This Week in Ford Racing July 22, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus IS IT EMOTIONAL TO GET TO 700 STRAIGHT STARTS? "Yeah, it really is. Gosh, it didn't seem like it was that long ago when we first started...
This Week in Ford Racing
July 22, 2003
NASCAR Winston Cup
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus
IS IT EMOTIONAL TO GET TO 700 STRAIGHT STARTS?
"Yeah, it really is. Gosh, it didn't seem like it was that long ago when we first started running the full season - I think around 1981. I really had no idea. It wasn't a record you were trying to establish, it just sort of developed over the years. I guess looking back at it, you've got to be pretty proud. I've been in every Winston Cup race since 1981 and not everybody can say that."
YOU'VE AVOIDED SERIOUS INJURIES.
"There have been a few injuries along the way, but I was fortunate enough that none were serious enough to the point that I couldn't get in the race car that particular weekend. On the days that I was injured, there wasn't really any thought put to it about just getting in the car to keep this streak alive. It was more about getting patched up and trying to win the race and, if we couldn't win the race, try to get as many Winston Cup points as we could."
YOU'VE GOT AN OLD UNIFORM THAT YOU USED TO WEAR FROM THE STREAK, RIGHT?
"Yeah, I didn't even think about that until you said it. I should probably break out that old uniform from, I think it was a 1987 Motorcraft uniform, at least from that era. That would be something a little different, but we knew this day was coming. There are no guarantees that you can ever reach 700. You never know when you smack a wall if you're gonna break a body part that's not healable in a short period of time. When we started the season, I hated to kind of get too optimistic about it, but it looks like it's here."
OVER THOSE 700 RACES CAN YOU PICK OUT ONE OR TWO HIGHLIGHTS?
"I'd have to say probably that first Winston Cup win, which came in 1983 driving for Richard Childress. That was his first win as an owner and my first as a driver, so I remember that particular season. Then I remember winning the IROC championship around '91 or '92, and then probably winning the Brickyard with our own car in 1997. I guess those are probably the highlights that I can think of right away. There are probably a few more in there that I'm leaving out, but that's what kind of comes to mind."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TRANSITIONS YOU'VE MADE IN YOUR CAREER?
"I don't think we have enough time to talk about all the ups and downs that come with that, but, certainly, I've had a full perspective of this sport from not only a driver's perspective, but from a mechanic's perspective. I used to work on the cars and then drive them, and then the ownership situation when I was the owner and the driver. So I've learned a little bit about everything as far as this sport goes and I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. The ownership role was pretty demanding in the later years. It actually almost seemed too easy when we first got started, but then I could see why there wasn't more car owners with the way it ended up for us the last couple years of ownership. It's been interesting. Like I said, I've seen this sport from all sides and I guess what puts all of this in perspective is I'm sitting up here right now at Virginia International Raceway. It's a road course that has sort of been non-existent for like the last 20 or 30 years - it's been a cow pasture. They've renovated this place and now it's beautiful. They've spent millions of dollars on it, but I'm sitting here looking out the window and I remember it was 30 years ago when I raced go-karts here. That's how long it's been since I've been back, but now I'm back here in a stock car. It's kind of odd."
WHAT MAKES A GUY KEEP GETTING IN A RACE CAR?
"I really can't speak for everybody, I can only say what motivates me. My desire to win races and to try to get together and put a championship season together is what has kept me coming back. I've been pretty fortunate financially. It doesn't take a lot of money for our family to live on. We've been able to put a little money aside, so it's not coming back because you have to, I think it's the demand and the challenge of Winston Cup racing. If you ever get to victory lane, it's so sweet that you want to get back there again and it's not easy to get back there. The competition is as keen as it's ever been, and I think just the personal satisfaction when you win a race on a given day, you know you've beaten the best."
IS IT DRIVING THE CAR?
"No, just going out and driving a car, it doesn't do anything for me. I guess it did when I was a kid and first started running, but just going out there and getting behind the wheel and making laps, that never has really motivated me. I was the kind of kid growing up that if we were riding bicycles and made a play track, I didn't want to just ride with those guys, I wanted to beat them all. I think it's something you're born with. It's in your genes, it's in your physical make-up that makes you want to be so competitive. I can see it in the garage area. I can kind of see some kinds that run around the garage that are different drivers' sons and I can look them and say, 'If it's possible, that kid is gonna be in a race car and he'll probably be a darn good one.' It's just the way they're driven when they're young. I guess the motivation of getting behind the wheel of a race car that can win races, that excites me, but just getting out and making laps doesn't do a whole lot for me."
CAN YOU RECOUNT SOME OF THE WORST CRASHES AND CLOSE CALLS YOU'VE HAD WHERE THE STREAK ALMOST ENDED?
