The Wood Brothers will enter the 2003 season with 97 all-time NASCAR Winston Cup victories, which is the fourth-highest car owner total behind Petty Enterprises, Junior Johnson and Rick Hendrick. Ricky Rudd will be making his debut behind the...
The Wood Brothers will enter the 2003 season with 97 all-time NASCAR Winston Cup victories, which is the fourth-highest car owner total behind Petty Enterprises, Junior Johnson and Rick Hendrick. Ricky Rudd will be making his debut behind the wheel of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Air Force Taurus next month at Daytona and earlier this week he spoke about what lies ahead, along with team co-owner Eddie Wood.
EDDIE WOOD, Co-Owner - No. 21 Motorcraft/Air Force Taurus:
ARE YOU ANTICIPATING THE START OF THIS SEASON MORE THAN MAYBE SOME IN THE RECENT PAST? "You look forward to every year. You've been home for two months and been ready to go racing for seven weeks, so, yeah, this year we're probably looking forward to it more than in the past because everything is new again. We've got a new driver, new paint schemes, and just a whole new outlook for us at Wood Brothers Racing. We've got a lot of support that we didn't have last year and everything is brand new to us. We have all brand new race cars due to the rule changes and, for us, that's a good thing. It cost a lot of money to do it, but I view it as being able to start over fresh and wipe out everything you think you were doing wrong - whether you were or not - and just start over brand new in 2003."
YOU'VE HAD YOUNG DRIVERS BEFORE AND VETERANS. NOW YOU'VE GOT A GUY LIKE RICKY IN THE CAR. CAN YOU COMPARE THIS SITUATION TO ANYTHING PREVIOUSLY? "It's hard to compare stuff like that. The advantage to having a guy like Ricky, with his experience I think it takes you less time to get from Point A to Point B. You get to the race track and it may take 30 minutes of a two-hour practice to get where you want to get. In some other cases you'll usually still get there, but it just takes a little longer. So far, he and Pat (Tryson), along with the chemistry within the team because of some other changes we made, is pretty good. We've tested six times during the off-season and, so far, everything is like one big happy family. It's really good."
IS IT JUST AS EASY FOR OWNERS TO GET BURNED OUT LIKE DRIVERS? ROBERT YATES IS STEPPING BACK A BIT THIS YEAR. "It depends on what your priorities are. With us, we just race. That's it. We don't hunt, fish, golf - nothing. We just race. That's what's most important to us. I'm 50 years old. I feel like 100, but so far as being burned out I've never even had that enter my mind. This is the way you do it. This is the way you live - you travel, you do what you do - and it is as normal to me to do what we do as it is for what you guys (the media) do is normal to you. In Robert's case, he was doing the motors and trying to run the team and that would be a lot. We don't do our own motors. We lease motors from Roush, so that takes a little load off Len and I. In Robert's case, I think it will help them. Doug is a very capable, very smart guy. I'm sure Robert is gonna be right there in the middle of it. He may say he's backing down, but you'll see Robert everyday at the race track because Robert's a racer."
DOES IT FEEL GOOD TO HAVE EVERYTHING FROM LAST YEAR BEHIND YOU AND NOW YOU CAN JUST CONCENTRATE ON RACING? "That's the refreshing part of it. Once we got the deal signed with Ricky, we were ready to move on then. All of that was done. You can look back and from that point on, all we've been doing is trying to get ready for this year with the race cars and the team. All of that contractual mess is over with and it all worked out for everybody."
HAS IT BEEN A SEAMLESS TRANSITION? "Yeah, things have been really smooth. We tested a couple of times before the season was over at Kentucky and Memphis and it was just like Ricky had been driving our car for five years. He just flowed right into it and that works well. That's what I mean when I talk about the chemistry being there."
ARE EXPECTATIONS HIGHER THIS YEAR? "You go into every year thinking you're gonna win the championship - everybody does. Hopefully, with the extra support we've got from Motorcraft and Ford Motor Company, and with Ricky's experience and the way things are going from a chemistry standpoint, I think the sky is the limit."
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft/Air Force Taurus:
SOME PEOPLE PORTRAYED ELLIOTT AS THE BAD GUY LAST YEAR. IS THAT JUST PART OF THE BUSINESS? "Elliott is a good friend of mine. I don't have anything against Elliott. He has a dream he's chasing and I think he feels he's found the right opportunity for himself. This is a tough business. I've been in it a long time - nearly 28 years now - so there are no hard feelings. It's kind of like the grass is always greener on the other side. Everyone pretty much has the same things to work with, it's what you do with it. Time will tell, but I couldn't be more excited about the team I've got. It's sort of a low-profile situation, which I kind of like, but we've got the same armament those guys have got, so I'm excited about getting the season going."
