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Ricky Rudd interview
 
May 21, 2002

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Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Havoline Taurus, will set the record for consecutive starts on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series this weekend at 656 when he takes the green flag for Sunday's Coca-Cola Racing Family 600. Rudd will break the previous mark set by Terry Labonte, who started 655 consecutive events from 1979 to 2000. Rudd spoke about the streak recently at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

RICKY RUDD -28- Havoline Taurus - WHAT ABOUT THIS STREAK? "To be mentioned in the company with Terry Labonte, and we all know how tough he is week in and week out. He hasn't just been out there. This guy is a champion. He's a competitor and wins races, and what can you say about Richard Petty and being named in the same breath with him. It's a tremendous honor to be with this group of guys and then for me to take the award at Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600 is a pretty neat deal. It's one of the things where you don't start your career thinking 'I'm gonna go out there and race every week just to win this award.' Week in and week out, I feel like I just do what I get paid to do and that's to go out and try to win each and every race we go to. If you don't win, you go out and give it 120 percent. Thinking about not driving sick or injured was really never a consideration."

DID YOU HAVE ANY CLOSE CALLS WHERE THE STREAK COULD HAVE ENDED? "I can think of maybe two. One of them was in the Daytona 500 way back in '84 and, really, there was never really a question of not racing the next weekend. It had taken me my whole career to get to a point to get to a team like Bud Moore and I wasn't about to let somebody else have that steering wheel that weekend because I might not have gotten a chance to get it back after that. So that was one time. The other one was during The Winston, I guess, in the late eighties back during the tire war. We blew a right-front tire and hit the fence pretty hard and tore the ligaments in my left leg. Even then, there really wasn't consideration about whether I was gonna start the race or not, it was just how can the crew work and adapt the car because I couldn't use the clutch anymore, they had to rig up a hand clutch. But, again, I don't feel like I've done anything special that any other Winston Cup driver wouldn't have done at the time. You do what you have to do to go out there and race, and not just race but to go out there and try to compete and win a race."

CAN YOU REMEMBER ANY MOMENTS ON TRACK WITH TERRY THAT MIGHT HAVE MADE YOU MAD? "I really can't think of anything. I've run into just about everybody out there on the circuit once or twice, but it's amazing that I haven't run into Terry over the years and he hasn't run into me. I can't really think of anything."

ON DRIVING FOR ROBERT YATES THE FIRST TIME. "That was a neat deal. I was just a kid at the time, but I think it's neat that I came back after all these years. He fired me 20 years ago and he hired me back. That was a big educational year to drive for Robert. I wasn't ready for that ride at that time, but to be back with him is a really neat deal."

DID YOU EVER IMAGINE YOU WOULD BE OUT THERE EVERY WEEK FOR THIS LONG IN QUALITY EQUIPMENT? "You did what you had to do. You didn't think about starting a consecutive streak at that time, you just did what you had to do to get to the race. In our case, in our early years, everybody worked hard and you'd get your car and go racing. It might be 30 days later and then we'd race again. Whenever my dad was able to sell some more used parts, we'd go buy some tires and we'd go race again. We didn't think about consecutive streaks. Just real quickly, to let you know how much Winston Cup racing has changed in my era, in 1977 we're at Talladega. The preceding week we had blown our last motor at Pocono, Pennsylvania. In '77 we were running for rookie of the year against a company called MC Anderson, which was a heavily financed operation, and we were starting out in my dad's salvage yard. We blew our last engine up at Pocono. The deal was that we had a tow truck at the time. It was a one-ton Chevrolet pick-up that had an aluminum box on the back and we pulled a trailer. That was a pretty nice rig in it's day, but we blew the motor and the only motor we had left out there was in the truck. Back then, you used a Chevrolet block and the only one we had was in our tow truck. My brother and I worked a deal. I pulled the motor out and he went to work on it. I wasn't very good at building stuff, I could tear the stuff apart, so I pulled the motor out of the truck. My brother took it back and stripped it down and rebuilt that motor in just a couple of days and we carried it to Talladega. We got to Talladega and got qualified and then right before the race in happy hour practice, we blew an engine. There weren't anymore spare motors, that was it. That was the last thing we could race with, so Robert was over there and I'm not sure exactly how we conned him out of a motor, but I'm sure we made some kind of promise that we probably wouldn't have been able to keep. I think the motor was like $7,000 at the time and it was a fair deal, but we didn't have any money to pay him. So we go out and we end up having our best race of the year. We finished fourth at Talladega and I think the purse was like $7,000 at the time. Back then you waited for your payoff, you didn't wait for the check to come in the mail, you went and hung out at the pay booth. So we went there, got the money and handed it over to Robert. It all worked out for everybody."

