Q&A with Ragan, Wood brothers and Wolfe
• David Ragan, driver of the No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion, returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend looking to do what Kyle Busch did on Sunday in Las Vegas – win in front of his hometown fans. Ragan spoke about the best and worst part about going back to Atlanta.
• The Wood Brothers, owners of the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Fusion, and driver Bill Elliott are running a limited schedule this year and, after a two-race hiatus, will return to the circuit this weekend for the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Woods have more wins at AMS – 12 – than any other race team; their last victory there was in 1993 with driver Morgan Shepherd – and with a little help from defending series champion Alan Kulwicki. Co-owner Eddie Wood remembers that day, and talks about the current team’s preparation for this weekend.
• Brian Wolfe, Director, Ford North America Motorsports, has watched Matt Kenseth win the first two races of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, including the Daytona 500, and Greg Biffle capture last weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event in Las Vegas. Wolfe spoke about what that kind of success means to Ford Motor Co.
David Ragan, driver of the No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion, returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend looking to do what Kyle Busch did on Sunday in Las Vegas – win in front of his hometown fans. Ragan spoke about the best and worst part about going back to Atlanta.
DAVID RAGAN – No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion -- WHAT’S THE BEST PART ABOUT GOING HOME TO ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY? “Probably just knowing the best way in and out of traffic and knowing where to park at, and just the simple things that come on a race weekend. I’ve been there for probably 10 straight Cup races and even though I’ve only raced in a couple of them, just being at home and seeing the family. All of that is great, but just being comfortable with everything that’s going on around the weekend and knowing a lot of people, and the racing should be fun as well at Atlanta.”
WHAT’S THE WORST PART ABOUT GOING HOME TO ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY? “Trying to get everybody passes. I think that everyone thinks that Mike Helton gives me about 25 garage passes for Atlanta and it doesn’t work that way, so we try to accommodate everybody when we can, but I’m just trying not to have too many Ragans on the NASCAR guest list.”
SOME KIDS WHO GROW UP IN CHICAGO LOOK AT A PLACE LIKE WRIGLEY FIELD AND DREAM OF PLAYING THERE ONE DAY. WAS THAT THE WAY YOU FELT ABOUT AMS GROWING UP IN GEORGIA AND BEING A RACE CAR DRIVER? “Absolutely. I think every racer loves to dream about Daytona and Indy and places like that, but Atlanta is a track that I could relate to as a young kid. I never got a chance to go to a Daytona 500 as a kid or even to the Indy 500 or the Brickyard, so Atlanta was the closest thing to NASCAR that I had growing up, and going and seeing all the grandstands and all the race cars and trying to take pictures through the garage fence – stuff like that is what I can remember as a kid. It’s always a lot of fun to go back and see what’s changed over the years and certainly the things that are familiar to you.”
AMS SEEMS TO BE UNDER THE GUN SOMEWHAT FROM A FAN PERSPECTIVE AND HOW MANY PEOPLE TURN OUT EACH YEAR. AS A LOCAL GUY WHO KNOWS THE AREA IS THAT AN UNFAIR CRITICISM? “I think everyone loves Atlanta Motor Speedway and I think if you look at the racing overall the last 10 years it’s got to be one of the best race tracks on an average year after year. I know there are some tracks that may have a closer finish here or there, but on an average the racing in Atlanta does not get any better. I think everyone back home in South Georgia, they’re faced with a tough challenge because there are just tons of things to do in Atlanta. You’ve got baseball. There’s the National Hockey League. There’s football. There’s all kinds of shows and events, so Atlanta is just a happening city and it’s a tough job on Atlanta Motor Speedway’s part to try to go up against a lot of that other stuff happening in town, but I think we always hear that talk about ticket sales and the amount of people coming, but every race I remember, when they drop the green flag, there’s a lot of people there. I think every one back home in Georgia, they’re busy working and they can’t go out and buy their tickets and do everything until the day of the race, so I think all the talk will quiet down a little bit when they open the gates on Sunday and all the working men and women back home have a chance to breathe and they get out of Sunday school and they can go watch a race.”
