Pocono II: Ford - Ricky Rudd interivew

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, will be making his 700th consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup start in tomorrow's Pennsylvania 500. Rudd, who qualified 27th, held a Q&A session in the Pocono Raceway infield media center following ...

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus, will be making his 700th consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup start in tomorrow's Pennsylvania 500. Rudd, who qualified 27th, held a Q&A session in the Pocono Raceway infield media center following Saturday's practice. NASCAR President Mike Helton also took part in the session.

MIKE HELTON, NASCAR President

"I wanted to stop by have the opportunity in front of Ricky and the media to congratulate him because when you stop and think about 700 straight races - we all talk seriously and jokingly about the schedule and how tough it is with the grind and how it doesn't get any easier - but when you stop and think about going back and having someone in our sport - which is probably the most difficult form of sport there may be when it comes to week-in and week-out being there and being on top of your game getting things done. For someone to do that 700 consecutive times is pretty remarkable. I've been reading and looking at a lot of different articles and stories and how many miles he's raced, how many laps he's raced and how long of a period that entailed. So when it's all said and done I just wanted to stop by and congratulate Ricky professionally and personally, but to also thank Ricky for using NASCAR to form a career. He's contributed greatly to NASCAR's success over the course of his career and, hopefully, has made a decent living out of it. But, more importantly, it's remarkable to reach that type of milestone tomorrow morning and I just wanted to stop by and congratulate him and tell everybody from NASCAR's perspective how proud we are of Ricky. For Mike Helton, who has been a fan for a little bit longer than that, not much though, how neat it is to be able to sit next to a guy and have a guy in our sport that has that much under his belt, that much stamina, that much commitment, that much emotion for being involved in something like NASCAR Winston Cup racing."

RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus

CONSECUTIVE STARTS IS REALLY SOMETHING THAT JUST KIND OF HAPPENS, RIGHT?

"That's probably the best way to put that. I never went out to try and set out any kind of record about being here the longest. My motivation was pretty much just trying to stay out of the fence and try to learn what was going on. I came from a background of go-karts and motorcycle racing and no car experience whatsoever, so the early days were just filled with trying to log track miles to figure out what was going on. Then later on you start to see that top 10 is not unrealistic and then top fives and then wins and the list goes on. Again, my goals today are not to see if I can't run 702 or 703, it's always been, 'what can we do' and let me do my part to go out and contribute to try to make things possible where we can go out and win a race. If we don't go out and win, then we're gonna try to get the very best finish we can out of it."

TALK ABOUT THAT FIRST TIME WORKING WITH BILL CHAMPION AND YOUR BROTHER.

"I guess the way it kind of got started I was a go-kart racer and all of us at that time ran superspeedway go-karts. They were 120-mile-an-hour go-karts and we ran tracks like Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta and VIR, which we're back at now - those type of tracks, which were the superspeedways. I came up from that background. One weekend I was at go-karts and the next weekend my brother and Bill Champion's second cousin were working on Champion's race car and he was getting time to maybe think about a driver change. He was getting up in age and all those guys - my brother and Champion's second cousin said, 'Hey, what about Ricky? Give Ricky a chance.' That's kind of how it got started. We bought a race car to carry it to Daytona and run in the Busch Grand National race. We bought the car, but we didn't know who was gonna drive it at the time. My brother and I were both pretty good kart racers. He didn't race the motorcycles and I did. We were pretty good at what we did and it was a tryout day. We went over to Langley Field over in Virginia and took this heavy Winston Cup car around the race track and whoever did the best got the nod to drive the car at Daytona. We both ran about the same speed. I didn't spin out and hit anything and he spun out about three times so I got the job."

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO LOOK BACK AT YOUR CAREER?

"What it does is it forces you to take a look back. In this sport you're always looking ahead and you never really have time to look back. Whatever happens today or Sunday's race, you don't have time to think about it too much because Indianapolis is the next weekend. You're never really focused on what's going on today or in the past, so this has basically forced me to take a look at the past and the accomplishments up to this point. I tend to look at it as, 'well, we haven't won a championship yet,' more of the negative side, but then there have been some great things to come along. We've had 23 wins along the way and just about 50 percent of those starts have been top 10 finishes and I think 21 top-10 finishes here at Pocono. You tend not to look at that. You're always looking ahead, so it's forced me to take a look back. Some of the old photographs that have been popping up, I think I've got these photographs but they've been in a room that I'll probably never see for another five years. Some of them are resurfacing and it looks like I've been around for 700 starts considering what I looked like when I started. I was 18 years old and have seen the full spectrum. When I went to the first couple of races I was getting kidded about coming in for a diaper change because I was 18 years old and the next youngest drivers at that time were in their early thirties, so now I'm on the older end of that spectrum so it's been pretty neat."

