David Ragan met with the media Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway to discuss his decision to step away from full-time racing.
DAVID RAGAN, No. 38 MDS Transport Ford Mustang – "Over the last six or 12 months I’ve thought a lot about what my future looked like on the race track with my race team and my partners and me as a race car driver, and a lot of what my future looked like as a husband and a father and a leader of our household, and over the past couple of months it was really clear to me that it was time to take a step back and be home a little bit more, and it’s pretty simple as that. In the world of motorsports, to be a premier race car driver I think you have to dedicate your life to driving that race car and being the best driver for the team, and that means putting racing first in front of everything else – in front of your family, your kids, your hobbies, a lot of things, so I’ve enjoyed making that sacrifice over the past 10 or 12 years, and that’s a sacrifice that was necessary to stay in the Cup Series as long as I have and to keep a job, and I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve had fun doing appearances and traveling to the tracks and testing and being on the simulator and a lot of things that it takes to be a competitive race car driver, but I felt like over the next few years if I continued to make that sacrifice I’d really be in a tough spot at home with my young girls growing up, starting to be involved in activities outside of school and on the weekends and with friends, and one of the things that was kind of a catalyst to making this decision is they have some interest in different things that they haven’t been able to do, my girls, because of my schedule. They can’t go and do extra gymnastics on the weekends or go to swim lessons because I’m leaving to go to a race track or I’ve got a commitment somewhere, and it wasn’t fair for my wife to be running them around town and feasibly it couldn’t work out, so I think it’s an important time in their years as they’re developing and growing older and learning the difference between right and wrong that I’m there to show them and to teach them and to love on them. I still love racing and have a lot of things that I want to accomplish this year, and I’ll still be around and hopefully race a little here and a little there, but the days of full-time Cup racing and that commitment level, I’m just ready to turn my focus to the household a little bit."
HOW MANY SLEEPLESS NIGHTS DID YOU HAVE THROUGH THE YEARS THAT LED TO THIS DECISION? "It was a really tough process to think about all of the things, not only the things that would affect my life, but in others. We have partners that are invested in my personally and Front Row Motorsports, a manufacturer that spends a lot of time and money investing in me as a race car driver and as a race team, all my fans, my friends and certainly it’s the only thing I’ve known since I was a teenager. That’s the only thing I’ve thought about, even when I should have been thinking about school and different things when I was a teenage, I was thinking about my race car and what I could do. So that process was tough, but once it was clear to me in my heart, in my gut after some quiet time and prayer and things like that, it was a pretty easy decision once I got to that point. The process was tough and it was hard to think about all of those things and change is difficult sometimes, but once I got to a point where I was at ease and content and I knew that was where God wanted me to go, it was a pretty easy decision."
WHAT WILL YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT YOUR TIME AT THE CUP LEVEL AND IS THERE ANYTHING YOU REGRET? "I certainly made a lot of dumb mistakes as a kid. As a 21-22 year old guy in the sport I felt like I missed out on some race wins at different places, but that’s just part of growing and learning and I did the best I could with what knowledge I had then, I just wasn’t as smart back then as I feel like I am today, or experienced. I have so many great memories from just getting that phone call from Jack Roush that I’m gonna get to go drive a Truck Series part-time with Mark Martin to moving up into the Cup Series and making that first start at the Daytona 500 to your first pole to your first win. Those are all great memories, but probably the biggest is just the relationships that I’ve built inside the garage. I’ve got some great friends that I’ll always continue to be friends with, my wife will be friends with and our kids will be friends with their kids throughout the last 12 years of hanging out, flying with each other, racing with each other, being teammates with one another. Those will be relationships that will carry on a lot longer than any driving career will."
