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Ragan Victory Came At Right Time, Right Place

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 26 2009

David Ragan had been hunting for his first NASCAR victory - he found it at Talladega. (RacinToday.com photo by David Vaughn)

David Ragan had been hunting for his first NASCAR victory - he found it at Talladega. (RacinToday.com photo by David Vaughn)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Talladega, Ala. – David Ragan’s first major NASCAR victory, a last-lap thriller in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Talladega, was a long time coming. It followed 185 winless starts in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

It actually was a lot longer than that.

The Ragan family from Unadilla, Ga., has been trying to win a NASCAR race for 61 years, since David’s grandfather Hugh Ragan Sr. fielded a car for Jack Smith at the old beach course at Daytona. David’s father Ken ran 55 races – 50 in Cup and five in Nationwide – all without a win.

So it was no surprise that Ken Ragan, as well as the entire Ragan family, was still celebrating on Sunday morning in the garage at Talladega.

It was fitting that Ragan’s breakthrough victory came at Talladega, where 24 years ago this weekend, Ken Ragan broke his neck in a brutal crash during an ARCA race. He was leading on a late-race restart, but another car blew an engine going into Turn One. The caution flag never flew, and by the time Ragan saw the oil it was too late.

“I was the first one into the oil residue,” he said. “I got wibbly and wabbly. I probably over-corrected and turned that thing head-on into the wall.”

Davey Allison, running second at the time, was credited with the victory.

“I had an open-face helmet, no HANS device, no soft wall,” he said. “All that lines up to a broken neck.”

Ragan spent time in two hospitals and missed 18 weeks of racing because of his injuries.

Even so, he said Talladega held a special place in his heart even before his son won there. It was, and still is, a track where a driver can use aerodynamics and keep his car in contention even if it’s not as fast as the better-financed teams.

“I’ve liked this place and Daytona because you could draft and halfway keep up,” he said. “It was hard to lose a lap, so you could finish on the lead lap.”

He said that’s not a consideration for his son, who drives for the potent Roush Fenway team. Ken Ragan said he talked to his son before the race and told him that a victory wasn’t out of the question.

“I told him on pit road, ‘Do what’s right. Keep the fenders on the car and be in position at the end,’” he said.

His son overcame a pit-road speeding penalty, an overheating engine and a window net that dropped at one point to be in position to win at the end, just as his father told him.

And when he needed a drafting push, he got one from Joey Logano, who grew up racing Legends cars with the Ragan. Ken Ragan ran the Legends program at Atlanta Motor Speedway when Logano and David Ragan began their driving careers.

 Ken Ragan and Joey Logano’s father Tom visited in the garage on Sunday, taking about the old Legends days and about yesterday, when Logano, faced with a choice of pushing Earnhardt, Ryan Newman or Ragan, chose his old childhood pal.

 “It was a matter of who he’d give the shove to,” Ken Ragan said. “I just wish Joey could have gotten second.”

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 26 2009
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