The Return of "the Rooster"

Guess who’s going to be the new analyst on SPEED Center starting Sunday, Feb. 12 (7 p.m. ET)?

Motorsports Images and Archives
I’ll give you a hint, it’s a retired driver.

Terry Labonte? Come on, you know TLab never really retired. He’s ride-sharing with Kenny Schrader for Frank Stoddard this season. The two-time champ should be in the Daytona 500.
Buddy Baker? No. That would be sweet, though. I miss him being on TV regularly. You can still hear him on SiriusXM radio on “Late Shift." Guess again.

Ernie Irvan? No. That would be cool, but the 1991 Daytona 500 winner is  involved with son Jared’s racing, among other activities.

Sherryl Creekmore/NASCAR
Give up? Okay, I’ll tell you … Ricky Rudd

Oh, wait, you looked at the photos. No fair. Yes, it's Ricky “Rooster” Rudd. NASCAR’s Iron Man who started a record 788 consecutive races in his 906-race Cup career. The same Ricky Rudd who "took a break" from racing in 2005, came back for most of the 2007 season, then unlike most retired drivers, seemed to disappear from the racing scene with very little fanfare and no looking back.

Many newer fans, those who came to the sport during the Johnson era (Jimmie, not Junior), may not recognize anything but his name. They may recognize his famous nephew’s name (Skeet Ulrich) but not know that he won 23 races, had 194 top fives and 374 top 10s in his career, including the 1997 Brickyard 400.

 Motorsports Images and Archives
Perhaps they may have heard of him because of his association with NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bud Moore, for whom Rudd drove from 1984-1987. The story of Rudd wrecking during the 1984 Busch Clash, now known as the Budweiser Shootout, got some play because that spectacular crash left his face and eyes badly swollen. Still he got back in the car to practice for the Daytona 500. When Rudd discovered his eyes were too swollen for him to see well, Moore taped them open. Rudd finished seventh at Daytona, and with his eyes still taped open, won the following week at Richmond.
A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, the 55-year-old Rudd got his start in karting. According to his driver spotlight on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway website, he dreamed of open-wheel racing, especially at Indy. One of the original group of tire testers at the Brickyard, Rudd said, "I had been to a lot of racetracks by that time, but nothing compared to hitting that big, old speedway."

Getty Photos

Though he started in the No. 10 Ford for family friend Bill Champion, Rudd drove for most of the other major owners in the sport: Donleavy, Childress, Hendrick, Yates, Wood Bros., behind the wheel of some of the most iconic car numbers in the sport: 3, 5, 21, 28, 88.  He owned his own team for several seasons, piloting the No. 10 Tide Ride to six wins over five seasons. In fact, between 1983 and 1998, Rudd won at least one race per season. His 16-season win streak ended in 1999, as did his team ownership.

Even if the recent NASCAR converts may know all those details, they probably don’t know that Ricky Rudd gave crew chief Larry McReynolds his first career win for King Racing owned by NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein. Rudd’s eighth trip to Victory Lane came at Watkins Glen in August, 1988, his third of six road-course wins throughout his career. (He would have had seven, but because he spun Davey Allison on the last lap of the 1991 race at Sonoma, for the first and only time in series history, NASCAR took away the win and gave it to Allison. Rudd was shown in second.)

When I spoke to McReynolds in January, he recalled, “You knew any time you rolled into a road course with Ricky Rudd that if you got things even halfway close that you were going to be a contender.” In fact, Rudd's last win came on a road course, at Sonoma in June 2002. 

Of working with Rudd, McReynolds said, “Ricky brought that expertise to our team, and that experience that we truly needed behind the wheel of a racecar." He allowed that Rudd could be exacting, but said, “He was tenacious. He was probably one of the more determined individuals I’ve come across. He was very confident in what he did, he was very confident in what he felt and what he was thinking. You never had to worry about Ricky Rudd giving up on you, that’s for sure.”

So how did Rudd get the nickname “Rooster” nickname? From his tendency to get angry when provoked. In a 2005 interview, he told Marty Smith of, “It came from a crew chief I had, Richard Broom, in 1995 or '96. Richard was a crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports for many, many years, on (Ken) Schrader's car. He started calling me "Bantam Rooster," because I'd get mad or riled up about something.”

Time will tell whether Rudd's Rooster persona will ever be seen on SPEED Center. He was always smooth, professional and articulate in his interviews on the other side of the microphone, but it could happen, I suppose. Tune in to see for yourself Sundays at 7 p.m. ET.  
The Return of "the Rooster" The Return of "the Rooster" Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, February 12, 2012 Rating: 5