The Wood Brothers, owners of the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Fusion, and driver Bill Elliott are running a limited schedule this year and, after a two-race hiatus, will return to the circuit this weekend for the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Woods have more wins at AMS – 12 – than any other race team; their last victory there was in 1993 with driver Morgan Shepherd – and with a little help from defending series champion Alan Kulwicki. Co-owner Eddie Wood remembers that day, and talks about the current team’s preparation for this weekend.
EDDIE WOOD – co-owner, No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Fusion – WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT WIN AT ATLANTA IN 1993? “That was the spring race, and it had been snowed out from the week before. It was a snowstorm similar to what just went through there this weekend, except bigger. It was cold, real cold, I remember that. [Alan] Kulwicki had had trouble early in the race – I don’t remember what happened to him, I think he got into an accident, but something happened to him early in the race. We were down to making it on one stop. Let’s say there was 100 [laps] to go, and we were running along there and we had a flat tire, a flat right-front. So, we had to come in under green and change it, and, of course, we got a lap down. And we kept running and running, and it had cycled back through to where we were back leading the race. We were going to make it on fuel with one stop; we had to stop like five or six laps early because of the tire, so that messed up the whole deal – we thought. So, as it went along, we were thinking, ‘We might make it. We’re going to try.’ So, Kulwicki was standing behind me on the box – I stood right beside the tool box, we didn’t have the big condominiums we have right now on pit road, I stood on a box that had a welder in it and Kulwicki was standing behind me, and he was like, ‘You’ve got to get him to back off! Save gas! Save gas!’ That’s what we were doing, but he stayed until the very end of the race, and we made it on fuel and we won the race. It was going to be a one-stop deal and we were going to win the race, if it all played out and stayed under green, then we had to stop early, and it ended up that we made it anyway.”
ALAN KULWICKI WAS AN ENGINEER? “Kulwicki was a mechanical engineer, yes.”
WITH NO COMPUTERS, HOW DID HE KNOW? “He knew. Kulwicki was a racer. My dad and Len were the ones figuring out the fuel mileage, it’s just the way you did it. You just knew. I don’t remember the number of laps at the time, but I’m going to guess that it was 65 laps, that’s your window, and he began to sense what we were doing. You know, we were just talking as much as you can talk during a race, but he was just standing right there with us. There’s a picture in my office of him standing there with us. And, then the next week we went to Bristol and we lost him in that plane crash.
“It’s the same schedule we have now, actually. There was a week off after Atlanta; well, that particular week was eaten up with going back to Atlanta and running the race. The next week we went to Bristol.”
YOU HAVEN’T BEEN AT THE TRACK SINCE DAYTONA. HOW DID YOU SPEND THE LAST TWO SUNDAYS? “Sunday, I watched the race. I didn’t really know how to do that. It’s like when you watch a football game – you’re kind of up and down and out, halfway paying attention, but I watched the race and I had my computer on with the NASCAR Track Pass, where you can watch the lap times just like you were sitting on the pit box on pit road. And then you could click and listen to anybody’s radio and hear what’s going on. That was cool. So, I just kind of watched the race. It was different, yeah, but I talked with some of my friends before the race to get an idea of what was going on. Dale Inman called me and talked to me and kind of got me up to speed, you know, all the goings on that you usually know about but wouldn’t know about not having been there. It was okay. It was different, though.”
WAS IT A LITTLE EASIER TO WATCH A RACE IN WHICH YOU DIDN’T HAVE A CAR? “I missed a race the year that Ricky Rudd finished second at Sonoma to Tony Stewart. I had been to a Busch race and my flight was cancelled from Milwaukee to Sonoma, so I wound up at home and I watched the race. Watching our car, that was probably harder because you didn’t know any more than if your car wasn’t in it. That was before text messages.”
