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Curator's Corner / Hall of Famers

Rick Rudd Defined Toughness

A member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2025, Ricky Rudd is as rock-solid a racer as there ever was.

If there was a Toughness Hall of Fame, Ricky Rudd would have gotten in on the first ballot.

A member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2025 along with Carl Edwards and Ralph Moody, Rudd had a NASCAR Cup Series career that was memorable for both its accomplishments and longevity. In 906 starts, Rudd won 23 races and posted 194 top-five finishes. Rudd’s driving career stretched all the way from 1975 to 2007.

The 1997 Brickyard 400 was the biggest victory of Ricky Rudd’s long and illustrious NASCAR Hall of Fame career. Photo courtesy of David Taylor/Allsport

Like every NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, Rudd’s career stats were noteworthy.

But his toughness was otherworldly.

After a horrifying rollover crash in the 1984 Busch Clash at Daytona International Speedway, Rudd competed in the Daytona 500 seven days later. Racing with his swollen eyelids literally held open with duct tape, Rudd finished the Daytona 500 in seventh place. Then, he won the next race on the schedule at Richmond Raceway.

At Martinsville Speedway in 1998, a malfunctioning cool suit dumped hot water on Rudd’s torso, giving him second- and third-degree burns on his back and bottom. Refusing to let a relief driver step in, Rudd went on to win the race. He gave his Victory Lane interviews on his back, as medics stuffed his uniform full of ice packs in an effort to ease his considerable pain.

While driving for Richard Childress Racing in 1983, Ricky Rudd qualified on the pole for the first three races of the NASCAR Cup Series season, including the Daytona 500. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Among his competitors, Rudd was known as a driver not to be messed with. Rudd was a clean racer, but those who didn’t race him the way he raced soon found themselves on the wrong end of a bumper. Competitors learned quickly not to mess with Rudd. There’s a reason the scrappy driver earned the nickname “Rooster.” One tough customer. That was Ricky Rudd.

A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, Rudd had a most unusual path to the NASCAR Cup Series. He never drove late models or lower-tier NASCAR stock cars, moving straight from go-karts to the Cup Series. At 18 years old Rudd made his Cup Series debut in 1975 at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham. Driving a 1973 Ford owned by Bill Champion, Rudd finished 11th, a more-than-respectable performance given that it was his first time behind the wheel of a stock car.

After running four races each in 1975 and ’76, Rudd ran the full Cup Series schedule in 1977, winning Rookie of the Year honors.

Ricky Rudd had to have his eyes taped open so he could race in the 1984 Daytona 500. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

The longevity of Rudd’s career is remarkable: As a youngster, he raced against Hall of Famers like Richard Petty (Class of 2010), Bobby Allison (Class of 2011), David Pearson (Class of 2011), Cale Yarborough (Class of 2012) and Darrell Waltrip (Class of 2012). In the 1980s and ‘90s, Rudd did battle with the likes of Dale Earnhardt (Class of 2010), Rusty Wallace (Class of 2013) and Dale Jarrett (Class of 2014), among others. In the late stages of his career, Rudd was racing and winning against the next generation of Hall of Famers, including Jeff Gordon (Class of 2019), Tony Stewart (Class of 2020) and Jimmie Johnson (Class of 2024).

In 1991, Ricky Rudd gave Hendrick Motorsports its first victory at historic Darlington Raceway. Photo courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports

Rudd’s first race victory came on the Riverside International Raceway road course in Southern California in 1983. That race was also the first victory for the team owned by Hall of Famer Richard Childress (Class of 2017). Rudd would go on to drive and win for other Hall of Fame team owners, including Bud Moore (Class of 2013), Rick Hendrick (Class of 2017) and Robert Yates (Class of 2018). Rudd would also drive for Wood Brothers Racing, the team founded in 1950 by Glen Wood (Class of 2012) with his brother and mechanical mastermind Leonard Wood (Class of 2013). If you’re known by the company you keep, Rudd ran with some of the sport’s greatest.

The 1983 Riverside victory began a streak of 16 consecutive years when Rudd won at least one race, the third longest such streak in NASCAR history. Rudd’s most celebrated race victory came in 1997, when he drove his own Rudd Performance Motorsports Ford to victory in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Rudd’s best points finish came in 1991, when he drove for Hendrick Motorsports and finished second to Earnhardt. For his career, Rudd finished in the top 10 in points 18 times.

Robert Yates (right) was one of a handful of NASCAR Hall of Fame team owners that Ricky Rudd drove for. Photo courtesy of Travis Lindquist/Getty Images

And about that toughness? Up until Gordon broke his record in 2015, Rudd held the mark for most consecutive Cup Series starts with 788. And his 906 career starts ranks second all-time to Petty’s 1,185.

Toughness. Longevity. Success. It’s easy to see why Ricky Rudd will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2025.

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Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For more than 25 years, he has been part of the NASCAR media industry.