DO YOU THINK ANYBODY WILL REACH THIS STREAK BECAUSE OF THE SCHEDULE BEING SO LONG? "I think you're gonna see guys coming in much younger, but leave much younger. I think it will probably sort of mirror the Formula One circuit. You watch those younger guys come in at like 30 years old and then they sort of move on. I think you're gonna see that trend probably start to happen and it's already starting to happen. I won my first race when I was 26, but I had run something like 165 races before I won my first one. Times change and times move on, but I think you'll see the trend where guys come in younger, make beaucoup of money and be retired at an earlier age. Things are constantly changing. I think the farm system seems to be working for NASCAR, not only the NASCAR farm system with the Busch Series, but ARCA is a big part of that. My nephew ran last week at Kentucky and that's almost a throwback to the way it was twenty-some years ago. They just got a group they put together and they carried a car to the race track and finished third and now they're gonna go back and save their money. It might be another month before they can race again, but the farm systems are working. The sport is pretty healthy right now. I'm not always necessarily in agreement with what's going on with certain things, but, all in all, it's pretty healthy."

IF KENNY BERNSTEIN HAD NOT TAKEN YOU TO INDY AFTER YOUR ACCIDENT IN THE WINSTON, WOULD YOUR STREAK HAVE ENDED? "I blew a tire and hit the fence and tore the medial collateral ligament in my left leg. The local doctors here wanted to operate on me and I'd be out for six weeks. That was the end of the story and it was not even open for discussion. So Kenny Bernstein flew me up to Indianapolis later that afternoon and saw Dr. Terry Trammell. He was used to putting everybody's legs back together on the Indy car circuit when they crashed and he took a look at it. He had a big difference in philosophy on how to treat the injury and he had me on an exercise bike working out later that day. An operation wasn't even a consideration, but I think back then sports medicine wasn't as cranked up to the point where it is today. They look at injuries different. That was something where we couldn't deal with six weeks, so I guess we went to the doctor that told us something we wanted to hear. But had we not gone to see him, there's probably not a question that I would have gone with the local doctors here and been operated on. Instead of probably six weeks I probably would have been out two weeks just because of being hard-headed and determined, but, still, the streak would have probably come to an end."

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO REACH THIS POINT WITH THE STREAK? "It's a tremendous honor to beat that record. Right now we've got it tied with Terry Labonte and, obviously, the guys in front of me that have held this honor - not only Terry Labonte, but Richard Petty. It's a tremendous honor and there aren't a whole lot of people who can say they've got this record. It'll be a big day when we start the Coca-Cola 600."

DID YOU THINK YOU'D EVER RACE THIS LONG TO REACH THIS POINT? "No, I never really thought about it. The early part of my career was such a struggle just to get from one race to the next. In the early days we would run one race a weekend and then we might skip five or six before we could get cars built back together and go race again. The early part of my career was always a struggle just to get with a team that could run all the races. Once we started doing that around 1981, it was kind of amazing when I think back about never skipping a race since that year. Again, that's not something everybody can lay claim to because there were probably plenty of opportunities to have sat out on occasions when we decided to go on and get the race started."

