Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ricky Rudd

Ricky Rudd was born on September 12, 1956.

Rudd is known as the "Ironman" of NASCAR, holding the record for most consecutive starts in NASCAR racing. At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Rudd had made 788 consecutive starts, and has a total of 23 wins, 194 top 5's, and 373 top 10's.

Rudd was born in Norfolk County, Virginia, now Chesapeake; he is the son of Margaret and Alvin R. Rudd, Sr., the owner of Al Rudd Auto Parts. He began racing at the age of 9 in go-karts and then when he was 13 he moved up to motocross.

He made his NASCAR Winston (Sprint) cup debut at North Carolina (Rockingham) Speedway in 1975, when he was eighteen, driving the #10 Ford for family friend Bill Champion. Qualifying twenty-sixth, he finished in eleventh place despite running fifty-six laps down. He ran an additional three races for Champion, his best finish being a tenth at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He drove another four races in 1976 for his father, posting another tenth finish at the Firecracker 400.

He went full-time in NASCAR in 1977, again driving the #22 for his father. He had ten top-ten finishes and was named Rookie of the Year in the Winston (Sprint) cup series.

Rudd was forced to run part-time in 1978 after picking up only limited funding from 1st National City Travelers Checks. Despite the condensed schedule, he earned four top-tens and finished 31st in points.

In 1979, he signed with Junie Donlavey to pilot the #90 Truxmore car, garnering four top-fives and a ninth place points run.

He did not return to Donlavey in 1980, and started out in a part-time run for his dad and D K Ulrich. He would end the season in the #7 Sanyo car for Nelson Malloch, for whom he had one tenth-place run.

In 1981, Rudd signed with DiGard Motorsports to drive the #88 Gatorade car. Although he had no victories, he won his first three pole positions, and began his lengthy streak of consecutive race starts. He left at the end of the year to pilot the #3 Piedmont Airlines Pontiac for Richard Childress Racing.

He had six top-fives in 1982, but dropped down to ninth in the championship standings.

He was able to get his first two wins of his career in 1983, at Riverside and Martinsville Speedway, respectively, but stayed at 9th in points. He also ran the only three Busch (Nationwide) Series races of his career that season, winning in his debut event at Dover Downs.

In 1984, Rudd and Dale Earnhardt swapped rides with Rudd moving over to the #15 Wrangler Jeans Ford for Bud Moore, and Earnhardt getting the ride for Childress. He won his first race for this team in only his second start at Richmond and improved to seventh in points. At the Busch clash that year at Daytona, Rudd was involved in a horrific crash. Rudd's car became airborne, and he suffered a concussion. His eyes were swollen so badly, that he taped his eyes open in order to be able to race in the Daytona 500. After learning of this long after the fact, NASCAR instituted the policy of examining all drivers involved in wrecks in order to assure that they will be able to race safely the next week.

Motorcraft became the team's new sponsor in 1985. He moved up one spot in points that season, finishing 6th.

In 1986 he finished a career best points finish of fifth.

Despite an additional two victories in 1987, Rudd left Moore at the end of the season.

Rudd joined King Racing beginning in 1988 in the #26 Quaker State Buick Regal. He struggled with engine failures all season long and finished 11th in the standings, his worst points finish in eight years.

After his only win of 1989 came at the inaugural Sears Point event, Rudd departed King racing, and signed with Hendrick Motorsports to drive the #5 Levi Garrett Chevrolet Lumina. He was able to win “The Bud” at Watkins Glen international raceway and finished seventh in the final standings. He was involved in a pit road accident at the season-ending Atlanta Journal 500, when he spun into Bill Elliott's pit, fatally crushing Elliott's tire changer Mike Rich.

In 1991, Tide became his new sponsor, and Rudd won his only race of the year at Darlington Raceway. Later in the year at Sonoma, Rudd crossed the finished line first, but had his win taken away because he spun Davey Allison on the last lap. He finished the year a career-best second in points.

