Better with age
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Racing Ford Taurus, will answer fans' questions each week this season. Submit questions to Ricky via his Web site. Rudd is the only owner/driver to win the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This week's questions from fans ask about, among other things, that victory in 1997, the pole he won there in 2000, and how tire changers do what they do so quickly.
Can you tell us what your 1997 win at the Brickyard has meant to you?
At the time, it was a big, big win. But back then, I didn't take it into perspective that it'll probably be the last time an owner/driver will win that race. I think it will be the one and only time. I didn't really think of that aspect of it in '97. Just winning it was an awfully big deal, but to have that in the record book, not only as a driver but as an owner, too, makes it carry a lot more weight for me now.
How did the test go at Indianapolis? Can you tell us about the cars you took, and your feelings before and after the test?
We tested there about three weeks ago. We didn't test in qualifying trim, so we didn't put any really fast laps up. We started off not going too good -- we weren't very competitive. They kept working on the cars, and when we left, we still weren't really 100 percent satisfied. I think we really needed to be about three- or four-tenths better to consider ourselves being a really good car there.
We probably won't go back with the same car; we'll probably take the car that we got from the Roush team -- Mark Martin's team. I think we inherited a car to use for at least a couple of weeks. I really like the way that it drove at Chicago. We got wrecked early and didn't get a chance to really see what we have, but I like the way that the car drove, so we'll probably go back with that car.
You've won a pole at Indy before. Would you describe a fast lap there?
If you have a good car and you get the early draw, it definitely can be worth a little bit of speed. You just have to have the car really hooked up in the corners, and then it takes a lot of horsepower to get down the straightaways. But, being able to get in the corners and not have to lift the throttle all the way is key -- you need to be able to stay in the throttle a little bit and keep your momentum going. Indy's a momentum track, so you have to enter the corner and not bleed off too much speed.
The car really has to handle and stick good to be able to carry the momentum into that next straightaway, whether it's in the short shoots or the backstretch. A big thing you have to work on is being able to carry momentum through the corner and have that work for you, enter the straightaway at a higher rate of speed. If you're having a little trouble there and you get off on your corner speed, you never seem to get it back. You're on the straightaway, but you never truly regain that speed that was lost on the exit of the corner. So, again, you just have to handle well there and take advantage of your motor.
Will you be using the new Ford Engine at Indy?
The way I understand it, we'll have the new-style motor there.
After seeing Jimmy Spencer and Kevin Harvick sit out races due to poor conduct, what is your view on how NASCAR has dealt with Tony Stewart this season, and where should they draw the line? Do you feel there may be an inconsistency due to his primary sponsor?
I'm just a big believer that you have to treat everybody the same. It doesn't matter if you're running last on the track or you're winning races every week. I think as a competitor, you'd like to see the rules the same for everybody. And whether it be a stiff penalty or a weak penalty, whatever those penalties are, they need to be in black and white.
If you intentionally wreck somebody, and you know that the penalty is that you're going to be called into the pits -- in the old days, not too many years ago, they had the penalty box, and they would bring you in and they would discuss what you did wrong, and you'd go a couple of laps down. Now, I haven't seen it used in quite a few years; it worked when they used it. I don't know, I can always speculate. My belief is that everybody has to be treated the same.
Do you think the Wood Brothers would have more success with a two-car team?
Obviously, we haven't had the results that we feel like we should have, but if you're a single-car team and if you don't have any immediate plans or finances or sponsors to allow you to run a second operation, then you have no choice but to work out some kind of arrangement with one of the multi-car teams. That's what the Wood Brothers and Roush Racing have done, where you're not sort of in that box by yourself, you can kind of see what's going on.
Just saying, 'I'm going to a second team,' just to do it, doesn't make sense. It's kind of a Catch-22. There's a lot of teams that would like to expand, but you're not able to expand because you really need to run good with your primary car to attract sponsorship interests. So until that happens, then there's not a lot of people standing in line wanting to get on board to be help for the second team."
I noticed the wheels are attached with several lugnuts. Are the lugnuts attaches to the wheel itself?
That's a good observation. It's pretty simply done. There's a yellow glue, it's used for trim adhesive in the automobile business. Every race you have to clean and prep the wheels. The wheel itself has a 45-degree taper. Obviously, you have a hole where the stud goes through, but in the wheel itself there's a 45-degree taper. The lugnut has an opposing 45-degree taper on it. So what they do is they lay glue around the inside of that wheel, just real lightly, you have to be careful not to put too much glue on it, but they glue that ring where the lugnut will seat. They have the lugnuts cleaned and prepped, and they lay them in place and then they have a heavy metal plate that presses on them that keeps them centered up.
The tire changer wants those lugs to fly out of there, he doesn't want them to hang around, especially hang in the socket. There is no spring, by the way, in the socket. Every other tooth on the socket is machined away, but that's one reason the lugs fly out of the socket, which is what they want. They put the new wheel up there with the lugs glued in place. The first inch of the studs on the car are polished, there are no threads on them. So when the wheel goes up there, there's a smooth part of the stud that the lugs, if the glue does its job and it's prepped correctly, when a wheel is placed on the hub, the first inch of the stud the lugnut goes through so the lugnut is ready for the air gun to hit it and wrench it on there.
If everything works right, you don't touch the lugs by hand. It doesn't always work correctly, the glue can be temperamental to glue and so on. In pit practice sometimes, the guys have got a spring-loaded lug, that instead of having to glue it, it holds it attached to the wheel until a guy can change it.
To pretty much sum it up, the lugs are glued to the wheel, the wheel goes up on the hub, the studs allow the lugs to go up about an inch onto the stud before the thread starts, and the tire-changer simply comes around and never releases the gun pressure and just zip, zip, zip, zip, zip. If it goes right, you got a good tight wheel and you're ready to go.