HOW DO YOU FEEL AFTER ALL THESE YEARS? "I've been pretty fortunate. I've been fairly injury free. I've had a few minor ones along the way and some situations where you hurt and maybe didn't feel like getting in a car right away, but I'm pretty lucky. I guess the only thing that sort of popped up last winter was that I ended up having back surgery because I had a disc problem. That probably had something to do with the wear and tear of all those miles on the race track, but I guess if I come away from racing with just a little bit of a disc problem, then I'll be happy."

THERE'S BEEN SPECULATION ABOUT YOU RETIRING AFTER THIS YEAR. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS? "To be honest with you, I'm not sure exactly. I'm 45 years old and I know I'm not gonna be racing when I'm 50, so sometime between now and the next five years I'll be stepping aside. I think at this time I'd like to just take it year by year. Right now I'm coming off one of the best years I've had in my career driving the Havoline Ford Taurus. We contended for the championship most of the year and ended up finishing fourth and won a couple of races, so I had a good season. This season didn't get off to a good start, but we're starting to come back around. We probably should be talking about a victory we had at Richmond. We were lapping a car and a lapped car wrecked us, but we're happy to be in the top 10. We've got a good chance of finishing up well and you can't rule out a championship either, but somewhere along the line - if you go until you're 60 or 70 - performance is gonna start falling off. I'm just taking it a year at a time and as long as my abilities haven't deteriorated, I'll be out here another year. It could be a year, it could be two years or it could be three years, but it won't be longer than five."

SO A STRONG FINISH THIS YEAR COULD BRING YOU BACK NEXT YEAR? "I think so. I think that's the motivation all of us are out here for is to challenge for a championship and race wins. That's the biggest motivational factor you can have."

WITH ALL THIS TALK ABOUT HTE YOUNG DRIVERS DO YOU FEEL LIKE YELLING OIUT AND LETTING PEOPLE KNOW YOU OLDER GUYS CAN STILL GET IT DONE? "There's no doubt about the fact that you've got some young guys who have come into this sport and done an excellent job and you can't fault them for that. There have been many young drivers come along, but probably not that many with the opportunity a lot of these young guys have got today. Certainly they've got the talent. There have been a lot of young drivers in the past that have been come and gone that maybe didn't necessarily have the top-notch equipment and it's about timing really. First of all, good equipment is one thing but you've got to be able to take something and make something out of that good equipment. If you don't, you probably won't get another year to prove yourself. These guys are proving out and doing well. The only thing I guess I don't like that I see is that if a guy is leading a race - whether he's 50 or 20 - he should be mentioned. Just give credit where credit is due. The age thing is not really all that relative to me. If you're doing the job and you're getting it done, whether you're young or your old it doesn't matter because these teams are motivated. The guys that work on these race cars work awfully hard and put a lot of hours in. If their car is up front, they deserve to be mentioned and the sponsors deserve to be mentioned if they're up front. If they're in the back of the pack, then you can understand people getting skipped over."

DOES LONGEVITY HELP ON THE TRACK AS FAR AS HAVING EXPERIENCE? "I don't know. I think, if anything, it helps you be a little smarter about things. That's something when I watched these guys come along this year. We knew we had a big rookie crop. I'm a past Darlington Record Club president and used to conduct the rookie meetings a couple years back, so, usually a young driver comes out and has a lot of talent. They want to go fast right away and they generally don't think things through and that's what I've sort of been surprised by with this group right now. Not only do they drive good and drive smart, but they drive like they've got years of experience under their belt. A lot of that can be contributed to the teams. They have spotters that work with these guys and help them do a lot of their thinking and that's a big plus nowadays. I think it's a trend you're gonna continue to see in the future."