WHAT ABOUT POSSIBLY GETTING THAT 100TH WIN FOR THE WOOD BROTHERS? "It would be pretty neat. The Wood Brothers are one of the most winning teams in racing. They won at Bristol a couple of years ago and were second in the 500 last year, but they've been building this team. They haven't stopped building and a good example of that is we had five cars ready to go to the Daytona test. The trouble is we had too many cars and not enough test dates, but they're very serious about their racing. These guys are hungry. Without sounding cocky, I think we have a real good chance of getting that 100th win. I'm not sure about what point in the season, it probably won't be right out of the box, but they've got the tools to do it. If we don't win, I'll take responsibility because they've got the tools to do it with."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WORKING FOR THE WOOD BROTHERS? "It's a team I've admired for many, many years. I grew up on the other side of the state from these guys and always admired David Pearson and then Neil Bonnett went on and did a great job, and a lot of other drivers have come through the doors. But to have a chance to drive for a team that I've had the utmost admiration for and respect, and, again, they do things the way I like to do it. I had many opportunities out there on the table to look at and there were a lot of good race teams out there, but what I liked about the Wood Brothers team was that, in a lot of ways, it was very simple. Their main objective was to go out there and put the best race cars out there that they can and try to win races without a lot of diversions on the side. They don't have any car dealerships to worry about or other business - no engine companies or anything but just racing. So that sort of made things simple for me because they have the same goals that I have. I'm excited about getting the season started. Our testing has gone extremely well and it's just a fun place to be."
HOW HARD IS IT NOT TO SEE THE 28 ON THE TRACK THIS YEAR? "I think it's pretty disappointing. I happened to have the good fortune of coming through the doors and driving the famous 28 car. That's the way I looked at the Texaco car. It had a big history when I came there and I never looked at it as Ricky Rudd's car or Ricky Rudd's number, I just happened to be the driver that was designated to drive it for a certain period of time. It's a pretty sad deal that the 28 is not out there any longer. There are many different reasons, I guess, why that happened. I feel like the guy that made that car famous was obviously Davey Allison and then Ernie Irvan, but that car has a tremendous following and the fans are the ones who deserve to see the 28 run around the race track. I'm not really sure of the status on it, but I understand it will not be out there next year."
HOW MUCH PRIDE DID YOU HAVE WHEN YOU GOT THAT RIDE? "Davey and I knew each other pretty well, along with Ernie. Those guys couldn't carry on any longer. Obviously, Davey passed away and after Ernie's second head injury he wasn't able to continue on, so it was just nice to be a part of bringing that car back to Victory Lane again. It had been away from Victory Lane for a few years and then it re-appeared and I happened to be the guy that was driving it at the time. It was nice to feel like I helped to somewhat restore the 28 status that had slipped away for a while. We certainly didn't get it to the level that we would have liked, but at least we got it to Victory Lane."
WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE NOT TO HAVE A TEAMMATE THIS YEAR? "That's kind of a strange deal because even though I've gone to the Wood Brothers, which is known as a single-car team, and leaving Yates Racing, which was a dual-team effort with Dale Jarrett, we might have more information to share. The big difference is that at Yates you had store-bought chassis, which I ran, and Dale Jarrett had in-house Yates cars. So even though the notebooks were compared, and they did a fairly good job comparing notebooks, but a lot of times notes that would work for Jarrett's car wouldn't work on my car and notes that would work for me wouldn't work for Jarrett. Even though we wanted to try and make it work, it didn't click because of the differences in the cars. Unlike that situation, we're up in Stuart now and even though we're kind of by ourselves, we've got four or five teammates in the Roush camp. We purposely run the Roush chassis and Roush engines and the information that is there is available to us, so I feel like we've gained teammates more so than what we've had in the past."
HOW IMPORTANT IS TESTING BEFORE THE SEASON? "Testing is important. I sort of feel like you reap what you sew in this business. If you put in the effort, you get the rewards and these guys have already tested a bunch already and have a full plate in front of them. But wins to come easy. We left a test on the table last year and you can't do that when you're challenging for a championship. You need to use that test, plus another 20 more at independent race tracks. So these guys have the same philosophy I've got. You're not gonna get better unless you go test. That's their philosophy and that agrees with what I want to do."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON TRYING TO CONTROL GARAGE ACCESS? "I know they've got intentions to try and control it. It seems like there for a while it was getting more chaotic than it would have been a year ago with all the new rules they tried to put in place, but I'll give them one thing - they're trying to do it diplomatically without stepping on any toes. It's not an easy task if you say, 'OK, eliminate 30 percent of this garage traffic and do it overnight without stepping on any toes.' It's not an easy thing to do. I commend them for what they're trying to do and, hopefully, they're gonna be able to handle that without upsetting the fans. That's what's building this sport is the fans. If they can handle that in a diplomatic way where all of the fans are still able to get their autographs and stuff, I stand behind them 100 percent. As long as the people that need to be in the garage area are in there and the ones that maybe don't need to be - they're that 30 percent crowd that's eliminated - but, hopefully, it'll be a win-win for everybody and keep the garage area safe again."
DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO PROVE THIS YEAR? "I could say that I'm pretty hungry this year. I've been hungry for quite a few years, but I'm probably sort of fired up more so now than ever. I don't really know the real reason why, I'm just anxious to get out there and run and I'm anxious to do good. I sort of see this team as a sleeper and it's been a sleeper for a couple of years now. I'm sort of anxious to get out there and show the world that this is a great race team. I'm not gonna do it by myself and the team's not gonna do it by themselves, but I can't remember being this hungry to get going in a long time."
DO YOU FEEL YOU CAN CONTEND FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP? "Sooner or later the age thing is gonna creep into this. You guys didn't mention it, but I'll bring it up, I'm 46 years old and somewhere along the line a driver is gonna peak and he's gonna go down the other side. So far I haven't peaked. I've got the same desires I've had for so many years and the seasons I've had in the last three years have been some of the best seasons of my career. Is that age when things go away gonna be this year or next year or at 60 years old? I don't really know the answer to that, but I'm kind of anxious in the meantime to try to take advantage of what we have going for us while you still have time to get it done."