Watkins Glen: This Week in Ford Racing - Ricky Rudd

This Week in Ford Racing August 6, 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Ricky Rudd has a chance to tie Jeff Gordon for most road course wins by an active driver if he can take the checkered flag first this weekend at Watkins Glen. Rudd, who won his sixth...

This Week in Ford Racing
August 6, 2002

NASCAR Winston Cup

Ricky Rudd has a chance to tie Jeff Gordon for most road course wins by an active driver if he can take the checkered flag first this weekend at Watkins Glen. Rudd, who won his sixth NASCAR Winston Cup road course event in June at Infineon Raceway, has two career series wins at Watkins Glen (1988 and 1990).

The last time Ford swept both road course events was in 1996 with Rusty Wallace (Sears Point) and Geoff Bodine (Watkins Glen).

RICKY RUDD-28-Havoline Taurus

YOU'VE WON TWICE AT WATKINS GLEN, BUT IT'S BEEN A WHILE SINCE YOUR LAST VICTORY THERE. "I kind of put it in the same category as Sears Point. We've actually gone up and tested at Watkins Glen a couple of years ago, and we've had some good runs recently up there. It's one of those deals, I think, we go up there, we run well, then we have some kind of a problem and fall back, and we don't ever get back to the front again. We finished fourth there last year, so it's not a total bad experience for us when we go up there. But we haven't gone up there and really led and dominated races like we have in years past. We went out to Sears Point and tested before that race and had a really good race car out there, so that car will go to Watkins Glen. I'm expecting a better run this time."

SEARS POINT HAS BEEN CHANGED OVER THE YEARS. WHAT ABOUT WATKINS GLEN? HAS IT REMAINED THE SAME? "The Glen hasn't changed at all since the first time we ran out there. I think they put the chicane in there to slow everybody down in that inner loop they've got. But what's really happened is Sears Point has gone through all these changes. We used to take a different race car to Sears Point that you would take to Watkins Glen. Sears Point used to have a lot of left-hand turns in it, so you couldn't go with a car built to predominantly go to the right. Now, the way they've made that track much simpler at Sears Point, it's made it very similar to Watkins Glen and the fact that there's predominantly right-hand turns. So, the same car now that works at Sears Point will work at Watkins Glen and should do very well."

IS WATKINS GLEN MORE LIKE A TRUE ROAD COURSE, SIMILAR TO WHAT YOU GREW UP ON IN GO-KARTS? "Watkins Glen is very simple to drive. On a scale of 10, the level of difficulty is probably about a five. It's a very easy race track to drive. It's a very fast race track, but those types of race tracks are what I drove. As a matter of fact, I used to race go-karts at Watkins Glen, but when they used to run 'em, they used to run that inner loop like the sportscars will run. It was on our schedule, we just never traveled up that way to go race. Tracks like Road Atlanta, Riverside, California, all those type tracks. Virginia International Raceway -- VIR, which they've recently re-done, made a nice track out of it -- that was one of our go-kart tracks. So, very similar road courses, we just never made it to Watkins Glen. As far as comparing it to the go-karts when I was a kid, turning left, turning right, that comes naturally. In go-karts you didn't have a gearbox to deal with, so you didn't have to worry about shifting, you had right foot gas, left foot brake. And the transmissions that we have in the Winston Cup cars today has made it similar to that. You brake with your left foot, gas on the right and just grab a gear and go."

HAS THAT BEEN THE GREAT EQUALIZER AS FAR AS YOU COMING INTO THE SERIES AS A ROAD-COURSE SPECIALIST? "I never called myself a road-course specialist. I didn't come up through road racing like the Scott Pruetts and all those guys. There's a big gap between your go-kart racing and your car racing. There's a pretty huge gap right there. I just was lucky that when I went road-course racing for the first time, I adapted very well. And I adapted to the right-foot braking, the heel-toe downshift method, which really was the only way you could make it work back when I first started Winston Cup road racing, which was in the early, mid-eighties. I had a lot of success in those years. But some guys, really how their success came was not simply how you drove the car but how you dealt with the transmission, how you dealt with the downshift. Upshifting was not really a problem, it was the downshifting. And I adapted pretty quickly to that. I went to the Bondurant school when it used to be out in Sonoma. I went to a three-day school out there to learn how to downshift, and was able to pick up on it pretty quickly. In the early days, a lot of people had trouble because braking with your right foot was very unconventional. Braking with your left foot is what most of the people in the Winston Cup garage area do today. So, try to tell someone that you've got to brake with your right after using your left foot all those years on short tracks as they came up, it was very, very awkward to them. So, a lot of people were not able to adjust. Now, with the gearboxes we have today, you don't have to adjust, you can continue to brake with your left foot."

BEFORE THE NEW TRANSMISSIONS, TELEVISION USED TO SHOW YOUR FEET DURING A RACE AND THAT SORT OF SERVED AS A TRAINING FILM FOR SOME DRIVERS. "In hindsight, that probably wasn't a smart thing to do at the time, when you had to brake with your right foot. When you go to road-racing school, they teach you a method, how to heel-toe downshift. It just simply didn't work for a Winston Cup car, the method they teach you at a Bondurant and such, because our cars, the brakes have gotten much, much better. They're good now, but for a long time they weren't very good, so the method they teach is to brake with your right foot, but brake with top part of your foot, the ball of your foot, and roll your foot over on the gas to match the revs when you downshift. What I did, it worked very good in a light sportscar, but in a Winston Cup car with very little or no brakes hardly at all, you had to use not only the top of your foot, that wasn't strong enough, you had to use your heel, your leg, your back, and everything. You had to put all that leg effort into the cars to get it to whoa down, and the method that everyone was taught just didn't work for Winston Cup racing at that time. What I probably succeeded in doing was to show people a method that did work at the time."

WOULD WINNING BOTH ROAD COURSE RACES THIS YEAR BE A FEATHER IN YOUR CAP? "Yeah, that would be a real nice season, two road-course wins. And it's not impossible, we run good at both road courses. Again, we sort of took Sears Point for granted for many years because we didn't go out there and test. There are reasons for that. We knew we could out there and run well, but we really didn't take it that seriously because if you test and use one of your seven test dates and go to a road course, it only applies to two tracks. Whereas, if you take a test at a place like Charlotte, that will apply to four or five different tracks. So that was the reason we didn't go all the way out west and test, but we did this time. We learned a lot that I think will apply to Watkins Glen, so we're looking forward to it. It's not impossible to win two races road course races in the same year and the way I look at it, somebody's gotta win it, so it might as well be us."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Scott Pruett