Ricky Rudd/Robert Yates Interview

FORD RACING NOTES AND QUOTES MBNA Gold 400 Advance, September 21, 1999 Dover Downs International Speedway Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 10 Tide Taurus, has won at least one race in 16 straight years. As he...

FORD RACING NOTES AND QUOTES MBNA Gold 400 Advance, September 21, 1999 Dover Downs International Speedway

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 10 Tide Taurus, has won at least one race in 16 straight years. As he prepared for this weekend's MBNA Gold 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway, Rudd spoke about trying to extend that streak this season as well as his plans for 2000 on the Winston Teleconference. Robert Yates, who hired Rudd to drive the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus next season, joined him.

WINSTON TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT

RICKY RUDD --10-- Tide Taurus -- YOU'VE HAD SOME GOOD EFFORTS AT DOVER. "Dover has been a real good race track for us. We've won at least four times up there I guess."

YOU MUST BE HAPPY TO HAVE YOUR PLANS FOR NEXT YEAR SET, RIGHT? "Yeah, we really are. We worked hard to get the sponsorship package put together, it just didn't come about to get the type of funding that it takes to be competitive. I don't want it to sound like it was a last option. Anytime you've got a chance to go drive for Robert Yates, you put that option at the top of your list, so I couldn't be happier with the way the results turned out."

DO YOU THINK THE DAYS OF THE OWNER-DRIVER IS OVER AND HOW TOUGH WAS THIS DECISION FOR YOU? "I don't totally agree with that statement. Owner-drivers, I think sure as you're looking at the situation today it definitely appears that way with Bill Elliott's situation now as a single car operation and his major sponsorship running out next year. Our situation, we sort of led the way for a long time on the owner-driver category, but I think the opportunity is still there for an owner-driver to win a championship and win races, but it's gonna have to be properly funded...it probably needs to be a multi-car operation. If it was a multi-car operation and an owner-driver situation involved in that, I think there is still the right circumstances where it can be done but the majority is definitely not headed that way. As far as the decision-making process, was it tough...I didn't really feel like it was a tough decision. I made some mistakes as an owner by not working on options earlier in the season, even as far back as last year I probably should have been already working on sponsorship presentations and proposals. I guess I assumed the Tide deal was gonna come back together. We worked hard to get a sponsor from the time of the announcement at the Daytona July race that Tide was not coming back. From that point up until about a week ago, we worked very hard to try and get sponsorship put together. It just didn't look like it was in the cards, at least in that short time frame. We worked both avenues, I worked that very hard. The driving part, I really didn't go after that as hard as I probably should have to have a good option. The opportunity to drive Robert's car just sort of presented itself in the last three or four weeks. I got to looking at it really hard and said, 'Hey, this is sort of no-brainer.' We worked both areas very hard. Either way, I would have been pleased. It's a whole lot less responsibility on my shoulders just to go become a driver and I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to a little rest."

DO YOU LIKE THE IDEA OF FRANCHISING? "I definitely agree. I think any time someone new from the outside comes in, I think there needs to be an opportunity to open the doors for new teams to come in, but they need to look at pairing up with an operation that has been in existence for a while. Either they have to buy that operation out, merge in some way. Just to open the door to someone, I don't think they've paid their dues. I think the door should be open, but I think they oughta have to pay for the opportunity to be able to compete in Winston Cup today. I think there needs to be some protection for the car owners. You've gotta look at people like Junie Donlavey and you look at Butch Mock. You keep watching that list and, all of a sudden, you look at some pretty strong teams. You've got Andy Petree now with the team of Kenny Wallace and Kenny Schrader, that team is not far away from being the next team that possibly could be in trouble. I don't want to paint doom and gloom, but a new guy who can come in and bring lots of money to the table oughta look at some way of having to pair up."