WHAT IS YOUR IDEAL SCENARIO FOR STAYING IN RACING? "I have turned down a lot of opportunities over the past few years to run a one-off sports car race, maybe a Truck race, even as simple as my Legend’s car or a short track race at some of the premier short track races around the country. That’s something I have a passion for and that is something I grew up doing, and I think it’s very important that the NASCAR guys give back to the short tracks. A lot of them do currently, but I felt like it was a distraction with my focus level at the Cup level for Front Row Motorsports and Ford Motor Company that I didn’t need to go and do some of those other things, so I would love to run the 24 Hours of Daytona. I would love to go to Eldora and run the Truck race. I love the short tracks. I love some big late model races around the country. I still have my Legend’s car and they have a great Summer Shootout Series in Charlotte that is 10 minutes from my house, but it was always difficult to go over on a Tuesday evening during the summer months to go. So some stuff like that. If there’s a right Cup opportunity at a track that I can succeed at and have fun at, I think I would consider that, but it would need to be the right situation with the right team and the right group. I don’t have anything planned out now. We’ll kind of see how that shakes out, but I definitely still want to sit behind the wheel of race car and go and compete some."
WHERE DOES RUNNING 30TH IN POINTS PLAY IN THIS DECISION? IS IT FRUSTATING TO KNOW YOUR LAST YEAR ISN’T GOING TO BE WHAT YOU WANTED, OR IS IT EASIER? "It’s definitely a big part of that. If I were racing for a Playoff spot, it would be a little tougher decision, but I still think I would get to the same conclusion. I still think that that is a part of how excited or how happy you are on race weekends, and you have to make that decision on what the sacrifice is worth. Is it worth leaving your family and leaving important times with your kids and different things going on at home to go and struggle on weekends? That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun sometimes, so, yeah, it did play a part in the decision-making process. I still have the hope that we can clean our act up and get rid of some accidents and part failures and DNFs and try to improve on that some and finish the year on a good note. We certainly don’t need to finish 30th in points. That wouldn’t be any good at all, but that does play a role. If you’re winning races and contending for championships, I feel like the money is better when that is the case and you can justify that sacrifice to keep going a little bit longer."
HOW DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO REMEMBER YOU AS A PERSON AND A DRIVER? "I really haven’t thought about that. That’s a great question. I think first off we should be remembered for who we are, maybe not the accomplishments that we had and the trophies that we have, and the amount of zeroes in our bank account. Those are all material things that come and go. When I’m dead in the ground down the road that stuff doesn’t make any difference. It’s the impact you have on others and what you do for your family, for others that you care about, so I hope that they remember me as a good guy and a guy who loved the Lord and loved my family and loved racing. That’s kind of who I am. I’m not that flashy of a guy. I don’t care too much about how many followers I have on social media or what my brand is, and I think that hurt me a little bit over time, but that’s something that on that spectrum I don’t care too much about. I think it all depends on how you interact with other people and what you do to help and serve others."
ANY WHAT-IF MOMENTS? "Oh sure, absolutely. I think people would be lying if you didn’t go back and think, ‘Man, what if?’ What if I would have gotten a driver coach and had a couple different mentors when I was a rookie or coming off of a great season in 2008? Could that have changed the course? I wonder if I would have won the Daytona 500 and not changed lanes before the start-finish line would UPS have stayed at Roush and things would have went on? So, sure, but that’s kind of fun to go back and laugh and joke about, but we don’t live in a world of what-ifs. I’m humble enough to go back and think about those things. It doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t keep me up at night. Sometimes it’s just a good laugh and a good story."
IS THERE ANYTHING THAT FEELS INCOMPLETE? "I always wanted to race for a championship and win a championship. I mean, everybody that gets to this elite level you want to be the best, but I think that some of those titles and trophies and achievements that they’re only short-term victories. I mean, that’s something that just leaves you wanting more. The real things in life that have true contentment are how your kids love you and how you have an impact with others in your community, and what kind of marriage you have and stuff like that. I think those are the things that really matter. If I would have had a few more wins or that championship, I don’t think I would be any different now, and I think if you ask any of these guys in the garage that have won more races and won more championships, it’s never enough. You always want more and that’s obviously the goal of the sport that we’ve competed in and that’s what we live by and die by in the sports and entertainment world, but that’s certainly not what defines me. So, no, I don’t really have anything that I look back on and say,’ Hey, if I would have won five more races or 10 more or even 20 more would that change who I am?’ Probably not. You’d have a few more trophies at the house, but that really doesn’t mean a whole lot at the end of the day."
