Native Virginians Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus, and Hermie Sadler, driver of the No. 66 Peak Fitness Taurus, participated in a Q&A session prior to qualifying for Saturday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series...
Native Virginians Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus, and Hermie Sadler, driver of the No. 66 Peak Fitness Taurus, participated in a Q&A session prior to qualifying for Saturday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race.
HERMIE SADLER - No. 66 Peak Fitness Taurus
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON? "Listening to Robbie (Gordon) talk, it sounds like he was talking about our team. It's just a struggle, there's no doubt about it. It's hard to start a team and build people and build cars and get people and sponsors. The best point that I heard him say was the quality of people it takes to bring to a race team to make it that much better. The saying is that the good people already got a job, so it's really hard to get really good, quality people to come help with a start-up team, but we have started to make some progress and started to make some races and that's the first step is to make races so you can work on your stuff and make it better. We still have a very long ways to go, but it feels good to be able to race a little bit. That's the first step for us."
ANYMORE PRESSURE TODAY IN FRONT OF YOUR HOMETOWN? "I don't know how it could be anymore pressure than it is every week trying to qualify. These are tough races to get in. It's no fun having to focus on qualifying and having to do that and then when the race starts you're two hours behind on your race setup. One problem leads to the next. It's not easy, but it's rewarding when you have a little bit of success, so hopefully we can have a good run this weekend. This is a great race track. It's fun to race on and some of the things we may be lacking in, won't show up as bad here as they are at some of the other tracks, so usually we have good time here."
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Taurus
"Our season so far has been kind of crazy, really. We've got pretty good race cars all year, it just seems like I keep saying the same old thing. We seem to have been in more than our share of wrecks. We didn't cause any of them, but we sort of find the mess as it's developing and we seem to get caught up in them. But we've only had about three or four races that we've actually run and haven't gotten swept up in a wreck. I think one of them was a seventh-place finish at Martinsville, an eighth at Texas and then last week at Darlington - 13th. So what we're trying to do is, we don't know if we're good or bad. We just need to go out and run some races and kind of establish a baseline. Is the car inherently tight all the time or are they inherently loose? And then they can bring that same race car back to the shop in one piece and tweak on it a little bit and make it a better car. But the way it's gone so far is we have a different race car every week because we've had a lot of wrecks, so it's kind of hard to fine tune and get better. But if we miss all the wrecks, I feel like on any given day we're somewhere between a fifth and a 12th place car week in and week out. So it's not a total disaster, but I'm sure we've got some improvements to do."
DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT THE TRACKS COMING UP? "I don't really sit there and look at it and say, 'Man, this is gonna be a great track for us.' It seems like I did that and all the tracks that we went to we ended up getting in wrecks so I haven't done that anymore. We did have a good test here a couple of weeks ago. It seems like anytime we've had the good fortune of being able to test, our cars have gone back to that race track and run pretty well. I think we were third-fastest in practice today leading into qualifying and there are some reasons why that is and it's because we had a test here and we had a good test here a week ago. The car was very fast in race trim. It was mediocre for about three-quarters of the day and then right at the end of the day Fatback McSwain made some adjustments and really just took it over the hump and took it out of being like mediocre car to being one of the better cars here. So we sort of unloaded that way and it allowed us to maybe work on qualifying a little bit more today. Maybe normally, and Hermie is up against this, we've been fortunate most of the season to be 35th in the points or better. So normally we'll spend 95 percent of our time on race setup and five percent on qualifying trim. Because we had a good test, we were able to come down here today and spend probably more like 75 percent race time and 25 percent qualifying and it makes a difference. That's where we're sitting right now. We're hoping for a good run. If I stay on the race track and don't do anything stupid, we probably have an outside shot at a front row spot and maybe a pole."
PLANS FOR YOUR FUTURE? "I'll try to comment, but I really don't have anything to say. I don't know any answers to the questions that I was asked a couple of weeks ago. I think that anybody that's 40 years old or older, I think there are probably at least 10 opportunities a weekend they get asked when they're going to retire. But you get asked that a lot. I told the fella that asked me. I said, 'Hey, I don't really know what I'm gonna do. I've got three years with the Wood Brothers. This is my last year with the Wood Brothers. Out of fairness to these guys, sometime in the summer time they're gonna need to know some answers so they can either replace me or whatever they decide to do. They'll need some answers for their race team.' So I'd love to be able to finish the last race of the year and make my decisions on what I'm gonna do then, but we don't have that luxury of being able to do so. So whether I want to or not, there will be some decisions that will need to be made and some answers sometime in late summer. That way maybe you guys won't bug me until late summer. There are some real issues coming up that I've got to address."