DO YOU CONSIDER JOE NEMECHEK'S WIN ON SUNDAY AN UPSET? "I think you say it's an upset because Joe hadn't won before, but I've been parked next to Joe in the garage area for a while and that team is kind of hit or miss. They're sort of like what we are. Points, I think sometimes the media and public maybe pay a little too much attention to the points situation. Yes, you're back there and you're sort of out of the public's eye, but I'm telling you, the guys back there are trying to dig themselves out of a hole so they're gonna tend to experiment. They're gonna come to the race track with a motor and gear ratio that they might not finish the race, but if they do they're gonna have something that's gonna be...you don't have to worry about losing points if you blow up, so you can go for broke. I guess that's the go-for-broke attitude that won them the race. I know we're sort of in that position, so I don't see it as a tremendous upset. I see that as a team the runs very, very strong on occasion and they're hit-and-miss because they're in that sort of panic mode where they're throwing everything at it, so I don't see it as a terrible upset."

IS IT REALISTIC THAT YOU CAN WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP NEXT YEAR? "I don't think it's an unrealistic goal. I mean, I think it's putting a lot of pressure in the situation, I think you need a year to kind of learn each other and feel each other out. But I think you have to look that, if you didn't have the pattern to go by...if you didn't have the Dale Jarrett team with Todd Parrott and those guys doing a great job...if you didn't have that as your pattern or your template, then, yeah, you could say it's gonna take you two or three years, but with that being the pattern and if you get those teams where the 28 is contributing back to the 88 team and the 88 is contributing to the 28 and everybody is sort of a big happy family, sort of like you've got at the 18 and the 20 car with Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte. If you can get that chemistry to click pretty early on in a program and there's no question about it, you've got a motor program out there that is second to none, I don't think it's totally unrealistic that you could win a championship. A top-five or top-10 in the points, I think a lot of people would be upset if you didn't come away with that."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE EXPECTATIONS OF BEING AN OWNER? "I don't think there's probably much difference than any other guy that has a dream who wants to go out and own his own business some day. You're gonna do everything it takes to make that business successful. If it takes three days in a row to manufacture an order to get that order out, I don't think an owner-driver like I went through is much different than say a small business guy trying to make it in the business world. A lot of demands on our time. You're pulled in a lot of different directions. We've got 35-50 employees that you've gotta deal with and you're only as strong as your management and we have good management now. We didn't always have that, so there are a lot of demands on your time, a lot of demands on your schedule. Physically, it can tend to wear you down because of the long hours and eating junk food and stuff like that. I never take a lunch break, I usually have food brought in. Before this situation, I was in a gym almost everyday, so it can take a toll on you physically and mentally it can wear you down. I'm kind of looking forward to a nice mental vacation to be honest with you."

WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE 10 CAR? "To be honest with you, I couldn't tell you. I've got some opportunities coming in the door right this minute as we speak with some people that would like to partner up, keep that car going, put a driver in the car and become a part owner. I'm not really sure of the status, to be honest with you. I've gotta come up with some type of a realistic time line that, if I can't make things happen by a certain time line, then we might end up having a sale or an auction or whatever we have to do with it. But, right now, I'm trying to find the best home for this car. I've got some serious people who are interested in it and their interested in partnering up. Obviously, I'm not gonna be driving, but they're interested in partnering up because of the knowledge that I've gained over the years as an owner -- they're coming into it blindly. What becomes of it at this point, I don't know. What I'd like to see is some kind of partnership arrangement where the team moves on and goes on, hopefully, to have success. Earnhardt is doing it right now. I don't know, I don't want 100 percent ownership of it, I don't want that much of a headache factor but maybe some involvement."

IS IT A POSSIBILITY THAT ROBERT MIGHT PURCHASE THE ENTIRE SHOP AND RUN YOUR 28 PROGRAM OUT OF THERE NEXT YEAR? "I think that's gonna happen, Robert will own all the real estate. I have a building and six acres of property. We're in the process of working that out now, but it's basically gonna be his building. I'm just assuming, he hasn't told me 100 percent what he's gonna do with it, but I assume that the 28 car will probably run out of this building that I'm in this year -- they'll run out of that next year. But, again, I don't know 100 percent. Robert is gonna own the property and the building, but what his 100 percent plans are for that I couldn't answer that."

