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32-year vet will retire with second-most starts all time

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Ricky Rudd stood under the lift gate of his No. 88 hauler Sunday morning at Michigan International Speedway, wearing a raincoat buttoned tightly around his collar, answering questions about his decision to retire at the end of the season.

In 14 more races -- which will give Rudd a total of 911 career starts, second only to Richard Petty's 1,184 -- the pride of the Tidewater will hang up his helmet as a full-time driver.

Like a man who just had a tremendous weight lifted from his shoulders, the Rooster looked much more like the 18-year-old kid who finished 11th in his NASCAR debut than the veteran driver who will celebrate his 52nd birthday next month.

"I've been fortunate that it's something that I've loved to do, had fun doing and made a good living doing it," Rudd said. "I've seen this sport on both ends, from the youngest guy's perspective and now after all these years, of being one of the older guys."

How long has Ricky Rudd been driving? In Rudd's debut, the 1975 Carolina 500 at Rockingham, Richard Petty finished third and Coo Coo Marlin was 26th. Rudd is now racing against those two drivers' sons.

Rudd had two wins at Riverside International Raceway, which is now a shopping mall -- and two top-10s at the Ontario Motor Speedway, just a few miles from the current track in Fontana. In all, Rudd has starts at six tracks no longer on the schedule.

He drove against Richard Childress, then for him. In fact, Rudd related a story that dealt with one of NASCAR's most famous numerals.

"He got the 3 from my dad," Rudd said. "We actually had the No. 3 when we bought our first racecar in '96 or '97. It came with the No. 3 on it. At the time, it hadn't been a popular number for a lot of people. During the winter, Richard Childress calls up and he wants the number, to switch from 96 to 3. A lot of people don't realize we had the number before he did."

Sure, it appeared Rudd was finished two years ago when he wound up 21st in the standings while driving for the Wood Brothers, his third consecutive season outside of the top 20. But he never "retired," leaving the possibility open of a return to the driver's seat, which came about when Robert Yates knocked on his door before the season started.

"I wasn't sure if I wanted to retire at the end of '05 or not," Rudd said. "That's why I never made a statement. I took a year off and I ended up coming back. I think it's clear to me that I want to do it now. I've enjoyed the sport but it's time for me to do something different."

Back in January -- at Daytona testing -- Rudd addressed his concerns about the length of the current Cup schedule, the demands that are placed on today's drivers and whether he would have the stamina to make it to the end of the season.

"To run the schedule week-in and week-out, it's more demanding than it used to be," Rudd said. "And it's really become a young guys' sport: a single guy or a guy that's married and no kids, which means guys in their 20s and early 30s, just because there are so many demands on your schedule. I guess I'm not willing to make those sacrifices for that full-time schedule anymore."

Rudd said the decision didn't come overnight. However, he wanted to make sure he came to a verdict before RYR needed to set up its marketing plans for 2008.

"I've been thinking about it for a while," Rudd said. "I wasn't 100 percent sure whether I wanted to retire or not. By having the chance to enjoy some time off and then coming back and running a full schedule again, the decision for me now is pretty clear.

"I know it's the right thing. It's a great sport, it's been good to me and we've still got 13, 14 races left. The grind of the schedule, I guess, as you get older just sort of wears you down."

If you never saw Ricky Rudd in his prime, you missed something special. Rudd was tougher than an overcooked steak, a driver who once taped his eyelids open with duct tape in order to race in the Daytona 500 after a horrific crash the week before.

It's a moment that Rudd looks back on with pride, especially since he won the following race.

"That was a low and a high in one week, the 1984 Bud Shootout," Rudd said. "I had won one race in 1983 and got to drive for Bud Moore in 1984. We got wrecked in the Bud Shootout and it was close to being one of those career-ending accidents.

"I was very fortunate to be able to come back the next weekend at win at Richmond. That one there was neat, because I had some dizziness and equilibrium problems and to be able to come back and win was one of those extremes on the emotion spectrum."

Rudd's first Cup victory also brought back some special memories.

"In 1983, I won at Riverside and that was my first win," Rudd said. "It was Richard Childress' first win as a car owner. Times have changed. In those days, they didn't have TV cables long enough to reach Victory Lane so our Victory Lane was out on pit road somewhere."

Rudd never missed a start between 1981 and 2006 -- a span of 788 consecutive races. He was NASCAR's Iron Man. He didn't win a lot, only 23 times, but he had a stretch of 16 seasons where he won at least one race. If anything, Rudd misses the thrill that comes from running with a win on the line.

"The sport has always been a tough sport but the enjoyment has always come from winning a race or running up front, top-fives or top-10s," Rudd said. "Those are sort of rewards that are the benefit you receive for the demands on your time. We haven't had that many rewards this year to offset some of that."

Ricky, how do you want to be remembered?

"Just [as] a guy who gave 120 percent and came close to a Cup championship once or twice, and won a few marquee races along the way," Rudd said. "I came into this sport with really nothing. I had a tremendous fan following, obviously not as large as [Dale Earnhardt] Junior's but people that have supported me all these years, and I don't want to forget that."

Most roosters crow at daybreak, but this Rooster would like one last chance to strut at the twilight of his career.

"I guess I want to be a little bit lazy for awhile," Rudd said.

Enjoy your retirement, Ricky. You earned every bit of it.

Premium Member
22,945 Posts
Retiring as a 'full-time driver'... still leaves the door open for more races. I hope he just walks away with his head high and NASCAR behind him. He had a great career. Certainly one of the best and classiest drivers. The only time I ever remember him losing his cool was with Kevin Harvick at Richmond. (but who hasn't lost his cool with him? lol). Rudd's certainly earned the right to retire on his own terms.
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