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The Callahan Report: Rudd . . . Addicted to Winning

28 September 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel

Ricky Rudd
MARTINSVILLE, VA: There is nothing an addict won't do to satisfy his needs. In the case of NASCAR Winston Cup driver Ricky Rudd, his addiction is winning. Rudd placed himself in physical danger to get his fix. Although his body is paying the price today, his emotional needs have been fulfilled. Rudd won the NAPA Autocare 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race Sunday. He did it with heroic style.

In each of the past 15 NASCAR Winston Cup racing seasons, Rudd has visited victory lane at least once. Sunday, he increased that record breaking string to 16 seasons. He now has the longevity record for success. No other modern era driver can claim to be as successful as Rudd, for so long. By winning Sunday, Rudd surpassed Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip in the record books for consecutive years with a victory. The record was not without its price.

Rudd's backside and bottom was blistered at the end of the race. The outside temperature was nearly a hundred degrees. Race tracks are surrounded by heat absorbing asphalt surfaces and aluminum bleachers. The temperature inside most race cars topped 150 degrees. In Rudd's case, it was much hotter.

The technology in NASCAR racing has gotten very sophisticated. Helmets and driving suits today have their own cooling systems designed specifically for situations like those in Martinsville Sunday. The helmets circulate cool air around the driver's heads and into their uniforms so that these "warriors of speed" can better focus on their jobs ... winning races. If these cooling systems fail, the effect is reversed. The helmets become like ovens, slowly baking a drivers body into a dizzy, almost comatose, state.

Ricky Rudd's cooling system failed early in the 500 lap race at Martinsville. He qualified for the front row and his car continued to be fast in the race. For the first time this season, he was a contender to win. Rudd's addiction to winning somehow allowed him to put the pain and misery of his in-car environment out of his mind. Victory was all he could think about. He cut off communication from his crew as it simply took too much energy to converse with them on the in- car radio.

Things were already physically challenging for Rudd. Things got worse. Knowing he needed help, Rudd's crew threw a glass of ice water on him. He said, "Man, I need more than a glass of water. I need a garden hose." Rudd continued, "They used the cool down machine, which is basically ice water, but I guess they weren't paying attention and the hose was laying in the hot sun, so it was about 150 degrees and it just about cooked me."

Was the bodily risk worth it? Rudd says it certainly was. "It was like sitting on a hot iron and knowing you're getting burned, but mentally just blocking the pain out. If our car wasn't so darn good, I know I would have given the steering wheel over to Hut Stricklen.. But I could taste Victory Lane today."

Rudd had to recover for awhile before taking that taste of victory. He was helped from his car and immediately fell to the ground. Emergency crews administered oxygen to Rudd as he was laying on the hot asphalt in victory lane. It felt cooler than his race car.

The addict had his fix. Elated but physically damaged, Rudd called the interview crews over to his side. He wanted to thank those who had made it possible for him to win the race. It was dramatic. It was class.

"Today was probably an example of the crew sticking in there, Bill Ingle (crew chief) was talking me through. Without him talking me through, I probably wouldn't have made it to the end of the race," Rudd said.

Jeff Gordon, the two-time and defending Winston Cup Champion is young and fit. He was amazed at Rudd's performance under such extreme circumstances. "He did a heck of a job. That's an amazing record to win as many races as he has over the years. That string is amazing. You could see the fire and that desire in him today. It was a great effort." Gordon continued, "I feel like I was in a microwave on high for about three or four hours."

Gordon is the series points leader. He finished second in the race behind Rudd. Mark Martin lost five points to Gordon in the Championship chase. Martin finished third. Neither Gordon or Martin were able to lead a lap in the race. It was a day reserved for a legend. That legend's name is Ricky Rudd.

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