Michigan International Speedway is a favorite among many of the NASCAR competitors and Ricky Rudd, driver of the #21 Wonder Woman/Motorcraft Ford Taurus, is no different. Ricky will be making his 56th start on the two-mile D-shaped oval. The multi-groove track gives drivers room to race, making it popular with drivers and fans alike. And, this weekend Ricky's car represents the Justice League character Wonder Woman. Here are his comments on Michigan and several other topics of interest to his fans. Submit questions to Ricky via his website.
Does the width of the track at Michigan help or hurt?
Michigan has always been one of my favorite tracks to go to because it is so wide. We run on some wide tracks, but Michigan is so user-friendly. If your car doesn't work well on the bottom of the race track you can move around and find somewhere your car will do well. Three-wide happens a lot during the day, but two-wide is pretty much an all-day long situation. You get two guys racing each other and one guy will go down to the bottom and one will move to the top and they can come down the straightaway together. To me, it is kind of a throwback to the way racing used to be. A lot of tracks have tried to copy that, but for whatever reason they just haven't had the success that Michigan has had. Those are the pros. The cons are that if you are down at the bottom of the race track and you have some kind of a problem-- you wreck, or spin, or have some kind of a failure or you run over something with a tire-- it is a long way up to the wall and it usually stings pretty hard if you hit. But, it is a lot of fun to run at Michigan, so I enjoy racing there.
Does Ford Motor Co. offer any special assistance not available at other tracks to help out the Ford cars, such as parts or tech support, since they are racing in Ford's backyard?
Ford, and I'm sure all the manufacturers, give you everything they can-- engineering support, wind tunnel time, whatever they can to help the teams run better. But as far as anything special for Michigan, there is nothing that really stands out that they don't already do. There is extra incentive at Michigan for the teams to do well, a little extra pressure. You look at your races over the year and the Daytona 500 obviously is a big one, and the Brickyard is big and the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte as well. But from the team standpoint, maybe as an owner more than a driver, Michigan is probably the second biggest race of the year. It is in the manufacturers' backyard and those guys are there. It is almost like being in your front of your hometown crowd. So there is that extra incentive to do well on that track.
Do you think drivers should be able to own teams that compete against the team they drive for, in other words, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson?
How that got created, it was more of a paper shuffle than anything. NASCAR used to frown on multi-car teams. I don't know if it was a written rule or not, but if it wasn't written it was pretty much understood that a car owner couldn't own more than two teams. Then you had the Hendrick situation pop up. I guess Rick owned one and Papa Joe owned one, Gordon owned one, and I guess you see the same with the Roush camp. I think a lot of that got created when NASCAR frowned on multi-car ownership. I don't know the business structure, but I'd be willing to bet it is more of a paper structure than anything.
Do you foresee a teammate for next year or down the road?
It would be nice. I'm sure from the Wood's standpoint they would love to have a second team. But, really they have two problems to overcome. In Stuart (Va.) they had a very talented group of people working on one car, but it was hard to pull people up there to work on a second team. That would have been a hurdle. The other is that you have to be able to run good enough before you can think about setting up a second team. You have to be able to attract sponsorship so I'm sure the Woods would like to run a second team, but we have to get our performance up before that can happen. Now they have the talent pool to pull from since they moved to Mooresville (N.C.), but you still have to run well enough with the primary team to attract a second team sponsor. That is something that is a work in progress.
What is the difference between the 77 car's agreement with Penske and the agreement between Roush Racing and the Wood Brothers?
I don't really know the ins and outs of what the 77 car's deal is. I believe that is pretty much a Roger Penske-owned operation, where the Wood's program is still owned by Wood Brothers Racing, and their agreement with Jack is a business structure. They leased engines from Jack for many years and then they started buying their chassis from Roush. The engineering agreement is pretty much a business deal. There are a lot of friendships that go there, but Jack doesn't own any of the 21 team. It (WBR) is heavily supported by Roush, but there is also a friendship that goes back many years. I think Jack and Leonard developed a friendship years ago. There are a lot of benefits that come from the Roush camp. We had hoped that would produce better performance than it has, but there are some reasons for that. Now aero is more important than chassis and our cars are built by an outside body source. Not that that is wrong, but the Roush cars are built in the Roush camp, and the information that we get, unless the aero package is identical, it doesn't help you.
When someone is getting through a turn a few tenths faster than everybody else, is he just nuts or is his car just that much better?
No, the cars are better. All a driver can do is drive his car to the edge where the car is on a four-wheel slip. That is what governs your corner speed. When you see a car going better than another in the corner, they've got their aero package worked out, they've got their chassis package worked out. You could switch drivers in a car, and you could have a car that runs 20th, and take the guy that is leading the race, put him in that car and he usually will not go any faster than the guy who had been running 20th. You take the guy that was running 20th and put him in the other car and he would do the same. Some drivers are smarter than others and they have a better sense of what it takes to get to the end of the race. They may have a good car, but you have to learn how to take care of that car. You have to have the head smarts about you, the savvy to get to victory lane. But as far as one car going faster than another, it is pretty much back to aero and set up. Generally it is not driver related. You see a lot of drivers that can go fast, but some drivers seem to be smarter. They know how to "close" a race if they get it to the end. Some just end up destroying the car, but it's not because one can go faster than another.
Who has been your biggest competitor over the years, and who do you feel has pushed you the hardest to succeed?
It's different now. I've been a self-motivated type of person. I never was motivated by money. I was motivated by wins. I've always put pressure on myself. No one has ever had to come up and say, "Hey, you need to do better." Pretty much everyone in this business has gotten where they are by being highly competitive. As far as one individual, that changes from race to race. If you've got a good run and your goal is to win and it comes down to three or four cars, your goal that day is to beat those guys. The names can change and the cars can change, but pretty much the person you are trying to please is yourself. You just try to perform to 100 percent of your ability, and it is always a push to perform your best and get the best out of your equipment that day.
How do you feel about representing Wonder Woman this weekend?
I think it's neat. As a child growing up I watched all of the shows, and the Justice League cartoons were big then. It adds a little twist to it, breaks up the normal routine. It's not every day that you see Wonder Woman represented on a race car. It makes it a lot of fun. There was a photo shoot at Talladega, and it was neat to be able to hang out with the characters and see how excited the fans were. It is something different. When they started handing out characters, I wasn't sure how that was going to work, but I was pleased we were picked to represent Wonder Woman. When we did the photo op, she was the most popular one of the bunch. And, our fan support is a good percentage of females so it is good to have the Wonder Woman car. That gives them something to associate with.