YOU'VE BEEN WITH SOME OF THE MOST HISTORIC TEAMS IN NASCAR. CAN YOU CAPSULIZE HOW DIFFERENT THIS WHOLE DEAL IS?

"I guess I still don't think of myself as being part of the history of the sport. I look at guys like Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, David Pearson - those guys - but you look around and they're not here today, so I guess I'm the next-best link to the past. It has changed quite a bit and I think that's one word that pops into my mind - you have to be flexible and adaptable as things have changed. NASCAR has really grown this sport tremendously over the years. It really wasn't my business to know the other side of the fence. I've seen this racing from the inside - from inside the garage area from the driver's standpoint and owner's standpoint. I haven't seen it from the promoter's standpoint and I haven't seen it from NASCAR's standpoint, but you look at where this sport is today and how healthy it is today compared to other sports and I'm proud to be a part of it and play a little role in that. Linking it to the past, when we first started off, we weren't particularly smart enough to see the vision of where NASCAR was going. What we did see was a sport where I felt some of the best race car drivers in the world were competing and I wanted to go out there and try to do my part and eventually learn how to race and drive these cars and try to beat these guys. That was my goal. I was never bright enough to sit here and say, 'You can make some good money doing this one day along the road,' because from 1975 when I first ran my first race until about 1982 I think I was making $110 a week. So it was never about money. To put it in perspective, in 1977 - this is going back before the streak started - my dad owned a used auto parts and salvage yard business. We had a little shop in the backyard that was big enough to put one car in there and later on we expanded where you could put two cars nose to tail. In 1977 we ran all the races with the exception of about five. We finished in the top five a couple of times and won rookie of the year and we did that with only one or maybe two full-time employees and I was one of them - with one race car. You went to the race track and if you wrecked that weekend, which you had your wrecks, you didn't go home. You went to the chassis shop, whether it be Banjo Matthews or Hutch and Pagen and you camped out there in the parking lot and you helped take the car apart. You let them do the frame work and then you put the car back together. You usually did the body work somewhere around town, somebody would lend you a body shop or a shop to do the work in and you literally wouldn't sleep. The car would get loaded up and off you'd go to the race track. We had a lot of volunteer helpers, but we were considered a top 10 team at that time, so that kind of puts it in perspective of where it is today."

ANY IDEA WHAT THE BUDGET WOULD HAVE BEEN?

"I know it wasn't a whole lot. My dad had some savings put aside and that's one reason we didn't run the Busch Series because his savings would have been used up running the local short tracks, so they kind of fed me to the lions I guess. They thought I could handle it, so we went to the big leagues. It seemed to me that we won $75,000-$78,000 that year and probably spent $100,000 and we were a top 10 team at that time. On a good day we had to hope to finish in the top five, but at that time, there were only about five what I would call Winston Cup teams that were at the professional level - where they had employees and a hired driver. You had Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison and there are some other in that group, but they were hired to drive race cars. All of the rest of the guys pretty much had garages or other business that they worked in and then they showed up at the race track to drive, but most of them worked on the cars like I did. I think of Richard Childress and those guys back during that time and it was different. I was always serious about what I was doing and committed that I didn't sit back and maybe smell the roses along the way. Those guys had a lot more fun because the pressure of coming to the race track and making the race was nothing like it is today. But you turn around and look at Richard Childress, he played a lot in his younger days but he's got one of the best operations out here today. I have a lot of respect that these guys knew how to make money, and I take Richard Childress an example. When I came to Richard in '82, he had enough money to go to the Daytona 500 and, if we won some money there, we could maybe go to maybe six more races that year. But at the same time he always had little side businesses and he was one of the first ones to start a used race parts auction. I think that was held in New York somewhere and he would race money for that and that would help fund his race team for the year, so it's really changed quite a bit."

A COUPLE OF CLOSE TIMES WHEN THE STREAK ALMOST ENDED?

"Just the two that I think have been documented. At Daytona the Bud Shootout, which was the Busch Clash at the in '84. I took a wild ride and a flip there. That one was doubtful. My brain was saying, 'get in the car,' and as a matter of fact I fought them to spend a night in the hospital that night. My wife finally said, 'Alright you hard-headed son-of-a-gun, if you're determined to get out of the hospital, go over there in the mirror and look at your face. Go look at yourself.' So I finally hobbled out of the bed and got over to the mirror and agreed that maybe I would spend the night, but I'm leaving the next day. That was pretty tough and then I tore ligaments in my left knee at Charlotte in The Winston race that preceded the Coke 600 back in '88. Prior to that, running our own team because it was so hard with just a limited number of people, there were plenty of days that you didn't really quit but you physically couldn't go on. You couldn't operate on two or three hours a sleep per night because it would catch up with you, so there were plenty of times we would actually cut back, stop, wait about six races, regroup and then go again. That happened quite a bit up until 1981 when I was basically hired full-time."

CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE DAYTONA INCIDENT BECAUSE YOU ACTUALLY TAPED YOUR EYES OPEN?

"It wasn't really by design. I was still swollen very much from the wreck. I bounced around in the car and pretty much came loose inside the car. The seat broke in half back in those days. It wasn't much of seat, it was about like this chair I'm sitting in with the right side on it, so the chair actually broke in half. That allowed me to have a lot of slack in the belts and, anyway, I bounced around and got beat up pretty badly. My face was swollen just from the trauma I guess. Anytime you sling and rotate like I did in the air - all of the midget guys tend to get this problem - it ruptures the capillaries in your eyes so you don't really have any whites to your eyes. They look like you ought to take a napkin and blot them and they would be bloody on the napkin. It actually wouldn't weep blood, but it looked that way. My face was swollen and that was Sunday. Monday it rained, so I probably wouldn't have gotten in the car Monday anyway. Tuesday we had the backup car out and I remember getting in the car. It took a little while to get in it, but then went out and got on the race track.

"I pretty much quickly came up to speed and, at that time, I remember going in the corner and all of a sudden everything got dim like the lights went out. I didn't know if I had some kind of head trauma or what it was. I got to looking and to thinking that as heavy as my eyelids were and I was having to squint anyway, that the fluid coupled with the g-forces was causing my eyes to shut. So while they were working on the car getting ready for the next run, I didn't tell them I was having a little problem, I went and got some duct tape. It was there so I kind of just took a couple of pieces and taped my eyes open. It was probably one neatest moments when I went down in the corner and I could see again, so I was real excited about that. It was just a case where the tape was available and it worked out."

YOU WON THE NEXT WEEK AT RICHMOND.

"Yeah. I compared it way back to ABC's Wide World of Sports. They used to have that guy that came down the ski jump and he would fall and tumble end over end. I always used to watch that guy take a beating and that's what I felt like the week before. Then we came back and won at Richmond the next week, so it was the agony of defeat first and the thrill of victory next, so that really couldn't have come at a better time."

MIKE HELTON DO YOU SEE RICKY AS LIKE THE CAL RIPKEN OF NASCAR AND DO YOU EVER SEE SOMEONE COMING ALONG LIKE THIS AGAIN?

MIKE HELTON "What amazes me is the heart and the character that Ricky has and I think that's what has made NASCAR successful - that type of attitude and aggressiveness to be competitive. It's remarkable and it's a little spooky to listen to, but it's pretty remarkable to think that Ricky and some of these other drivers want to race that many."

YOU'RE DRIVING A CAR DESIGNED BY YOUR SON.

RICKY RUDD "That was probably the neatest thing about 700 starts. We went to the studio for Totally NASCAR and my son, Landon, he's pretty big into electronics and video games - things eight year olds are interested in. But for him to want to go down to the studio, I knew something might be up a little bit, but I didn't quite figure it out. He usually doesn't want to do anything like that, so we get down there and we're on the set doing the show. Steve Byrnes is interviewing me and they've got the car in the background covered up under a tarp. I know usually they do it sitting down on the set and I thought that was a little unusual, but thought maybe they wanted to change the set a little bit. So he says, 'OK, this is your Pocono car under the cover and it's got a new paint scheme,' which I didn't know about. Still, you're thinking that people change paint schemes all the time and then he says, 'I want to bring out the young artist that designed this for you. Landon Rudd, come on out here.' So that was really a shock that he was able to do it, plus, it's been going on for a couple of months so he was able to keep it secret from me. He's pretty talented. He plays all the Playstation games and you can't beat the kids on those games, but, occasionally he needs a partner so I'll go play him. I'll just pick any car and go run it, but he always says, 'Wait a minute dad, let me get my car together.' So he's got to go to the paint shop and paint the car up and get it all ready to go, so he's had experience since he was about four years old getting ready for this day, I guess."

WILL HE FOLLOW IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS?

"I don't know. I think he's got the natural talent to do it. We have a little go-kart track, a little dirt track we play on. He's been riding four-wheelers since he was about three years old through the woods. He never would listen to dad. He's always going way to fast for his ability. He doesn't realize he's over the edge, but I think after bouncing off a tree one time he listens to me a little bit more. But he doesn't have that burning desire to want to do it all the time. He likes to do other things, so I don't know if he'll ever pick or choose it. I think he has the talent, but if he doesn't have the desire coupled with it - it's his call. If he decides he wants to pursue that, then we're there to do it, but, right now, he hasn't shown that desire. He has the ability, I think, but he hasn't shown the desire. But he's only eight years old. He's just out being a kid right now."

-ford-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Richard Petty , Bobby Allison , Mike Helton , Buddy Baker , Cale Yarborough , David Pearson