WILL THIS KIND OF RECORD SINK IN AFTER YOU RETIRE? "I think right now you're so busy trying to get to the next weekend's race and you're thinking strictly about competition. This record is a tremendous honor, especially to be mentioned with Richard Petty and Terry Labonte in the same breath. It's a big honor for me to be mentioned like that, but, in the same breath, you have to also say that a 16-year win streak means a lot to me also. So those two together, I think it just says that determination is hopefully something we'll be known for one day when we step aside."

HOW IMPORTANT HAS YOUR FAMILY BEEN IN THIS STREAK? "They've been tremendous. Linda has been with me the whole way. We actually went to school together and when I raced motorcycles and dirt bikes and eventually Winston Cup stock cars, she's been there for my whole career. She's been very instrumental over the years, especially when you come out and have an injury or something you're trying to nurse along. Without her help at home trying to get me through those injuries, I wouldn't have been out here being able to compete week in and week out without breaking that streak record."

WHAT ABOUT TERRY LABONTE AS A COMPETITOR? "There's no doubt about it, Terry goes out there every week and gives 120 percent. He's a Winston Cup champion and just a tough guy. It's unfortunate that I'm basically getting this record because Terry had to step aside a couple of years ago with an injury that he just couldn't whip right away. Throughout all these years we've probably had contact or run into each other, but I don't think we've ever had a harsh word against one another."

DO YOU FEEL LUCKY THE LAST 20 YEARS TO SEE THE CHANGES THAT HAVE OCCURRED? "Changes don't happen right away, they develop over time. I guess I've had the blinders on. I'm more tunnel-visioned because I look and focus strictly on the competition side of the race car. I look at the changes that have taken place in the equipment and have sort of been blind to all the changes around us and then, all of a sudden, you wake up one day and you've got 75,000 people in the grandstands. That was unheard of 15-20 years ago, so the sport has changed and the whole thing about it is that the fans will continue to come out as long as the races are good. The minute that changes, they'll stop coming so, hopefully, NASCAR keeps the races exciting and will continue to build the sport. And that's what I see happening."

The following comments were part of a Ricky Rudd "Ironman" teleconference on Tuesday, May 21.

DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO ADD ABOUT YOUR COMMENTS ON THE YOUNG DRIVERS, ESPECIALLY AFTER THE WINSTON ON SATURDAY? "I think some of this has maybe gotten blown out of proportion. Pretty much the comment that was said was, 'give credit where credit is due.' Now, unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to start that last segment in the Havoline Ford. We finished, I think, ninth in the first segment and 13th in the middle segment and we didn't transfer. I went up and watched it from the condo. I didn't actually watch the broadcast, but it's pretty obvious that the broadcast should have highlighted the young guys. I mean, these were the guys that made the show and these were the guys that ran out front. My point was that it didn't matter how old you were, if you were up there making news and getting the job done leading laps, then get credit where credit is due. Now in this case, obviously, the youth movement took over The Winston - there's no question about that. I didn't watch the broadcast, but if it was 100 percent dominated by the guys 25 or younger, then I would agree with the network on covering it because that was the news and that was my point."

WAS THE WINSTON JUST A FLUKE WITH BILL ELLIOTT BEING THE ONLY ONE OVER 40 IN THE FINAL SEGMENT? "I don't know. I've watched Sterling run awfully good this year. He's leading the championship and I've seen him lead a lot of laps. I don't have the records in front of me, but you'd have to go back and look at the stats. Again, I think if you see a pattern to it, then, obviously, there must be something to it. If you watched The Winston, there's no question that it was dominated by the young guys. Again, as far as getting TV time and getting credit, they deserved it. If you're not getting the job done and you're in the back of the pack, then my point is that you don't deserve TV time. But if you're producing, then you deserve an equal amount of TV time."