HAS THE SPORT’S SUCCESS WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED ALLOWED YOU TO HAVE THE FREEDOM TO MAKE THIS DECISION ABOUT THE KIND OF LIFE YOU WANT TO LIVE FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY? "Absolutely. I was very fortunate to come in at a time where drivers made more money, sponsors were spending a lot of money and there was just generally more money flowing through. I was very lucky that I had conservative parents and family members that kept me grounded and didn’t let me go wild and that they stashed all the money back home in Unadilla, Georgia, so I couldn’t get it. Yeah, being in a financially stable situation certainly made the decision better. I think you have to have an income, a job and resources to take care of your family – that’s an important role in being a father and a husband, but being able to have the necessary things to live our life and continuing the life that we currently live is a blessing and it’s something that I don’t take for granted, but it’s also a timing thing."
A LOT OF THOSE GUYS STAYED TOO LONG. "There’s a sweet spot. I look back over the last 30-40 years and some of those guys stayed a few years longer because the money was getting so good in the late nineties and early 2000s. I have reached out and called a few of the guys that retired and talked to them and nine out of 10 of them said, ‘I raced two or three years too long, but the money was too good. I wanted that one more win. I wanted, wanted, wanted, and looking back it really wasn’t worth it.’ So that was some really good advice that a few different guys gave me. To answer your question, absolutely. The timing of my career was really good. I still think that drivers coming in today can make a great living, but it’s hard to be disciplined living on a budget in this garage when sometimes the more flashy you can be, the cooler you think you are, so I’m glad I never really got caught up in that."
ANY INTEREST IN DOING TV OR POLITICS? "I follow politics a little bit, but, man, that’s a pretty hostile environment today, so I don’t know that I could do that. Maybe like a community role in some way, shape or form – something small, but anything on the state or federal level would be more than I think I would be willing to do. I don’t know that I’d want to put my family through that. That may not be good, but the TV role that I’ve had in a small case at Fox doing some of the Race Hub analyst work has been very good and a lot of fun, and we’ll have some of those discussions over the next couple of months and see if I can stay involved in some way, shape or form in that."
WILL YOU STAY INVOLVED WITH THE SHRINERS? "Yeah. I’m still an advocate for the great things that the Shriners Hospitals for Children are doing. I’m a member of the Shriners fraternity, so I’ll be able to do some other things that I haven’t been able to do in the past. I get a lot of requests to go and speak at different functions that are raising money and awareness for the Shriners or for even kids with disabilities. A lot of you guys know my brother has Down’s Syndrome and is a big race fan and around, so I’ve had to turn down most of that kind of stuff because the functions are on Friday nights or Saturdays and I’ve been at the race tracks, so there will be some different things that I can do that I haven’t had a chance to even consider over the last 10 years. Who knows how that will all shake out, but I’ll still love telling my story, telling my family’s story and talking about my brother Adam and his impact on my life, and then certainly the great things that the Shriners are doing."
DIDN’T JACK PUT YOU FULL-TIME XFINITY AND CUP IN THE SAME SEASON TO START? "I was a rookie in XFINITY and Cup, running for both Rookie of the Year in the XFINITY and the Cup Series in ’07."