WHAT'S IT GOING TO BE LIKE NEXT SEASON? "I tell you, I've looked for many many years as a driver when I was coming up as a driver to try to find an operation. Robert's operation has always been at the top of any driver's list. The trouble was those opportunities they just don't come about. You get someone like Davey that gets in the seat and those jobs, they stay there for a lifetime because it's a winning operation. Really, to have the opportunity to drive for Robert and the history that goes with the Texaco Havoline car, there probably isn't a driver in the garage area that doesn't envy my position. I'll put it that way. I don't know how to say it other than with circumstance being what they are, it just sort of fell in my lap. I've worked very hard to try to build an operation like Robert's got and I haven't had the success on trying to build that, but to have that opportunity is tremendous. I mean, I couldn't say enough about the opportunity that exists there."

WHAT SIGNIFICANCE WOULD THERE BE TO WIN A RACE IN THE FINAL YEAR WITH YOUR TEAM, REGARDLESS OF THE STREAK? "I think one thing is it would show that the people we've got assembled are not rolling over and giving up. I've never given up on anything I've ever tried yet. The ownership role didn't take the course I anticipated, but I'm still fighting it right down to the end to produce results. I'd love to go out of here with a win record as an owner, something that not many owners can say that they came in and ran six year and left with a win record intact. You never know what I want to do down the road. Five to 10 years down the road, I might want to be 100 percent owner again someday, and I think that win record, I wouldn't say would be money in the bank, but an asset to you one day. But just personal pride, to be honest with you. Forget all that, just personal pride."

DO YOU FEEL DOVER AND MARTINSVILLE ARE YOUR BEST SHOTS AT EXTENDING THE STREAK AND HAVE YOU HAD ANY LUCK IN MAYBE GETTING ONE OF THOSE ROBERT YATES ENGINES? "Martinsville has always been a good track for me. The trouble I've got is the car I ran so well with last year there, we tried to run it this year and it's kind of like a homemade cake recipe, the guy that made the cake threw away the recipe. I guess that's the best way to word it, so we're probably gonna give up on that car and not carry it to Martinsville. We're gonna carry a different car. We tried to go there without the recipe book and it just didn't work, so we're gonna go there with something we've been running. It's a little bit disappointing because that car has always run very well at Martinsville, so we're gonna carry something back that the crew chief we have now (Michael McSwain) is familiar working with. I'm not ruling out Martinsville, but I look at a track like Dover, I think that's a good strong racetrack. Rockingham, Phoenix, Homestead -- I've tested there and I like that racetrack. I think the key is being able to have a Robert Yates motor under the hood and I don't see that coming for three or four weeks now."

HAVE YOU HAD ANY CONVERSATIONS WITH ROBERT ABOUT YOU AND HIM AFTER YOUR DRIVING CAREER IS OVER? "No, we've never really had any conversation on that. My goals are to go to the 28 team, put together as hard an effort as I can from a driver's standpoint and also, hopefully, bring some stuff to the table that I've learned through my mistakes as an owner. As these teams go through history and go into the year 2000, the staff that it takes to run a team is becoming tremendous. We went from 10 or 12 employees in the eighties to a team now where 50 employees on a single operation is not out of the way. I think there's good room for somebody in a front office. You're gonna need talent scouts, you're gonna need driver recruiters, you're gonna need many things. My goal is, I would like to be able to think that one day when I leave that operation that it's gonna be the last operation that I drive for. I want to go out on a positive, I want to go out winning races and, when I go out, hopefully, there will be a place for me. I look at the NFL and I see they have alumni night where they have all the guys down there who have been with that team over the years. I've got a lot of pride in what I do and I'll have a lot of pride with that 28 and 88 team. If there's anything I can do to contribute in the years that I do retire, I want to be a part of that. If there's a place for me that's fine, if there's not because I can't contribute, then I'll sit on a beach somewhere with my little boy and my wife and we'll call it quits."