HOW SURPRISING IS IT TO YOU THAT THE WINSTON CUP RACE RIVALS THE INDY 500 ON MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND? "I'll be honest, as a competitor I never really looked at which is gonna be the bigger race. Obviously, we're so consumed with Winston Cup racing that we paid attention to the Indy race. Generally, they'll run at different times of the day, so we were able to tune in. Usually, almost every one of those transporters in the Winston Cup garage area stays tuned in to the Indy race before our 600 race. I think you have to look at it, I'm a fan of any type of racing. As far as one being bigger than the other as far as television audience, it doesn't really concern me. I think what you're seeing is that NASCAR is taking over in that category, but I look at it like football and baseball. They're both played with a ball, but they're completely different games. I think if there is a trend of the viewing audience going towards Winston Cup, I would say probably the division with the IRL and CART years ago didn't help that situation any for those guys."

HAVE YOU EVER DRIVEN AN OPEN-WHEEL CAR? "Really, as a kid, that was sort of where I normally would have been headed with the type of background of racing I did. I did open-wheel go-karts, not just short-track go-karts, but what I call super-speedway enduro go-karts that ran well over 100 miles an hour. A lot of guys came from that type of racing. Scott Pruett was one of the better known guys during that time I came up, but a lot of the guys went that direction that came from the karts - they usually went open-wheel. I grew up in the south, I grew up in Virginia, and, really, we were too far south for the Indy car racing. Most of it at that time was done out of the Midwest or on the West Coast, so I grew up really distant from that. I was a little bit far north for the stock car country, so I was sort of caught between the two different racing worlds. Really, I guess, my goals were eventually to go Indy car racing, but I really didn't follow either one of the sports really closely because I was so busy racing every weekend - whether it be motorcycles or the go-karts."

IT SEEMS A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE CROSSED OVER FROM INDY CARS TO NASCAR, BUT NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. "I think a lot of it, I'm just guessing because it's still expensive to do both forms of racing, but right now it seems stock car racing is getting a majority of the coverage. Sponsors, even though they're not readily plentiful, they're out there but I guess the problem we have and all forms of racing has is the cost it takes to be on the side of one of these race cars is getting so expensive that it's getting hard for a lot of companies to justify that kind of expense. But, as far as choosing which direction to go, it does seem like stock car racing is becoming more and more popular to the younger drivers that are coming up now."

DO YOU THINK NASCAR HAS MADE ITS PRESENCE KNOWN IN A PLACE LIKE INDIANAPOLIS? "I think you've got to look at the things that are there now. You've got Ganassi racing, who is represented in both series, and you've got Penske who has been doing it a long time representing both series. There's a lot of crossover. We have a lot of friends and a lot of technology that we work with comes from that form of racing. Crew members come from that form of racing. I would say the two series are probably more intertwined now than any other time in history. The engineering of stock car racing is basically going down the road where Indy car racing probably was five to seven years ago."

HOW MEANINGFUL IS IT TO BEAT THIS RECORD AT CHARLOTTE? "I think it's kind of odd the timing of it. We tied it at Richmond, Virginia, which is a track about 100 miles from where I grew up and then breaking the record at Charlotte, which is a track that I've really been in the Charlotte area for 15-20 years. To sort of do it on hometown tracks where the record was tied and then be broken is pretty neat. Charlotte is a big place. It's a fun race track and it's right here in the backyards of most of the race teams, but it's probably kind of odd that this record is about enduring the tough years and being there week in and week out. We're rolling into one of our toughest races being a 600-mile race at Charlotte is kind of odd timing and it's probably unique and probably favors what this record is all about."