In 1992, he won the Peak Antifreeze 500, but dropped to seventh in points.

After finishing 10th in points in 1993, he left Hendrick motorsports.

Rudd took Tide and formed his own race team in 1994, Rudd Performance Motorsports. He drove the number 10 Ford Thunderbird that season. His first win as an owner/driver came at New Hampshire International Speedway, which led to a fifth-place point’s finish.

1995 saw his consecutive winning streak almost end before he won the Dura Lube 500 at Phoenix, which was the second-to-last race of the season.

In 1997, Rudd had two wins, including the Brickyard 400, his highest win total since 1987, but he dropped to seventeenth in the standings, the first time he finished outside of the top-ten in nine years. His victory at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August 1997 made him the first owner/driver to win the Brickyard 400.

His lone win of 1998 came at Martinsville Speedway, dealing with high air temperatures and a faulty cooling system. As a result, Rudd suffered burns and blisters over most of his body, and gave his victory lane interview lying on the ground breathing from an oxygen mask. This would be the last win of his consecutive victory streak, as he struggled with mechanical failures and wrecks throughout the season. When Tide left his team, Rudd chose to liquidate his equipment and close his team. Even through his bad luck in 1998 Ricky was named one of the 50 greatest drivers in NASCAR.

After many rumors and speculation, Rudd was hired to pilot the #28 Texaco/Havoline Ford Taurus for Robert Yates Racing for 2000. Although he still did not win that season, he had two poles and moved to fifth in the point’s standings.

In 2001, Rudd got his first win in three years at Pocono Raceway, followed by another victory late in the season at Richmond. He also matched a career-high 14 top-five finishes.

He won his last race to date at Infineon in 2002, but dropped to tenth in the standings. Rudd left Yates at the end of the 2002. After his departure of RYR, Yates changed his #28 to the #38 which made him the last driver to drive that historic number up until Travis Kvapil who drove it in 2008.

In the offseason of 2002-2003 Ricky was in a whirlwind of controversy over team issues. Robert Yates racing announced they were bringing Elliott Sadler over to pilot the #38 Ford which made everyone think that Ricky would be in the third stable for RYR. But that was not the case; RYR couldn’t satisfy Ricky’s desire for $3,000,000 and half of the race winnings so he left. The speculations then was that he would be the third car for Gannasi, but Ford did not want to lose another top driver from their camp after also losing Bill Elliott and Jeremy Mayfield so they teamed up with Motorcraft and Wood brothers racing to seal the deal and keep Ricky.

After all the controversy of the offseason, he had four top-fives and a twenty-third place point’s finish, in 2003.

In 2004, he won his final career pole at Talladega Superspeedway, he fell a spot in the standings, finishing 24th.

In 2005 he earned nine top-tens, and improved to 21st in points. At the end of the season, Rudd announced he would "Take a break" from racing, although not effectively retire.

Rudd spent most of 2006 out of racing, racing only at Dover, where he filled in for the ailing Tony Stewart. Rudd made an appearance to meet and sign autographs for fans at the 2006 Carl Casper's Custom Auto Show at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky. He was also named the "Virginian of the Year”. Late in the season, it was announced he would return to Yates to drive the #88 Snickers Ford full-time.

His best finish in 2007 was a seventh at the Coca-Cola 600. He missed the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 in 2007 which was the first time in Rudd's career where he did not make a start due to injury. Kenny Wallace drove the #88 on an interim basis until Rudd healed, except at Talladega, where Mike Wallace drove the car. He made his return at Charlotte, where he finished 11th. Rudd finished his career with a 21st place finish at the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami. That year he was also inducted into the "Virginia Hall of Fame”.

Now that Rudd is retired, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Linda, and his son, Landon. The Rudd family enjoys 4-wheeling, snowmobiling, water sports, flying, and he claims his new sport to be mountain biking. He is also the uncle of actor Skeet Ulrich and Nationwide Series driver Jason Rudd.