MORE ON THE TIMETABLE AND IS FATBACK INVOLVED WITH THAT? "I'll be honest with you, they've been so busy fixing wrecked race cars and trying to get our stuff together right now so we can go out and do something that it's never really come up. It's not been discussed. The Wood Brothers are the greatest people in the world to drive for. They're very hungry. They want to do well. They're taking all the efforts they've got and everything they've got financially and throwing it at this race team right now. It's a good race team and I think right now the goal is to try to prove to the rest of the world that this is a pretty solid race team. All of the other issues are sort of back burner and haven't really discussed them to be honest with you."
COMMENT ON 850TH STRAIGHT START? "That's a lot. You get asked numbers all the time, but it just adds up. It doesn't seem like that long ago I was 18 years old and starting my first race at Rockingham. I think the next youngest guy at that time was probably 30-35 years old. I was kind of in this sport when young wasn't cool and you sort of felt like a fish out of water. Now I'm on the other end of the spectrum. I'm one of the older guys and I sort of feel like a fish out of water because I'm on the old side. I've seen it in both directions, but it's a pretty good honor to be able to know I've been in a sport that is so tough and survived in this sport as long as I have. It's been good to me. I have no complaints and no regrets on how things turn out in the future."
CAN YOU COMMENT ON MANUFACTURER STATUS AND THE CLIMATE TODAY? "The only thing I can say is the manufacturers are a part of every team's effort out here. They contribute a certain amount, whether it be financial, whether it be engineering resources, wind tunnel time and so on. They're a very big asset to the sport of auto racing. On the other hand, I think the France's are very smart people. If you go back way before I came along in the early seventies and late sixties, the factory support used to be a little different. It was sort of dominated by the factory teams and everything was about the factory this and the factory that. NASCAR really took it on the chin when they pulled out of racing years ago. I'm not very good on the history of this sport, but I guess it's well documented what happened during that time period. But I think it was a wake-up call to the France family not to depend on the manufacturers. Back then there wasn't as much corporate sponsorships, so I think I've seen it switch from that era, where the manufacturers were absolutely necessary, to a time now that, yeah they're necessary, but the sport will survive without them. We'll miss them, but it will survive without them if that was ever the case, but I don't think that's the case."
CAN RIR EVEN OUT AND STOP THE ROUSH-HENDRICK DOMINATION? "I think one of the big variables that you have in the equation of one team running better than the other is aerodynamics. A track like this, once you get running and all that wind gets going and everyone is hugging around this race track, sometimes two-wide, you take that element out of the equation as far as aero-push and things of that nature that you hear a lot of at other tracks. So the big things are chassis and aero. Well, you sort of eliminate aero, so now you're just down to chassis. So the chances of those guys being upset or beat are probably much better at a shorter race track."
WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL OF A GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED AND SOMEONE INTENTIONALLY CAUSING A CAUTION? "I don't know how to answer that. Desperate people sometimes get desperate and they do desperate things, but that's the first time it ever, ever crossed my mind. You probably bring up a valid point. If a guy is not gonna win it and has no chance, do you bring that caution out or does a team car bring it out. I have a hard time believing that would happen, but I don't know."