DOES THAT MAKE THIS MORE MEANINGFUL? "I think so. Not to belittle any of the other race tracks, but the 600 is a pretty grueling race. It's not totally physical like a Bristol, Tennessee for us, but, pretty much, it's one of the races that physically, at the end of the day, you know you've run 600 miles at Charlotte. It depends on the weather. I guess we've been sort of spared this last week or so with some cool weather, but when the heat gets up into the nineties, it's a pretty tough, physical race here."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RUMOR MILL AND YOUR FUTURE? "I think the statement that I made and it still stands is that I really don't know what I'm gonna do next year, to be honest, and I'm not gonna make any decisions probably until July. It's probably gonna be based a little bit on how things go this year. We came out of the box with a slow start, but we quickly gained and we're back in the top 10 in points and within reasonable striking distance of the lead. So, the championship is still not out of the question right now. Our season mirrors last year a little bit where it wasn't until probably August at the Brickyard before we showed up second in the points and everybody wondered where we came from. We've got that type of season shaping up right now, but, as far as making a decision on what I'm gonna do next year, I'm at the end of a three-year contract with Robert Yates Racing and the Havoline team and when you start coming to the end of your contract, you obviously want to start looking and weighing all your options. The options right now are staying with Robert and, right now, that is an option. The other options are, if Robert can't afford for me to make a July decision, then, obviously, there are some other teams out there that would like to have me drive for them. My number one priority would be to stay where I am, but then the question of retirement comes up and I think it probably comes up larger than ever because not so much of age, I'm 45 and there are guys out there older than me, but breaking this career record which means you've run more consecutive starts than anybody in NASCAR history and you start to say, 'Well, gosh, that's a lot of starts. That must mean you're getting old and it's time to retire.' So that's probably how the retirement thing kicked into high gear."

IS IT EVER PREVALENT IN YOUR MIND? "I think once I got to 45, which was in September, I realistically look at that. I look at it and in the back of my mind I've set kind of a goal for myself that before I turn 50 years old I won't be in the race car anymore. I'll be enjoying some of the fruits of being able to make it up pretty close to the age of 50 and, hopefully, still having my health. I've got a young boy at home, seven years old (Landon), that would like to have his dad go an watch him play his baseball games and stuff. So I think all these things together probably makes me look at the retirement option more now than ever."

HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU PLACE BEING THERE EVERY WEEK? "It shows determination and, obviously, dedication, but to compare it to baseball and Cal Ripken's record is unbelievable with all those consecutive games. I think you have to put it into context. I don't think you can get into comparing sports, which I don't think you're asking that, but you have to admire him for what he's done for baseball and what he's been able to do. Racing, I guess our form of the ironman is running all these Winston Cup starts from 1981, but as far as being work to do that, it's come natural. I don't feel like I've done anything out of the ordinary that most guys wouldn't have done. Maybe a couple of times I probably drove with injuries that - no, I wouldn't say 100 percent of the people would have drove with, they might have sat out that weekend - but at the time I wasn't doing it with this ironman streak in mind at all. Both of my injuries were in the middle and late eighties, but, again, what I do every weekend - and I've done it since 1981 - is go out and give 120 percent for the race team that I'm driving for at the time, whether it be my own team or whoever."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW THE FOUR RACES IN 1975 WITH BILL CHAMPION CAME TOGETHER? "I'm trying to remember how that actually got started. I was racing go-karts and motorcycles at that time and my brother and his best friend - his best friend was Bill Champion's second cousin. I guess they had been working for about six months on a volunteer basis helping Bill Champion out with his race car in a town nearby where we grew up. I guess they worked with him for about six months and then I'm not sure exactly how it came up, but Bill Champion was getting up in the retirement years and was looking for someone to maybe take over his steering wheel for him. My brother and his friend mentioned that I did pretty well in motorcycles and karts and he ought to give me a chance and that's really how it got started."

YOU TOOK AN UNUSUAL ROUTE TO GET TO WINSTON CUP. "It really was. I guess it would be something like playing high school basketball and then going right into the pros. It wasn't really totally by design, the opportunity just kind of came up. 'Hey, do you want to drive a Winston Cup car this particular weekend?' I never thought about it being a major challenge or that I wouldn't be trained for that upcoming race. I never thought of that. I was always up for challenges. Remember, I was about an 18-year-old kid who was pretty cocky from doing well in motorcycles and go-karts and I was up for challenges. To have that opportunity, I probably didn't think about how big of an opportunity that was at the time."

