leaves Robert Yates racing for a three year deal with
the Wood Brothers and Ford.
The on-going saga “As The Rudd Turns” has finally come to
end, for now.
Ending months of speculation and rumors concerning his
future, Ricky Rudd finally has firmed up his plans for 2003
and beyond, signing a three-year deal with the Wood Brothers
to drive the #21 Motorcraft Ford Taurus.
The deal, announced yesterday, was the result of last minute
negotiations after the Wood Brothers and Motorcraft signed a
three-year extension on their current sponsorship of the #21
Ford through the 2005 season.
“Unbelievable. Incredible. I don't know what else to say,”
said team owner Eddie Wood. “Two weeks ago, I wouldn't have
bet you a nickel on our chances to sign Ricky. The
Motorcraft deal came together within the last two days. (Motorcraft)
said 'If you can get Ricky, we're committed. You go do
it.' I got on the phone at that moment and called Ricky
Rudd and I said, 'We can do it, you just tell me how.' And
that's how it started.”
Rudd obviously has impressed the brass at Ford, as once the
decision was made to go after Rudd, the deal was sealed
quickly. So fast, in fact, the rumor that Rudd
may go to the Wood Brothers never even materialized in the
For Rudd, 45, a native of Chesapeake, Va., the chance to
drive for fellow Virginian’s Len and Eddie Wood seemed a
perfect fit after it was announced earlier this year he was
ending his three year-old tenure as driver of the #28 Robert
Yates Racing Texaco/Havoline Ford.
“This came together very, very quickly.” Rudd said, “It's a
little scary how quickly and easily all of this has come
together. The bottom line, I guess, is that I trust Eddie
and Len Wood, and I trust the people at Motorcraft. We're
speaking the same language.”
“To have the chance to drive for the Wood Brothers was sort
of a dream of mine when I was a kid just getting started,”
said Rudd. I grew up in Virginia watching David Pearson
win a lot of races as a kid I noticed it was a family team
that I always wanted to be a part of.”
“It was a tough decision, but after sorting through it and
looking at all the opportunities and looking inside and out
at all these teams, my number one priority was to get with a
race team that could win races right of the box, that could
challenge for a championship, and these guys do it every
Rudd, currently sixth in the Winston Cup points standings,
has 23 victories in 754 starts, the most recent coming in
July at Sears Point.
Winston Cup’s current “Iron Man” with 667 consecutive
starts, Rudd brings over 27 years of experience to the Wood
Brothers team, which has been in operation since 1953. Many
NASCAR legends have driven for the Wood Brothers, such as
David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Neil Bonnett; and more
recently Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and Michael Waltrip.
Wood acknowledged that Rudd was always his first choice as a
replacement for current driver Elliott Sadler, who asked for
his release from the #21 earlier this year. Sadler,
ironically, has been singed to join Robert Yates
organization next year driving the #38 M&M’s Ford.
“I gave the same answer from day one,” said Wood. “I said,
'Until Ricky Rudd is in a seat, we're not gonna do
anything. When Ricky became available, that's where we
wanted to go.”
“Everything about Ricky fits us. Every race track we go to
Ricky is capable of being a dominant factor, if we do our
job and we've got to do our job. We're gonna do that. For
us, he's just a natural fit. It's a dream come true for us
to have Ricky in our seat.”
Before the team could go after Rudd, they first had to
hammer out a new deal with sponsor Motorcraft.
drove Bud Moore's Motorcraft Thunderbird from 1985 to
Photo: Ford (1986)
“We had one year of sponsorship left, and just not enough to
offer him,” said Wood. “Motorcraft came down to see us last
week. They told us they wanted to extend our deal, and
asked us what we thought it would take to get Ricky. We
laid it out and they said, 'Let's go get him.’”
"I never really had a plan B. We weren't gonna give up on
Ricky until the very end, so that persistence, I guess,
prevailed. Like my grandmother used to say, 'Good things
come to those who wait,' so, here we are.”
The signing ends months of speculation about where Rudd
might end up in 2003. After considering retirement at the
end of last season, he opted to stay with Robert Yates
Racing. His relationship with Yates began to sour earlier
this year after he and Yates reportedly couldn’t come to
terms on a new deal.
Up until last week, Rudd was reportedly a lock to sign on
with Chip Ganassi, bringing his sponsor Havoline with him to
a Ganassi Dodge. Havoline even scheduled, then cancelled, a
press conference last Tuesday that many thought was to
announce a new deal involving Rudd and Ganassi for 2003
which never materialized. Where yesterday’s announcement
leaves Havoline is unclear.
As for Rudd, he admits talking to Ganassi, as well as other
teams, but never finalized a deal with any of them.
“Chip and I had talked -- not only Chip, but I talked to
many different teams.” Rudd said, “Chip and I simply
couldn't come to final terms and, believe me, we tried.
There was a couple of weeks of negotiations that went on
and, contrary to what you might believe, it wasn't over
money. We just simply could not agree on terms.”
“It wasn't over money. There were other teams I could have
signed with. All along, I said, 'Pay me market value for my
driver services -- a top 10 driver,' and we never had an
issue with any of these teams over money.”
“I had a tremendous number of opportunities presented to me
by a lot of great car owners in this sport and it was one of
the toughest decisions I've ever had to make in my life.”
This will be Rudd’s second time driving under the Motorcraft
banner. He spent three years, from 1985-87, driving a
Motorcraft Ford for Bud Moore.
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