DID THE SUCCESS YOU ACHIEVED AT DAYTONA HELP MOVE THIS TEAM FORWARD – EVEN WITH THE ABBREVIATED SCHEDULE YOU’RE RUNNING THIS YEAR? “Yes. Daytona starts out everybody’s year good or bad. We missed the race last year, so that was really bad. But then if you make the race and have trouble in the race and finish in the back or don’t get to run at all, that’s bad, too. We needed to run the whole race. We didn’t need it to rain – the way our car was and the way our pit strategy worked out, we needed about 15 or 20 more laps, at least. It did help the overall program just because we ran well, and all the work that went into that paid off. The same amount of effort has gone into Atlanta, and will go into every race we run. We’ve been to the shaker rig two or three times since Daytona, they’ve been to the wind tunnel a couple of times, the pull down. We haven’t been track testing anywhere, but every day has been some sort of R&D for the future.”
SO, SO FAR, THE PLAN HAS BEEN A GOOD PLAN. “Yes. But, I do miss not going to those two races, don’t get me wrong there. That is kind of the hard part of it, but we are rebuilding and hopefully we can get enough sponsorship to go back full time in 2010.”
Brian Wolfe, Director, Ford North America Motorsports, has watched Matt Kenseth win the first two races of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, including the Daytona 500, and Greg Biffle capture last weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event in Las Vegas. Wolfe spoke about what that kind of success means to Ford Motor Co.
BRIAN WOLFE, Director, Ford North America Motorsports -- HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE START TO THIS SEASON? “You couldn’t ask for a better start. Obviously, we’re so proud of Matt. He had a real rough season last year and he’s just a fantastic driver with a great personality and great morals and ethics, and when you see everything come together for him and the whole Roush team being prepared with the right setups, the Yates engine shop working very diligently over the off-season to have really great motors coming out at the beginning of the year, we had a lot of preparation and then like in any of these races you have to have the right opportunities to exercise that preparation and I couldn’t be more happy with the way things have turned out. I’m looking forward to a really good year. Even with some of the cutbacks we’ve had financially, it makes it – in my mind – all the more important that everything we do we question and understand the goals going in, so we think it will impact the way the teams perform. So far I’ve been real proud of everybody and they’re doing it.”
YOU TALKED ABOUT PREPARATION. HAS THE NO-TESTING POLICY BEEN A BENEFIT TO FORD AND ITS TEAMS? “I think overall it has been because, again, everybody is in the same boat. With the analytical tools that Ford has, which we’ve been working on for many years, we got much of that dialed in very well last year. I think we did really good at the end of the season, a lot in part to those tool sets.”
WHAT DOES A GOOD START THIS YEAR, COUPLED WITH A STRONG FINISH TO ’08 MEAN TO FORD? “There are a couple of things that are really important. The reason that everyone knows we’re in motorsports is to help with the brand image and to help sell more cars and trucks and really make the company healthy. But the underlying assumption is you have to be championship capable and you have to have wins on the track. With money being as tight as it is, most all of our spending is signed off on at the vice president levels within the company, so it was kind of humorous because I had some money that was going for funding for further development on our new NASCAR engine. I walked in and Mark Fields was there and he started clapping and said, ‘That’s a great start to the season with two wins,’ and then the controller handed him the document and said, ‘Here’s the bill.’ So it was kind of cute, but there’s no question that winning really does uplift the team. They see it and they’re proud of it, but we have to make sure we follow through on the other side and bring them sales and service. The other thing that we really want to push more in the future is that we have great service within our dealers and with our warranty being so good, it’s a double-edge sword. On one hand, it’s great for the customers and it’s great for Ford Motor Company, but when the dealers were used to a lot more warranty work in the past, it affects their cash flow and their profitability, so we’ve got to bring more service into the dealers. We’ve got the Quick Lane deals, so it helps us a lot on the foundation and making sure that people are excited about us, but we’ve got to follow through and make sure we’re doing our part to get more car sales and more people using Ford dealers for their service.”