DOES THERE SEEM TO BE A GENERATIONAL DIVIDE ON THE TRACK? "I'm not sure I'm the right one. Maybe Dale Jarrett is the guy you need to ask that question. When Jeff (Burton) is in his car or Hermie is in his car, I've never looked and said, 'I've got to beat these guys.' It's kind of crazy, but I race the car. I don't race who is behind the wheel. I don't see Jeff's face in there when I see his 31 car in front of me. I see the 31 car and I've always done that. I know it's kind of a crazy thing, but I think in terms of cars and not really drivers. I will say that it seems like guys are racing awfully hard right now, and I don't think it's really a generational thing. I think it's just the level of competition. It seems like the intensity level is turned up to the point where maybe you used to race at 97 percent and now you race at 101 percent, and because you're at 101 percent we see a lot more accidents than we used to. That's probably the only thing I've noticed in recent years, and I don't necessarily think it's a generational thing. I think everyone is sort of created equal when they're on that race track. What happens in private lives and what guys do, I'm so far removed from hanging out with old guys or young guys, I've sort of marched to my own beat and hung out with my family, so I can't really tell you off track. But on track, I don't know. You've raced a good while (Burton). Do you see anything different? It's probably just more aggressive racing. There are reasons for that and I don't think it's generational. A lot of times a guy has five laps fresher tires than another guy and maybe they're equal speed, he knows he's got to make that move sort of out of desperation because he's got five laps to get it done before his tires go away, so there's a lot of that sense of urgency that's there just because of the nature of how the cars are set up and the way the cars handle and drive this day and time. You've got to get things done when you've got the opportunity because there might not be a second opportunity."
HAS ANDY HELPED YOU SPOTTING? "Real quick, when Andy Hillenburg - when I was at Hendrick back in the late eighties and early nineties, Andy Hillenburg was our spotter about 80 percent of that time. Andy has Fast Track Driving School. I look at Andy more like every profession - professional golfers, professional tennis players - they have a coach. You think, 'Gosh, you reach that level - you might win Wimbledon - but you've got a coach that's telling you how to play?' Andy, whenever I've got the opportunity and whenever he's available, I'll use him at any and every race I can. Most spotters help you miss wrecks, but Andy brings a different element to the table. He's able to watch it from a driver's perspective. He's able to see things maybe that the average spotter wouldn't see, like maybe move that groove up a foot-and-a-half in turn one. He can give you some information. Besides just spotting for you, he can give you some information that might help you drive the race track a little better at that particular time on that particular set of tires the way your car is driving. So Andy is a big asset. He sees things ahead of time before they happen. The average spotters wouldn't. There are spotters that do, but he's one of the better ones."
SCANNER TROUBLE? "How many people at home or people's laptop went on the blink on a particular given day. Is it supposed to do that in this modern world? Ninety nine percent of the time you don't have a problem, but now and then you have a glitch. The scanner deal, we had some trouble. Our scanner or radio that our spotter uses had trouble with it. Fortunately, he carries a spare radio with him, but things do go on the blink occasionally. For me, as far as anything electronic, you always need a backup plan."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE WE'VE IGNORED YOU AS AN OLDER GUY? "My deal was never addressed to the print media. I think a majority of the print media calls it like they see it. If I had your job, to me, your job is to report the race that you see to the guy that wasn't there in the stands, couldn't listen to it on radio, and you give him a play-by-play if your editor would allow you that much space. To me, as a journalist, that should be your job. I think 99 percent of you guys do exactly that. My deal was aimed at television that can be manipulated and around to create a story - a second story, a third story. Don't get me on this kick, but what it is about youth is when did the youth movement come to NASCAR? Would you reckon it was right about the same time the big TV deal got signed maybe? What I'm getting at, and it's getting better, but the first couple of years with the new TV contract - it was before a lot of the young guys were doing and excelling very well on the race track. To me, I don't care if you're 100 years old or you're 10 years old, do it like the print media does - call it like you see it. Don't create a story. If Bill Elliott is out leading the race and leading every lap, at least show him on television and talk about him. Don't ignore him. That was my point. I think Jeff unfairly got, I wouldn't tag that on Jeff, but that was my comment and it got kind of taken out of context. But, again, it wasn't aimed at the young drivers at the time, it was aimed at the way the television media was handling the situation at the time."
MORE ON THE ISSUE. "I think there was a transition period. For many, many years - like Jeff said - you didn't have that many young guys in the sport. All of a sudden, you get maybe two guys a year would trickle through. You go another year and two new bright guys come in and you went like that. Now all of a sudden you've got 20 guys at one time. Now you look at the top 10 in the points, and if you look at the age group, it's probably younger that's dominating it. I don't have any problem if I'm being skipped over and I'm not performing and I'm not running good. But my argument was, if a team is performing - and I don't care about it for self ego - I care about it for our sponsors. We go out and we sell a sponsor that we do well, we'll try to get you TV time, we'll do this, and I'm looking like an idiot if you're leading the race and they don't talk about you. Bill Elliott was looking like an idiot. Now I understand that game, but at that point during the transition period I had a little difficulty with it."