AT WHAT POINT DID YOU REALIZE YOU COULD MAKE A CAREER OF THAT? "I never really thought about what I was gonna do when I grew up or what I was gonna do for a job. I guess I was always racing. I was racing motorcycles in high school and making what I call pretty good money back in high school days, but I knew from a very young age - nine or 10 years old - most kids want to be a policeman or fireman but my goal was to be a professional race car driver. I wasn't satisfied with just being one, I wanted to be one of the best. I wanted to be the guy that went to victory lane. I had made my mind up at nine years old that I was going there. In my family, nobody ever told me that was an impossible goal and that you need to be prepared in case that doesn't happen. I was fortunate that I was able to make it. It wasn't real easy. Obviously, during that time I ran a couple of races in '75 and a few in '76 and then in '77 we ran for rookie of the year. But back in that time it was very hard. Our goal was to run a family team and try to generate sponsorship dollars, which we were never able to come across sponsorship dollars. It wasn't working that way, so my dad shut down a family-run operation and my first actually paid job was driving for Junie Donlavey. I think I made $38,000 that year and that was more money than I had ever seen in my life, and I had to pay my expenses out that. I thought that was the neatest thing in the world - to be able to actually make a living as a race car driver. Then it went for another year or so where I wasn't making any money, but around 1981 and from that point on, I've actually been able to make my living out of it."

DID YOU GET SUPPORT FROM OLDER DRIVERS WHEN YOU CAME UP? "I think it was a different time then. I was 18 or 19 years old when I ran my first Winston Cup race. In that time period, the next youngest guy, by the time they made it to the Winston Cup level, they were in their early thirties. That was pretty common at the time. You really didn't have anybody for sure in their teens or early twenties at that time because you had to earn your way to the Cup position. You had to run the Saturday night tracks and show promise and then eventually move up. So, as far as getting any help, I mean if you went up and asked guys, they were more than helpful to try and help you. I probably got most of my education by standing on top of the trucks and watching guys like Richard Petty, David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough and all of those greats. I'd get on top of the truck and watch them drive off in the corner and watch when they got out of the gas and when they got into the gas. I just studied a lot and watched them at the race track. We didn't have the luxury of watching race films like you can now, so, most of my education was just by watching."

DID YOU DEVELOP ANY BAD HABITS YOU HAD TO BREAK? "I think that might have been one of my advantages when I started off young with zero stock car experience, period. I think that might have been a plus because I didn't have to spend years of undoing knowledge that did not work at the Cup level. Instead, I could learn from the best in the business by on-the-job training. I could sit there and observe and watch and, obviously, I would run races. I paid a lot of attention. A lot of my early years were strictly paying attention because, again, when I started my first race I didn't even know what all the flags meant. That's how green I was. I go-karts, I think we had a green flag, a red flag and a checkered flag and that was it. When I got to Cup racing, they had all kinds of different colored flags and I didn't even know what all the meanings of the flags were, so it was definitely on-the-job training for quite a few years. But, again, I didn't have to undo a lot of bad habits."

DID YOU THINK YOU WOULD BE DOING THIS SO LONG? "That was a big goal - to try and continue to race. There wasn't as many options as there are today and there weren't as many teams that ran all the races. The ones that did, a lot of these teams were owned by individuals that drove them. You have four or five teams that were what I considered winning race teams, but all of those rides were controlled by the veterans at that time. It was just a different time in history. At that time, I was 18 years old when I ran my first race and there wasn't anybody that you could communicate that was my age, so most of my friends at the race track were crew members that worked on the cars because most of the drivers were older at that time. Up until four or five years ago, the peak age for Winston Cup drivers - most of them ran into their late forties and early fifties. Earnhardt, himself, was like 51 or 52. So, up until the big youth push that's happened the last couple of years, 45 years old in Winston Cup was actually considered prime. Obviously, that's changing now."



 

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