates the engine bay from the driver. Then you start to get heated up and start noticing the exhaust smoke. But, all in all, the last several years I haven't really felt like I've had a problem even though it's out there."

YOU HAVE A WEEKEND OFF HERE. IS IT GOOD TO HAVE AN EXTRA WEEK IN THE PROCESS OF COMING OUT WEST? "For the drivers it's not as hard on us as it is for the crews and the timing of it all. It really is about planning ahead. The teams have a lot more personnel and most all of the teams have a completely different test rig than they do from their race transporter, so that tends to free up a lot of time. But, really, with the bigger sponsors and more people and better organizations, it doesn't seem to cause the problems like it used to."

HOW WAS IT TO RACE AT MARTINSVILLE REPRESENTING A VIRGINIA-BASED OPERATION LIKE THE WOOD BROTHERS? "It's really meaningful, plus the U.S. Air Force is on the hood so we load those colors into every town, but when you roll into Martinsville, Virginia, you can't help but think of the Wood Brothers shop being just up the road from the race track and all the success they've had. Plus, they have a lot of family that comes out there, so there's a lot of pressure to do well at Martinsville. We try to live up to it, but you definitely know you're in Wood Brothers country when you get to Martinsville."

WHAT HAS THE TRANSITION BEEN LIKE GOING FROM A MULTI-CAR TEAM LIKE YATES TO A SINGLE-CAR TEAM? "When I was with the Yates organization, even though there were two teams, they pretty much operated independently. They were actually in separate towns from one another and it really wasn't a smart usage of the team concept. As much as the two drivers wanted to work together or help each other, nothing really applied. Jarrett had cars that were built in their shop and we had store-bought chassis. I understand now that Doug Yates has stepped in more and seen a lot of the weaknesses and fixed a lot of the problems they had. They've got both teams operating out of the same shop and with the same chassis, so when you do compare notebooks it does mean something. I sort of felt like we operated as a single-car team in the past and now we have a lot of the benefits from sharing with the Roush camp. That's where our chassis and motors come from and there is information available - so much so that it can overwhelm you sometimes with too much information. But I feel like maybe now we actually have more of a team concept going than we did before. We certainly aren't where we need to be, we're playing catch-up. I think today our best finish has been a fourth at Bristol, so we need to get more consistent. There are some reasons for that, like just-getting-to-know-your-new-team blues and stuff like that, but we're working through it. Hopefully, by the midpoint in the season we can talk more about the positive things."

ARE THERE ANY CHALLENGES BEING A ONE-CAR TEAM? "I would say if we were a true single-car team you would be tremendously handicapped. But after every Winston Cup practice on Saturday, Mark Martin and his crew chief, Ben Leslie, sit down with Pat Tryson and myself and we sit down as a group and talk about what we've got, where we're at and what we're planning on changing overnight. We kind of compare notebooks and I know it's been beneficial to us. Hopefully, it's helped Mark some, but that's been a big asset."

TWENTY YEARS AFTER YOUR FIRST WIN, DO YOU FEEL LIKE A DINOSAUR WHEN YOU LOOK AROUND THE GARAGE AND SEE ALL OF THE YOUNG GUYS AND THE NEW TECHNOLOGY? "Talking about the age thing, I'll be honest with you, I started racing competitively when I was nine years old and I raced against guys that were 20 and 30 years old who were shipyard workers. They were a pretty tough bunch of guys racing go-karts for money, but it seemed like when we got in those go-karts and put our helmets on, you didn't really notice ages. It was how well you drove your car and equipment. Definitely I would say that time seems to have flown by. You look around the garage area and, not only from the driver's standpoint, but you look at a lot of the faces that were there when I came into it and there are very few faces left that were around the same time I got started. Things change so gradually over the years that you really don't notice the big changes. You just sort of wake up one day and look around and things are quite a bit different. There's no doubt that NASCAR is a different series than it was even five years ago. There is a lot of young talent out there that's doing a good job and they've got great equipment. Times are changing. I'm not saying it's for the worst, I just see it changing and you've got to be flexible to roll with it to be able to hang around and be as competitive as somebody like Bill Elliott has been, and we've had some success over the years, but you've got to be flexible to roll with it."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RACING BACK TO THE CAUTION? "I guess I'm kind of old school. You race a guy all day long and race the wheels off of him to try to keep him a lap down. I mean, that's part of the purpose and, hopefully, nobody has trouble but cars develop problems during the day and sometimes it eliminates your best competition. To turn around and hand that lap back to them, I don't think the driver should have that responsibility to do that. I think the rule is wrong. I think it's been wrong for twenty-some years. I think it needs to be changed, but I don't think a driver needs to have that responsibility because you've got to think about what's happening. If you happen to fortunate enough to be leading the race and, all of a sudden, the caution comes out as you're going into turn one, you've got three-fourths of the race track to drive back to the finish line again. You've got to make decisions like, 'OK, here comes somebody,' and all the spotters are busy saying, 'Let our guy back in.' To me, that's not part of racing. It doesn't need to be a part of it and with the team concept you've got today, it can work out to be unfair advantages for the multi-car teams. It's not a safe situation to have happen. I think you're bringing up the Texas incident where we received our lap back, along with Kurt Busch, but I benefited because I was ahead of Kurt Busch when the caution came out. Kenseth was trying to let Busch back on the lead lap, so I benefited from that. I didn't quite understand it at the time as to how we got our lap back, but I think NASCAR figured out something because about two cautions later I spun out through the grass to miss a spinning Jimmy Spencer and went through the start-finish line, through the caution flag - got on the other side of the caution flag and cranked up and started going. Well, the leader had passed me under the caution and I learned that you can lose a position under caution. So we had a gift at one moment and the next minute it was taken away. That's neither here nor there. That rule at this day and time, I don't think has a place in racing."

HOW WOULD YOU FEEL ABOUT RACING TWICE AT CALIFORINIA? "Certainly, we would love to be out there. The facility is second to none and it's beautiful. I enjoy it out there, but, not so much the drivers, but from the crew side and turning cars around to get out there - certainly they can do it because they've been doing it all along - but if you keep adding dates without taking one off, I think that's where you run into problems. But California is certainly a facility that can handle two dates a year."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Jimmy Spencer , Kurt Busch , Rick Mast , Mark Martin