"There are probably about three of them. I can probably rattle them off. In 1984 I was with Bud Moore Racing. I was in the Bud Shootout, which was then the Busch Clash, it started the 1984 season and it was my first day on the job. I got wrecked, somebody bumped in the back of me and barely touched me, but turned me sideways and I took a tumble down the front straightaway. I spent the night in the hospital. They wanted me to spend a few more nights, but I basically convinced them to let me go early. The actually damage I had was torn cartilage in the rib cage. All of the capillaries in my eyes had ruptured from the g-force of swinging your body around. There was just a lot of trauma - face swollen, I was bruised and battered pretty bad. That particular weekend was tough getting back in the car and the next couple weeks in a row were tough. Fortunately, we came back and won the race the next weekend at Richmond. It took a little assistance from some duct tape to tape my eyes open so I could see where I was going because my face was swollen the next couple of races. But it wasn't anything other than just some pain to overcome. And then in '88 driving for Kenny Bernstein in The Winston race. It was when Goodyear and Hoosier were having their tire battle, we cut a right-front tire down and hit the fence pretty hard. That tore the medial collateral ligaments in my left leg. The Charlotte Hospital wanted to keep me overnight, operate immediately and re-attach everything. That would have meant being out of commission and being in a cast for six weeks. I didn't like what I heard and Kenny Bernstein agreed with me, he didn't like it. So he flew me up to Indianapolis to see Terry Trammell, the guy that puts all the Indy car guys back together, and he diagnosed the same injury but the treatment was quite a bit different. I was on an exercise bicycle the next morning and had a specially-built splint for my left leg and I was off and running again. Those two injuries come to mind right away and then you've got your flu bugs and food poisonings. I've been through about two or three different cases of food poisoning over the years, but I was fortunate to still be able to drive. I guess the timing worked out to where it was two days before instead of the night before."
ARE THERE CERTAIN RACES OR TRACKS OR TIMES WHERE YOU DIDN'T WANT TO GET IN THE CAR?
"Well, there have been those days and it's more related to how you're running. What's the best way to word it? I guess I was spoiled in my early driving career because I always had it where you could go out and if you didn't win the race, you were mad. It didn't matter if it was a go-kart race or a motorcycle race. In Winston Cup, even the best teams, if you get a guy that wins five or six races in a season, he's lost thirtysome races. I guess the hard thing is Saturday afternoon when you've worked and the team's put in 120 percent and you still don't have it underneath of you. Those are days when you wake up in the morning and you try to think positive, but you know it's gonna be a long day."
DOES THIS STREAK MATTER TO YOU AT THIS POINT OR IS IT SOMETHING THAT WILL MEAN MORE AFTER YOU RETIRE?
"Maybe a little of them both. I think 656 starts broke the modern record that Terry Labonte had and I think Richard Petty had it before him. It was nice to do that, but it didn't really do much for me. I think there's something a little bit magical about the number 700. It just sounds like a lot - 656 doesn't sound like a lot - but 700 in a row means a lot to me. I think the big thing, when I look back I didn't realize the stats because you're racing and looking forward, but what someone pointed out was that nearly 50 percent of those races were top-10 finishes. So I guess I'm kind of more prouder of that than I am maybe of the number 700."
WHEN YOU STARTED YOU WERE THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK IN 1981. DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE OLD MAN ON THE BLOCK NOW?
"Actually, it goes back a little farther than that. I ran for the first time in a Winston Cup car in 1975 when I was 18 or 19 years old. At that time, the next youngest guys was probably in their early thirties, so there was quite a bit of a generation gap. But I've seen the spectrum from both sides - coming in where you got kidded about coming in for a diaper pit stop, to change diapers. From that extreme to now, there are about four or five guys older than me out here, but I was able to accumulate a lot of experience at a young age in Winston Cup racing. There have been a lot of guys that have come and gone that have been older than me, but it's nice having that mileage under you. I'm definitely not the youngest kid on the block, but not the oldest either."
WHAT WAS THE FIRST RACE IN THE STREAK?
"It was in 1981 at Riverside, California. That started the streak."
HOW HAS THE SPORT CHANGED THROUGH THE YEARS?
"It's changed quite a bit. It depends on what motivates you. When I came into the sport, I didn't go Winston Cup racing to try to become a celebrity or a famous person. I did it because I loved the sport of racing. I grew up racing go-karts and motorcycles. That's really what has motivated me all along. Now, all of a sudden, there's some money that can be made in Winston Cup racing, so you have people here for different reasons. As far as what motivates me today, it's just the thrill of getting behind the wheel of race car that can compete and win a race. It has changed a great deal, some for the better and some for the worse. It's nice to go out and race and, I guess we're making really good money because I would have had to figure out what I was gonna do for a living eventually since I started racing so early. But some of it you question if it's better or not. Certainly, it's bringing in some awfully strong revenue to NASCAR and sometimes you wonder if it's with some sacrifices."
WOULD YOU DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN?