DO YOU THINK THE NEXT STEP FOR OWNER-DRIVERS IS KIND OF LIKE A PACKAGE DEAL? "Kind of like a retirement package or something? YEAH. "I really don't know how to answer that. I think an owner-driver, you see it as a perk. What a driver can contribute after his retirement days. You've got about six or seven guys kind of in the same shape, their retirement years, and they're sooner rather than later. What kind of an asset can they be to a team? I know when Rick Mears retired from Penske they kept him on board. I think he ended up with a part ownership or something and he was basically sort of a talent scout and worked with the drivers and stuff. I think that's what Mark's plan is with Kenseth. I think Mark is gonna end up with a piece of the team. He will not have the day-to-day management responsibilities. I think Rusty is about a 24 percent owner at Penske, but it's enough to keep him involved, it's enough that they've been able to build stability in that organization without having to look for a driver when that driver's contract expires. I think it makes a driver feel more a part of that operation and I think it's a positive to have a driver wanting to be a part of that operation."

DO YOU THINK WE'LL SEE MORE OF IT? "I think what's gonna happen is as time goes down the road and the bidding war steps up to get drivers. Right now drivers are doing a whole lot better than car owners, let me just put it to you that way. The money that goes back into the operation the drivers do very well. As time goes on, those salaries can only escalate so far to get these good drivers. I think you're gonna find that owners in the future, to go after certain drivers, that's gonna be part of the package. If you want a top-three driver or top-five driver, that driver is probably gonna be offered a percentage of the team just to be able to lure him over there versus the next guy's team."

HAD THE 28 RIDE NOT COME ABOUT, WERE THERE ANY SPONSOR OFFERS THAT COULD HAVE TEMPTED YOU TO TRY AGAIN WITH THE 10? "We had something that came up sort of late in the game, just in the last three or four days before Robert and I signed up. It wasn't anything concrete, but it was real positive. Of all the sponsorship things we were working on, it was probably the most positive thing that came through. But it was a situation where it would probably have taken at least another 30 days to find out if it would work, could it be signed, or would it just move on and go away. I did not have 30 days to wait and, really, after I made my decision I got more and more excited about being able to leave the ownership role behind and concentrate on just worrying about being a driver...worry about being in a gym and getting myself back in good physical shape again. All of a sudden, after I made the decision, it was like a load of bricks was lifted off my shoulders. Life is gonna get fairly simple again and, at this time, I'm ready to go down the driver role."

ROBERT YATES, Car Owner --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus -- WILL YOU LIMIT YOUR ENGINE PROGRAM FOR NEXT YEAR? WHICH TEAMS WILL YOU HAVE ALLIANCES WITH? "Actually, we're working on that now. Part of how we develop things or being able to do things and having the budget to do it with, so without having the luxury of somebody just giving us lots of money to sit around and develop things, we go after business. That business is part of our development and income, so we're just trying to be as picky as we can afford to be and pick the ones that will do us the most good. We've been doing trucks, we've been doing Panoz and the LeMans stuff, which won the race this past Saturday, a 10-hour race. That's fine, but we really need to analyze and pick out the Winston Cup business that gives us the best knowledge. It's all about the knowledge, that you get the knowledge by having the dollars."

WHO IS SOLIDIFIED FOR NEXT YEAR? "I have some signatures, but we don't have them going both directions just yet."

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO WILL BE RICKY'S CREW CHIEF NEXT YEAR? "That's another one I can't tell you right this second."

