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Childress, Rudd Enter NMPA Hall Together

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 16 2012

Richard Childress was honored by the NMPA this week. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR championship team owner Richard Childress and the sport’s “Iron Man” Ricky Rudd never envisioned induction into halls of fame when they began their respective NASCAR careers, but it seemed only fitting they enter the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame the way they began their success – together.

On June 5, 1983 when Rudd drove his Chevrolet into victory lane at the now-defunct Riverside, Calif., road course in the Budweiser 400 he recorded not only his first NASCAR Cup victory, but Childress’ as well. On Tuesday night, nearly 29 years later, both men were inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame; Rudd by NASCAR President Mike Helton and Childress by NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton.

Childress is a fixture in the garage, overseeing his teams’ pursuit of championships in NASCAR’s top three touring series. Rudd bid his driving duties farewell after the 2007 season and except for a few TV appearances the Virginia native has basically disappeared from the racing scene, choosing to focus on family. The hair that was salt-and-pepper at the time of his retirement is now white, but the boyish grin that endeared him to fans remains. His and wife Linda’s son is now a junior in high school and they’re already investigating colleges for him to attend.

It was a different story, however, in 1983. Rudd and Childress were in the second year of a two-year

Ricky Rudd and the No. 22 Al Rudd Auto Parts car.

deal. Located in a small shop in Winston-Salem, N.C., the team had sponsorship from Piedmont Airlines, but only a handful of loyal employees that were like family. In fact, the entire team could ride together to a race in a single van.

“At the time we hooked up and got together we really needed each other,” said Childress, who less than a month ago was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. “At the time we didn’t realize it, we were just doing what we wanted to do to go out and win races. But as I look back at the history of it, it was something that we both really needed each other. It gave both of us the confidence that we really needed to move forward. His career went on and ours did, too.”

When Rudd made his Cup debut at Rockingham, N.C., in Bill Champion’s car the then 18 year old had never raced a stock car. His background was Go-Karts and local motocross.

“That’s probably the scaredest I’d ever been in my life,” Rudd said. “I was used to something that was agile. It [the stock car] reminded me of somebody putting a jet aircraft engine in a garbage truck.

“Bill told me if someone wrecked to aim at the wreck and it would be gone by the time I got there. We got to North Wilkesboro and Elmo Langley spun in Turn 1. I didn’t realize he was stopped and when I came out of turn four I headed for his car. He didn’t move and I hit him. Every time he saw me after that he reminded me of it.”

Childress’ Cup debut came at age 23 in the inaugural Talladega race. The young man who once sold concessions in the Bowman-Gray Stadium grandstands during races finished 23rd in the event that became famous as the only race boycotted by NASCAR’s top drivers. Childress helped then NASCAR President Bill France Sr. provide a starting grid that day and the veteran team owner said Tuesday that a few years later NASCAR helped finance his deal to buy out the person he was driving for at the time. In 1976 Childress became an owner/driver and began using the No. 3 on his race car.

During the 12 years Childress drove in the Cup series, he amassed 76 top-10s, including six top-5s in 285 races before reaching a crossroads in 1981. It was then that he realized he should focus his energies on being a team owner and hire a driver. Dale Earnhardt stepped into his car in late 1981 for 11 events, but left to join Bud Moore’s organization in 1982.

“I had talked to Piedmont Airlines about putting me in the car and they said, ‘No. We want a young, up-and-coming driver,’” Childress recalled. “We had the opportunity to get Ricky and it was one of the biggest, another huge step. Getting Ricky, winning the poles and winning the races and accomplishing the things we did was huge.”

Today, Childress is the only team owner with championships in NASCAR’s top three touring series and ARCA. Rudd possesses the record for consecutive races – 788 – which earned him the “Iron Man” title. He also is the only competitor to have won the prestigious Brickyard 400 as an owner/driver. In 32 years, Rudd produced 23 victories, 29 poles and 374 top 10s, including 194 top 5s. He also finished in the top 10 in the points 19 of those 32 years, losing the 1991 title to Earnhardt. In addition to Childress, Rudd also drove for Bud Moore, Rick Hendrick, Robert Yates and the Wood Brothers.

“I’ve had my day and I’ve had my chances,” Rudd said. “Came up a little short for some championships, but no regrets. I’ve met some of the neatest people in the world that are so focused on what they do. You see the commitment, not just the drivers, the car owners, the people in the sport are so driven, so focused in their goals. That’s something I miss, being around people with that much desire to accomplish things. You really don’t see it that much, maybe in the business world, but not in the neighborhood.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 16 2012
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  • Tony Geinzer says:

    People forget that the RCR Legacy was driven home first by Rudd, and RC took it in another direction with Dale.