"Oh yeah, certainly. It was probably something that kept me very disciplined. I think some of these kids that have the desire or have the ability to drive race cars are kind of high-strung individuals that probably aren't keeping any focus. If I wasn't keeping such a focus on racing when I was younger there's no telling, I might have wandered off and got in trouble. But as a kid I was always motivated and reminded that all of the motorcycles and go-karts would be over with if I stepped out of bounds too much as a kid growing up and going to school. I had to have my priorities straight and it helped me stay focused and not get in trouble when I was younger."
WHAT KIND OF SACRIFICES DO YOU MEAN?
"A lot of personal sacrifices. When you get in this sport it demands 120 percent of your time. Things that don't sound like they're that big but just mean a lot to you - like high school reunions. I've never been to any of my high school reunions. There are some family get-togethers that I've had to miss - weddings, funerals, things of that nature - that you just simply can't do. You can't take the time because it might fall in the middle of a race or qualifying, so that's been tough. My son is eight years old and I've probably missed a few of his elementary school plays and things of that nature, things that don't seem huge but, to me, they're pretty big, because racing is 120 percent of one's time."
DO YOU REGRET SAYING SOME THINGS ABOUT THE YOUNG GUNS ISSUE LAST YEAR?
"What I said and what got published were two different things. I guess I regret that I said it because it's been taken out of context. A lot of my friends are the young guys on the track and I've got a lot of respect for them. But what was said is that these guys have got great equipment - that there are guys I came up with that had equal amounts of talent, but they didn't have the opportunity. I guess maybe I was just trying to let them understand how great of an opportunity they really had and not to throw it away. By the same token, they have to produce. The time limit a car owner is gonna give a young driver, they're not gonna wait two or three years to develop a driver. If this young driver can't produce in the first five or six races they're in the car, they're probably gonna be kicked to the curb, so it's kind of a mixed bag. I think it was over Jimmie Johnson when he won out in California. The question was asked to me, I didn't bring it up. They asked me, 'What do you think about the young drivers and how great they are?' And I said, 'Hey they are great. There are a lot of great, talented guys out here, but, keep in mind, they've never been in a situation before where they step right into a multi-car team, a teammate of a Jeff Gordon or whoever, that has the chassis and everything laid out for them.' So, they've got great opportunities, but, on the same hand, they've got to produce. That's what was said and what's been taken out of context or whatever, the media is gonna do what they want to do with it."
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT AN EXIT STRATEGY FOR YOUR CAREER?
"To be honest, I've never really had any long-term plans when I got into this sport. I'm sure when it comes time to exit, it will probably be pretty quick - luckily on a high note. It would be great just to finish your last race and go out in victory lane and then leave the sport. That would be my dream. Whether it happens that way or not, it's probably unrealistic to have it happen that way, but my goal is to try to go out on top if it's possible - at the top of my game anyway."
WHAT'S THE TRANSITION GOING FROM LOUDON TO POCONO?
"Really, it gets more back to the setup of the tracks. If you notice, we're getting into some flat tracks right now. We had Loudon this past weekend, Pocono coming up, which is considered a big, flat race track, and then we go to Indy, which is also the same way. They are very similar handling packages. The cars are set up very similar, even though the speeds are quite a bit different than the speeds from Loudon to Indy. But the cars, believe it or not, are set up just about identical from the short track to the bigger track. The transition doesn't take very long at all to adjust. We've all been to these tracks a few times, so it doesn't take very long at all, especially when they're all flat tracks."
HOW MUCH OF WHAT YOU'VE ACHIEVED FROM A SUPPORT SYSTEM?
"I'm not sure exactly what you're asking, but you have to have team chemistry and have to all be pulling in the same direction. If you've get a motor guy that's saying, 'Hey, the driver's not getting the job done.' Or the driver is saying, 'The motor is weak and they're laying down on you,' it won't ever pull together. But if you've got everybody on the same page and everybody believes in each other, generally you can overcome obstacles. Like this year for example, we haven't been the car and the team that we needed to be, but I can see some real big improvements in the last three or four weeks. It came because we had a choice of letting the thing blow up or saying, 'Hey, let's pull this thing together and let's work on it. Let's go test, test, test and make it better.' It's coming together because of a lot of guys putting in hard work and believing in each other. By the time we get to the three-quarter mark of the season, I really feel like we're gonna be pretty darn good."
DO YOU WORK HARD TO BE PART OF AN OUTFIT?
"You try to. It's gotten so hard now. The teams are so big. Back when you had seven guys working on the car and that was it, it was a lot easier. The place I was with last year probably had a couple hundred employees. It makes it hard to be able to be close to everybody, but you have to wander through the shop every now and then to say hello. I guess to answer you question, the driver is part of the team just as much as the crew chief. People kind of tend to look up to the driver as being more of the quarterback and maybe the guy they rally around."