DO YOU FEEL IT'S SMART TO HAVE CUP TEAMS START A BUSCH PROGRAM WHERE THEY CAN BRING ALONG A YOUNG DRIVER AND WILL THAT BECOME A TREND? "That is probably what I should have had going two years ago. Since I missed that, it's like I've had a bad experience because I didn't do it, well, is it too late to do it now. If you're able to get a veteran, knowledgeable winning driver such as Ricky, my personal opinion is I should stick to Winston Cup and let the Busch take care of itself and not worry about that. There are 60 or 70 cars there now so why bother yourself with that technology, but, on the other hand, I'm having some serious sponsors interested in me doing that. So I won't say know, but probably today, I'll tell you that I'd rather take the veteran driver such as Dale Jarrett or Ricky Rudd and run good. I've contributed to the sport. I've paid my dues here the last couple of years and brought a young guy to the business. I have no regrets, but it certainly wasn't the most enjoyable time. But we like each other and we've contributed to NASCAR and certainly to Kenny's experience. It was a tough way to do it, though, we should have come through a Busch deal for a couple of years."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT JOE NEMECHEK BEING CLOSE TO LANDING THE 28 RIDE AND HIS WIN ON SUNDAY? "There were a lot of guys, but if Ricky would have had a sponsor come through with him, then Joe was the guy I wanted. We were extremely close and he called me yesterday and I said, 'How about this timing?' I told him the timing was good for (him) and I feel good myself because I told people I thought Joe could get the job done, so I can boast about that after Sunday. I'm happy for Joe. I know that he's probably one of the best guys out here right now, so if he gets overlooked there will be some poor-sighted people."

WAS IT A NO-BRAINER FOR YOU TO HIRE RICKY? "Oh, certainly. Like I said, when I walked through the tunnel at Bristol everybody was screaming for Ricky. It's not only popular from the grandstands, it's popular within our shops. He's a guy that I helped his first year in Winston Cup with the 88 car. That was actually my decision on hiring him and also my decision on hiring Bobby Allison the following year, or having a big part in that. But I know him. He's got a pleasant family and he's done well. He loves every type of racetrack, so all the guys are excited about that. Yeah, it's a no-brainer."

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION AMONG DRIVERS WHO WANT TO BE OWNERS? "I used to want to build engines, drive a truck, jack a car up or change a tire and pay the bills and do all that stuff. This is big business to specialize and when too many people that are not...let's say you get a percentage of owners get too many meetings to talk about what your next purchase is gonna be, it's just too confusing. So I think more specialized and more individualized talents. That leaves the driver to driving, the purchasing agent to purchase and the parts man to part man and a tire changer to tire changing. It's just growing. I don't know where the end of it is. If you're part owner of something, what's 23 percent or what's 60 percent of something? I mean, right now the one thing that's exploding is the value, it's outgrowing the income right now."

DO YOU THINK THE SUCCESS YOU HAD WITH DAVEY ALLISON LED YOU TOWARD WANTED TO WORK WITH YOUNG GUYS FOR A WHILE? "I think you learn from experience. I had experiences with young drivers that were not so pleasant from a learning standpoint and much more pleasant ones with veteran drivers. So, I had that experience in my knowledge. I remembered back. I always sort of learned from Junior Johnson, 'Let someone else train them and we'll take them after that.' That sort of was my opinion, but at the same time, I had been successful with Davey Allison and nobody realizes how tough some days were. But because we stayed after it and the sport maybe wasn't quite as fierce as it is now, we made it through and it was a wonderful deal to be able to accomplish that. I just didn't have enough breath, enough energy to make it. When we decided to do that, we had two veteran drivers. We had Ernie and Dale and you saw us run one and two in a lot of places and we gave that up. Not only did we maybe not have all the ingredients we needed to bring to the table, but that's all we at least mustered up. I'd just like to get back to that more comfortable position."

HOW DO YOU SEE THE NASCAR RULE OF RACING BACK TO THE CAUTION FLAG? "I really think through the years NASCAR has taken a long look at the rules and what works and what's fair for the majority with safety being first. The way they do it, it's hard to argue with. There's that respect of where you could have a good car and you need to get that lap back and you get some courtesy from guys who will let you have that lap back. That's pretty good sportsmanship when that happens and that happens quite frequently and then you're back in the game again. So, if you have a flat tire and you get a lap down and you have a good car, being able to race back and pass the leader is very fair. I think in most situations with the amount of spotters and the radio communication with the drivers, hopefully, they can do it safely."