WHAT DID YOU THINK AT THAT TIME ABOUT THE SITUATION AND HOW DO YOU VIEW THAT TODAY? "Back in ’06 I ran a part-time Truck schedule. I think I ran 15 or 16 races and I had just come off of running a part-time ARCA Series schedule, so I think the last full-time series I ran in anything was like a Legend’s car in 2003. So when they said, ‘Hey, we want to move you to the 6 car, we’re also gonna move you to a full-time XFINITY car so you can get some experience.’ At the time I thought, ‘I can do this. I love racing. I’m a driver. I can go fast. Let’s go.’ And we go to the Daytona 500 and we run fifth and we go to California and we run like 14th, and we’re sitting sixth in points and I’m like, ‘Man, this is pretty easy. I’ve got this.’ And then reality set in and that rookie season was OK, but we struggled. It was so hard soaking in everything. Like I mentioned earlier, I kind of thought I was just a fast race car driver, but I did not know how to race 500 miles and I didn’t know how to take care of my equipment and I didn’t know how to be driving at 90 percent sometimes and 100 percent at times – what it takes to win these 500-mile races. I learned a lot, kind of got thrown in the fire and that’s the way some things go. I do feel bad for some of the kids in today’s world that think they have to be a full-time XFINITY driver at 18 and in the Cup Series by 19 or 20 because it’s hard, and I think if you go and ask some of the young drivers who got a second chance, and I think of Joey Logano all the time – one of the best drivers in the garage today – and the guys at Gibbs kind of threw him out and they thought he might not be able to make it, so I think there is something about establishing your foundation, getting your confidence, and maturing all together. I didn’t have any choices back then. I was just ready to go and race, but looking back at it, it was hard. It’s a miracle that I was able to survive and, like I said, keep a job for the next 12 years because those first couple of years were tough. That’s the world we live in and some drivers can get thrown in those situations and succeed right off the bat. I heard Harvick talking a little bit about Chase and Ryan Blaney and some of these guys. It’s hard in the Cup Series. There’s 25 really good drivers and teams and it takes a few years to kind of get that foundation and everything established."
IS IT SORT OF UNREASONABLE FOR SOMEONE THAT AGE WHO IS PRESENTED THAT OPPORTUNITY TO THINK ABOUT THE LONG-TERM? "Yeah, it is unreasonable because as a kid you’ve got to take it. I think if I had to do it all over again, I would take it too. It really makes you mature at a quick and young age. There’s nothing that could come across me today that would scare me as much as some of the pressure that was on me when you’re talking about millions of dollars being spent on marketing and development and you’re expected to go hop in a race car and go win, and that’s tough for a 19-year-old or 20-year-old, but you’ve got to take those opportunities and make them run."
WHAT DID BEING A DRIVER IN NASCAR TEACH YOU THE MOST? AND IS THERE SOMETHING YOU’D REALLY LOVE TO DO? "The SiriusXM post-race show. I think being a race car driver, like I was explaining, you’re not only racing for yourself and your family, but you’re racing for thousands of employees that are supporting the motorsports program at Ford Motor Company, your sponsor that may have thousands of employees, thousands of race fans, and everybody is counting on you to go fast, say the right things, interact with your friends and family and different people at a Q&A session or autograph session, so there are a lot of responsibilities and a lot of pressure on a race car driver, and I think some of the things I’ve learned is how to manage some of those expectations, how to deal with a lot of stress, kind of how to manage that, but I think how to work with the team and be a team player and think about your scheduling and what you want over the course of a weekend, over the course of a year. You’re really a CEO of all those moving parts and pieces, so whatever drivers do post-driving career, whether it’s in business or a local community setting or your family, it really teaches you a lot of valuable life lessons at a young age. You learn how to live with defeat on a regular basis. If you win five races in a year, you’ve had a great season, but you’ve lost 33, so you lose a lot more than you win in this sport, so you learn how to deal with those low times, you learn how to manage expectations, so there are so many life lessons to be grateful for, that I’m grateful for that I’ve learned, and there were a lot of hard times over the past 15 years. I’m grateful that I’ve had good sponsors, great car owners, good mentors that really helped me out a lot. I probably should have been fired several times over the course of the years, but I was always able to kind of hang in there and grateful for those life lessons."
— Ford Performance —