From 1975 through 2007, Ricky Rudd rose to the top of his profession and left an indelible mark on the NASCAR Cup Series.
He has never looked to yachts, private airplanes or other material possessions for happiness. What is most important in his life are his wife Linda, of 42 years, son Landon, now 26 years of age, and the many friendships he developed through racing.
Rudd’s story began in Chesapeake, Va., as one of five children of Margaret and Alvin R. Rudd Sr. The younger Rudd started racing go-karts and motorcycles as a teenager before transitioning to stock cars.
“I raced motocross in North Carolina and Virginia,” Rudd said. “From there, it was basically on to North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, N.C., to race in NASCAR in 1975. Funny thing is when I was racing motorcycles and go-karts, I was so caught up trying to be successful there, I didn’t really know a huge amount about NASCAR. The go-kart racing kept us traveling the national circuit, but we only raced about once a month.”
From an early age, Indy car and Formula One racing were his passions and his ultimate goal was to race Indy cars. However, Rudd’s path changed when his older brother, Al Rudd Jr., became friends with NASCAR driver and team owner Bill Champion and his son and crew chief Cliff Champion.
Al Rudd Jr. and a friend volunteered to work for the Champions in the Cup Series, launching Ricky Rudd’s NASCAR career at the age of 18. In four races for Champion, Rudd’s best finish was 11th at Rockingham on March 4, 1975.
Rudd logged 16 top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place effort at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, between 1976 and ’78. He was named Cup Series rookie of the year in 1977.
By the end of the 1980 season, rides came with legendary team owner Junie Donlavey, D.K. Ulrich and Nelson Malloch. That October, the Rudd family solicited help from Harry Hyde and Jimmy Makar in a make-or-break effort at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Rudd qualified second and finished fourth.
Jim Gardner, owner of DiGard Racing, tapped Rudd to replace departing Darrell Waltrip in 1981. Rudd jumped to Richard Childress Racing the following season. His first Cup Series victory came in 1983 on the road course at California’s Riverside Int’l Raceway.
“That first Cup win is hard to put into words,” Rudd recalled. “Leading up to that, I was wondering if it was ever going to happen. I would have given anything to have had more stock car experience before I went to the Cup level.”
Prior to the 1984 season, Rudd and Dale Earnhardt basically swapped rides with Rudd taking over the wheel of Bud Moore’s No. 15 Ford.
“I was always intimidated and a little scared of Bud,” Rudd said. “I thought he was a little rough and tough and someone that didn’t want to chat with anybody. I talked with Bud once about a job driving for him (in 1978), but he didn’t choose me. Bud remembered that conversation and talked with me about driving for him in 1984.
“Bud simply said, ‘Want to drive my car?’ That was it — very to the point. He was a great guy with a great family. Bud did a little bit of everything, sort of like Richard Childress. He was a hands-on guy that was involved in everything. It was a great three years with him.”
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