HOW MUCH DOES A SPONSOR HAVE A SAY IN WHO A DRIVER IS? "Your sponsor is 90 percent of your income and in our contracts we just don't give them a blank for them to fill in the driver. It's part of the team's responsibility, but the driver is your key marketing guy and you want the sponsor to be happy with that. In every case that I've been involved with, I've had that approval process whether it's in the contract or not. You want the driver and the sponsor to be happy with it. In this case we had a couple drivers names and had our sponsors watch and they have some input. Now, had I argued that I needed somebody and had a strong argument, I think I could have influenced a sponsor to go, I wouldn't say in any direction, unless we had something going that they didn't want to be associated with."

DO YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE A STANDARD PROGRESSION FOR DRIVERS TO GO THROUGH THE DIFFERENT SERIES AND GAIN EXPERIENCE? "I certainly do. I think in fairness and safety that there should be a program. I think Busch running the similar race tracks or the same race tracks, especially as a Saturday event and maybe some special deals, works really well for weekend entertainment. Certainly it helps the track afford things and it's a good stepping stone. What happened in the early years it was like, 'OK, there are no big-name guys out here racing,' and you go put a Darrell Waltrip in the car or Bobby Allison and they go out...there are stars in the show and generally they just go out and take the money like they're taking it from a baby. The Busch Series has really become so competitive that I think it could actually be done without the Mark Martin's, who is almost guaranteed a win...not knocking Mark, but in fairness to training these guys. If you don't open those doors for these drivers, then you're gonna take the top 15 drivers and go out and do this deal, it's a little bit unfair. Something else that's probably the most unfair, and also a safety issue, is you'll get guys that will come and show up for the Daytona 500, and if they can get a good qualifying time in, they're in that race. They'll knock that program that's gonna run all season long, they knock them out of the Daytona 500, so I think as a driver you should have to compete through Busch for a one-two-three year program and then you're much safer to go to places to race like the Daytona 500. In fairness, I don't see why any court should argue about that, but that's probably one of the things that could be cleaned up and I wish it would happen. Then, I wouldn't have gotten myself in the situation like I did that first year."

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR RICKY'S BUILDING IN MOORESVILLE? "The first is that we bought the building and not the contents. So at some point at the end of the year, he'll sell that. He's got some teams looking at it now. We went into a temporary facility and we actually bought some property in Concord and got all this nice layout for this race shop, but it's about an eight month process to get that building in shape, whereas with Ricky's we can pretty much move in. It's a good area. About 80 percent of our team knows the Mooresville area better than maybe towards Charlotte. In fact, there's even a long-range future, possibly, that the 88 team would like to move to that area too. So that's why we needed to get the acreage to go with it to possibly have both teams there. Again, I'm not committing to that, but we'd have the acreage for that."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT FRANCHISING AND ARE THERE ANY THOUGHTS TO PETITION NASCAR? "I look at this two different ways. The franchise way would immediately put some value in a team, such as Ricky's. What does Ricky have to sell? Really nothing, other than what the market value is. With rule changes almost every year, you really don't get much out of this. But, if he had that number 10 franchise, he could probably sell that thing for extremely good money, so that's the franchise value. On the other hand, what's made NASCAR so good and so competitive is it has not been openly run by owners, it's been run by one guy and he's kept it open to hard competition. Because it is a good show and because it's competitive, we have to step up and pay guys better money. If we were franchised, I'd cut my payroll. So, it wouldn't be fair to the guy who Robert Yates came up as the guy working in this business. If it had been a closed deal, I probably never would have made enough money to have an opportunity to buy a team. So, the whole world spins better by being open competition, rather than mixed deals. But, then there are some sad days where you don't make a race, you go home, you lose your sponsor. There is a lot of grief in that where franchising would take care of that, so I'm mixed on that."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kenny Wallace , Rick Mears , Andy Petree , Junior Johnson , Bobby Allison , Robert Yates , Mark Martin , Davey Allison